Researcher Profile

Don’t put this data on ice

Julie Friddell describes herself as a steward for accelerating scientific discovery about the cryosphere. It’s her job to make sure data from Canadian and international scientists studying the frozen parts of our world are widely accessible – today and for generations to come.

Friddell is director of the Canadian Cryospheric Information Network and Polar Data Catalogue, based at the University of Waterloo. She and her team of IT professionals run an online database of Arctic and Antarctic data and metadata. Metadata is data that provide details of a research project, the researcher, and when, where and how they collected it.

A metadata entry about a study of caribou in the Arctic, for example, might include information about what kinds of indicators of health were collected and by whom, over what time period, from how many animals, and at what locations. It would also provide a link to the institutional servers where the research findings are stored.

“It gives users an idea of whether the data will be useful to them and whether they want to go to the trouble of downloading it,” says Friddell.

With almost 2,600 metadata records representing over 2.8 million individual data files, the catalogue takes up a lot of storage space. Making sure all that information is secure and reflects the latest storage protocols is a big job. Friddell and her staff make regular updates so their database is always accessible and isn’t hacked.

“We have a societal obligation to hold and take care of data that come from publicly-funded research,” says Friddell. “It’s not good enough for it to just sit on someone’s laptop. We need to make sure raw data are openly available so others can use them and make new discoveries.”