When oceanographer Peter Wiebe sat down recently to write a paper on findings from his January cruise to the Red Sea, he wanted to examine all data sets on plankton in the region. He knew other researchers have been sampling the organisms for years, but there was a problem: He didn’t know where to find those data sets.
“These data centers are kind of black holes,” says Wiebe, who works at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “The data go in, but it’s very hard to figure out what’s in there and to get it out.”
That could soon change. Wiebe is working with a group of computer scientists to lay the groundwork for a smarter academic search engine that would help geoscientists find the exact data sets and publications they want in the blink of an eye, instead of spending hours scrolling through pages of irrelevant results on Google Scholar. The group officially kicked off their project, called GeoLink, yesterday at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting in San Francisco, California. The research effort is part of EarthCube, an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to upgrade cyberinfrastructure for the geosciences.