Observations are a fundamental element of most scientific investigations. An observation is associated with a discrete time instant or period in which a number, term or other symbol is assigned to a phenomenon, which can have spatial attributes.
The observation act is a fundamental blueprint which, if it can be exploited across scientific domains, can lead to the development of interoperable information exchange models. Technological opportunities arising from the evolution of information standards are making such interoperability a viable proposition, so it is essential that we exploit this and other common patterns to enhance interoperability in the earth science community and beyond.
With this in mind, in 2007 the Observations and Measurements (O&M) standard was produced as part of the OGC's Sensor Web Enablement activity. O&M describes a framework and encoding for measurements and observations, including definitions for observation, measurement, result, procedure, feature of interest, observed property, property type, coverage and related terms.
Features which describe the sampling strategy, in particular its geometry, are often a key element of observations. Similar sampling strategies are used across a wide range of application domains. They may be organized on the basis of the dimensionality of their shape: a SamplingPoint samples it target at a point (0-manifold); a SamplingCurve along a curve (1-manifold); a SamplingSurface on a surface (2-manifold) and a SamplingSolid in an enclosed region (3-manifold).
Other common patterns include the description of a specimen, processing chains, observed properties and sub-sampling. By exploiting these common patterns many components of information models are reuseable and repeatable, thus making seamless integration of disparate data sets much easier.
Specialization for domains like geoscience comes at the level of (a) the feature types that are natural for the domain, such as geologic units and structures; (b) the properties of these that are observed: gravity, geochemistry, seismic velocities, earthquake properties, etc; and (c) procedures used to make the observations (which may include computational procedures, and interpretation). To achieve interoperability, it is required to standardize these aspects, on a domain by domain basis, for example through the learned societies and International Scientific Unions. These also have to be responsible for publishing definitions of their core scientific phenomena with persistent identifiers.
Factoring of governance arrangements is a key issue: e.g. which standards must be maintained by the geoscience community and which by other scientific communities. For example, how much of a geochemistry information exchange model can be derived from the chemistry community, and likewise geophysics from the physics community. Coordination and development of these standards must be addressed by the international science community as soon as is possible.