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Thoughts on EGU Earth and Space Science Informatics

April 12th, 2011

The European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly 2011, held from April 22-27 in Vienna, Austria, brought together 10,725 researchers from approximately 96 countries to discuss advances and trends within the Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences.  Attendees presented over four thousand talks and nearly eight and a half thousand posters during the week-long conference.  The volume of information presented and ideas exchanged at EGU is truly staggering, and this meeting is a fundamental part of the social networking for this community.  It is the seed from which many new collaborations form and many grant proposals can trace their genesis to discussions at and around EGU sessions.  EGU is a loud, busy, hectic, and critical event to the Earth and Space Science research communities.

This year I had the pleasure of attending the EGU General Assembly and presenting two talks for our lab in the Earth and Space Science Informatics (ESSI) disciplinary session.  This trip was particularly interesting for me as it was the first time I have attended the EGU General Assembly (I have attended the ESSI session at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting for the last four years) and this afforded me the opportunity to talk with a large number of colleagues in the field from Eurasia whom I have not had previous interaction with.

Over the course of the meeting I came to realize that the European informatics community has a slightly different feel, a different focus from the American informatics groups.  For the European informatics evangelists, the driving focus in informatics is geoscience standards.  The session discourse revolved almost entirely on interoperability in systems and in data models.  Presentations on service-orientated architectures (SOA) that interoperate using Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) defined web services and data models were the rule of the day.  I believe this focus on interoperability and developing consensus on standards and services is deeply rooted in the culture of Europe and the inherent complexities of interacting with neighbors that are culturally and linguistically different.

The presentations I gave for the lab were quite well received.  Eric’s presentation on the S2S architecture was extremely well received because of its potential to interoperate with OGC web services, and its compatibility with many of the SOA initiatives currently being pursued by our European colleagues.  My presentation on the Multi-Sensor Data Synergy Advisor (MDSA), one of our collaborations Greg Leptoukh’s group at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, was also well received as it touched on the complexities of representing/characterizing and comparing concepts such as product quality and fitness-for-use and expressing this information in a way that is consumable by a researcher.  Difficulties in characterizing these concepts were well known to many in the audience who work to develop data model standards. Our work elicited particular interest from David Arctur, Director of Interoperability Programs for OGC, and this is a relationship we should most definitely pursue.

Overall, attending EGU 2011 was a great experience and I believe our lab should increase our presence at future meetings.  There is a great deal we can learn from our European colleagues on building consensus and establishing interoperable web service and data model standards.  The ESSI community is investing great effort in deploying production-level interagency SOA systems – developing experience from which we can benefit.  What our lab can offer is leadership in future web technologies.  We can help the EGU ESSI community adopt linked data / RESTful principles, and add support to their data model and service standards and best practices for semantic web standards and methodologies.  We can provide guidance on how semantic technologies can help further their current goals as well as how they can leverage semantic technologies going forward.

There is a great deal of benefit ESSI can gain from moving to leverage the Semantic Web.  We should be there to share our experiences and provide guidance.  A win for the Earth Sciences is a win for all.

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