Portland, Oregon, USA, 12-22 July 2012.
By Kathryn Rose, Agent and Postdoctoral researcher, British Antarctic Survey.
Currently, there appears to be a drive towards developing software for data management that will allow global research communities to collaborate and share data more efficiently.
Met members of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists (APECS), providing an insight into the range of software being used in different fields of research.
Began discussions with members of the UK Polar Network (the UK body to APECS) providing ideas of how the SSI might be able to reach more UK members.
The recent International Polar Year (IPY) closing conference (May, 2012) has really brought to the forefront of the Antarctic science community the need to share the significant quantity of data collected during the IPY more effectively. As a result, there was a large focus at the SCAR conference to see if there was software that could be used, or developed, to help encourage the everyday scientist to share and document their data more readily. A theme of supporting data sustainability through the development and application of sustainable software systems seemed to develop throughout these sessions. This area is particularly important to the Antarctic where scientists are also guided by the Antarctic Treaty which stipulates that data must be made freely available.
Currently there is a move to develop the links between data sets, data processing sequences and data management. Data management is often left with data managers and only comes as an afterthought to scientists. As a result, new data management software linked to website interfaces is being developed to try and encourage the everyday scientist to engage in data management during the course of a project. As a front runner, the Antarctic Biodiversity Information Facility (ANTABIF) is a data repository that is attempting to standardise, clean, and add metadata to data sets. To encourage scientists to make their data available they have developed software with a semi-automatic paper producing system. The simple online software interface is designed to be akin to Endnote, for example. It is meant to be a tool to help scientists write their data processing steps as they go along, linking it to the standard processing software used in a given discipline. The user enters a description of the data in a project, the processing steps used and the system organises a paper according to metadata fields filled in. The paper produced can then be edited and tweaked before it’s submitted for peer review. The paper and data are then available online for others to find, making it more readily accessible, well advertised and on an open access website. It is hoped that this system will encourage collaborations, prevent study repetition and generally allow people to assess what data is out there and being used.
Ideally, the developers would like to find a way to make standard data collection techniques, to make the whole system of transferring information, science and ideas easier. It would then allow you to map your data to a standardised template. This would allow the data to be verified, helping to correct any errors in data sets, and hopefully ensuring that your work is cited more frequently. Using the same format would also aid international collaboration. At the moment this tool is just for biodiversity data, but the idea is that it could be made transferrable between research themes. In particular, there may be demand from early career scientists and PhD students coming through, who may wish to develop their own software for their specific data sets and data processing systems.
The conference also supported several talks about ice sheet-climate and ice sheet-ocean interaction models. There is a feel that this is really going to be an area of huge future interest due to the need for better predictions regarding ice sheet stability and sea level rise. So, I would predict that there will be many more PhD students and post-docs coming through who will begin on a path of software development to generate, modify or expand on existing models and having a known forum where they can go to for such help, such as the SSI, may prove to be really beneficial. This highlighted to me, the need to promote greater awareness of the SSI to these groups. At future conferences, I shall look to target the modelling community to see what software support needs that they may have, and to see if anyone would want to apply as a Network Agent. I was able to distribute the flyers on the SSI and make a few links to members of APECS and its UK body the UKPN and I hope to be able to pursue this further. It appears that there may be the opportunity for the SSI to offer advice, attend any forthcoming modelling workshops, or provide a webinar on their services to this growing community of PhD and post-doctoral students.