OSGeo Events, FOSS4G 2008

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Promoting Open Access to Environmental Data using Open Source Software

Peter Mooney

Building: Cape Town International Convention Centre
Room: Golden Gate Room (Room 2.4a)
Date: 2008-09-30 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Last modified: 2008-09-08


The Science, Technology, Research & Innovation for the Environment (STRIVE) Programme has been allocated funding of approximately 100 euro million for the period 2007-2013. The purpose of the STRIVE Programme is to protect and improve the natural environment by addressing key environmental management issues by the provision of world-class scientific knowledge generated through a vibrant, competitive programme of research developed supported and co-ordinated by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is expected that very large volumes of raw and aggregrated geospatial data will be generated by research projects funded by STRIVE. Publicly-funded research data are recognised as a valuable, long-term resource which has value within and beyond the lifetime of the STRIVE programme. "Alongside human capital and instrumental capital goods, digital research data are developing in to the third stream of scientific capital" (Schroder, 2003). However there are conflicting objectives between the mission of EPA/STRIVE and the scientific research community. The EPA/STRIVE seek the widest possible dissemination of research data (open access to the research data archive repository). On the other hand the research community perceive great risks with open access to their research data and third party usage of this data.

The Secure Archive For Environmental Research Data (SAFER-Data) is available at http://erc.epa.ie/safer and provides a web-based front-end to the EPA's environmental research data archive. SAFER is not just another "shiny front-end". Rather it is the physical implementation of the data management vision of STRIVE. SAFER is built exclusively using open source software. The core components are a backend metadata and administrative database using MySQL, application container is Apache Tomcat and our webserver is Apache HTTPd. Core end-user functionality is delivered using open source software such as OpenLayers Mapping API, Apache POI for generating MS Office format files, Apache Lucene as a high-performance full-featured text search engine library, and JfreeChart for dynamic image creation from the web-application. For the next major release of SAFER it is planned that SAFER will share the metadata database with a GeoNetwork node installed on our web-server. This will allow us to take advantage of GeoNetwork's implementation of various open interfaces with particular emphasis on the OGC Catalog Services and metadata harvesting.

This approach has yielded some very positive results and reactions both directly and indirectly. Vendor lock-in has been virtually eliminated by seeking open source software alternatives for various in-house data processing and analysis tasks. Updates of SAFER are released when they are ready and our user community are steadily becoming more proactively engaged in the testing and evaluation of new releases. Requests for new functionality and extensions to SAFER originate almost exclusively from our user-community. We continue to receive very positive feedback and encouragement from software developers, data managers, etc from other organisations both inside and outside the environmental science community who cite our "open data access and open software" approach as a very positive and forward looking position - one which should be noted by other public sector organisations. Other benefits include lower overall cost of ownership of software, great accessibility, and better prospects for long-term preservation of environmental research data from using open source software implementing proven open data exchange and storage standards. Our full paper will discuss the reaction from the scientific research community.