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Amassing Global Data on Carbon and Climate
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Amassing Global Data on Carbon and Climate

As concerns over climate change mount, hard data on the interactions between the atmosphere and biosphere have become vital. Fortunately, over the past two decades, scientists have deployed sensor collections at several hundred locations worldwide, gathering continuous, long-term data on carbon balance across different climate zones and vegetative land covers. These records enable scientists to investigate the implications of fires and other disturbances and to study the impact of land-management approaches such as fertilization, grazing, and irrigation. They also let scientists examine the biological implications of persistent weather events, such as drought, or episodic events, such as major storms.

Sitting atop these sensor collections is FLUXNET, a “network of networks.” Through FLUXNET, independent regional networks and individual field scientists come together to pursue synthesis science—crossing disciplines, data sources, and national boundaries. The FLUXNET dataset consists of more than 960 site-years of sensor data from more than 253 sites, as well as more than 100 related non-sensor field measurements. Contributions are ongoing and the data-processing algorithms are continually improved through experience.

Managing FLUXNET’s living dataset presents several computing challenges, which are shared by Dario Papale (University of Tuscia, Italy) and Markus Reichstein (Max Planck Institute, Germany), working with Deb Agarwal (Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, United States), Marty Humphrey (University of Virginia, United States), and Catharine van Ingen (Microsoft Research, United States). The team has constructed an advanced data server that is based on Microsoft SQL Server technologies and a collaboration portal that is based on Microsoft SharePoint. Sensor data can be rapidly browsed over the Internet from the scientist’s desktop, and the portal enables communication among scientists via a private social networking site.

The ability to share data at this scale and diversity enables new insights, can reduce the uncertainty of existing model predictions, and has been the basis for landmark papers that challenge conventional wisdom. One such paper suggests that the availability of water may be more important than temperature for carbon fixation by plants, a conclusion that poses questions about existing predictions of ecosystem changes—such as tropical forest decline—in response to temperature change.

The project team designed a database for storing environment data and explored how SQL databases, SQL Analysis Services data cubes, and Microsoft SharePoint can manipulate such data. Five other science projects in the field of climate change study have already used the database design.

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Primary Researchers

Deb Agarwal

Deb Agarwal is a senior scientist, Advanced Computing for Science Department head, and the Data Intensive Systems group lead at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Agarwal is also working with the Berkeley Water Center at University of California, Berkeley, where she has been leading the team developing advanced cyber infrastructure for geosciences since 2005. Her projects involve research, development, and deployment of computing technologies to support collaborative scientific research. Her current research focus is on the development of data server infrastructure to significantly enhance data browsing and analysis capabilities.

Dennis Baldocchi

Dennis Baldocchi is a professor of Biometeorology at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on the physical, biological, and chemical processes that control the exchange of trace gases between ecosystems and the atmosphere. His current projects include a long-term study on carbon dioxide, water vapor, and energy exchange of an oak savanna and annual grassland in the foothills of California, and measurements of methane exchange from rice, a drained peatland, and a restored wetland in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. He is also principle investigator of the FLUXNET project.