Geochemical data describe the chemistry of the earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere They are essential for answering many fundamental questions about the age, composition, structure, & evolution of the Earth, its oceans, continents, and climate. The increasingly complex, multidisciplinary, and large-scale problems confronted by the Geoscience community demand easy access to these geochemical data by a vast number and variety of geoscientists, and their integration with a wide array of other Earth parameters. Unfortunately, the data culture in geochemistry has so far interfered with this requirement.
Geochemical data are acquired by human ’observers’ rather than by sensors, often through idiosyncratic data collection practices and in idiosyncratic formats. Due to the large personal effort and time involved in generating the data, geochemical data are considered private intellectual property, and are shared only through publications in the scientific literature that guarantee the appropriate credit for data authors. This practice has led to a wide dispersion of data in the literature, making it difficult for the broad Geoscience community to find, access and efficiently use the full range of available data. Data publications are frequently missing contextual information describing the complex processes of data gathering that is needed in order for other data users to interpret the data. In addition, researchers often articulate that publication of compilations of data are not valuable unless the data is first culled for quality, adding another perceived hurdle to the synthesis of the data.
This presentation will highlight the main challenges and ongoing and evolving efforts to overcome cultural and structural barriers to open data sharing in geochemistry, both on a national and international scale. These efforts range from design approaches for geochemical data systems and definition of data standards, to initiatives to establish community-wide best practices and policies for data publication engaging professional societies and editors and publishers of scientific journals, to the advancement of international agreement on the requirements and approaches to global data exchange. The development and implementation of best practices is a substantial challenge due to the diversity and complexity of geochemical data and samples and analytical methods. Another challenge is the proper citation of data sources. Large data collections such as EarthChem (www.earthchem.org) now allow users to easily generate new datasets that integrate data from hundreds of publications. Such large numbers of citations cannot be included in the reference list of a scientific paper, which has lead to the common practice to cite the database rather than the original data source.