OR/14/061 Introduction

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Watson, C, Baker, G, and Nayembil M. 2014. Open geoscience data models: end of project report. British Geological Survey Internal Report, OR/14/061.

Project motivation

The British Geological Survey (BGS) has invested well over £1 000 000 since the late 1970s designing and building geosciences databases. This has resulted in a wealth of mature, well documented designs and a reputation for excellence in this area.

Between July 1998 and March 2001 the BGS led a project called ‘Strategies and Systems for Maximising Data Value — Knowledge and Research (KaR) programme’, it was carried out on behalf of the Department for International Development (DFID) and produced a generalised data model for use in geological organisations engaged in geological mapping. The BGS worked with the geological surveys of Botswana, Malawi and Malaysia to provide training on the underlying data model and associated database implementations.

The BGS is regularly contacted by other Geological Survey Organisations (GSOs) and industry requesting copies of database designs. This lead the then head of Informatics, Jeremy Giles and the Data Architect, Martin Nayembil, to recognise the need for an open sharing of geoscience data models amongst a community of GSOs, industry and academics. Various ideas were discussed about how such a community initiative could be developed. Ideas included the setting up of an online repository for data model designs, specialist conferences or workshops to encourage knowledge exchange and targeted technical visits to help develop data modelling expertise in developing countries.

The BGS have actively helped to develop elements of the organisational databases for a number of GSOs, notably GSI (Ireland), GSNI (Northern Ireland) and IGME (Greece) whilst providing designs and data model concepts to many other international organisations and companies.

Through these experiences it became apparent that many geoscience organisations in developing countries lack the essential skills, funds and experience to create the necessary information architecture to effectively manage the information they hold. There is an acute need for better management, storage and presentation of geoscience information. At the same time, there is also a growing need for the standardisation in the way we record such information so that resources and hazards which cross national boundaries can be managed and understood on both sides of a border in the same way. The data model is a key part of successful information management because it provides a centralised description of the meaning and inter-relationships of the information.

A proposal for a two year knowledge exchange project was submitted to the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in May 2010. The proposal largely centred on the creation of a community drawn together in the first year of the project by a specially arranged international conference. The proposal paid particular attention to the needs of GSOs operating in developing countries, which is why the conference was due to take place in sub Saharan Africa, with some of the project funds designated for use as travel subsidies for a small number of delegates.

This initial proposal was not funded and based upon the feedback received a second proposal was produced. The revised proposal focussed more on small scale face to face meetings rather than a large scale international conference and benefited from more attention being paid to the sustainability of the community and resources produced. Funding was granted for a 2 year project in February 2011 under the Knowledge Exchange programme, going by the name of Open Geoscience Data Models, work started in June that year.

It is our aim to provide open, ready to use database designs that will be available to all on a public website.

We will also build a self sustaining community to develop these and new designs to meet the needs of the wider environmental community.