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Challenges and Opportunities Offered by the NIS

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Spring 2011

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

In the few months since our 2010 meeting, the LTER Information Management Committee (IMC) has been engaged in multiple projects. Our report to the Executive Board included twelve distinct activities, ranging from very introspective (our Terms of Reference) to co-organizing the upcoming Environmental Information Management Conference (EIMC) for the entire environmental management community. But the bulk of our activities have been associated with the LTER Network Information System (NIS).

The core of our involvement with NIS development has been through the Tiger Teams. Four teams have been active so far: ­Metadata Management, Workflow Management, Data Management, and Entity Management, with more to start later in the year. Sixteen IMC members have participated or signed up for future Tiger Teams, and we have a volunteer to organize for the group. The IMC put forward six proposals for NIS-related Production Workshops, Training, and Information Manager buy-out time. Following is a summary of recent or planned workshops and training.

Controlled vocabulary: A two-part workshop was organized for the vocabulary; the first, held in early 2011 at the Sevilleta, organized the vocabulary's polytaxonomies, developed vocabulary management with a tool called "Tematres", and planned procedures for modification. A second workshop will take place at the Science Council meeting in May 2011, and engage scientists in defining and clarifying the list. The group's chair, John Porter, also has established vocabulary databases for several individual sites and this group is considering an IMC-wide workshop on creating and managing vocabularies.

Network personnel database redesign: Two workshops and Information Manager buy-out time were funded to redesign and code the personnel databases. Sites will be able to use network database content for their local systems, or to synchronize local systems via web services. The effort is organized by Mason Kortz (CCE/PAL), who is funded through the IM buy-out program to continue this work.

EML Congruency Checker:  Work on the EML Congruency Checker Phase I is expected to be completed in 2011 as part of the Data Management Suite of PASTA, and will provide feedback on usability of EML datasets submitted to the NIS. A report on current content in the Network catalog is expected as part of the buy-out award to Margaret O’Brien (SBC).

LTERMapS: this group progressed toward promoting a consistent interactive mapping interface for LTER site information which allows users to visualize, search, download and explore site information. The group held a November workshop at the Andrews Forest which focused on describing GIS data with EML-GIS . Theresa Valentine (AND) is the lead contact for the LTERMapS group, and Adam Skibbe (KNZ) chairs the broader-scoped Spatial Data working group.

Workflows and workflow management: The NIS will make use of automated workflows to process data and create synthetic data products. The first workflows and workflow management workshop will follow on progress made by the Workflows Tiger Team, and will outline Best Practices for NIS workflows, design several example scripts, and develop an agenda for training a small group of information managers as trainers.

DEIMS Training: The DEIMS group (Drupal Environmental Information Management System) requested a training session on installation and configuration of this content management system from LNO personnel. That workshop was held in the Spring, and cross-site work continues on code to develop and present datasets and other site metadata.

The success of production workshops represents additional opportunities and challenges to the sites. As the LTER controlled vocabulary matures, how will sites integrate their local keyword sets with this master vocabulary to assure their site data will be discovered through new search tools? As network databases are redesigned and web services are created, how will sites take advantage of these improved products within their local information systems? A future workshop will consider how ClimDB/HydroDB can be migrated from the harvester approach into the more modern service-oriented architecture provided by PASTA and the NIS. This workshop could similarly address EcoTrends and may reveal metadata quality and completeness issues or data integrity issues that will be ever-present in building synthetic data products. The success of incorporating ClimDB and EcoTrends into the new architecture may be the ultimate proof-of-concept for the LTER NIS.

Then, the success of the LTER NIS will ultimately hinge on the preparedness of site data and metadata. NSF supplemental funds last year were dedicated to information management, and IM-Exec would like to ask each site to describe the progress made using these funds in their annual SiteBite. Demonstration of the usefulness of this funding may be the key to enabling similar offerings in the future. Another assessment of site preparedness will come from checking data sets through the EML Congruency Checker tool.  This year’s annual meeting will likely feature discussions on the testing of site data and the best means for reporting on the PASTA-readiness of data for further synthetic uses.

This year’s annual IMC meeting and Environmental Information Management Conference (EIMC) promises to be as stimulating as ever, and allows the opportunity for LTER to share its work and ideas with the broader community. This review of workshops and training and their implications for LTER sites indicates there is much to share and discuss. One thing is clear, IMC members and working groups are progressively charging ahead to meet these new challenges.