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Getting the most out federally funded research

By: Missy Partyka / Published: Feb 01,  2019

Non-science folks might not give a second thought to what happens to scientific data after a study has ended and the researchers move on their next project. But they should! Though they may not know it, data collected during federally funded projects are all stored in data centers positioned across the country. Data related to the environment (like weather, coastal habitats and harmful algal blooms) are stored at data centers run by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration called the National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI).

High-quality data are needed more than ever

The demand for high-quality data and useful climate information increased in recent years. NCEI was created to help fulfill that demand by combining the National Climatic Data Center, the National Geophysical Data Center, the National Ocean Data Center and the National Coastal Data Develoopment Center. NCEI stores a vast variety of data from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun and from million-year-old ice core records to near-real-time satellite images. But beyond storing these data, they make them publicly accessible and develop new interactive tools and maps to draw every drop of value from the initial federal investment. The branch of NCEI that is specifically focused on coastal data is located at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi.

Though NCEI is the nation’s leading authority for environmental information, they need help to improve their interactions with the public, increase the quality of the data they receive from scientists and expand the use of their tools and resources by decision makers. To do all of that, they need help. And, that is where my team and I come in.

We are advocates for science

Here I am collecting participant input and feedback during a recent workshop in Houma, Louisiana.
Here I am collecting participant input and feedback during a recent workshop in Houma, Louisiana.

The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and the Oil Spill Outreach Team have partnered with NCEI to help provide outreach support for the data and products created by NCEI. My team has spent the past four years interacting with coastal communities, fielding their questions and needs, and generating outreach materials that help answer those needs. Though this is a change from our focus on oil spills, this new partnership allows us to continue to do what we do best, advocate for science.

But we need help, too!

A simple first step is to become familiar with NCEI and the products they offer. So that’s what I’ve started to do. Because I’m a marine ecologist who’s worked in water quality and seafood safety, I started with the Harmful Algal BloomS Observing System or HABSOS. HABSOS is an interactive map portal that consolidates data on harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, allowing the public to view locations of current and historic blooms.

The Harmful Algal BloomS Observing System is an interactive map portal where you can see the results of tests for harmful algal species like Karenia brevis, the species responsible for Florida Red Tide.
The Harmful Algal BloomS Observing System is an interactive map portal where you can see the results of tests for harmful algal species like Karenia brevis, the species responsible for Florida Red Tide.

Because I’m a part of the Oil Spill Outreach Team, I’m also very interested in the oil-related information, like the location of all oil and gas pipelines that offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. That information and more can be found in the Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas.

NCEI's Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas provides maps and baseline information for the Gulf. Pictured here are the known oil and gas pipelines off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
NCEI's Gulf of Mexico Data Atlas provides maps and baseline information for the Gulf. Pictured here are the known oil and gas pipelines off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

We work to increase public interaction

The next step is to improve public interaction with the great products created by the folks at NCEI. We need to understand what the public thinks and what they would like to see improved or changed. To accomplish that, we will host a series of workshops and listening sessions to showcase current NCEI products and get feedback from the people that use them.

We’ll also be talking with the data scientists at NCEI to better understand their needs and criteria for accepting data. For instance, data that are stored at NCEI must be of very high quality and have additional information called metadata, that’s data about data. As an example, to ensure that researchers from across the world can use coastal data stored at NCEI, there needs to be information on the types of instruments used and the dates the instruments were calibrated. My team can help the NCEI educate the researchers collecting data about the proper way to create their metadata.

I look forward to sharing information on new products being created by NCEI in coming years along with information on upcoming workshops and listening sessions where we’ll be seeking the input of folks like you, folks that appreciate high-quality science! Stay tuned! In the meantime, head on over to the NCEI website and check out some of their products for yourself.

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