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2016 Members' Forum Takes Place in Denver


Approximately 100 people, including nearly 70 WDS Member Representatives, attended the 2016 WDS Members' Forum on Sunday, 11 September 2016 in Denver Colorado. This biennial WDS business meeting gave updates on the endeavours of the ICSU World Data System, as well as information on opportunities to adopt the outputs of WDS Working Groups .  The 2016 Members' Forum page has now been updated ...

WDS Programme Officer Gives Lecture at International Data Sharing Training Workshop


Dr Rorie Edmunds, Programme Officer of the ICSU World Data System, was invited on 24 August to give the final lecture to 17 young data scientists from 14 countries across Asia  attending the International Training Workshop on Resources and Environmental Data Sharing Technology for the Silk Road Economic Belt (6–25 August 2016; Beijing, China). This 20-day training course— hosted by the  ...

Webinar #10: An Introduction to the DSA–WDS Common Requirements


On Wednesday, 31 August at 12:00 UTC, Ingrid Dillo (WDS-SC Vice-chair) gave An Introduction to the DSA–WDS Common Requirements  in the 10th WDS Webinar .  Although this Webinar was open to all, it was particularly focussed towards current and prospective WDS Regular Members, who will transition to the new DSA–WDS Common Requirements from October. Since 2012, a Working Group consisting ...

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2016 SciDataCon-China: The Third China Scientific Data Conference

Guoqing LiA Blog post by Guoqing Li (WDS Scientific Committee member)

On 25–26 August of 2016—two weeks before SciDataCon 2016 took place in Denver, USA—the Third China Scientific Data Conference was held in Shanghai, China. As can be understood from its abbreviation of SciDataCon-China, this Chinese-speaking conference is the national-level platform for communication about scientific data; just as SciDataCon, hosted by ICSU’s World Data System (ICSU-WDS) and Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA), is at the international level.

2016 SciDataCon-China was co-hosted by Fudan University, which houses the first Data Science Laboratory to be set up in China. Greater than 380 experts, scholars, and students from universities, institutes, companies, and governmental agencies gathered in the Zhangjiang Campus of Fudan University to attend in excess of 20 breakout sessions over the two days. Although the number of participants was slightly fewer than the 400 who attended the Second SciDataCon-China in 2015, oral reports significantly increased to more than 160 from around 100 last time, making it the leading scientific data conference in China.

Different from the Information Sciences approach, SciDataCon-China has kept a domain-oriented emphasis as a primary principle from its beginnings. Breakout sessions mostly served the multidisciplinary community, covering such diverse fields as Materials Science, Astronomy, Space Science, Geography, Ecology, Earth Observation Science, Marine Science, Smart Cities, Precision Medicine, and Agriculture, as well as the management, analysis, and visualization of scientific Big Data.

2016 SciDataCon-China

SciDataCon-China is not only a communication platform for domain scientists and information scientists, but also a dialogue platform for scientific communities and decision-makers. Consecutive sessions on data policy, funding policy, and large-grant programme management were jointly held by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. An important conclusion of the conference was that the opening and sharing of scientific data should be supported mainly through national finances; in particular, because scientific data can help to accelerate the construction of national innovation capacity.

A session by WDS-China has been a regular and popular feature of each SciDataCon-China since its conception. On this occasion, greater than 40 experts from 7 Chinese WDS Members were at the WDS-China session alongside numerous attendees from local data centres. Discussions and reports focussed on the topics of the maintenance and future development of Chinese WDS Member Organizations, the sustainability of national scientific data centres, creating a uniform metadata service within WDS-China, the long-term preservation of published data, and so on.

Under the oversight of the WDS Scientific Committee, and supported by the WDS International Programme Office, WDS-China and WDS-Japan are now working together to realize the inaugural WDS Asia-Pacific Symposium: a regional communication platform for scientific data. Thus, there will be a seamless transition of WDS communications from the national, through the regional, to the international level.

SciDataCon-China is an annual event organized by the China National Committee of CODATA in cooperation with the WDS-China Coordinating Office and other partners. The First conference was held in January 2014 in Beijing, and the Second in August 2015 in Lanzhou. The next SciDataCon-China will take place during August 2017 in Kunming; co-hosted by the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A New Challenge: Building Multidisciplinary Distributed Research Data Infrastructures – EPOS - European Plate Observing System

Aude ChambodutA Blog post by Aude Chambodut (WDS Scientific Committee member)

Researchers who specialize in a particular Earth Science discipline (seismology, geomagnetism, gravimetry, geochemistry, geology, etc.) cannot fully describe the history and crustal structure of a region of the globe using ONLY their specific research field. They often need to consult a large number of references and databases from other research domains. Interdisciplinary studies are still hampered by the necessity for researchers to document themselves effectively with many ‘external/foreign’ contributions, and to have colleagues in these fields who are willing to collaborate.

Of course, many efforts have been made to group datasets, mainly by discipline, and make them available to the greatest number in a trusted database. However, interdisciplinary approaches still remain a matter of exception. Good ideas are sometimes dismissed simply because of life: difficulty in easily finding a reliable data source understandable to a non-specialist, trouble in speaking the same language as the scientific colleague of the other discipline, lack of time,…

The greatest advances in Earth sciences were made using transdisciplinary collaborations. We say often that ‘the data noise of one proves to be useful information to another’ and vice versa. This is true even within the same discipline; indeed in geomagnetism: for one magnetic field measurement, the inner part interests the main-field modeller, while its ‘noise’ contains the ionospheric field studied by an ionospheric physicist.

Over the last decades, considerable advances in information technology have made an integrated approach possible, easing access to the tremendous amount of data and products available across the Earth Sciences and related fields. Large multidisciplinary projects are initiated to facilitate integrated use of data, data products, and tools from distributed research infrastructures for Solid-Earth science in Europe.

In this matter, EPOS—the European Plate Observing System1—is currently one of the most exciting under-development, long-term integration project in Europe. EPOS strategy is not to erase all that was previously done, but to integrate existing national or transnational structures (e.g., seismic and magnetic permanent monitoring networks, and analytical laboratories) and to develop a new interoperabillity layer that will be seen as a common interface.

Long-standing existing structures (National, European, or International services and data centres), together with newly developed databases (for less centralized/organized disciplines), will be virtually gathered into a central hub of which the key functions will be: an Application Programming Interface, a metadata catalogue, a system manager, and services that will enable data discovery, interactions with users, as well as access, download and integrate data2.

Data will be made available from the Solid-Earth Science disciplines that each community deals with, such as seismology, geomagnetism, geodesy, volcanology, geology and surface dynamics, analytical and experimental laboratory research, rock physics and petrology, and satellite information. Available data will be quality controlled according to the appropriate standards as defined by each of the disciplinary data providers.

For pre-existing entities, their visibility will be enhanced. For new structures, their creation will help the community to consolidate scattered data that are hidden and distribute them in a uniform database. For researchers in the Solid-Earth Sciences, EPOS will facilitate innovative cross-disciplinary approaches for a better understanding of the physical processes and the driving forces involved (a seismologist will get access to trusted magnetic anomaly maps; a gravimetrician will be able to use reliable strain rate maps from the Global Navigation Satellite System community to compare with their own results). From a societal point of view, EPOS will enable scientists to better inform governments and society on natural hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanic events, tsunamis, and major land movements. 

EPOS is in its implementation phase. By 2018, EPOS is expected to be a legal entity: the EPOS ERIC (European Research Infrastructure Consortium).

For more information see:
2. EPOS is a partner of RDA Europe, the European plug-in to the Research Data Alliance (

Identifying the Birth Defect Epidemic for Zika Virus: Where Are the Relevant Databases?

Elaine FaustmanA Blog post by Elaine Faustman (WDS Scientific Committee member)

Hello! I am a Professor in a School of Public Health who directs an Institute in Risk Analyses and Risk Communication, and in that role I am frequently asked questions on current health risks. The recent Zika epidemic is a significant example of such a request, and provides an opportunity to illustrate use of databases to answer risk assessment questions for this emergent issue.

In risk assessment for Zika virus, we are interested in identifying specific health impacts—including potential birth defects—that may be associated with exposure. We are also interested in the potency of the virus, duration of infection, and whether the duration of the infection relates to the severity of the health impacts. In this post, we pose the question: what databases and data sources exist for us to examine this epidemic but also to be prepared for potential future epidemics? I share with you example databases that I used to answer these questions in a recent journal club. I have also included a series of comments and conclusions about the utility of these databases for risk assessment questions.

Background on Zika Virus

I’d like to start by providing a little background on Zika virus, as one critical step in risk assessment is hazard identification and characterization. Though Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in Africa, the first large epidemic was not reported until 2007 in the Pacific Island of Yap (Al- Qahtani et al. 2016). Since then, outbreaks have been reported in French Polynesia (2013), and Brazil and surrounding countries (Chang et al. 2016). The first case of Zika virus in Brazil was reported in May of 2015. Currently, 30 countries in the Americas have reported active cases of Zika virus. Though Zika is usually transmitted through the bite of a mosquito from the Aedes genera (Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti), it can also be spread through sexual activities and intravenous infection, such as blood transfusions. For most healthy individuals, infection can lead to mild flu-like symptoms or even be asymptomatic. However, infection (both symptomatic and asymptomatic) during pregnancy can lead to irreparable birth defects that severely impair child development (Kleber de Oliveira et al. 2016).

The most common birth defect associated with Zika virus exposure during pregnancy is microcephaly (Rasmussen et al. 2016). The basic definition of microcephaly is 'the clinical finding of a small head compared with infants of the same sex and gestational age' (CDC 2016). Problematically, there is no universally accepted definition of microcephaly; thus, when tracking cases of microcephaly and Zika viruses across healthcare providers, provinces, states, countries, and regions, the criteria employed can be drastically different. Inconsistencies in data collection techniques frequently limit the ability of Public Health professionals to accurately identify and predict Zika-induced microcephaly cases. To add further complications, microcephaly is not unique to Zika infection, but can be caused by a number of environmental and viral exposures, such as toxicoplasmosis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes, HIV, Syphilis, mercury, alcohol, radiation, as well as genetic and maternal health conditions including poorly controlled material diabetes and hyperphenylalaninemia (CDC 2016).

Figure 1: Visual representation of microcephaly (CDC 2016)

This fast spreading epidemic demonstrates the need for access to global databases tracking the spread of mosquito species, infections, and birth defects, both under current and future climate conditions. Next, I will describe databases and data sources relevant to tackling this multifaceted global health risk.

Surveillance databases

Mosquitos: Because Zika virus is a vector-born infection, tracking the distribution of both Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti under current and future climate conditions will be critical to combating seasonal outbreaks, preventing the geographical spread of current outbreaks, and developing long-term strategic interventions to interrupt the vector-host pathway. HealthMap provides an excellent resource for tracking and predicting the spread of Zika virus with up-to-date interactive maps that show the distributions of both mosquito species and Zika infections on a global scale. Through an automated system, HealthMap updates distributions on a daily basis and provides convenient interfaces in nine different languages. Because the Zika epidemic has spread at such an alarming rate, the availability of data in real-time is critical. In addition to Zika cases, HealthMap also tracks Yellow Fever, West Nile Virus, and Chikungunya, which are related to Zika virus. By co-tracking these better characterized viruses, we may be able to translate lessons learned into Zika research and prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also tracks mosquito distributions in the United States. These ranges show that while Aedes aegypti distributions are primarily in the southern region of the United States, the Aedes Allopictus distribution reaches as far north as New Hampshire, and extends into the mid-west, reaching Minnesota. While this does not mean that Zika will spread in all of these areas, knowing mosquito distribution patterns can help communities prepare and mitigate risks.

Figure 2: HealthMap shows the distribution of Zika (purple dots) along with the distribution of Aedes aegypti, available here.

As the global climate changes, mosquito distributions are predicted to expand. Many options exist for predicting mosquito distribution changes alongside increased temperatures and changes in global precipitation patterns (see resources below). Many of these programs have been optimized to describe the changes in malaria infections (e.g., Medlock et al. 2015). By translating lessons learned from malaria surveillance programs that predict changes in disease related to climate change, this will be relevant for Zika epidemic prediction.

Zika Infections: Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC are actively tracking global cases of Zika virus. However, because infection can be mild or asymptomatic, it is expected that these may be underestimates. Additionally, Zika infections occurring in underserved communities may go unreported due to lack of access to healthcare.

Figure 3: Distribution of Zika infections in the United States from CDC found here.

Birth Defects Registries: Both CDC and WHO track incidents of microcephaly at national and global scales, respectively. Generally, birth defects are identified by active or passive surveillance systems. Under active surveillance, Public Health or healthcare professionals seek out birth defect information. For example, the expert goes to hospitals and reviews medical reports to find babies with birth defects. Passive surveillance, on the other hand, relies on doctors or hospitals to send reports to the Public Health Department responsible for tracking birth defects. In this model, doctors and healthcare providers must be able to accurately diagnosis birth defects and report them to the proper Public Health Department. Hybrid approaches are also used, in which the surveillance is passive; however, Public Health professionals will follow-up to confirm birth defect reports. For microcephaly, it is particularly complicated due to discrepancies in how the condition is diagnosed. Comparing countries with active and passive surveillance systems is complex and often introduces biases into the analyses. Additionally, depending on the legal and healthcare environment, women carrying fetuses with known birth defects may terminate their pregnancies before a birth defect can be reported, leading to an underestimation of birth defects. These complexities make international comparisons of birth defects complicated.

Dysmorphology: Efforts to standardize the definitions of congenital abnormalities, including microcephaly, are important in harmonizing data collection at national and international levels. CDC uses the Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine Clinical Terms (SNOMED CT) ontology as a controlled vocabulary for describing congenital abnormalities. Additionally, SNOMED CT has compiled an extensive database of known causes of microcephaly, including genetic abnormalities.


Databases were available that answered all of these questions, and which provided additional details on potential challenges related to data collection. However, separate databases need to be consulted to track microcephaly and Zika cases alongside mosquito populations under current and projected climate scenarios. Some of these databases are automatically updated consistently; however, others have to be manually updated and can become out-of-date relatively quickly. Current projections are what are being accessed to answer questions about the global and local risks associated with the upcoming Olympic Games.

The available databases enabled decision-makers to craft location-specific risk communication advice and also to make predictions of vector spread. As with many emerging risks, more information is always needed, and hence the frequency of database updates directly correlated with the increasing frequency of revised messages. Information sources differed in detail and were dynamic. In particular, with birth defects, getting the message wrong or having access to inaccurate data can result in serious healthcare actions. Most of the databases we accessed to make these assessments were government- and/or agency-based databases, best used for population level predictions rather than for use in individual patient-based decisions. At the population level, these databases were exceptionally helpful.

All in all, we found a wide variety of databases available that are relevant to understanding and predicting risks associated with Zika virus. Some weaknesses include: lack of international standards for diagnosing microcephaly, and difficulties in quantifying prevalence of Zika virus in rural and underserved communities; infrequently updated databases; and 'lack of one-stop shopping'. However, there are many promising tools such as HealthMap, which contains information on both mosquitos and Zika cases and is frequently updated.

Special thanks for M. Smith and D. Pyle with the Institute for Risk Analysis and Risk Communication for their contributions to this blog post.

Relevant Resources

Mosquito Surveillance
Geographic spread of mosquitos:
 – HealthMap
 – Zika Virus Vector Range (CDC)

Climate change models for mosquito spread:
 – Medlock, J. M. and S. A. Leach (2015) 'Effect of climate change on vector-borne disease risk in the UK.' The Lancet Infectious Diseases 15(6): 721-730.
 – Paz, S. and J. C. Semenza (2016) 'El Niño and climate change-contributing factors in the dispersal of Zika virus in the Americas?' The Lancet 387(10020): 745.
 – Sucaet, Y., J. V. Hemert, B. Tucker and L. Bartholomay (2008). 'A Web-based Relational Database for Monitoring and Analyzing Mosquito Population Dynamics.' Journal of Medical Entomology 45(4): 775-784.
 – Vector Map

Zika Tracking
WHO Pan American Health Organization:
 – 'Zika Virus Infection'

 – Global Surveillance
 – National Surveillance

Birth Defects
 – Active and passive surveillance registries
 – Tools and resources

 – Atlas of selected congenital anomalies

European Union Tracking and Surveillance:
 – European Surveillance of Congenital Anomalies
 – The International Clearinghouse for Birth Defects

CDC Public Health Information Vocabulary Access and Distribution System based on the SNOMED ontology:
 – For congenital abnormalities
 – For microcephaly causes


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Call for Scientific and Non-academic Reviewers for ICSU-supported Projects in Africa


ICSU will support 10 collaborative research projects across Africa to help make African cities more sustainable and resilient, and is seeking scientific and non-academic reviewers to contribute to its efforts by evaluating proposal(s). In response to the New Urban Agenda adopted by nations on the final day of the United Nations Habitat III summit (17–20 October; Quito, Ecuador), t he ...

Call for Peer-review of ICSU Report on SDG Interactions


ICSU is looking for experts to review a draft report on enhanced understanding of interactions across the Sustainable Development Goals. The deadline for registration is Monday, 14 November 2016. The International Council for Science (ICSU) is leading preparation of a report on interactions across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be published in early 2017. The report aims to ...

GES DISC Project Manager Vacancy

Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC; WDS Regular Member) is seeking an experienced a Scientist or Computer Engineer specializing in data systems to serve as a Project Manager. With a focus on Atmospheric Composition and Dynamics, Precipitation and Hydrology and Global Modelling, GES DISC partners with flight projects, principal investigators, and other ...


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WDC – RSER Transfers Data Holdings to WDC – Meterology, Obninsk

The All-Russia Research Institute of Hydrometeorological Information – World Data Centre (RIHMI-WDC) has announced to the  WDS Scientific Committee  (WDS-SC) that it has discontinued the existence of WDC – Rockets, Satellites and Earth Rotation (WDC – RSER) since the topics are no longer its priorities. However, the WDS-SC is extremely pleased to learn that the data holdings of WDC – RSER will ...

Integration of the Ukrainian science into the World Data System

Zgurovsky et al. in Cybernetics and Systems Analysis (Volume 46, Issue 2). Abstract: Creating the World Data Center for Geoinformatics and Sustainable Development (WDC-Ukraine), its certification and integration into the World Data System are described. The main principles of the WDC and its research priorities are considered. Main projects carried out by the WDC are reviewed. One of them is ...

Collaboration between ICSU World Data System and SCOSTEP/VarSITI

Takashi Watanabe and Rorie Edmunds in VarSITI Newsletter, Volume 3. The International Council for Science (ICSU) has a long history of collaborating internationally on the archiving and provision of scientific data. The World Data Centres (WDCs) and the Federation of Geophysical and Astrophysical Data Services were established by ICSU during the International Geophysical Year (IGY). Building ...

Press Releases

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RDA and ICSU-WDS Announce the Scholix Framework for Linking Data and Literature

The Research Data Alliance (RDA) and the International Council for Science World Data System (ICSU-WDS) announce a new global framework for linking publications and datasets. The Scholix framework — Scholarly Link Exchange —represents a set of aspirational principles and practical guidelines to support a global information ecosystem around links between scholarly literature and research ...

Denver, Colorado to Host International Data Week

On 11–17 September 2016, data professionals and researchers from all disciplines and from across the globe will convene in Denver, Colorado for International Data Week (IDW). The theme of this landmark event is ‘From Big Data to Open Data: Mobilizing the Data Revolution’. As such, International Data Week will bring together data scientists, researchers, industry leaders, entrepreneurs, policy ...