About the Cyberobservatories Project

The development of observing systems and networks is an important priority for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other federal agencies. Many new efforts are now being added to a large set of pre-existing projects and networks. Cyberinfrastructure (CI) plays a central and increasing role in environment observation programs. The vast improvements in measurement technologies, coupled with their more widespread deployment, is resulting in the production of large numbers of large data sets that must be ingested, analyzed, documented, and securely archived as well as searchable and made available in an easily accessible fashion. At the same time, new interdisciplinary research efforts require increased and easier access to metadata and many different types of data from a wide range of different systems. Ongoing improvements in technology and the development of new approaches hold considerable promise in addressing this challenge, but also hold the danger of increasing the heterogeneity of observing systems if development is not effectively coordinated.

The premise of the cyberobservatories project is that collaboration and dialogue across and among observing projects will help ensure that the greatest possible scientific and educational benefits are garnered from federal investments in this area. We believe that ongoing discussion of the technical and human issues inherent in the development and application of CI for observing systems will enable the identification of lessons learned and best practices and help projects avoid unnecessary duplication of effort.

We are addressing this need in several ways. We have worked with several large observational projects to organize workshops that gathered computer and information science experts with domain scientists to discuss observational CI issues. We plan additional project-focused workshops in the future, along with periodic larger-scale meetings that gather interested domain and CI scientists, observing program participants, representatives from federal agencies, and others to discuss cross-cutting issues, best practices, and lessons learned.

As part of this process we have begun assembling information about environmental observing projects and their applications of CI (see list at right).

We are also assembling a roster of CI practitioners who are interested in and possess expertise relevant to environmental observations and monitoring.

An Invitation to Participate

We view anyone who is interested in the relationship of CI and environmental observations as a potential stakeholder and member of this developing community, and we invite you to provide information about yourself, your projects, and what you see as key issues in this rapidly developing field. If you sign up, you will receive periodic reports about this project, and you may be invited to attend future workshops and fora.

A Definition of Cyberinfrastructure

There are many overlapping definitions of CI. We use the term to mean the set of reliable, well-specified, and interoperable connections of electronic hardware and software that allows people to discover, learn, teach, collaborate, disseminate, access, and preserve knowledge in their domain. CI extends from the scientific instrument to the desktop of the working scientist and encompasses networks, models, data sets, metadata, data archives, data analysis and manipulation tools, as well as communication and collaboration tools and environments.

But CI is more than technology. The successful development and use of CI is largely dependent on people – the successful integration of the work of computer and computational scientists, domain scientists, social and behavioral scientists, engineers, information technologists, and students.


Highlighted Projects


  • Arctic Observing Network (AON - AON-CADIS)
  • Ocean Observing Initiative (OOI)
  • National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)
  • Waters Network
  • Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) network
  • Geosciences Network (GEON)
  • Earthscope - Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS)
  • Virtual Solar-Terrestrial Observatory (VSTO - NCAR)
  • Linked Environments for Atmospheric Discovery (LEAD)

Other Relevant Federal, International, State, Private, and Public/Private Efforts

  • Earth Science Data & Information Systems Project (EOSDIS)
  • New Millennium Observatory (part of NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Lab) (NeMO)
  • ARM Climate Research Facility (DOE national user facility)
  • National Climate Reference Network (NOAA)
  • USA National Phenology Network (USA NPN)
  • Earth Science Information Partnership
  • Oklahoma Mesonet
  • Beacon Institute Hudson River Observatory
  • Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF)
  • United Nations Environmental Programme Global Resource Information Database (UNEP GRID)

About NCAR and its Support for This Project

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), located in Boulder Colorado, is a federally funded research and development center devoted to service, research, and education in the atmospheric and related sciences. Community building – fostering scientific cooperation and collaboration, enabling exchange of information, tools, and ideas, discussing and identifying important topics and emerging scientific opportunities, organizing and supporting groups of experts in sustained efforts that address important questions – is one of NCAR’s most important functions. The application of advanced CI to environmental observations is one of the areas where we have chosen to focus our community building efforts.

NCAR’s primary sponsor is NSF, with important support also provided by DOE, NOAA, NASA, and other federal agencies. NSF is also the sponsor of the cyber-observatories project.