SIDEBAR 1-1 Statement of Task

The preservation of geoscience data (e.g., cores, cuttings, maps, paper reports, digital dataa) is becoming a critical issue for federal agencies, academic researchers, museums, institutes, and industry. This study will:

  1. develop a strategy for determining what geoscience, paleontological, petrophysical, and engineering datab to preserve;

  2. examine options for long-term archival of these data;

  3. examine three to five accession and repository case studies as examples of successes and failures; and

  4. distinguish the roles of the public and private sectors in data preservation.

The overall goal of the study is to develop a comprehensive strategy for managing geoscience data in the United States.


The committee chose to emphasize physical data (as opposed to digital data) in its considerations because the preservation of physical data presents more of a challenge within the geosciences, and numerous digital data initiatives and studies either have been completed recently or currently are underway.


For the sake of clarity and simplicity, the committee, using the definition of geoscience noted earlier, considered paleontological, petrophysical, and engineering data that related to solid-Earth studies to be part of geoscience data and collections. Geoscience data and collections were distinguished from each other on the basis of whether or not the physical item or items originated naturally (a rock, mineral, or fossil) or were produced from some other medium (a paper log, a magnetic tape, a picture), with the former falling under the definition of collection and the latter falling under the definition of geoscience data. See Appendix D for examples and clarification, and Appendix E for a glossary of technical terms.

sible to users; and making samples and data useful and of sufficient quality and validity to be believable. A successful strategy for managing geoscience data and collections in the United States must address all components. First and foremost, however, these components rest on a single, critical element—good accompanying documentation2 for the data and collections.

Proper curation of geoscience data and collections is more efficient and less redundant than repeatedly re-collecting the samples. Archiving costs3 summed over many decades may approach reacquisition costs, but the value of ready access to data and collections (for hazards response and other unanticipated uses, education, and academic and commercial research) is only realized if these data and collections are preserved. Additionally, existing collections have been assembled over many years using samples from the same sites or regions. These collections usually are much larger and more representative than collections assembled by a single expedition. Lastly, re-collection of physical samples often requires physical disturbance, which in densely populated, reclaimed, or pristine areas, could make access and collection undesirable.


Geoscience data and collections come in many shapes and forms (Figures 1-1 and 1-2; Appendix D). Whether they are fossils, rocks, or cylindrical cores of rock, sediment, or ice, these geological materials record chapters of Earth’s history.4 Taken together, these chapters constitute a library that federal and state agencies, university researchers, and private companies use daily to understand the physical world— past, present, and future. This library provides invaluable and, in many cases, unique information with scientific, health, safety, commercial, and educational benefits, many of which are explored in this section. Each time a geological sample or piece of data is allowed to deteriorate, or is damaged, misplaced, or thrown away without assessing its merits, the information it contains and the knowledge it represents are lost. Multiplying this loss over and over again is


Good accompanying documentation means adequate supporting information about the geoscience data and collections. What is adequate for one purpose may be inadequate for another. However, in general, documentation has to be more complete for legal or research purposes than for teaching and display purposes. Documentation includes information about age, location, depth, originator, and date acquired.


In one example, the replacement cost per foot of oil industry core currently is between $550 and $1,200, compared to an average annual storage cost of $0.33 to $0.66 per foot (Emily Stoudt, ChevronTexaco, personal communication, 2001). For further discussion of this point see Montgomery (1999).


Chapter 3 describes in detail the types of geologic data and collections, who collects them, and why.

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