NERC Archives Group

Last Tuesday, NERC’s archives and records managers groups met at NERC headquarters in Swindon. The archives group consists of representatives from the British Antarctic Survey, the British Geological Survey, the British Oceanographic Data Centre, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the National Oceanography Centre.

Two of the topics we discussed are relevant to the JISC content programmes. One concerned how we deal with copyright. For instance, if a volunteer comes in to help us catalogue our records, they create metadata in doing so. Does the copyright of the metadata they have created lie with them, or with our organisation? Can we pass that metadata on to third parties or make it publicly accessible?

NERC head office at Polaris House in Swindon

NERC head office at Polaris House in Swindon

The other relevant issue discussed was how we measure performance. Each group has to provide performance measures at the end of the year. These include keeping a database of requests, along with the standard recording of website statistics. These help us monitor the impact of our groups and help us to provide a more useful service in the future. Through the JISC content programme, BODC hope to find new and improved ways of monitoring our impact, and these meetings give us the opportunity to pass these ideas on to the other archives members.

Though this blog is mainly about the JISC Rescue of Historical Sea Level Data project, and other things involving BODC sea level data, we would like to draw your attention to the services offered by the other NERC archives groups.


Choosing charts to digitise

How did we identify the charts for digitising for the JISC eContent project?

In 2009 the Marine Environmental Data and Information Network (MEDIN) awarded BODC a small grant to undertake a pilot study. BODC would

  • digitise some of the charts in the BODC archive
  • make others records available
  • create a webpage to distribute these data
  • identify those records still in need of rescuing.

We had tide gauge charts from five ports (Holyhead, Lerwick, St. Marys, Sheerness and Stornoway) digitised. This filled gaps in the digital data BODC hold and also, for the first time, extended records back chronologically. These are important historic documents and digitising the data made them available to a much wider audience. Previously the charts could only be viewed on the premises by one person at a time.

Tide gauge chart from Belfast, 1901

The scanned images of tide gauge ledgers came from eight sites around the UK. The ledgers for Sheerness contain some of the earliest records of sea level data in the UK. Other ledgers came from the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and include several sites around Liverpool.

As part of the pilot project’s final report, we identified further records in need of rescue. The criteria for rescuing included

  • sites where long digital records were already available, with small gaps that the analogue data could fill
  • records that could be extended backwards or forwards chronologically
  • sites that were of scientific importance, e.g. records along the Thames that could aid in future Thames Barrier studies or tidal power generation studies.

We chose records that meet these criteria to digitise in the JISC eContent project.

Sea level at BODC

For the first post, we thought it’d be a good idea to say who we are and what we do.

The British Oceanographic Data Centre (BODC) is a national facility for managing data concerning the marine environment. We’re part of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). NERC is the main UK agency for funding and managing environmental science research.

Our marine data management involves

  • Working alongside scientists during marine research projects
  • Quality controlling and archiving data
  • Distributing data to scientists, education, industry and the public

We deal with different data types (e.g. biological, chemical, physical, geophysical) from projects all over the world. One of the areas where we have a lot of expertise is in sea level data. We hold over 8000 site years of digital sea level data from 671 locations worldwide and have acted as the sea level data centre for several major sea level observing programmes.

We also curate digital data from the UK National Tide Gauge Network. The network consists of 43 tide gauges around the UK. It was set up in 1953 after storm surges caused severe flooding along the east coast of England. We’re responsible for quality controlling, archiving and distributing these data.

As well as this, we hold a very large archive of analogue sea level readings, in the form of paper charts, notebooks and microform negatives. These records contain observations from around the world.

Long-term sea level records are used in many areas, including:

  • Oceanography (ocean currents, tides, surges)
  • Geodesy (national datum),
  • Geophysics and geology (coastal land movements)
  • Climate studies (sea level rise)

Photo: page from Sheerness tide register

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is currently underway. The science of climate prediction requires reliable long-term data to extrapolate from. This is one of the reasons why recovering unique and irreplaceable long-term climate records is crucial. As some records held at BODC go back over 100 years (in one case, as far back as 1832), it’s very important that we provide long-term care for our long-term records.