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Finding the Forest in the Trees: The Challenge of Combining Diverse Environmental Data
different variables that are modeled, measured, or experimentally manipulated. These variables may interact with each other to a high degree, and these interactions include nonlinearities or discontinuities in space or time. In particular, a certain degree of complexity in global change research ensues from the sheer quantity of data at large spatial and temporal scales. Likewise, analogous degrees of complexity originate on the organizational side of research in how the work is structured, managed, and implemented due to the sizable number of investigators and participants across a range of disciplines.
The Global Change Research Program and other large research initiatives involve the interfacing of large volumes of diverse data, commonly combining several traditionally distinct disciplines, such as meteorology, oceanography, geology, biology, chemistry, and geography, or their related subdisciplines. ''Data interfacing" may be defined as the coordination, combination, or integration of data for the purpose of modeling, correlation, pattern analysis, hypothesis testing, and field investigations at various scales. Because data from each discipline and subdiscipline are organized into data sets and databases that frequently possess unique or special attributes, their effective interfacing can be difficult.
Sound practices in database management are required to deal effectively with problems of complexity in global change studies and other large interdisciplinary research and assessment projects. Although a great deal of attention and resources has been devoted to this type of research in recent years, little guidance has been provided on overcoming the barriers frequently encountered in the interfacing of disparate data sets. And although there is a wealth of relevant experience at the working level in the research community, this experience generally has not been analyzed and organized to make it more readily available to researchers.
Because of the increasing importance of conducting interdisciplinary environmental research and assessments, both nationally and internationally, the Committee for a Pilot Study on Database Interfaces was charged to review and advise on data interfacing activities in that context. This report is the result of that study. The focus is on developing analytical and functional guidelines to help researchers and technicians engaged in interdisciplinary research—particularly those projects that involve both geophysical and ecological issues—to better plan and implement their supporting data management activities. It also is aimed at informing those individuals responsible for funding, managing, or evaluating such studies and activities.