EarthCube Tool “Sparrow” Allows Geoscientists to Easily Share and Archive Data
Sparrow standardizes data for access by a web-accessible frontend, giving labs sophisticated off-the-shelf capabilities to manage and showcase their data.
December 18, 2020
By: Kimberly Mann Bruch
Primarily known as a diverse but recognizable family of birds that are friendly and able to naturally blend into human environments, “Sparrow” is quite fitting for the user-friendly tool being developed by EarthCube’s Geochronology project. “Sparrow” has specifically been developed to assist laboratories in managing their analytical data products while at the same time creating metadata and seamlessly exposing lab products to end-users and archival data facilities.
“Our open-source approach was designed for supporting both geochemistry labs and community-curated databases,” said Daven Quinn, Sparrow’s lead developer and project scientist at University of Wisconsin–Madison. “We’re making great progress toward a small, sophisticated data system for geochronology and geochemistry labs and hope to streamline research approaches for labs across the field.”
The Sparrow team recently held a workshop to better explain the tool. Attended by 30 participants,12 presented information about their projects’s plan to use Sparrow for their Earth Science, geochemistry, and geochronology data management.
“We are in the process of integrating the tools in several geochronology labs,” said Quinn. “And, we were really happy to see a lot of excitement from workshop participants.”
Participants at the fall workshop included Christina Neudorf, an assistant research professor of geology at the Desert Research Institute, who said that Sparrow would allow her team to more easily manage and share their lab’s metadata. “We were really excited to see the Sparrow initiative start up as a data management and reporting tool and are currently making plans to implement the tool into our lab,” said Neudorf, whose research focuses on luminescence dating techniques to refine temporal records in archaeology and geology. “We are also keen on attaching our raw data files and analyses within the sample data we will be sharing via Sparrow, so that other labs and researchers can easily access this down the line.”
One of the Sparrow developers and a recent geoscience graduate at University of Wisconsin, Casey Idzikowski, concurs that being able to easily share metadata among research projects will increase productivity in this rather unique field of study.
“Originally, I was a geoscience undergraduate student whose main job was finding metadata for the WiscAr’s legacy data and then I found myself learning basic programming skills,” said Idzikowski. “Before I knew it, I had developed some Python scripts to interact with Sparrow.”
Specifically, Idzikowski built a set of IPython notebooks explaining the process of working with Python and Sparrow as a geoscientist and novice computer programmer. Idzikowski continued his self-education on the latter and is now developing web tools for labs to collect and edit metadata directly through Sparrow’s user interface, streamlining the tedious task.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned it's that anyone can learn to code, even geologists!” Casey added as he reflected on the work he’s done this past year.
“Geoscientists will always need to go to the field to collect new samples and apply new analytical techniques to them in order to better understand Earth systems, but those with the skills to build, manipulate, and share large datasets in platform-agnostic ways will have much to contribute,” said Shanan Peters, co-principal investigator of the Geochronology project. “We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for EarthCube funding to not only enable Sparrow development, but to also prepare future geoscientists, like Casey.”
Funding for Sparrow was provided by the National Science Foundation (1740694).
EarthCube is a community-driven activity sponsored by the National Science Foundation to transform research in the academic geosciences community. EarthCube aims to create a well-connected environment to share data and knowledge in an open, transparent, and inclusive manner, thus accelerating our ability to better understand and predict the Earth’s systems. EarthCube membership is free and open to anyone in the Geosciences, as well as those building platforms to serve the Earth Sciences. The EarthCube Office is led by the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) on the UC San Diego campus.
Kimberly Mann Bruch, San Diego Supercomputer Center Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynne Schreiber, San Diego Supercomputer Center EarthCube Office, email@example.com
San Diego Supercomputer Center: https://www.sdsc.edu/
UC San Diego: https://ucsd.edu/
National Science Foundation: https://www.nsf.gov/