Jen Humphrey
Life Span Institute

Research team focused on environmental data will help lead $15M NSF grant

Thu, 10/09/2014

LAWRENCE — An environmental and earth science data project, led by a multi-university team including KU’s Biodiversity Institute, has been awarded $15 million by the National Science Foundation to continue to discover and aggregate data for scientists and policymakers alike.

The new award for DataONE includes $1.4 million for research conducted by the Biodiversity Institute’s informatics program. KU Information scientist David Vieglais is director of development and operations for DataONE and responsible for overseeing its design, implementation and deployment with a team of developers and experts from several institutions, including NCEAS of the University of California-Santa Barbara, the University of Tennessee, University of New Mexico, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of California-Berkeley, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Geological Survey and Newcastle University.

“DataONE is a breakthrough accomplishment in helping science and society understand and steward the environments and life of the planet,” Vieglais said. “It is a privilege to work with such dedicated experts, and I am proud that the KU Biodiversity Institute will continue as members of the DataONE team."

As part of DataONE, the Biodiversity Institute's Informatics research group is also operating a network node that provides access to environmental data for researchers to model the ecological niche of species of plants and animals. This research can help forecast the spread of animal-borne diseases, the invasion of agricultural and other pests, the survival of pollinators, the conservation status of threatened and endangered species, and the effects of climate change on animals and plants worldwide.

DataONE: the Data Observation Network for Earth is a distributed cyberinfrastructure that increases the discoverability and accessibility of diverse yet interrelated earth and environmental science data. The NSF created DataONE in 2009 to provide the tools and infrastructure for organizing and serving up vast amounts of scientific data in addition to building an engaged community and developing openly available educational resources. It has enhanced the efficiency of research and enabled scientists, policymakers and others to more easily address complex questions about the environment and human roles within it.

Examples of the kinds of layered data served by DataONE include information about changing bird populations. Many common species have experienced significant population declines within the last 40 years. While suggested causes include habitat loss and climate change, fully understanding bird distribution relative to the environment requires extensive data. Through a collaboration of DataONE and multiple partners, bird occurrence data collected by citizen scientists have been combined with land-use data to allow researchers to map more than 300 bird species against important environmental factors. With this information, they were able to more accurately assess the degree of protection required for each species and the responsibility of public land agencies.

These data form the basis for informed decision-making and wise management of resources. As ecology evolves into a more data-intensive science, the ability to discover, integrate and analyze massive amounts of disparate information becomes critical, alongside a requirement to equip researchers with the skills necessary to manage data effectively. Using information from programs such as DataONE, researchers integrate information from multiple fields to explore questions and propose solutions to an array of environmental problems. This requires access to open, available, persistent, well-described and easily discovered earth observational data.

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