Love Your Data Week 2017 ~ Day 5: Rescuing Unloved Data

Love Your Data Week 2017 ~ Day 5: Rescuing Unloved Data

Feb 17, 2017
Love Your Data Week Day 5 Theme ~ Rescuing Unloved Data

#LYD17 Message of the Day: “Data that is mobile, visible and well-loved stands a better chance of surviving” ~ Kurt Bollacker

Elizabeth Burakowski, Research Assistant Professor, Earth Systems Research Center & Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space 
Hannah Hamalainen, Assistant Professor, UNH Dimond Library & Geospatial Services Center

Those who work with scientific data see it all the time: faculty members retire, lab projects end when funding runs out, and the outputs of important research languish on forgotten hard drives and servers. Field data that has been recorded diligently by hand get accidentally misplaced or damaged. Technology gets updated and the data formats on proprietary software are lost forever due to unreadability. 

Even some UNH faculty have felt the data loss blues and had to worry about concerns for preservation of their data. Let’s take a closer look at a few case studies of environmental data: physical data which was lost, some map data that was lost and later refound, and digital data which is fighting to be preserved.

Saving Data

Mark Twickler in the Earth Systems Research Center has been the Science Director at the National Ice Core Lab (NICL) since the late 1980s.  NICL manages the storage, curation, and preservation of ice cores collected from Antarctica to Greenland and everywhere in between. The NICL facility, located in Lakewood, Colorado, serves as a long-term repository for ice cores that contain records of climate history dating back hundreds of thousands of years. 

In 1985, ice cores drilled at the South Pole were partially melted during transit to the United States on a ship.  The shipping container in which they were being transported experienced a cooling system failure and no back-up system was in place.  “Redundancy is standard operating procedure nowadays,” says Twickler, noting that all cores in transport have two redundant cooling systems.  In the event the primary system fails, the auxiliary system takes over. Systems were put in place that would allow for refrigeration backup: when ice cores were transported from Alaska to CO in two freezer trucks travelled in tandem; if one truck broke down, cores are immediately loaded into the second awaiting truck.

Ice cores are also stored locally at Universities for in-house analysis.  Twickler noted one such University freezer facility that was a victim of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.  Several cores collected in Greenland were partially melted after University of Miami lost power for five days -- and some cores remarkably had usable data.  Damaged and other partially melted cores have been donated for education and outreach activities.

Finding Hidden Data

David Divins, Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS), recalls a data rescue project in the late 1990s.  Divins was on a team that analyzed new bathymetry data compiled as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Great Lakes data rescue program, using the entire historic hydrographic database from the United States and Canada to create descriptive bathymetric maps of the surface of lake floors. While the data sets were originally created for the purpose of nautical map creation, it took decades for Divins and his team to extract the points from the underlying NOAA data sets to create the bathymetric maps. Among the scientific discoveries found hidden in the data were undiscovered channels excavated by propeller wash in Lake Erie.  It's great that the accumulated effort to preserve this unique data set is now available for other scientists to use.

“The data wasn’t being used to its full potential - its value was not just for the purpose for which it was collected,” Divins said.

The NOAA Great Lakes data rescue initiative is a great example of how preservation of research data can not only keep your data secure for the long term but can later be used to further scientific research, saving future scientists time, money and a lot of headaches. This dissemination helps make data available for re-use. “Data should be available to everyone. You can make your data, you can publish, but when you are done, you should make it available  so that someone else can find it useful,” Divins said.

Citation: Bathymetry of western Lake Erie showing the Point Pelee Fan and the Pelee-Lorain Ridge.

Holcombe, T. L., Reid, D. F., & Divins, D. L. (1998). New bathymetry of the Great Lakes being compiled as part of NOAA's Great Lakes data rescue program. Earth System Monitor, 6(1), 10-11. Retrieved from

Rescuing At-risk Data

In cities and major research institutions around the country, scientists and librarians have joined forces to preserve and rescue at-risk federal climate data. Data rescue efforts are collaborative crowd-sourced hack-a-thons that seek to protect federal data in the public interest from a government administration that has expressed mistrust for science and climate change.

DataRescueNH will feature the web scraping and archiving of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, saving resources into the Internet Archive, which runs the Wayback Machine. Interested in helping? Join us for #DataRescueNH on Friday, Feb 17, 2017 from 4-8pm, Dimond Library. Sponsored by UNH University Libraries and the UNH Center for Infrastructure Resilience to Climate, DataRescueNH is run by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI) in collaboration with the PPEHlab’s DataRefuge project. Bring your laptop and charger.

UNH Links

Data backup and security
Open science and open data

Outside Links

Rescuing Government Information: The Long View

Visit the Love Your Data(link is external) website for more on finding good data including things to consider, stories, resources, and activities. 

The University of Hampshire (UNH) also has a wealth resources to help researchers conduct research responsibly and that include resources on responsible data management practices.  These include:










Bookmark and Share