Lessons learned from 104 years of mobile observatories [poster]

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Miller, Stephen P.
Neiswender, Caryn
Clark, Dru
Raymond, Lisa
Rioux, Margaret A.
Norton, Cathy N.
Detrick, Robert S.
Helly, John
Sutton, Don
Weatherford, John
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As the oceanographic community ventures into a new era of integrated observatories, it may be helpful to look back on the era of "mobile observatories" to see what Cyberinfrastructure lessons might be learned. For example, SIO has been operating research vessels for 104 years, supporting a wide range of disciplines: marine geology and geophysics, physical oceanography, geochemistry, biology, seismology, ecology, fisheries, and acoustics. In the last 6 years progress has been made with diverse data types, formats and media, resulting in a fully-searchable online SIOExplorer Digital Library of more than 800 cruises (http://SIOExplorer.ucsd.edu). Public access to SIOExplorer is considerable, with 795,351 files (206 GB) downloaded last year. During the last 3 years the efforts have been extended to WHOI, with a "Multi-Institution Testbed for Scalable Digital Archiving" funded by the Library of Congress and NSF (IIS 0455998). The project has created a prototype digital library of data from both institutions, including cruises, Alvin submersible dives, and ROVs. In the process, the team encountered technical and cultural issues that will be facing the observatory community in the near future. Technological Lessons Learned: Shipboard data from multiple institutions are extraordinarily diverse, and provide a good training ground for observatories. Data are gathered from a wide range of authorities, laboratories, servers and media, with little documentation. Conflicting versions exist, generated by alternative processes. Domain- and institution-specific issues were addressed during initial staging. Data files were categorized and metadata harvested with automated procedures. With our second-generation approach to staging, we achieve higher levels of automation with greater use of controlled vocabularies. Database and XML- based procedures deal with the diversity of raw metadata values and map them to agreed-upon standard values, in collaboration with the Marine Metadata Interoperability (MMI) community. All objects are tagged with an expert level, thus serving an educational audience, as well as research users. After staging, publication into the digital library is completely automated. The technical challenges have been largely overcome, thanks to a scalable, federated digital library architecture from the San Diego Supercomputer Center, implemented at SIO, WHOI and other sites. The metadata design is flexible, supporting modular blocks of metadata tailored to the needs of instruments, samples, documents, derived products, cruises or dives, as appropriate. Controlled metadata vocabularies, with content and definitions negotiated by all parties, are critical. Metadata may be mapped to required external standards and formats, as needed. Cultural Lessons Learned: The cultural challenges have been more formidable than expected. They became most apparent during attempts to categorize and stage digital data objects across two institutions, each with their own naming conventions and practices, generally undocumented, and evolving across decades. Whether the questions concerned data ownership, collection techniques, data diversity or institutional practices, the solution involved a joint discussion with scientists, data managers, technicians and archivists, working together. Because metadata discussions go on endlessly, significant benefit comes from dictionaries with definitions of all community-authorized metadata values.
Poster session IN13B-1211 presented 10 December 2007 at the AGU Fall Meeting, 10–14 December 2007, San Francisco, CA, USA
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