Does EarthCube Hold the “Keys to the Kingdom” of Earth Science Data?

Updated April 17, 2016

With all the recent excitement and good hopes over the White House Climate Data Initiative, and the ongoing progress of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), there is another huge data initiative that bears mention: EarthCube.

I have used the word “initiative” for EarthCube but it has also been described as a vision, as a multi-faceted, multi-layered partnership, and also as a “virtual organization.” As such, it bears quite a bit of resemblance to the international GEOSS, but is much more US-based, having been conceived and currently funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). Thus, it may be quite important for advancing President Obama’s Climate Data Initiative and for similar efforts to bring data to bear on real-world problems that need fast, efficient, and long-lasting solutions. This means providing easy and unlimited access to any kind of scientific data–access that allows plotting, modeling, and visualizing in various ways, from a desktop, a phone, a tablet, out in the field or in the research lab, the classroom, or the office of a policy-maker. We anticipate that many NSF-funded EarthCube projects, along with the data shared therein, will be used to meet some of the goals of the GEOSS initiative. There are also natural ties between EarthCube and various Open Data initiatives.

An overview conceptual graphic of EarthCube, courtesy of NSF.

As described officially by the NSF, EarthCube is a “bold new initiative to create a data and knowledge management system for the 21st century across the Geosciences. The Directorate of Geosciences (GEO) and the Division of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (ACI) of the US National Science Foundation are the sponsors of this effort. The scientific objective is to develop a framework over the next decade to understand and predict the Earth system from the sun to the center of the Earth. EarthCube aims to:

  • transform the conduct of data-enabled research and education for the geosciences;
  • create effective community-driven cyberinfrastructure;
  • allow global data discovery and knowledge management; and
  • achieve interoperability and data integration within and across disciplines.”

The many geoscience disciplines meant to be served by the EarthCube cyberinfrastructure or “CI.”
Graphic courtesy of NSF.

Although EarthCube was launched in mid-2011, the NSF announced in September 2013 a total of $14.5 million in funding for several large projects. These included funding for an initial governance framework overseeing EarthCube, for the initial software components that will comprise it (aka “Building Blocks”), for projects to develop broad architecture designs (aka “Conceptual Designs”), and for Research Coordination Networks (RCNs) to helps specific facets of the geosciences community move forward to get involved with EarthCube.

There are literally hundreds of scientists who have had input to the “vision” of EarthCube thus far (including those from Esri) and dozens that are currently being funded. Hundreds are now active in EarthCube as a virtual organization. Esri has been involved in several of the working groups, charrettes, and stakeholder workshops since the beginning of EarthCube, and is now engaging in varying levels of invited participation on four of the projects funded in September 2013:

Esri will continue to be involved with additional planned collaborations as new rounds of EarthCube proposals for RCNs and Building Blocks are funded. These include work with academic scientists to leverage and enhance our open-source GeoPortal server for supporting multiple ontology searches and for showing relationships beyond just digital data archives (i.e., relationships among people, institutions, models, workflows, etc.). Chief Scientist Dawn Wright is an active member of the Liaison Team within EarthCube Governance.

For information on EarthCube please visit and

This American Geophysical Union article also provides an excellent overview of the EarthCube vision.

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About Dawn Wright

Dawn Wright joined Esri as Chief Scientist in October 2011 and is responsible for strengthening the scientific foundation for Esri software and services, while representing Esri to the national and international scientific community. She is also professor of geography and oceanography at Oregon State University and has participated in several initiatives around the world over the past 20 years to map, analyze, and preserve ocean terrains and ecosystems. Follow her on Twitter @deepseadawn.
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  1. tompgapro says:

    Hi Dr. Dawn,Awesome Project! If I can help in anyway please let me know!Just joined the community!Tom KukitzGo Beavers!