Data constitute the raw material of scientific understanding. The World Data Center system works to guarantee access to solar, geophysical and related environmental data. It serves the whole scientific community by assembling, scrutinizing, organizing and disseminating data and information.
The World Data Center (WDC) system was created to archive and distribute data collected from the observational programs of the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year. Originally established in the United States, Europe, Russia, and Japan, the WDC system has since expanded to other countries and to new scientific disciplines. The WDC system now includes 52 Centers in 12 countries. Its holdings include a wide range of solar, geophysical, environmental, and human dimensions data. These data cover timescales ranging from seconds to millennia and they provide baseline information for research in many ICSU disciplines, especially for monitoring changes in the geosphere and biosphere—gradual or sudden, foreseen or unexpected, natural or man-made.
WDCs are funded and maintained by their host countries on behalf of the international science community. They accept data from national and international scientific or monitoring programs as resources permit. All data held in WDCs are available for no more than the cost of copying and sending the requested information.
Scientific data gathering has a long history. Chinese and other peoples chronicled information about solar and auroral activity in past millennia. In the Western world, systematic geophysical measurements extend back for centuries. The first large-scale international scientific enterprises were the International Polar Years of 1882-1883 and 1932-1933, which eventually led to the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958 (IGY). The International Council of Scientific Unions (now International Council for Science) established the World Data Center system to serve the IGY, and developed data management plans for each IGY scientific discipline. Multiple Centers were established to guard against catastrophic loss of data, and for the convenience of data providers and users. The IGY planners were remarkably prescient: the 1955 recommendation mentioned that Data Centers should be prepared to handle data in machine-readable form, which at that time meant punched cards and punched tape.
Since the IGY, technological advances have transformed the gathering and exchange of data. Scientific, technical, and economic factors have led to the consolidation of some WDCs--particularly in solar terrestrial science--and the creation of new ones-- particularly in earth and environmental science. As of December 2003, 52 WDCs are operating in Europe, Russia, Japan, India, China, Australia, and the United States. Data are available at the cost of reproduction, and fees may be waived if an exchange can be arranged. Data are accepted in many formats, provided that they have adequate documentation. Please contact the appropriate WDC for more information on contributing and exchanging data.
Today the WDC system is healthy and viable. Most Centers are maintaining their funding, though not without struggle. Data acquisition, storage, and distribution are expensive. WDCs cost money, but they are cost-effective in transferring data to users, and their operational costs represent a tiny fraction of worldwide scientific activity and the on-going potential for discovery from properly prepared, preserved, and available data.