D. Sarah Stamps, an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Geosciences, is spearheading an effort to speed up access that fellow geoscientists have to the volumes of data that exist in her field.

The effort is part of a $1.4 million National Science Foundation EarthCube Integration grant, with co-investigators Zachary Easton, an associate professor and Extension specialist, and Daniel Fuka, a research scientist, both in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering, part of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering; Professor Anne Sheehan and research scientist Scott Peckham, both at the University of Colorado; and James Gallagher and Dave Fulker of the nonprofit scientific data center OPeNDAP. The Virginia Tech Department of Geosciences is part of the College of Science.

Stamps, Easton, and Sheehan will use their existing NSF-funded scientific projects on surface-mantle interactions, hydrology, and seismology, respectively, to test new cyberinfrastructure developed by Fuka, Peckham, Gallagher, and Fulker.

The cyberinfrastructure is a “broker” titled BALTO — short for Brokered Alignment of Long-Tail Observations — which acts as an access point for scientists to obtain data from a wide range of databases in disparate formats that are then reformatted for the scientists’ needs. (In this case, “long tail” refers simply to data that is difficult to access by computer, most likely because of the age of the information.)

“There are several facets of the project,” Stamps said. “The Department of Geosciences’ scientific team at Virginia Tech is testing how the surface moves in response to deeper subsurface processes.”

BALTO will allow Stamps’ team to streamline access to files in the NSF geodesy and seismology archives and build on accessors developed by Easton and Fuka under a previous EarthCube effort.

Easton’s team aims to advance work to understand watershed processes by combining a wide range of datasets from different sources, such as hydrology data from the United States Geological Survey. Sheehan’s University of Colorado team will use BALTO to both share and access datasets related to silent earthquakes so her team can better understand subduction processes.

The scientific groups will be able to use BALTO to expedite their research in an effort known as reduced time-to-science. “Collaborating in the BALTO project will provide us with a way to make our earthquake and geodetic data products more accessible to the wider community,” said Sheehan. This boost in access to complementary datasets might lead to unexpected discoveries, she added.

“This new NSF cyberinfrastructure will help researchers to achieve their scientific objectives by increasing reach to more types and volumes of data with a single point of entry rather than accessing disparate databases at a slower pace,” Stamps said.

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Written by Jessie Rogers, of Suffolk, Virginia, a senior in the Department of English, part of the College Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

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