In my final post on the background on the recently published paper, I would like to take a look into the future of this kind of research. Basically it highlights again what I have already written at different occasions, but putting it together in one post might make it more clear.
Palaeo-data on sea-level and its associated datasets are special in many regards. That is what I had written in my background post to the last paper and therefore several problems occur when these datasets are analysed. Therefore, as I have structured the problems into three fields within the paper I also like to do it here.
The datasets and their basic interpretation are the most dramatic point, where I expect the greatest steps forward in the next years. Some paper came out recently that highlight some problems, like the interpretation of coral datasets. We have to make steps forward to understand the combination of mixed datasets and this can only happen when future databases advance. This will be an interdisciplinary effort and so challenging for all involved.
The next field involved are the models. The analysis is currently done with simple models, which has its advantages and disadvantages. New developments are not expected immediately and so more the organisation of the development and sharing the results of the models will be a major issue in the imminent future. Also new ideas about the ice sheets and their simple modelling will be needed for similar approaches as we had used in this paper. Statistical modelling is fine up to a point, but there are shortcomings when it goes to the details.
The final field is the statistics. Handling sparse data with multidimensional, probably non-gaussian uncertainties has been shown as complicate. There needs to be new developments of statistical methodology, which are simple on the one side, so that every involved discipline can understand them, but also powerful enough to solve the problem. We tried in our paper the best to develop and use a new methodology to achieve that, but there are certainly different approaches possible. So creativity is needed to generate methodologies, which do not only deliver a value for the different interesting parameters, but also good and honest uncertainty estimates.
Only when these three fields develop further we can really expect to get forward with our insights into the sea-level of the last interglacial. It is not a development, which will happen quickly, but I am sure that the possible results are worth the efforts.
After the new paper got out the question remain what the future of palaeo sea-level and ice-sheet databases will look like. As this can be a wide-ranging topic, I would like to start with what I think will be the next developments, before talking about possible long-term aspirations.
In the current situation, the best we hope for is that new site specific databases are getting better and better. Steps to this might be small, but new papers making use of databases will demonstrate that a better understanding of the data is necessary. To understand the data better, it is required to create more detailed databases, which consequently include uncertainty estimates and the limits of the data generation. One of these papers, written by me, is already accepted and will be out in the next days. Further ones by me and others will follow and demonstrate the need for these well prepared databases.
Coming from this we can think about the future of general databases. So is it possible to create one access point for all available palaeo sea-level/ice-sheet data for a given time period? My answer is yes. It is possible, but many obstacles are still in the way. The most important one is long-term financing. To fulfil the ATTAC^3 guidelines it is essential that it can be guaranteed that data will be available in the long-term. The next step would be the setup of a trusted group of experts, which have the background to scientifically back decisions, which are required within the creation of large databases. Only when these two corner stones would exist starting of the technical development would be reasonable.
Nevertheless, many critical points will come up. Is everybody allowed to contribute, or is only data published in journals suitable for such a database? What will be the data formats for exchange? How will the technical implementation guarantee the future suitability of such a database? And how can trust be built up? There are many problems in creating such a database and so I do not think that we will be there in the upcoming five years. Basically the funding problem is too problematic and will suppress possible advance in the field even longer. Up to then the combination of many different data sources will remain an issue and will hopefully not lead to too many wrong scientific results caused by bad raw data interpretation.
The environment for the publication of data is currently changing rapidly. New data journals emerge, like Scientific Data from Nature two weeks ago or Geoscience Data Journal by Wiley. The latter was also in the focus of the PREPARDE project, which delivered a nice paper on data peer review a couple of weeks ago (Mayernik et al, 2014). Furthermore, more and more funding agency require the publication of data and it is to expect that this demand will lead to more pressure for scientists to make their work publicly available.
These developments are great, but at this point I would like to think further into the future. Where should we be in five or ten years, and what is possible in let’s say 30 or more years. A lot is the answer, but let’s go a little bit more in the details. Continue reading