Communicating scientific data to the international science community is never fast enough in an increasingly hurried world, but an Australian initiative is setting a new standard for speedy delivery of Antarctic data to where it can best be used.

The Australian Antarctic Data Centre of the Australian Antarctic Division is about to go live with its newly developed directory of Antarctic data, which uses NASA software to compile and deliver an easy-to-use web-searchable collection of Antarctic data which is held by Australian scientists.

The scientists who publish their data by this means are provided with immediate international exposure of their research and recognition for their efforts in the actual data-collection itself - increasingly important in the competitive environment of research science.

"Our form of data delivery radically alters the traditional journal-publication route by getting valuable information out into the broader international community years earlier," Lee Belbin, the manager of the Australian Antarctic Data Centre (AADC), said today.

Like a library catalogue, but much more comprehensive, the AADC records have been used to describe all types of information - from biological samples, to paper records, to digital databases and even research projects which have only just commenced.

"When the Antarctic Treaty was signed all those years ago in 1959, it guaranteed full and free interchange of scientific observations and results. Back then it was a well-meant dream, but now we can actually do it, and in the process change the nature of scientific research itself", Lee Belbin said.

Flying in the face of the trend to restrict access to intellectual property, the Australian Antarctic Division is promoting and publishing Australian Antarctic research data on-line. Not only does the AADC list the 600 records related to Antarctica which are held at the AAD and universities and institutions all over Australia, it has links to many of the actual on-line data sets which are then available for perusal or analysis by anyone with access to the World Wide Web.

Access to this information will foster international collaboration, assist Antarctic scientific planning by avoiding duplication of research and data collection, and encourage interdisciplinary work. Moreover, it will maximise the usage of data, and facilitate new research through access to existing Antarctic scientific data.

"The cost of collecting or replacing Antarctic data is enormous – due to the high logistic costs of operating in the difficult Antarctic conditions – and so there is an imperative to maximise scientific output from the data. One data set could produce one hundred papers!" Mr Belbin said. "This directory will enable better access to these data."

"For example, a couple of years ago, one of the Australian Antarctic Division's scientists used historical whale observation data to measure climate change. The southern-most catch limits of whales were used to identify changes in the northern-most extent of sea-ice", explained Mr Belbin. "Could the whalers have ever dreamed that their "data" would be used 200 years later to detect global climate change?"

This unique system is the first to deliver information about data to both national and international standards. The AADC's directory of data can be searched via the NASA Global Change Master Directory or via the Australian Spatial Data Directory. A consultant, IndexGeo, helped to configure the system to achieve this.

The Australian Antarctic Data Centre's data records are now part of the national directory (the Australian Spatial Data Directory) that, through a single query, can search comprehensive databases of over 38,000 spatial data sets.

"The World Wide Web offers unprecedented access to information which is distributed globally ", said Lee Belbin. "Our new cataloging system radically improves the chances of discovering information about Antarctica, and then accessing it."

Where once Antarctic scientists relied on their library for publications relevant to their research, they now have access to the powerful, up-to-date and comprehensive listing that exists in the Australian Antarctic Data Centre.