One of the frustrations of academic scientists over the past few weeks has been the difficulty of getting data collected by the federal agencies responding to the oil spill. Today, Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that the agency is working on a Web site to help solve that problem.
The big picture of the spill is easy to find. NOAA regularly posts its projected trajectories for the oil, for example. But more detailed data are harder, if not impossible, to get. NOAA has seven ships and several planes in the gulf that are sampling the water and observing wildlife, but few raw data have been made public. "There's not a lot of information to get your hands on," oceanographer Robert Twilley of Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge told ScienceInsider last week. "I have no idea what the NOAA assets are collecting."
At a research meeting held at LSU today, Lubchenco said that NOAA is working on a Web site to depict various types of data on a Google Earth map of the gulf, but the the volume and diversity of data have complicated the project. "It's probably going to be a real challenge to have all of that in one place and make it user-friendly," she said. "This has been a challenge and frustrating for us." An interagency committee has been established to coordinate data from all agencies, not just NOAA, and figure out how to ensure quality. "There is nothing that throws the [scientific] community into dead ends faster than putting crappy data out there," noted Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, at the meeting.