SITE VISIT: Mother of All Global Change Sites

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Science  10 Apr 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5361, pp. 171
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5361.171b

The Web is supposed to usher in an effortless new era in scientific data exchange. One pioneer is NASA's spiffy Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) (, a place where earth scientists can track down data they need or share their own results.

The site is packed with 5200-and-growing descriptions of satellite and ground-based data sets on “the atmosphere, hydrosphere, oceans, solid earth, and biosphere.” To list a data set, researchers fill out a form with fields like key words, date, country, and contact info, which can include a URL. Those looking for data can either specify fields or do a free-form, “Yahoo-like search,” says project manager and climatologist Lola Olsen. Among records found by typing in “aerosols” and “nitrogen oxide,” for example, were an acid rain study in Ontario and meteorological data from the Kuwaiti oil fires. The directory also helps forge scientific links, Olsen says. Last year, for instance, one researcher used it to find colleagues studying the 1997 European floods.

More than 13,000 unique users now click on GCMD every month. “This is the only site like this that I know of on the planet,” says University of California, San Diego, geophysicist Bernard Minster, who serves on GCMD's science users working group. Indeed, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web page describes GCMD as “the mother of all global change sites.”

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