Geochemist receives NSF grant for work developing search engines for climate change data

No researcher is an island.

While scientists and scholars certainly find themselves alone in labs and sometimes behind computers, it’s the collaboration — consulting, borrowing, and building on the research of others — that really drives discovery.

And in the field of low-temperature geochemistry – which studies geochemical processes occurring just on or below the Earth’s surface and examines time-sensitive issues related to climate change – the data collection process available can be frustratingly slow.

This is because datasets from different subdisciplines are deposited in multiple databases and can vary greatly from each other in terms of format. Datasets need to be aligned with each other so that “apples to apples” analyzes can take place. Additionally, these datasets are not always published in a searchable or discoverable form. And widely used search engines are not helpful in these scenarios due to the highly specialized nature of the search.

EES Professor Tao Wen is part of an NSF-funded project to create effective scientific search engines.

This is the problem Tao Wenassistant professor at the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Earth and Environmental Sciencesand his colleagues are working on the Democratized Cyberinfrastructure for Open Discovery to Enable Research (DeCODER) project, a joint effort of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), the San Diego Supercomputer Center, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the University of Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and the University of California at Berkeley.

The combined team of software cyberinfrastructure scientists and geoscientists began their four-year project on October 1 and will work to standardize and unify data and tool descriptions, making it easier to build effective scientific search engines. .

Wen received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $460,000 for his part in the project. He will lead the low-temperature geochemistry team, working in tandem with Professor Shuang Zhang of Texas A&M and graduate and undergraduate students from both schools.

The diagram above shows how carbon atoms “flow” between various “pools” in the Earth system.

Wen’s team studies low-temperature geochemistry – the chemical processes that occur in Earth’s surface environments. The diagram above shows how carbon atoms “flow” between various “pools” in the Earth system. (Courtesy of UCAR)

The initial work of the project will expand on the already successful EarthCube GeoCODES framework, enabling the geoscience community to adopt schema science – an established and agreed-upon vocabulary for scientific datasets – to share data and codes.

“Ultimately, we are further developing and deploying DeCODER in three additional disciplines of earth and environmental science: ecological modeling, low-temperature geochemistry, and deep-sea observation,” Wen said. “These three scientific disciplines cover very well the scientific questions related to climate change and global warming.

Once the dataset and search engines are in place, Wen’s team will move into a “testing” phase, applying the tool to specific low-temperature geochemistry questions and reaching out to the scientific community to get feedback.

“This grant will place Syracuse University at the frontier of low-temperature geochemistry and cyberinfrastructure development,” Wen predicts. “Students at Syracuse University will be able to work not only on the development of DeCODER in low temperature (geochemistry), but also on the subsequent application of DeCODER in scientific questions related to low temperature geochemistry. DeCODER will facilitate and advance the study of scientific questions in the future for scientists on Earth and beyond.

Story of Laura Wallis

Amanda J. Marsh