Using the World Wide Web to Advance Data Management in LTER

Network News Spring 1998, Vol. 11 No. 1

The latest developments in information management in LTER take advantage of advances in web-based database interfaces to provide access to network-wide data sets via a single point of entry. Following the LTER network information system (NIS) plan (LTER Network Newsletter, Spring/Summer 1996), a number of prototypes were developed addressing different data types found in the network. These include the climate databases (project name: CLIMDB), the site description information (SITEDB), a basic data catalog (DTOC), and the personnel database (PERSDB). In addition to these developments, LTER Network information managers (IMs) and Network Office personnel continue to pursue other activities and collaborations in informatics.

The NIS plan describes an information system that seamlessly facilitates and integrates data exchange, with the mission of meeting the research needs of LTER scientists. The strategy being to design and develop a distributed, LTER-wide information system using a modular approach while maintaining and building on present functionality. An NIS working group is in the process of evaluating the prototype modules (described in detail below). These prototypes each use a different database/web technology and are being developed and tested at LTER sites prior to being installed at the Network Office. This work will lead to the development of the LTER NIS interoperability framework -- a set of specifications that describe the interactions of discrete units of the system, into which additional, future modules can be added.

CLIMDB: The climate database prototype is an interactive, web-based, interface to standardized LTER Network climate data. To develop CLIMDB, LTER IMs (Don Henshaw (AND), Robin Stubbs and Barbara Benson (NTL), Karen Baker (PAL), Darrell Blodgett (BNZ), and John Porter (VCR)) worked with LTER climate researchers to apply current database technology to the climate data standards. Plans are now in progress to migrate CLIMDB, which is currently in an ORACLE database being supported by NTL, to MS SQL at the Network Office.

DTOC: The Data Table of Contents is an automated, web-based data catalog for LTER site data sets. It contains a streamlined, standardized metadata set related to each research data set. This information is "harvested" from the site information systems, using similar conceptual methods to CLIMDB and provides the groundwork for the implementation of a cross-site, standardized metadata model that would be the backbone of the NIS interoperability framework. LTER IMs John Porter, Mike Hartman (NWT), and Chris Wasser (SGS) developed DTOC which is being moved from the VCR site information system to the Network Office.

SITEDB: The site description database project adds another level of metadata compliance to the NIS. This work, prompted both from a scientific and an administrative need for detailed, descriptive information about each LTER site, presents standardized web page views for each site in addition to having all the relevant site information available in a single relational table. This information can be maintained by the site via a web-based interface. Developed as a prototype by Darrell Blodgett, and Karen Baker, the implementation is in miniSQL at BNZ. Development and potential for integration into the NIS will be considered at the next annual data manager’s meeting in Baltimore.

PERSDB: The LTER Network personnel database has been migrated to MS SQL from an old ingres database to more closely control entries and mail lists, and for integration with the LTER NIS. This database can now be updated by the sites via web-based interface implemented in PERL. Darrell Blodgett (BNZ) and Peter McCartney (CAP) are working with James Brunt (NET) and the Network office staff to improve the capabilities.

Other Information Management Activities: LTER IMs are actively cooperating with several national agency/interagency efforts to facilitate interoperability between the LTER Network and the greater scientific community. An important effort this year was the U.S. National Committee for CODATA. Susan Stafford (AND) and John Porter participated in the 1997 CODATA meeting which focused on managing and integrating scientific data across diverse systems. Stafford gave an invited paper on "Long-Term Ecological Research  --  The Challenge of Keeping and Remembering".

LTER IMs participated in the ESA Long-Term Studies Section/Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) workshop on Information Management prior to the 1997 ESA meeting. Those presenting were John Porter, Susan Stafford, Karen Baker, John Briggs (KNZ), Barbara Benson, Doug Moore (SEV), Rudolf Nottrott (NCEAS) and Don Henshaw. The workshop was organized by long-time colleague William K. Michener (Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center), James Gosz (SEV), Art Mckee (AND/OBFS), and John Porter, and will result in a timely and informative publication.

The LTER Data Management steering committee (Datatask) held a planning meeting with the LTER NIS working group and computer scientists from NACSE (Northwest Alliance for Computer Science and Engineering) at Oregon State University in February. NACSE scientists are interested in furthering collaboration on the LTER NIS "centributed" database concepts. The groups have agreed to collaborate on interfaces to LTER data. Work in progress will apply a NACSE software tool, "hyperSQL", to CLIMDB giving it recursive query capabilities. LTER IM participants included Darrell Blodgett, Karen Baker, James Brunt (NET), Mike Hartman, Don Henshaw, John Porter, Susan Stafford, Robin Stubbs (NTL), and Chris Wasser.

LTER IMs Don Henshaw and John Porter participated in the XROOTS workshop in March, along with a larger group of root scientists. The workshop focused on testing and using innovative software tools and database structures to integrate different data sources relevant to the study of roots. Caroline Bledsoe led the workshop, with technical wizardry provided by Jordan Hastings, former IM at the MCM. The software facilitated two-way exchanges between spreadsheets (a favored analytical tool in the root community) and an underlying database. Additional information is available at

LTER Network Office personnel and Network IMs are planning a Latin American Information Management Meeting in Venezuela as part of the regional ILTER meeting to be held there in June. This meeting will bring together data managers from LTER sites all over Latin America and will lay the groundwork for developing international standards for data exchange and interoperability and will provide exchange of information that will be valuable to the developing ILTER networks. This workshop is the culmination of the ILTER meeting in Brazil last year and a planning meeting that was held at Sevilleta in December hosted by James Brunt, Eda Melendez (LUQ), and Gregg Mackeigan (SEV).

Please see

All these advances were made possible both through financial support of the Network Office for work of the LTER Data Management and Climate Committees and by direct participation of NET and site personnel. The NIS prototypes can be reached via