Orange Alert

A&S Geochemist Receives NSF Grant for Work in Developing Search Engines for Climate Change Data

Assistant Professor Tao Wen heads the low-temperature geochemistry team in a collaborative effort with Syracuse, the NCSA, and five other institutions, with the goal of improving the discoverability of scientific data.

Oct. 26, 2022, by Laura Wallis

Tao Wen.jpeg
EES Professor Tao Wen is part of an NSF-funded project to create efficient scientific search engines.

No researcher is an island. While scientists and academics certainly find themselves toiling alone in laboratories and behind computers at times, it is collaboration—consulting, borrowing from and building upon the research of others—that really drives discovery. And in the field of low-temperature geochemistry—which studies geochemical processes that occur just at or beneath the Earth’s land surface and examines time-sensitive questions related to climate change—the process of gathering available data can be frustratingly slow. This is due to the fact that datasets from different sub-disciplines are deposited in multiple databases and can vary significantly from each other in format. The datasets must be brought into alignment with each other so that “apples to apples” analyses can happen. What’s more, these datasets are not always published in searchable or discoverable form. And widely used search engines aren’t useful in these scenarios because of the highly specialized nature of the research.

This is the problem Tao Wen, assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and colleagues are working to address with the Democratized Cyberinfrastructure for Open Discovery to Enable Research (DeCODER) project—a joint effort of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), the San Diego Supercomputer Center, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Virginia Tech, Syracuse University, Texas A&M and the University of California, Berkeley. The combined team of software cyberinfrastructure scientists and geoscientists began their four-year project on October 1, 2022 and will endeavor to standardize and unify the descriptions of data and tools, facilitating the creation of efficient scientific search engines.

Wen has been awarded a $460,000 NSF grant for his part in the project. He will lead the low-temperature geochemistry team, working in tandem with Professor Shuang Zhang of Texas A&M, as well as with graduate and undergraduate students from both schools.

Wen's team studies low-temperature geochemistry - chemical processes that occur in the Earth's surface environments. The above diagram depicts how carbon atoms 'flow' between various 'reservoirs' in the Earth system. (Courtesy: UCAR)

The initial work of the project will be expanding on the already successful EarthCube GeoCODES framework, enabling the geoscience community to adopt science-on-schema—an established, agreed-upon vocabulary for scientific datasets—to share data and codes.

“Ultimately, we are further developing and deploying DeCODER in three additional Earth and environmental science disciplines: ecological modeling, low-temperature geochemistry and deep-sea observation,” explains Wen. “These three scientific disciplines very well cover the scientific questions related to climate change and global warming.”

After the data set and search engines are in place, Wen’s team will move into a “test-run” phase, applying the tool to specific low-temperature geochemistry questions, and reaching out to the scientific community for feedback.

“This grant will put Syracuse University on the frontier of both low-temperature geochemistry and cyberinfrastructure development,” Wen predicts. “SU students will be able to work on not only the DeCODER development in low-temperature (geochemistry) but also the subsequent application of DeCODER in low-temperature geochemistry related scientific questions. DeCODER will facilitate and push forward the study of scientific questions in the future for earth scientists and beyond.”


Tao Wen Assistant Professor: Hydrogeochemistry, Environmental Data Science, & Noble Gas Geochemistry

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