Strategies for Using Community Developed Big Data Sets in Teaching

Friday 1:30pm-2:45pm TSU - Lawson: 112
Round Table Discussion


Mark Uhen, George Mason University
Big data has become ubiquitous in our society and easy to access via the Internet. Many government and non-governmental organizations regularly collect, process, and serve up vast quantities of scientific data to the world. As these data become more available, they can be used to craft activities for students that mirror those being done with these data by the scientists themselves. At the same time they can be used to give students a sense of their place in the larger world by focusing on a particular geographic region, or scientific problem relevant to the students. We will discuss various data sources and approaches to these data that can be used to achieve these kinds of learning goals.


Almost all areas of geology have some sort of large data sets and/or analytical tools available for download and use in undergraduate classes. Both the ​USGS​ and ​NOAA​ are invaluable sources of data. ​EarthCube​ from NSF has been a source of funding for many other data projects in the earth sciences. Some examples from across the geosciences are listed below.

Examples of Big Data Sets and analytical tools for geosciences

  1. Paleobiology Database

    1. Occurrences of fossils from all of geologic time
    2. Taxonomy of fossil taxa
    3. Geologic time and paleoplate positions from ​GPlates
  2. Neotoma Paleoecology Database

    1. Occurrences of fossils from near geologic time, mostly Pleistocene-Holocene
    2. Strong on core-based data for things like pollen records
    3. Includes verified age models for much of the data
  3. MinDat

    1. Information on all minerals
    2. Includes many localities from which minerals have been collected
  4. USGS Earthquake Hazards Program

    1. Real time data on earthquakes
    2. Also, historical data on earthquakes
  5. USGS Water Data

    1. Surface water data of all sorts, mostly from the US
    2. Groundwater data from the US
  6. National Hurricane Center

    1. Real time hurricane data
    2. Historical hurricane data
  7. NOAA Shoreline Data

    1. Various data sets on US shorelines
    2. Mostly geographical data
  8. NOAA Paleoclimate Data

    1. Various data sets on global paleoclimate
    2. Formats and content are quite diverse
  9. USGS Volcano Data

    1. Real time volcano data
    2. Historic volcano data
  10. USGS Geochemical Data: Rocks

    1. Geochemistry of US rock samples
    2. Others too. Explore!
  11. Macrostrat
  1. Data packages of stratigraphic units from the US and abroad
  2. Also good information on geologic time

12. Landforms

  1. Mainly a list of landforms and how to recognize them
  2. Lots of advertisements

13. USDA Soil Databases

  1. Links to many soil databases, mostly in the US
  2. Includes block diagrams of soils

14. StraboSpot

  1. Newly developed tool for analyzing geologic structures
  2. Website and phone app available

15. USGS Sediment Data

  1. Data on sediment loads across the US
  2. Includes user guide

16. NOAA Gravity Data

  1. One of many geophysics datasets available
  2. Maps and downloadable data available

17. NOAA Oceanographic Data

  1. Many links to US and world ocean data of all sorts
  2. Lots of different types of data

18. USGS Geologic Hazards

  1. Links to all kinds of hazard data
  2. Earthquakes, landslides, and more!