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WHOI Data Library to House and Preserve Ocean Ecosystem Archives

January 7, 2011

Alexander Graham Bell once said that when one door closes another one opens, and the open doors of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Data Library and Archives are making it possible to help preserve the voluminous archives of GLOBEC, a study of Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics, which closed at the end of 2009.

The WHOI Data Library and Archives (DLA) is one of three international libraries chosen to house the material; the others are in the UK and South Africa.

The GLOBEC data are widely considered a critical part of science’s understanding of the effects of climate change on the oceans and of developing strategies to deal with those effects. Since it was established in 1990, GLOBEC’s goal has been “to advance our understanding of the structure and functioning of the global ocean ecosystem, its major subsystems, and its response to physical forcing so that a capability can be developed to forecast the responses of the marine ecosystem to global change.”

The WHOI DLA is part of the MBLWHOI Library, jointly operated by the Marine Biological Laboratory and WHOI. The Archives collects, preserves, and manages records that have enduring administrative, historical, or scientific research value.

“We are delighted to provide a permanent home for this collection, supporting research in marine ecosystems and global climate change,” said Library Director Cathy Norton, who noted that WHOI has one of the oldest oceanographic data libraries in the world. “These global reports will be freely available through our digital data portal to anyone around the world.

“Conserving and preserving scientific information is the role of the library and the digital format along with the discovery tools—such as the taxon finder, which identifies scientific names in scanned and OCR [Optical Character Reader] text in any language–makes availability seamless,” she said. “These kinds of information resources, in print format, necessitated researchers to travel to the sources. With this open-access environment there had been a complete and welcomed paradigm shift.”

The Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO initiated International GLOBEC. The International  GLOBEC Science Plan was published in 1997.

Since the closure of the GLOBEC program, the GLOBEC International Project Office (IPO) has been collating and documenting the outputs of the program, preparing three complete sets of GLOBEC publications as well as bound copies of the minutes from the Scientific Steering Committee meetings. One reason for choosing three separate library locations is to assure the preservation of the marine and oceanographic information, since global disasters are capable of wiping out libraries at marine laboratories situated in highly vulnerable areas near the ocean.

For close to 125 years, the MBLWHOI Library has been the intellectual heart of the Woods Hole scientific community. Today the Library is internationally recognized as defining current trends and practices in marine information sciences, data publication, and science informatics.

DLA historical oceanographic materials and data include:

  • WHOI Archives
  • Historical photographs and oceanographic instruments
  • Scientific data, including underwater imaging from the Alvin submarine, navigational data, seismic profiling, and echo sounding records from WHOI research vessel expeditions
  • Technical report collections including WHOI Technical Reports, memoranda, and MIT/WHOI Joint program theses. The DLA also collects marine science related technical reports produced by other government agencies and research institutions (such as MIT and Scripps Institution of Oceanography), as well as the WHOI Oral History Project
  • Maps, nautical charts, geologic and bathymetric maps, and cruise tracks


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment.