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Understanding Climate’s Influence on Human Evolution
issues (e.g., International Continental Scientific Drilling Program [ICDP] and IODP), and some similar flexibility would be required for the research endeavor proposed here.
The application of modern informatics to the study of the potential link between human evolution and earth system parameters will require new information technology applications to solve research challenges across the disciplines of geology, paleoclimatology, paleoanthropology, and paleontology. Because a number of discrete disciplines contribute to this research endeavor, it is especially important that the acquired data from individual disciplines be integrated across time and space. The path from data collection and entry to information dissemination will require high-level computing and the use of visualization software. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) capabilities are a critical component, because most of the data associated with this research are place-based and/or require three-dimensional imaging (e.g., see Conroy et al., 2008). A corollary requirement is the need to ensure—to the greatest extent possible—that the locations of specimens collected during earlier, pre-GPS/GIS activities at remote field sites are geolocated and integrated into a modern geoinformatics structure. This has become increasingly important with the pending retirements of senior paleoanthropologists whose work is recorded in notebooks or other nonelectronic media.
At present, existing online databases and data management systems mostly address the needs of specific research groups concerned with human and mammalian evolution or related earth science topics, for example, RHOI (Revealing Hominid Origins Initiative) for Mio-Pliocene faunal specimens, NOW (Neogene Mammals of the Old World), the Smithsonian’s HOP (Human Origins Program Database), GEON (Geosciences Network), and the ICDP Data and Information Management System. The implementation and maintenance of relational databases for all published material in core disciplines has the potential to facilitate additional exciting research by encouraging cross-disciplinary collaboration. A data repository, either physical or virtual, is required to formalize the linkages between individual relational databases. The linked datasets should also be integrated with the mapping capabilities available in GIS systems to enable integrated visualization for particular localities, regions, or through time.
Coordination and Management
A Science Advisory Committee, composed of individuals representing the broader scientific community and with a broad vision of how these research components relate to each other, will be required to foster communication among disciplinary groups, coordinate the implementation elements, and convey the science community’s priorities to funding agencies. On the basis of community input, this committee would establish and periodically update plans for exploration, drilling, and modeling, and prioritize regions to be investigated. The committee would oversee: