SKOPE NSF Proposal

RIDIR: Collaborative Research:
Developing and Deploying SKOPE:
Synthesizing Knowledge of Past Environments

Keith Kintigh & Ann Kinzig (Arizona State University) NSF 1637189
Bertram Ludäscher, Timothy McPhillips, & Shaowen Wang
(University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) NSF 1637155
Timothy Kohler & R. Kyle Bocinsky (Washington State University) NSF 1637171

Click here for a PDF of SKOPE NSF Proposal

Project Summary 

Achieving systematic understandings of the long-term interactions of human and natural systems is a major focus of research in the social and natural sciences. Research on fundamental changes in historical social systems must always either implicate–or argue against the relevance of–environmental variability. Research on the long-term sustainability of human systems must account for both the effects of climatic variation on human societies and the substantial impacts of humans on ancient and modern environments. Contemporary research must accommodate the increasingly obvious fact that environments are not stable and that today’s environments were not replicated in the past; scholars need environmental knowledge specific to their spatial and temporal research contexts. They are likely to find, though, that current data on past environments are difficult or impossible to discover and even harder to integrate and interpret. SKOPE (Synthesizing Knowledge of Past Environments) will be an online resource for paleoenvironmental data and models. SKOPE builds on an 18-month effort by this same team–including needs assessment, design, and prototyping–to make such data accessible.

Intellectual Merit:
By enabling scholars to easily discover, explore, visualize, and synthesize knowledge of environments in the recent or remote past, SKOPE will enhance research in such diverse disciplines as anthropology, archaeology, ecology, economics, geography, political science, sociology, and sustainability. Given a location and temporal interval, SKOPE will offer access to diverse sources of long-term, high-resolution environmental data. SKOPE will be a dynamic resource; it will allow users to rerun models with different inputs and it will seamlessly accommodate new datasets and models. SKOPE addresses two critical challenges to contemporary science: increasing access to publicly funded research; and ensuring that scientific results are transparent and reproducible. SKOPE will provide robust support for reproducible scientific research requiring paleoenvironmental data. It will not just enable discovery and access to paleoenvironmental data; it will provide researchers with an unprecedented ability to explore the data’s provenance–a detailed, comprehensible record of the origin and computational derivation of the supplied data. Central to SKOPE’s support for transparency and reproducibility will be further development of YesWorkflow, a system for revealing the fine-grained provenance of data produced by scripts, programs, and computational pipelines without adapting software to run within a scientific workflow management system and without the overhead of a runtime provenance recorder. This work also addresses the problem of integrating multiple sources of provenance information, indicating when provenance query results are ambiguous due to incomplete or conflicting information.

Broader Impacts:
Infrastructure: SKOPE will enhance the infrastructure for research and education. It will transform vast amounts of prior data collection and research into readily usable environmental knowledge. SKOPE will substantially enhance scholars’ ability to execute reproducible research on a broad range of social and natural science topics involving long-term interactions of humans with their environments and will facilitate ongoing improvement of paleoenvironmental reconstructions. Enhancements to YesWorkflow will make new provenance inference capabilities also available outside SKOPE to the many researchers who use conventional scripting and logging approaches. Education: Students will have free access to high-quality environmental scenarios in which to situate their studies. Members of the general public will be able to discover how ancient environments differed from those of today. Public Policy: SKOPE will make available publicly funded paleoenvironmental modeling and data to users in academia, industry, and government. It will provide greatly superior information and eliminate the need for countless heritage management and environmental assessment projects to do their own reconstructions. Planners will be able to use SKOPE’s easily accessible long-term environmental reconstructions to investigate vulnerabilities in infrastructure not revealed by recent history. Expanding the community able to use paleoenvironmental information adeptly and wisely increases public scientific literacy and public engagement with science and technology, ultimately contributing to the well-being of individuals in our society.