A new Internet-based information portal developed by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) allows anyone, at any location, to view details on a growing range of environmental data held by the Crown Research Institute. Known as the NIWA Environmental Information (EI) browser, the portal allows users to specify the data they are interested in by entering answers to simple ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ questions.
If, for example, a researcher wishes to find all datasets held by NIWA on the climate of Hawke’s Bay between 1970 and 1990, they simply select Hawke’s Bay from the region selector, type in “climate”, and specify the start and end date. EI will return all relevant datasets in both list and map views. Clicking on a particular dataset will show how the information within that dataset can be accessed, who to contact, and what, if any, licence limitations exist.
“EI represents a big leap forwards in our efforts to improve user access to the wealth of information we collect and store,” says Jochen Schmidt, Chief Scientist, Environmental Information, at NIWA. “This is true interoperability – environmental information available from anywhere, to anybody.
“The key to the usefulness of this tool is not the portal itself, but the underlying information technology used,” Schmidt explains. “Our databases are ‘interoperability enabled’, which means the information within them is exposed through what are known as open standard international web services. The browser simply ‘discovers’ the databases through this open standard technology. It doesn’t matter who is searching, or where they are located.”
At present, NIWA’s station and data catalogues are accessible through the EI browser. Work is now under way on making data holdings more complete and better described with metadata (information that enables datasets to be captured by keyword searches). In time, more and more of NIWA’s information will be discoverable through the Environmental Information browser.