Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Datasphere at the Biosphere

Julie Allen

Estimates suggested that less than 8% of non-genetic data in ecology is available for reuse from NSF funded projects, meaning that the vast majority of ecological data cannot be incorporated into big picture ideas. This “long-tail problem” is largely because a few large labs do the majority of data sharing now while smaller labs have more difficulty sharing data. To address this issue, I recently attended a two-day meeting at the Biosphere in Tucson Arizona (May 5-6, 2014). The meeting was called Datasphere at the Biosphere and centered on creating a software institute for biodiversity and environmental science. This effort would use cloud computing with the idea of Software as a Service (SaaS) to create tools that will benefit biologists by both helping with data management and also enabling more data sharing. These new tools were also discussed in the context of new educational efforts like AIM-UP! (aim-up.org). Allowing students access to data to ask their own questions and do analyses would increase critical thinking and the authenticity of research projects in the classroom.

Outside view of the Biosphere.

Because the meeting consisted primarily of biologists representing field stations, including directors and managers, we discussed how to coordinate efforts related to ecological data, and discuss specifically what field stations need. We had a number of discussion groups to provide ideas for tools that could be built that would enable field stations and small labs to share data. These included new templates for data management all the way through having pipelines and people available to do analysis. We also discussed tools that could be created that would promote the use of these data, with much of the discussion centered on motivations for biologists and field station managers to put data online.

Inside the biosphere. This area was formerly the farm for the 
Biospherians is now being used in soil respiration studies.

We discussed big ideas that could be answered with online, shared data, including things like How will ecosystems respond to climate change, and What is the tipping point for a species to go extinct from an area? We also discussed different kinds of data that would be needed to answer these big picture questions.

Finally, we toured the Biosphere which is a very interesting place, currently under the University of Arizona management.  A series of science projects are underway in the Biosphere and it serves as public outreach.  People can come and learn how the ‘Biospherians’ lived for 2 years without any outside resources. Enjoy the pics!

Inside the ‘lung’ of the biosphere. This area regulates the air circulation. 

Rainforest habitat inside the biosphere.

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