In a new development the North American and Global pollen databases are being reshaped to hold a wider range of data types spanning the last 5.3 million years. The new database is called Neotoma and its initial development is funded by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation Geoinformatics program. As these developments are of interest to the EPD, Simon Brewer was able to attend a recent meeting of the principal investigators of this project and the following short report is drawn from his notes of the meeting.
The Neotoma database represents a number of quite important differences in the use and functioning of a pollen database. The change in the system of tables is mainly to accommodate different data types to coexist. This also has the advantage of streamlining a certain number of tables from the original database. The second major change in Neotoma is move away from local copies of databases, managed by individual data managers, to a single centralised database. This will be hosted on a server and can be accessed and interrogated via the internet. However, it is intended that individual components of the database are still be managed by a local data steward, but remotely.
While the database will be maintained on the central server, the different data types and regions will be managed by a data steward. This person will have the responsibility for uploading new data and maintaining and correcting the existing content. The role of the data steward is therefore not very different from a current data manager, with the exception that data is sent to a remote server, rather than into a local copy of the database.
The Neotoma website will be the main access portal for the majority of users of Neotoma. The website is still under development, and should be available by the IPC meeting in Bonn. At present, users may select sites by choosing the type of data, the geographical region and/or the time window of interest. The choice is made using a shopping basket approach, which allows the selection of one or many sites. The goal is to select a standard set of the most common queries for users of the data. While the Neotoma website will be the main portal for access to this data, it has also been agreed that external applications may have access to the database. This means that existing websites and applications that use a pollen database can be adapted to use Neotoma.
A standalone version of the database would be made available for download for power users, i.e. those who will need to query the database in more complicated ways. This version will most probably be available as an SQL Server database that may be queried using MS Access.
The new database has a number of modifications to tables containing information about dating and chronologies, allowing all types of dates to be stored in the same table. The database also accepts age-depth models in radiocarbon, calibrated and varve years. A sequence may also have more than one default chronology, but only one default per type of age control. A table is present which stores relative ages (Relative Chronology), and which may be used in age-depth models. This will contain ages attributed to a variety of controls, including archaeological time scales and geological time scales. The queries of Neotoma via the website will be, by default, in calibrated ages. In order to use information from sites that only have radiocarbon chronologies a conversion table will be used. This is not intended to replace the establishment of a age-depth model based on calibrated dates, but to allow quick exploration of the existing data.
A draft of the Neotoma manual can be found here for more information.