Physical Sample Challenges at a State Geological Survey

Authors: Denise J Hills


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Conference paper

Abstract

The Geological Survey of Alabama (GSA) is the gatekeeper for a multitude of data products, including physical samples. GSA is mandated to make these data available for all stakeholders, but the data have not always been well-curated. Data rescue efforts are underway, but physical samples can have unique challenges. For example, identifying an appropriate standard for metadata structure or sample registration for rock cores has not always been straightforward. However, GSA has adopted the standards found at the US Geoscience Information Network (USGIN) and is in the process of registering cores and related samples for International Geo Sample Numbers (IGSNs) through the System for Earth Sample Registration. There are still challenges ahead, but GSA’s involvement with groups and programs such as the CODATA Task Group on Science and Management of Physical Objects in the Digital Era will help ensure that GSA continues to use best practices and standards for sample identification.

Physical samples challenges and solutions

Government agencies are often the caretakers for myriad data products essential for scientific research and economic development. For example, the Geological Survey of Alabama (GSA) is mandated to explore for, characterize, and report Alabama’s mineral, energy, water, and biological resources in support of the betterment of Alabama’s citizens, communities, and businesses. As part of that mandate, GSA has increasingly been called upon to make our data, particularly that relating to physical samples (e.g., rock cores) more accessible to stakeholders. Tightening budgets mean that well-documented and discoverable legacy data (including physical samples) are critical for continued scientific research and economic growth. Researchers want more detailed information prior to a site visit, as they have limited resources (time and money) for gathering information. GSA is improving systems in place for curation and management of physical samples in order to better serve stakeholders.

Physical samples can have unique challenges when it comes to effective curation and management in a digital era. For example, identifying an appropriate standard for metadata structure or sample registration for rock cores has not always been straightforward. The GSA has identified the standards found at the US Geoscience Information Network (USGIN) to be the most appropriate for our geologic physical samples and have adopted their use particularly for data rescue of legacy records through semi-automated workflows. Additionally, to increase discoverability and accessibility, as well as streamline citation, GSA is in the process of registering cores and related samples for International Geo Sample Numbers (IGSNs) through the System for Earth Sample Registration. IGSNs allow the GSA to use asset management software to better curate the physical samples. Involvement with groups and programs, such as the CODATA Task Group on Science and Management of Physical Objects in the Digital Era, will ensure that GSA continues to use best practices and standards for sample identification, documentation, citation, curation, and sharing.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank the Data Stewardship Committee of the Federation of Earth Science Information Partners for their contributions to the development of the practices described here.

Competing Interests

The author declares that she has no competing interests.