Case Studies/Polar Information Commons

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polar data, international polar year


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The Polar Information Commons is a collaborative initiative between scientists and institutions that has established open data standards to build an open repository of polar data from the most recent International Polar Year.

In the case of the polar regions, the availability of open data has far-reaching practical implications. If data cannot be easily acquired or freely used, then scientists cannot understand or predict rapid changes in the ecosystem. They cannot provide timely, reliable information about (as the PIC website puts it) “wise use of resources, astute management of our environment, improved decision support, and effective international cooperation on natural resource and geopolitical issues. — David Bollier (


The Polar Information Commons (PIC) is an initiative working to create the technical means and social framework for better sharing of polar data, specifically starting with that from the International Polar Year. The International Polar Year was a period of international research into the polar regions that ran roughly from 2007 to 2009. PIC is funded by the International Council for Science, in addition to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO); the International Arctic Science Council, IASC; the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research, SCAR; the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics, IUGG and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science.

PIC has been working with Science Commons (the science division of Creative Commons) on creating terms of use to accompany their public domain data. The team is now moving forward with badging data with appropriate metadata for input into their system to show the benefits of free and open data on global sharing efforts.

License Usage

The Polar Information Commons has enabled two options for releasing and badging data from the International Polar Year: the data can be released under the CC BY license or dedicated to the public domain using the CC0 public domain dedication. For those sharing their data, the Polar Information Commons has outlined Ethics and Norms of Data Sharing.


From a post by David Bollier:

"Scientific cooperation about the poles is entirely natural because it costs so much to maintain observation facilities there, yet the fruits of polar research are of great interest to the entire world. The circulatory patterns of air and water are quite distinctive at the poles, as are the Earth’s magnetic fields. Ancient glaciers hold lots of frozen samples of air and water that could yield secrets about the state of the Earth’s climate millennia ago and about contemporary climate dynamics.

Unfortunately, information and data about these things are often not readily available. They tend to be scattered across countless different institutions and websites. Even when the data is identifiable, they may be embodied in incompatible data formats and locked behind university restrictions and copyrights.

The Polar Information Commons (PIC) attempts to remedy this problem by establishing open data standards for scientific information related to the polar regions."