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Data Going Global

August 2, 2011

Scientists worldwide can access data collected on the Catlin Arctic Survey, thanks to colossal online databases. Science programmes manager Dr Tim Cullingford explains.

“As Catlin Ice Base field samples are turned into data by the researchers back in their land laboratories, they will be preparing not only for publication of manuscripts, but also for submission of the data to online international databases.  This is because it may be impossible to include all the data in a publication, and because these databases allow other scientists to quickly and easily access the datasets to compare with their own data and potentially to collaborate.

Each data-point (i.e. a ‘piece of data’) generated from a sample in the laboratory is just a string of information.  This could be a number (e.g. ‘8.3’) generated using a pH spectrophotometer machine to measure an Ice Base water sample’s pH.  Or it could be a microbial DNA sequence (e.g. ‘AGGGGTCCCTAACCG……..’) generated by a DNA sequencing machine, reading a sample of DNA isolated from the residue of a filtered Ice Base water sample.

If all your research (sampling and data acquisition) were laboratory-based, this data would be directly entered into a computer from the measuring instrument, along with information such as the date, the experiment, the user etc.  But for a data-point derived from a sample gathered in the field and brought back to the laboratory, you will need to add much more information, i.e. the ‘tags’ to the data-point, in order to be able to submit to an accredited database.  These tags might include the geographic position, the sample collection depth, the geography/weather conditions of the area etc.  So even before you set out for your fieldwork, you have to ensure that you understand all the tags that you must collect for each sample, then successfully record them in the field, and finally tag each of your sample-derived data-points.  Such tagged data is often referred to as ‘metadata’.

An example of this would be the molecular analysis of DNA genetic markers (i.e. DNA sequence ‘fingerprints’) that identify different microbe families captured at the Ice Base.  The international standard for this is MIMARKS: Minimum Information about a MARKer gene Sequence .  So for example, a minimum tagging of a DNA sequence data-point derived from microbial samples collected from water at the Catlin Ice Base would be:

Here are the links to the databases and models where our researchers will deposit their data:

BODC – British Oceanographic Data Centre

CDIAC - Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center

CCCMA - Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis

PIOMAS - Pan-Arctic Ice-Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System

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