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Geoscience Data and Collections: National Resources in Peril
they have, so has need for space and funding to support their preservation and accessibility.
Archiving and maintaining data and materials collected during the course of geoscientific research carry benefits well beyond those recognized by the scientific and academic communities. Well-maintained and well-documented geoscience data and collections are storehouses of information that likely will result in better assessment and management of natural resources, better understanding of the geologic hazards with which we live, and enhanced knowledge of the history of Earth and life. Virtually every facet of our daily life is touched either directly or indirectly by geoscience data and collections—from power that lights our cities to coatings on paper in books to medicines that save lives. If you drive a car, ride a bus, walk on sidewalks, take medicine, wear synthetic fabrics, or read a magazine, you have come in direct contact with and used geoscience resources, all of which owe their origin to information gleaned from geoscience data and collections.
Both the quality and quantity of geoscience data and collections have direct bearing on the accuracy of predicting and meeting future resource and engineering needs. Moreover, geoscience data and collections provide critical information that scientists and engineers need to help inform a variety of important societal decisions, including problems resulting from increased population growth on our planet. For example, current fossil energy resource assessment and exploitation is based directly on knowledge of the subsurface geological and engineering properties of the rocks that contain the resources. Natural hazards are assessed using historical records of their occurrence, coupled with prehistoric evidence gathered using geoscience data and collections. In both cases, absence of geoscience data and collections means that interpretations will be weaker at best and erroneous at worst.
GEOSCIENCE DATA AND COLLECTIONS AT RISK
Geoscience data and collections are imperiled, even though many are potentially useful and valuable in the future. Billions of dollars have been spent to acquire them. For instance, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that the cost to replace the geoscience data and collections archived in its Core Research Center at Lakewood, Colorado—a facility that contains no more than 5 percent of the volume of at-risk geoscience data and collections in the United States—is on the order of $10 billion (NRC, 1999a). Other examples include federal support in excess of $500 million for the acquisition of deep-sea sediment cores by the Ocean Drilling Program between 1983 and 1998 (NRC, 2000), and the estimated $535 million value of geologic materials housed at the Kentucky Geological Survey (Kentucky Geological Survey, 2001).
The committee learned that many geoscience data and collections already have been lost, and many more are at risk. Housing of and access to geoscience data and collections have become critical issues for federal and state agencies, academic institutions, museums, and industry. Nearly two-thirds of the state geological surveys the committee polled reported that their geoscience data and collections libraries have 10 percent or less space remaining for new data and collections. Even more critical, 46 percent of those same state geological surveys either reported that there is no space available or have refused to accept new material.
THE CHARGE TO THE COMMITTEE
The dilemma over geoscience data and collections is this: more and better geoscience data and collections exist now than ever before, however planning for space and maintenance of these data and collections have not kept pace with their acquisition. Therefore, appropriate management of these data and collections has become a more critical problem now than ever before. Consequently, the overall goal of this study was to develop a comprehensive strategy to manage geoscience data and collections in the United States. Specifically, the committee was charged with the following tasks:
Develop a strategy for determining which geoscience, paleontological, petrophysical, and engineering data to preserve.
Examine options for the long-term archiving of and provision of access to these data.
Examine three to five accession and repository case studies as examples of successes and failures.
Distinguish the roles of public and private sectors in data preservation.
The committee concentrated its effort on the preservation and management of physical data (e.g., cores, cuttings, fossils, geophysical tapes, paper logs, rocks) as opposed to digital data (e.g., computer-stored information). Nevertheless, the committee addressed the use and importance of digital information to enhance cataloging and dissemination of information about the physical materials (i.e., metadata about the geoscience data and collections). Digital access to information about geoscience data and collections is a key ingredient to their use by the widest range of clients possible.
WHAT SHOULD BE PRESERVED?
Geoscience data and collections are valuable national resources, some of which should be preserved and made available for scientific and strategic use. Despite their importance, utility, and value, substantial amounts already have been lost. For example, the record of the deepest well cored in the United States has been lost. The present-day cost to acquire a similar core is estimated at $12.3 million to $16.4 million (Michael Padgett, EEX Corporation, personal communication, 2001).