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Visit the Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity

Bringing Together Heterogenous Scientific Data

KNB logoA recently launched computer network aims to bring together information from thousands of ecological and environmental scientists spread across the nation and around the world, facilitated by a special software infrastructure to help overcome problems associated with heterogeneous data sources.

The Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity (KNB) enables the efficient discovery, access, interpretation, integration, and analysis of complex ecological data from a highly distributed set of field stations, laboratories, research sites, and individual researchers. Development of the KNB was supported by a grant from the KDI (Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence) program of the National Science Foundation.

The KNB ( involves a national network of federated institutions that have agreed to share data and metadata using a common framework. That framework principally revolves around the use of the Ecological Metadata Language as a common language for describing ecological data and the Metacat metadata server, a flexible database based on XML and built for storing a wide variety of metadata documents.

In addition, the network is using software called the Storage Resource Broker, a distributed data system developed at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, for linking the highly distributed set of ecological field stations and universities housing ecological data.

A scientist involved with KNB, Matthew B. Jones of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California at Santa Barbara, says, "What we've done is build an infrastructure that allows you to decide in metadata what the different data sources are. And then we built a query and data management system on top of that metadata. It works quite well in handling pretty much arbitrary data types. In other words, the database system does not need to know about the schema and details of the data sources in order to query them."

Jones says that KNB's user authentication system so far has more than 5,000 users. Participating in the effort are 24 LTER (Long-Term Ecological Research) sites that collect data around country. Also agreeing to participate are about 180 sites in the Organization of Biological Field Stations. According to Jones, "Building the infrastructure is a very different thing from having knowledge of and participation in the network. There are a lot of scientists out there, and it's hard to necessarily convince them that it's worth their time and effort."


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