Paleoclimatology, the study of ancient climates, has entered the era of big data, with massive quantities of digital information pouring into databases from research groups all over the world. The effort required to make all these data compatible is staggering, taking up to 80% of researchers’ time in some cases. Terminology is often poorly defined among different data sets, so that even common phrases like “the present” may not mean the same thing across studies. (Some researchers use “the present” to mean the time since 1950, whereas others use it more narrowly to indicate the year a study was published.)
Now Khider et al., building off discussions held during an international workshop in 2016 as well as a data platform called LinkedEarth, have published the first effort to standardize this abundance of paleoclimate data, called the Paleoclimate Community Reporting Standard. The standards will allow researchers to curate and access data sets in one online hub while also creating a common vocabulary to describe the data, following the findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable, or FAIR, principles.
The project includes input from the wider paleoclimate community and creates tailored guidelines for a large variety of data sets based on a variety of sources, such as historical documents, ice cores, lake sediments, and tree rings, among many others. Now that the standards have been established, the challenge is to adopt them, the authors write. Funding agencies and publishers could incentivize adoption by requiring that researchers use the online hub and guidelines, they suggest. (Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019PA003632, 2019)
—Emily Underwood, Freelance Writer