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Full and Open Access to Data
A Policy Statement of the American Meteorological Society
Introduction and Background
Full and open access to environmental data benefits science and society and is critical to the three main sectors of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) enterprise, namely, academic, government, and commercial interests. While there are similarities, there are also fundamental differences in the ways the three sectors collect, use, and share data. Research is common and important across all the sectors. Academia is distinct with a primary mission aligned in education; academic users primarily collect data and develop products with limited scope, and rely heavily on data from the government and in some instances from the private sector. Government, especially at the federal level, carries the major responsibility for maintenance of observing systems with national and global reach, operational data collection and quality control requirements, provision of operational products for the United States, and sponsoring research that in turn may generate additional data. Data collection in the private sector tends to occur on a smaller scale and is often coupled with business requirements.
The above basic view also has wider dimensions; the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) World Weather Watch was founded over 50 years ago in recognition of the fact that weather forecasting beyond the immediate range is a global activity and requires access to observations across many nations, continents, and oceans. The reliance of modern society on accurate weather forecasts for protection of life and property and as a basis for routine decisions has long been recognized and would not have been possible without the full, open, and timely exchange of data among the 191 WMO Member States and Member Territories under the World Weather Watch Program, per policies stated in WMO Resolution 40 and Resolution 25 i. Earth System Science (ESS) research, education, and business also must have access to global environmental data. The increased globalization of ESS, especially in solving complex interdisciplinary problems, including climate projections, requires that research be conducted collaboratively by distributed teams of investigators, often involving sharing of data, knowledge, and other resources.
The AMS encourages the ESS community to provide full, open, and timely access to environmental data and derived data products, as well as all associated information necessary to fully understand and properly use the data (metadata). These data are at the foundation of efforts to ensure public safety and national security, as well as efficient management and use of weather- and climate-sensitive sectors and systems such as water resources, transportation, and agriculture. Environmental data are used to protect critical infrastructure and support scientific publications, and are essential for routine and high-impact weather forecasting and warning, and climate monitoring. The spectrum of data is diverse and includes primary measurements collected by in situ and remote-sensing instruments and observational networks; products derived from single and multiple sources, such as ocean wind speed at 10 meters; atmospheric water vapor; cloud liquid water; rain rate derived from radiative brightness temperatures observed by microwave-sensor-equipped satellites, and information associated with environmental predictions generated by numerical models. Also, feedback on data use can be a significant motivator in establishing effective data exchange policies, particularly in traditionally hard-to-obtain data sources, such as those related to water resources, air quality, and human health. In all this, the provision of metadata and generation and maintenance of data in widely accepted standard forms is critical.
In addition, the AMS expects all scholarly papers published in its journals to contain sufficiently detailed references to public sources of information (literature and data) and methodology such that independent research can test the paper’s scientific conclusions. This expectation assumes that the data and metadata upon which the conclusions are derived are properly cited and readily available to the scientific community.
The AMS concept of full and open access is to promote, to the greatest extent possible, data availability at minimal or no cost. However, the AMS recognizes that this cannot always be the case. For instance, significant data collection and value-added product generation in the private sector supports specific client needs and rightfully has an associated cost to be recovered. Similarly, if users request specific actions be taken on their behalf to prepare data, data providers may need to levy a modest recovery cost.
With regard to the private sector, the AMS encourages public–private partnerships to ensure data availability to support public safety, protect critical infrastructure, and advance ESS and related services. Many U.S. research agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), already have data policies in place and have taken steps to ensure that data upon which scientific studies are based are preserved and made available at little or no cost to users. It is the view of the AMS that all sectors can contribute more toward the overarching goal of full, unrestricted, and open access to data. For example, the private sector can operate specialized data collection instruments (e.g., lightning detection stations) and make that data available at reasonable cost to users. Government agencies can find ways to link and feed more data into national and international data-sharing systems to ease the burden, and cost, of data sets. Finally, federal agencies that fund scientific research can require their grant recipients to develop and comply with data policy and management plans that describe how the investigators will provide for long-term preservation of, and access to, scientific data resulting from their research.
The AMS recognizes that government agencies, academia, and private-sector entities face challenges in attaining the above goals. Some of these challenges include policies that inhibit the widest possible use of data, such as resource constraints, intellectual property rights, and inadequate cyber-infrastructure to properly maintain and administer data sets.
To address these challenges, the AMS proposes the following core principles and recommendations to inform national and international data policies and influence standard practices in academia, government, and the private sector in the pursuit of full and open access to data:
The purpose of this statement is to reaffirm the American Meteorological Society’s commitment to a policy of full and open access to environmental data that are critical to the advancement of atmospheric and related sciences, the provision of products and services for the benefit of society, and the promotion of commerce and private-sector activities. Adopting such policies could accelerate scientific discoveries, broaden and enhance participation in scientific enterprise, promote entrepreneurship, and benefit society.
[This statement is considered in force until December 2017 unless superseded by a new statement issued by the AMS Council before this date]