GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 112-3
Presentation Time: 2:00 PM


WILLIAMS, John, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 550 N Park St, Madison, WI 53706, GORING, Simon, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin – Madison, 550 N Park St, Madison, WI 53706 and BLOIS, Jessica, School of Natural Sciences, University of California, Merced, Merced, CA 95343

Of Eric Grimm’s many scientific contributions, his most foundational may be his life-long efforts to build a global data system to support paleoecological data of all kinds. Others shared with Eric the vision of building continental- to global-scale paleoecological site networks to answer questions about the macro-scale patterns and drivers of past species dynamics. However, Eric, as both scientist and museum curator, was the first to realize that for sustained advances, paleoecologists needed a community data architecture that was long-lasting, curated by a distributed community of experts, and open to all. Eric, in typical form, built and designed this architecture himself, from scratch. First came the North American Pollen Database (NAPD), housed first at the Illinois State Museum and later at NOAA’s World Data Center for Paleoclimatology. Soon followed the European Pollen Database, African Pollen Database, and Latin American Pollen Database, all built collaboratively with international networks of colleagues and friends, and all using the same data model and relational database structure that Eric designed for the NAPD. Each database was led by a community of expert data stewards, establishing the tradition of community data curation and international governance that continues today. In 2006, Eric launched with Russ Graham and others the Neotoma Paleoecology Database, which was designed to support any kind of paleoecological measurement recovered from a stratigraphic archive, e.g. pollen and diatoms from a lake sediment core, testate amoebae from a bog, or vertebrate bones from a cave or archaeological dig. Fifteen years later, Neotoma continues to grow and thrive, with over 7.6 million individual datapoints, 40,000 datasets, and 19,000 sites, supported by a network of nearly 100 Data Stewards. Neotoma actively supports multiple on-going global-scale data analyses in paleoecology and paleoclimatology, showing how open but well-curated data, available to all, advances the frontier of our science. Moreover, Neotoma has served as incubator for the next generation of paleoecologists who are both helping build and curate Neotoma’s resources as data stewards, and benefit from access to these resources and training as data scientists. For Eric, who was a kind colleague to all and generous mentor of early career scientists, perhaps this legacy would be his proudest.