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2013 News

2013 IAHS News

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Global Data for Global Science

The new ICSU World Data System

With IUGG and IAHS both founding Members (Partner and Associate, respectively) of the recently established ICSU World Data System (ICSU-WDS), we would like to take this opportunity to introduce IAHS members to the rationale and strategies behind this new conceptual framework.   

Birth of the ICSU-WDS Concept

The International Geophysical Year in 1957–1958 saw the creation by the International Council for Science (ICSU) of the World Data Centres (WDCs) and Federation of Astronomical and Geophysical data analysis Services (FAGS). Charged with managing the data gathered by this global project and making those available to the scientific community, both the WDCs and FAGS remained largely unchanged for 50 years.

It was another major international scientific initiative, the International Polar Year (IPY; 2007–2008), that saw the disbanding of the WDCs and FAGS in 2009 by the ICSU General Assembly. Hoping to utilize the existing infra­structure to house the diverse IPY data, it quickly became clear that the predominantly disciplinary centres and services were not able to respond to modern data needs.

The ICSU World Data System (WDS) was thus born from the legacy of those two bodies with the aim of transitioning from stand-alone components to a common, globally coordinated and distributed data system. By ensuring universal and equitable access to, and long-term stewardship of, quality-assured scientific data and data services, products and information covering a broad range of natural sciences and expanding to social sciences, WDS supports ICSU’s mission of “strengthening international science for the benefit of society”.

Building the “System”

ICSU-WDS Member organizations from wide-ranging fields are the building blocks of a worldwide “community of excellence” for scientific data.

As of 22 March 2013, WDS has 67 Member organ­izations grouped into two types:

  1. Regular and Network Members, who hold, serve, or produce data; and include virtual data centres.
  2. Partner and Associate Members, who provide various backing to WDS or are simply interested in the endeavour.

Not only do these Members participate in advancing WDS goals, their data holdings, services and products are the cornerstone of the federated data system.

Organizations are formally accepted into WDS by its governing Scientific Committee (the WDS-SC)—an ICSU- appointed “think tank” made up of prominent data scientists covering a broad range of disciplines and geographical areas. Supported by an International Programme Office, the WDS-SC safeguards the trustworthiness of ICSU-WDS by certifying Regular and Network Members according to internationally recognized standards (Partners and Associates are co-opted).

Realizing the WDS Vision

It is also the responsibility of the WDS-SC to develop and prioritize plans for ICSU-WDS to achieve its goals. In particular, with a strong membership now in place, WDS must look to significantly contribute to projects such as the ICSU-sponsored Future Earth programme, which attempts to answer the grand challenges for global sustainability. To that end, the following areas have been recognized as imperative.

 Community building—WDS will promote the creation of collaborative networks and will be an international coordination forum for data centres and services to document common practices and standards.

 Establishing relevant tools—WDS will exclusively provide two essential leading-edge services.

  1. A community-based Data Publication and Curation Service.
  2. A WDS Scalable Knowledge Network and Open Metadata Catalogue: a searchable enriched data and information catalogue on global capability of data centres and services.

 Strengthening links with partners—ICSU-WDS is working with other data organizations to guarantee that a unified message on data stewardship is given. It will also co-host the world’s principal data science event by co-locating future conferences with its sister organization ICSU-CODATA.

Final remarks

It is an exciting time to be involved with ICSU-WDS. We hope that, as a WDS Associate Member, IAHS will actively participate in accomplishing the above strategies. Through their realization, ICSU-WDS looks to have a bright future positioned as the premier global multidisciplinary network for quality-assessed scientific data.

Mustapha Mokrane

Further information at:

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