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Network Information Management Products Roll Out in 2013

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Issue: 
Fall 2013

John Chamblee (CWT) and Philip Tarrant (CAP)

Chamblee and Tarrant are the Co-Chairs of LTER Information Management Committee

LTER Information Managers have had a watershed year for the release of community-developed products for Network use. With the ramp-up in production-oriented working groups and workshops funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Operational Plan, the momentum began building for LTER-generated environmental informatics tools. Early products included the LTER Controlled Vocabulary (http://vocab.lternet.edu/vocab/vocab/index.php) and Unit Registry (http://unit.lternet.edu/unitregistry/) tools, as well as a large number of plans and prototypes. This year began with the release of PASTA. Other new tools have followed in a steady stream ever since.

As 2014 approaches and we consider the future of the LTER Network Office, centralized information management approaches, and broader questions concerning LTER Network structure, we should look around and see what we as a community can accomplish when we make the commitment to to build common tools to solve common problems. This article provides a list that includes many of our new network products. While incomplete, the list nevertheless highlights what we have done and serves to inform what we can do when we work together to develop creative approaches to emerging challenges.

PASTA Data Packages: Since PASTA’s release by LNO in January, LTER Information Managers have contributed over 3,300 data packages. Each quarter the number of packages contributed increases and, overall, the LTER Network looks to be on-target for migrating the vast majority of LTER data to PASTA by year’s end. 

DEIMS: This summer, the DEIMS team presented the Drupal Ecological Information Management System as a finished product, fully capable of both producing data sets for use in PASTA and ingesting EML-described data for publication in local systems. DEIMS is being used by six sites and is now available for use, not only within the Network, but through Drupal’s main development site for anyone with a need to manage ecological research data. As this article went to press, the Drupal site reported 269 downloads and seven sites using the software, meaning that at least one site beyond the LTER has adopted the freely available IM tool.

GeoNIS: What began as a broad effort to deal with the role of spatial information in the archiving of LTER data has resulted in a PASTA-based REST-ful web service capable of serving spatial data both over the web and using off-the-shelf GIS analysis software. The GeoNIS is now fully available as a service for those wishing to manage and distribute GIS data. Its successful deployment is an excellent example of how the PASTA Application Programming Interface (API) can be used to build value-added products. As more GIS data makes its way into PASTA, the value of the GeoNIS will continue to increase. 

The GCE Data Toolbox for Matlab: The GCE Data Toolbox for Matlab has been in production for well over a decade, but following a 2012 training and development workshop, its use has increased dramatically. In addition, the documentation, usability, and community support for this metadata-driven data analysis engine reflect its growth. Among the accomplishments surrounding the Data Toolbox are a suite of tools integrating Data Turbine with the CUAHSI Hydrologic Information System. Wade Sheldon has a good article in this issue of Databits highlighting the uses to which the Toolbox is being put.

The Network Information System Reporting Tool: Built through a close collaboration between LNO and the IMC, the NIS Reporting system represents a key milestone not only because it contains up-to-the-minute information for anyone interested in LTER contributions to our data repository, but also because it represents another successful effort to build a value-added product on top of PASTA’s API.

PASTA DOIs and Data Citation: James Brunt recently informed us that he ran across a peer-reviewed publication that included a reference to a PASTA DOI. In "Ecology and Evolution Affect Network Structure in an Intimate Marine Mutualism", published in Volume 182, No. 2 of The American Naturalist, (pp. E58-E72), Andrew R. Thompson, Thomas C. Adam, Kristin M. Hultgren, and Christine E. Thacker note that their data has been deposited into the MCR data catalog and provide the PASTA DOI. 

As we think about and debate the future of the LTER Network structure, it is important to reflect on what we have already done. One question on the minds of many is how we can capitalize on economies of scale by centralizing information management practices as appropriate. A review of the tools presented here suggests that many of the components needed for such efforts exist and that, rather than focusing on the technical details of tool construction, we may be well served to step back and consider the management and structural changes that will be needed to federate and organize these tools and ourselves into a system that is robust and flexible enough to support us in our varied institutional and ecological settings.