Cyberinfrastructure to Improve the Usability of Environmental Observations

EPA Grant Number: FP917285
Title: Cyberinfrastructure to Improve the Usability of Environmental Observations
Investigators: Laney, Christine M
Institution: The University of Texas at El Paso
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: September 1, 2011 through August 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Emerging Environmental Approaches and Challenges: Information Science


The overarching goal of this research is to create a useful, modular local cyberinfrastructure (CI) that will help small laboratories to: (1) curate and share their data efficiently while adhering to nationally recognized standards, (2) compare their data with data collected by larger research networks, and (3) scale their data from local to regional and global scales. The overarching research questions addressed by this study are: (1) What are the best practices for researchers at small laboratories who wish to organize their work such that they meet their own research goals while making their data discoverable and usable for data synthesis efforts? (2) What kinds of CI and best practices will connect researchers at small laboratories to broader scale data curation and analysis efforts? (3) What kinds of CI will best combine distributed data at multiple spatial scales?


This study will first do a literature search and interviews of small laboratories that collect environmental, and specifically carbon cycling data to determine how they currently organize their work and information. Following an IRBapproved protocol, interviews and focus group sessions will be conducted at national meetings such as the Ecological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union. Next, the study will work with members of the Cyber-ShARE team to design, build, implement, validate and verify the new CI framework. The first phase of this project will be to set up a prototype to curate and analyze data collected by the Systems Ecology Laboratory (SEL) at a research site at the Jornada Experimental Range, within the northern range of the Chihuahuan Desert. The second phase will bring external data in for integration with local data and will set up protocols for distributing data and documentation to other data centers or projects. The third and final phase of this project is to promote use of the CI framework and modules outside of the Jornada research group, and obtain feedback on its usability and usefulness.

Expected Results:

Research in the new fields of ecoinformatics and environmental applications is essential for answering urgent, applied earth system questions. The expected outcome of the research is a validated, flexible CI framework that can be used, modified and shared by small laboratories to facilitate knowledge and data sharing, and that can evolve over time with users’ evolving needs. Such a CI will allow for bottom-up modifications while keeping national frameworks and goals of data management in focus. The CI framework and modules developed for this project, posted online as a free and dynamic resource, may encourage laboratories to set up their own robust CIs and improve data sharing. Researchers in both the environmental and computer sciences will be encouraged to modify existing or create new modules, keeping national initiatives in mind, to address other lines of ecosystem or earth system research. This could include curating and discovering air and water quality, human health and agricultural data, providing a platform for synthetic studies of human-environment interactions. Eventually, such data-supported activities could inform efforts by EPA regarding the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. This set of bottom-up activities meeting top-down environmental information management efforts may help transform ecological information management and sharing.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

The testing of this CI during each phase of development will not only tell us about the efficacy of the new CI, but also about regional environmental processes, which ultimately have implications to the burgeoning population in the desert southwest. Being able to describe carbon cycling at a regional level by quickly analyzing datasets collected locally and comparing them to datasets from different sites within the region can promote rapid assessment of ecosystem health and productivity. Being able to share data regionally will promote collaborations, which will be able to more quickly assess patterns in the data.

Supplemental Keywords:

ecology, informatics, cyberinfrastructure, environmental science

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final