EarthCube Building Blocks: GeoLink - Leveraging Semantics and Linked Data for Data Sharing and Discovery in the Geosciences


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The National Science Foundation's EarthCube program has set out to establish concepts and approaches to create integrated data infrastructures across the Geosciences. On of its key challenges is to enable and simplify data publishing, discovery, access, reuse, and integration in a sustainable way. Existing data repositories and networks must be linked, while retaining their independent missions and services to existing disciplinary communities. Cultural, conceptual, and infrastructural heterogeneities must be respected in order to maintain different perspectives, topics, granularities, and differing priorities and thus foster inclusivity in the EarthCube endeavor. In particular, individual choices made by providers of data or repositories will need to be respected in an inclusive manner, and approaches to integration must reflect this. At the same time, however, the diversity and heterogeneity of geoscience data presents a significant barrier to its discovery and reuse.

The NSF EarthCube Building Block project GeoLink addresses these challenges by 1) digital publication of geoscience data and knowledge as "Linked Open Data"; combined with 2) semantic integration by way of describing data using ontology design patterns and vocabularies shared among federated repositories; and 3) establishing Linked Data and ontology design patterns as an underlying cyberinfrastructure extendable in both depth and breadth, that can become a central building block for EarthCube data harmonization.

GeoLink focuses on the use of smart data as an alternative to smart applications, and will effectively begin to establish an ontology-based metadata ecostystem which consists of flexibly alignable ontology building blocks.

GeoLink will greatly enhance the capabilities for scientists to discover and interpret relevant geoscience data and knowledge. It will lower barriers to cross-repository data discovery and access, while respecting and preserving repository autonomy and heterogeneity. The cyberinfrastructure underlying the approach is extendable, sustainable, and affordable - leveraging state of the art developments in Linked Open Data and formal semantics, grounded through shared ontology design patterns. The value of the approach will finally be showcased by developing a Web portal that enables searching and browsing of integrated content from multiple repositories, serving a diverse collection of geoscience communities. munities. The project was showcased in the January 2015 edition of Science magazine.

Drs Michelle Cheatham and Pascal Hitzler, directors of the Data Semantics (DaSe) Lab at Wright State University, are part of the consortium of collaborators funded with approx. $1.9M by the National Science Foundation through the EarthCube program. GeoLink partner instutitions: LDEO, Columbia University; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; NCEAS and Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara; DaSe Lab at Wright State University; Marymount University; Consortium for Ocean Leadership; University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Project announcement on the department blog

WSU PI: Pascal Hitzler

WSU Co-PI: Michelle Cheatham

Funding Agency: 

National Science Foundation


September, 2014


August, 2017