The Hot Zone

Climate scientist says research data should be freely available

Posted by Alison Hawkes on February 13, 2011
Category : Climate Science and Scientists

Climate science may lack the knowledge to understand the full scope of climate change. But it certainly doesn’t lack data. From records dating back to the 1600s to modern day satellite images and numerical climate model simulations, there’s a treasure-trove of data out there that are aiding scientists and government officials in addressing the changing climate.

The problem, as outlined this week in a perspective piece in the journal Science, is that the data is fragmented and dispersed in many different places. Lead author Jonathan Overpeck at the University of Arizona says those most left out of the reams of expanding data are people who are not physical scientists: “an ever-increasing range of scientists (ecologists, hydrologists, social scientists, etc.) and decision-makers in society who have real money, livelihoods, and even lives at stake (resource managers, farmers, public health officials, and others).

NASA maintains a 15,000 processor supercomputer for climate modeling. Photo: NASA

He says that about half the international modeling groups are restricted from sharing climate model data with those outside the research community because of intellectual property concerns that it will be used for commercial purposes. Similar restrictions are in place for observational data, such as on the ground measurements of climate. Overpeck and his colleagues say privacy is the wrong way to go, and that governments and scientific journals should allow easy access to data associated with the papers they publish and the work they fund.

“Open and free availability of model data, observations, and the software used for processing is crucial to all aspects of the new paradigm,” they write.

They admit that appropriately using and understanding so much data is a challenge. Finding which data to look at and understanding the uncertainties is crucial in making sense of it all. This is where better software programs could help in identifying by sifting through all the data.

The result could be a more closer relationship between scientists and stakeholders who need to take a more active part in determining the direction of climate data.

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