Lead NCAR’s Data Stewardship and Engineering Team

To support a large and expanding scientific community, NCAR has been openly sharing a significant amount of its digital assets, including publications, data sets, software applications, and models. Spread across the organization, these various digital assets support the atmospheric and related sciences needs of universities, NCAR, and the broader geosciences community. User surveys have confirmed the value of these digital assets and indicated that broader and easier access would be helpful. These findings along with federal and agency mandates for open data sharing have prompted NCAR to create the Data Stewardship Engineering Team (DSET).

With membership from each NCAR Laboratory, the NCAR Library, and UCAR Community Programs, DSET is tasked with designing and implementing an integrated system to allow comprehensive search and discovery of digital assets across the organization. The IT implementation will adhere to community-recognized metadata standards, integrate across existing data services systems, and augment systems that are underutilized and may not have the operational capabilities to preserve digital assets for the long term. This upcoming search and discovery system – along with supporting consulting services, guidance for grants requiring Data Management Plans, assistance for assigning DOIs to digital assets, and training for best practices in data management – will form the Digital Asset Services Hub (DASH) as a whole for the organization. CISL’s experience with IT infrastructure and data repository management has positioned it to be a leader in the NCAR-wide DSET and the subsequent development of DASH.

DASH, as designed and implemented by the DSET, will provide a comprehensive central system and the information resource for searching and discovering the digital assets held by groups throughout NCAR, thereby increasing NCAR’s scientific value to and impact on the research community. The IT foundation for DASH uses CI and skilled personnel in CISL to develop, maintain, and operate atmospheric and related science-specific data services for the NCAR organization. Cross-organization metadata support is delivered by personnel in EOL.

DASH home page
Home page of the Digital Asset Services Hub (DASH) as of end-FY2016.

DASH is made effective by framing its IT infrastructure and services to support the asset providers and meet their needs. DASH’s services include: Data Management Plan (DMP) templates and guidance, monitoring of DMP goals for successful grants to assist with accountability to Federal mandates, improved user interfaces through usability assessments studies, and a dedicated point of contact and consulting service for the organization.

NCAR has an inventory of more than 100 digital assets that include software, publications, documentation, model codes, and sets of data files that are managed as a single entity or collection. Since late 2015, the DSET has been making good progress toward its purpose of providing comprehensive digital asset search and discovery capability across the organization. This progress has been enabled and facilitated by regular meetings, volunteer support from each NCAR Laboratory, and some dedicated staff support. Two related DSET technical initiatives are also ongoing: development of a digital asset metadata and the DASH scientific data management system. The metadata specification is based on ISO 19115 standards with elements that enable DOI assignment through DataCite’s registry service. These metadata are being preserved in the new scientific data management system that is based on CKAN, an open-source software that will be modified to meet NCAR needs. As such the system is the metadata repository, supports search and discovery, and will be an access point for metadata sharing with outside organizations (e.g., EarthCube). User access will be through both user and application programming interfaces (UI and API).

In the next phase of development, the system will be augmented with data storage for projects that are not served by other repositories. Beginning in July 2016, a new Data Curator and Stewardship Coordinator role was added to this effort. The Coordinator provides educational materials for NCAR to prepare consistent Data Management Plans (as required for grant proposals), guidance on metadata standards and repository options related to DASH, consulting for data providers and users seeking digital asset information, and other support services aligned with the DSET goals. The DASH is the network location where all DSET-related services will be located. It is currently under development and will exhibit rapid improvement and public availability in the coming year.

The first prototype DSET system will demonstrate digital asset search and discovery spanning NCAR, all Laboratories, the Library, and UCP. Test-user feedback and lessons learned will lead to metadata and system refinements, followed by large-scale metadata insertion, user interface and API improvements, and finally open service to the public. The holistic view of digital assets provided by DSET developments will greatly improve the experience of our broad and growing user community. We expect our users to offer recommendations and guidance that we will use to enhance the system. Successful completion of these near-term goals will also lay the foundation for collaborations outside NCAR, which include Internet interoperable (machine-to-machine) access to more data, and the federation and sharing of NCAR resources with peer organizations and research communities like those organizing around EarthCube efforts. DSET progress can be tracked on the DSET project website.

The DSET and DASH are supported by NSF Core funds.