Initial Publication Date: December 1, 2011

Accessing the new Geo-Cyberinfrastructure for Undergraduate Research

By Jeff Ryan, University of South Florida and Dave Mogk, Montana State University, Bozeman

The rapid development of informatics resources and tools, and in particular the availability of powerful and user-friendly geospatial information system (GIS) platforms that permit easy data manipulation and visualization, present a range of opportunities for developing research-intensive classroom experiences. These informatics "portals" provide data in formats compatible with popular visualization and data management platforms (ArcGIS, Google Earth), and many also provide their own suite of visualization tools to facilitate data manipulation and first-order interpretation. New NSF requirements for Data Management have led to the expansion of existing cyberinfrastructure platforms and facilities, and the recent development of new facilities. These geoinformatics resources can be extremely valuable tools in training students to work with data, and many of these are fertile resources for undergraduate research projects as well.
Plugged in

Geoscience Information portals (focused on geoscience data management and oversight - an incomplete list):

A comprehensive inventory of geoscience-focused data sources and tools has been compiled in the Using Data in the Classroom portal (developed for the National Science Digital Library). An associated site, Data and Tools has developed DataSheets which concisely describe a particular scientific data set in a way that is useful to educators interested in teaching with the data set, with tips and strategies for effective instruction using these data sets. These DataSheets provide a foundation and jumping-off point for training students in data interpretation, a critical research skill.

Here is a partial list of data sources that have wide application in geoscience research:

  • Integrated Earth Data Applications: IEDA is a new NSF-funded cyberinfrastructure facility, emphasizing marine datasets, based at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, formed through the melding of the Marine Geoscience Data System (focused on bathymetric and geophysical data) and EarthChem (focused on rock geochemical data, and itself a consortium on data repositories).
  • UNAVCO is an NSF-funded facility devoted to the collection and stewarding of global geodesy data. UNAVCO supports a national community of geodesists and is community-governed. Most recently, it has become the facility responsible for the management and support of field-based LiDAR instrumentation and (along with GEON) a repository for LiDAR data.
  • The Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) is a Federally-supported consortium of institutions focused on the collection and stewarding of seismological data.
  • UCAR, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, is a consortium of institutions, including the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) that provides both data and computational resources to the national atmospheric science community.
  • The CUAHSI Hydrologic Information System is an Internet-based system for sharing and stewarding hydrologic data, that is managed by the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI).
  • GeoStrat is an NSF-funded portal and repository for sedimentary and stratigraphic data, as well as a resource for visualizing these data. It is a part of the National Geoinformatics Community
  • EarthScope is an NSF-supported facility and data portal focused on the structure and evolution of the North American continent. EarthScope is a community-governed research enterprise, with a National office at Arizona State University. UNAVCO and IRIS are primary EarthScope contractors.

NASA Mission Data Portals:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was the first Federal agency to develop and maintain Internet-based, publicly accessible data portals for its mission data. NASA maintains websites for all its current and past missions, which include access to mission data. A wide range of these repositories have been developed, some of which have been archived by the US Geological Survey after a particular mission ends. Some examples include:

Geospatial Information System Platforms for Earth and Planetary Datasets, and other Visualization Tools:

A growing number of geospatial information platforms are now available that allow one to manipulate and visualize geoscience and planetary data in a range of different ways. Most of these platforms are interoperable - which is to say, one can port data from one to the other using common file types (shape files, kmz/kml, Excel data files), all of them provide access to "packaged" datasets of various sorts, and many of them allow one to port in one's own georeferenced datasets to overlay and compare with global databases.

The SERC site includes a number of collections focused on the classroom use of geospatial data:

GIS Platforms:

  • GeoMapApp is a map-based GIS platform focused on the visualization of marine datasets, served and maintained by IEDA at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. It provides access to a large number of packaged and visualized datasets, as well as to a range of data available from IEDA and other sources.
    • The GeoMapApp page in SERC provides an introduction to the platform and links to a range of packaged activities that make extensive use of it.
    • As well, there is a multimedia tutorial page within the GeoMapApp website that includes a number of step-by-step videos explaining the various functions and tools in the platform and how to use them.
  • ArcGIS Online is an Internet Mapping Server (IMS) version of the ArcGIS software that can be manipulated in a Web-based format without loading ArcGIS software onto your computer.
  • Google Earth is a virtual globe GIS platform developed and maintained by Google, Inc. Geoscientists are making use of the Google Earth platform in a large and growing menu of ways, and many of the other platforms mentioned here (in particular GeoMapApp) can be fully interoperable with Google Earth via the generation of .kml and .kmz file types.
  • JMARS is a map-based GIS platform dedicated to investigations of the compiled Martian imagery datasets, maintained by staff in the School of Earth and Planetary Exploration at Arizona State University. JMARS includes compiled datasets from every Martian orbiter from Viking to Mars Odyssey, and allows one to overlay and compare these global datasets as well as a suite of processed "compositional" global images. One can also use JMARS to pull together original image strips from the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey mission for detailed examination using the Frames layer.
    • The 'Planet' function in Google Earth (see also Google Mars for a map-based version) offers an alternative avenue into the Martian databases through the Mars virtual globe. One can view global MOC photographic images or MOLA colorized topography or daytime and/or nighttime infrared images as a base, and identify a growing menu of high-resolution THEMIS, MOC, and HiRISE imagery of the Martian surface for more detailed examination.

Tutorials Demonstrating the Use of Geocyberinfrastructure

Following the example of the Earth Exploration Toolkit which provides step-by-step instructions on how to access and use a variety of Earth datasets, we have developed a series of tutorials that demonstrate how to use: