Polar data in the PICture

Data are the fundamental currency of science. Public access to polar data helps us understand and predict future climate scenarios and ensure wise management of resources, improved decision support, and effective international cooperation on resource and geopolitical issues.

In the spirit of this philosophy, key Arctic and Antarctic nations collaborated during the International Polar Year (IPY) to pursue the concept of a polar data commons — where the data is available to anyone, without restriction. As data streams in from IPY activities, a group has been working to form a virtual data coalition that is the Polar Information Commons (PIC).

The PIC aims to place data in the public domain and is affiliated with the Creative Commons and Science Commons initiatives. Data belonging to the PIC are branded with a badge (a graphical icon) and linked to a set of behavioural guidelines on appropriate and ethical data use, and a Creative Commons data access waiver or license.

The badge can be found by search engines such as Google. However, all PIC-badged data should eventually find its way into NASA’s Global Change Master Directory, a sophisticated metadata search engine responsible for hosting all Antarctic metadata (metadata is information about data, such as where and when the data was collected).

The PIC will also consist of a group of networked polar data repositories that will archive data. These actively managed repositories will also be responsible for publishing these data for re-use by the polar community and for merging PIC data with new and existing polar data products.

The Australian Antarctic Division, in collaboration with the Tasmanian Partnership for Advanced Computing, the Australian Research Collaboration Service and the Australian National Data Service, has established a PIC Cloud Repository Service. This internet-based storage facility links to a metadata and data publishing system, and catches data generated by scientists who do not have anywhere to store their data. Eventually, data centres will be notified of datasets going into the Cloud and they will be able to harvest data of interest. It is hoped only a few ‘orphan’ datasets – without a data centre home – will reside in the Cloud.

The PIC initiative was launched on 8 June 2010 during the International Polar Year conference in Oslo. The Australian Antarctic Division’s Data Centre Manager, Kim Finney, and Metadata Officer, Dave Connell, demonstrated the PIC Cloud and other Antarctic Division data publishing applications to Prince Albert of Monaco — a well-known polar enthusiast — and many of the researchers gathered at the IPY conference. Of particular interest was the Australian Antarctic Data Centre’s (AADC) Data Navigator tool; a new application developed for the purpose of downloading, discovering and mapping data.

Australian Antarctic Data Centre