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LTER site Information managers balance site and network demands

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Spring 2010

Don Henshaw (AND) and Margaret O'Brien (SBC)

In listening to LTER Information Managers (IMs) describe potential uses of supplemental information management (IM) funding, the most obvious observation one could make is that there is no shortage of ideas on how this funding could be used. NSF has presented an opportunity to LTER sites to propose information management efforts related to better standardizing data, metadata, and approaches to facilitate the use of site data in synthesis projects. The IMs shared proposal ideas and explored potential collaboration in two April video teleconferences, which were cumulatively attended by 26 representatives of 20 LTER sites and the Network Office. It is clear that any new resources dedicated to information management are welcome (a nice way of saying desperately needed), and all IMs are challenged to balance focus between their site concerns and the capacity to participate in network-level activities.

While the proposal ideas ranged from specific tasks to generalized solutions, several common themes were identified that could become the basis for future collaboration, production workshops, or topics for our annual meetings. Some common themes:

  • The use of a common data model to manage and store metadata to allow common tools to uniformly deliver metadata as EML or generate queries of the data (e.g., using the Drupal content management system)
  • The need for tools to facilitate the capture of metadata at the front end of experiments such as web user interfaces
  • The use of best practices as a guide for improving and completing metadata elements
  • The need to develop or generate EML for geodatabases
  • The installation of sensor networks and the need for tools to facilitate the quality assurance of data, and generally the need to improve the flow and processing of collected data into managed information systems
  • The incorporation of standardized approaches such as the controlled vocabulary or unit dictionary into site information systems

These themes represent the spectrum of necessary site work required to begin paving the way for more seamless and interoperable access of site data throughout the LTER network. Our community must now address the best use of funding opportunities to meet this daunting challenge.

This NSF supplemental funding opportunity is likely offered to remedy recent LTER data access issues, to help position LTER for future funding similarly to other environmental observatories, and to provide resources to sites in parallel with development of the Network Information System (NIS) at the LNO. The complexity of integrating the many diverse and legacy data sets of the LTER sites has limited the development of cross-site data resources, but the success of LTER synthesis initiatives and system development in creating synthetic data products is paramount. To this end the LNO is embarking on a 5-year operational plan to address the broad integration of LTER site data, and LTER site IMs will be asked to engage at several levels to assure accomplishment of this plan. Here again, the IM community must consider the nature of their network-level involvement to most effectively take advantage of this opportunity to meet this challenge.

The LNO operational budget provides significant funding for meeting and workshops of varying types. The following list of IMC workshop and activities demonstrates the increasing number of community activities and opportunities for individual involvement.

Planned or in progress for 2010:

  • LTERMaps post-ASM workshop: LTER site maps with connections to the SiteDB network database
  • Unit Dictionary post-ASM workshop: Management tools for standardized units
  • EML Best Practices production workshop: Revise and extend the existing best practices document
  • Drupal training workshop: Installing and configuring the Drupal CMS for sharing common tools
  • Network databases redesign/web services: Redesign NIS administrative databases and plan web services
  • IMExec participation at the Science Council meeting: Strategic planning for the NIS, legacy databases, communication
  • IMC Annual Meeting at Kellogg: IMC governance, EML best practices and evaluation metrics, Network databases redesign, GIS, controlled vocabulary, units dictionary
  • IMC Annual Meeting at Kellogg (extra 3rd day potential topics): LTERMaps, EML Best Practices follow-up, EML Dataset Congruency Checker (EML Metrics), Relational data model comparisons, initial planning for attribute standardization and dictionary, Kepler workflow software workshop, sensor networks and quality assurance, EML for Geodatabases

Planned or proposed for 2011:

  • ClimDB production workshop: integrate ClimDB as a module of the NIS
  • EML metrics and congruency checker 'Tiger team': development of the NIS data loader
  • Training module on web services for consumers: instruction for site information managers on using content from Network databases at sites
  • EIMC meeting: The annual IMC meeting will be conference-style with participants from the entire IM community, and a theme centered on data integration for synthesis

The success of the LTER Network Information System will be largely dependent on site efforts to produce quality data and metadata.

Equally important may be the active involvement of the IM community in building the NIS and in standardizing approaches for network-level synthesis of site data resources. The challenge is on. The IMC co-Chairs intend to provide ongoing commentary in future issues of DataBits to feature planning and progress in this crucial effort.