Data Basin: ‰Û÷Google Earth on Steroids Meets Facebook‰Ûª

EarthzineOriginal, Quick Looks, Sections, Technology

A photo showing the author turning over a cover crop of winter rye on Jan. 2, 2012. In three of the past six years, ground freeze-up, which historically occurred by November, has been delayed into January.

By Elise Mulder

Improving information flow is one of the challenges perpetually facing scientists and other decision-makers who rely on current data. In recent years, the internet has provided a variety of efforts to facilitate data sharing.

One such system, Data Basin, creates an opportunity to exchange spatial information. The Conservation Biology Institute launched this system in 2010. To build and implement the system, the institute received assistance from a number of partners including Rhiza Labs, for original version of Data Basin, and ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute), for the current version of the system. At a Data Basin launch party, Executive Director of the Conservation Biology Institute, James Strittholt, described the site by saying, ‰ÛÏIf I‰Ûªm trapped in an elevator for 10 seconds and have to tell people what this is: It‰Ûªs Google Earth on steroids meets Facebook.‰Û

Strittholt explained that he felt conservation efforts were often stifled by limited communication, and he wanted to create an opportunity for stories and knowledge to be shared. His hope is that Data Basin will create a forum for conservation dialogue that will foster collaboration among individuals and organizations.

Data Basin offers a platform to receive, extend, or develop information sets. Additionally, Data Basin provides tools for managing data, such as formatting tools to create GIS maps. Currently posted maps cover a wide range of topics and geographic scopes: From a map showing North American watersheds to a visualization of trash distribution in a neighborhood. Subjects of datasets vary as well, and are classified in four categories: Biological, physical science, socio-economic, or imagery.

Data Basin is a free resource, and anyone interested in accessing or contributing can explore the system at databasin.org. Full access to the datasets and community, however, requires registration and creation of an ESRI online account. Although scientists are the primary audience of Data Basin, the site also is intended as a means for those not traditionally included in the professional scientific community, such as citizen scientists or conscientious businesses. Also, to encourage discussion and outreach, Data Basin users can create personal profiles. Data Basin‰Ûªs founders hope that by encouraging a broader dialogue and creating open access to information, users will be able to make more informed, effective decisions.