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Environmental Data Management at Noaa: Archiving, Stewardship, and Access
Center (NODC)—along with a number of smaller “centers of data.” The National Data Centers are large repositories whose primary functions are to archive, disseminate, and provide stewardship for the data that fall under their purview. “Centers of data” provide specialized data or expertise not readily available from the large data centers (Mock, 2001); they range from well-established archive and access points for specific environmental parameters (for example, the National Snow and Ice Data Center) down to small facilities that maintain certain retrospective records for research or operational applications. For example, the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory holds several specialized data sets, such as hydrology and hydraulics data for the Great Lakes, that are used in research activities and made available to external users.1 Each data center and center of data represents an important component of NOAA’s data management enterprise, and collectively they are responsible for “acquiring, integrating, managing, disseminating, and archiving environmental and geospatial data and information obtained from worldwide sources to support NOAA’s mission.”2
As discussed in the paragraphs that follow, some of NOAA’s data management activities are codified in the form of legislative mandates, administrative orders, or agreements with other entities, but these documents typically do not spell out specific requirements and responsibilities for individual data sets or derived products, and in many cases they are not accompanied by dedicated funding to accomplish the required activities. Additionally, little formal guidance is available to help data managers decide on the appropriate level of archiving and access to apply to different kinds of data, such as model output or multiple versions of reprocessed satellite data. A significant fraction of NOAA’s data are thus collected, archived, and disseminated on an ad hoc basis using limited discretionary funds. The dedication and resourcefulness of NOAA personnel have thus far allowed this approach to work, but the ever-increasing complexity of environmental data coupled with the anticipated explosion in data volumes over the next decade have created a situation where NOAA may not be able to provide the data archiving, stewardship, and access services required to realize the full societal benefits promised by current and future data-generating activities. The background provided in the remainder of this section explains the scope of the data management challenge currently faced by NOAA and describes some of the preliminary steps that the agency has taken to meet this challenge.