EarthCube in Denver

Squishy EarthCubeI was invited to give a keynote presentation at the EarthCube All-Hands Meeting in Denver last week. EarthCube is a project funded by the US National Science Foundation to build data infrastructure for geoscience. Every year they have an “all-hands meeting” for all of the people working on EarthCube projects to get together and discuss their progress. I was invited to give a presentation about lessons learned building community-driven cyberinfrastructure in biology. The presentation was about my experience working with the Encyclopedia of Life from when I first started (two months after the website first went up) to present. I was happy to do it and I think the participants found it useful. I was most interested to see where EarthCube was after having been involved in a few of the initial planning sessions a several years ago. There were several EarthCube projects that I found to be very interesting, but one in particular made me smile and was totally unexpected (for me anyway).

One of the students wrote an app called FlyoverCountry. It is meant to be installed on a mobile device and used while flying. This app links data from five data sources, Macrostrat, NeotomaDB, PaleobioDB, Wikipedia, and LacCore. While a user is flying over the countryside, the app can tell them what rock formations or fossils can be found down below. With just a little imagination, one could come up with more data sources that could be linked in this app. FlyoverCountry has gotten a lot of attention and was featured on NPR’s Science Friday (July 8) and the Smithsonian magazine, among others. What really gets me excited, though, is the behind-the-scenes linking of these geoscience databases. This is the kind of linking that EarthCube should be about. I realize that EarthCube is supposed to be data infrastructure serving geoscientists, not the curious public, but an app like this can bring in the support needed to build the behind the scenes infrastructure the research community needs.

The EarthCube project has another five years left (at least if they stick with the original expectation of a ten year project) and I hope I get invited to another all-hands meeting so I can see what further progress has been made.