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History of the North American Pollen Database

Work in the 1970s by Margaret Davis, Thompson Webb III, and others who were mapping pollen distributions through space and time created the need for a pollen database. As part of the Cooperative Holocene Mapping Project (COHMAP), Webb developed a database at Brown University of fossil pollen and modern surface samples from mainly eastern North America. This database consisted of flat files, which were manipulated with FORTRAN programs running on a mainframe computer. The advent of microcomputers and desktop database technology in the 1980s created the possibility to move the pollen database to a much more powerful relational database management system available for use on personal computers. In addition, the development of the Internet and World Wide Web made possible easy public access to these data.

NAPD began with a grant in 1990 from the NOAA Paleoclimatology Program to Eric C. Grimm at the Illinois State Museum. Planning for the database began in 1989 in joint discussions with European colleagues who were planning to develop a European Pollen Database (EPD). At a series of workshops in Sweden, Germany, and France in 1989-1990, plans were made to develop compatible pollen databases in North America and Europe. An outcome of these workshops was the establishment of the identical table structure of NAPD and EPD, which was deployed in Paradox. NAPD was immediately populated with data from the Brown COHMAP database, and acquisition of new data and additional legacy data has continued since then.

In 1994, the master NAPD database was moved to the World Data Center for Climatology hosted by the NOAA Paleoclimatology Program at the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. NOAA developed a website with various seach tools for data distribution. Either the entire database or flat files in different formats for individual sites could be downloaded. NOAA funded NAPD in a series of grants to the Illinois State Museum from 1990 to 2005. Although NOAA hosted the database, all data entry and vetting occurred at the ISM.

In 1994, a workshop was held at the Illinois State Museum for the development of a Latin American Pollen Database (LAPD), funded by a NOAA grant to Vera Markgraf. A decision was made at this workshop to merge LAPD with NAPD, rather than develop an independent database. For a short time, this database was called the Paleovegetation of the Americas database (POA). In 1995, the Pollen Database for Siberia and the Russian Far East (PDSRFE) was established with funding from NOAA and the Russian Foundation for Fundamental Research. This database was also merged with the POA, and the combined database was then called the Global Pollen Database (GPD), although it was not yet worldwide. Merging the databases not only leveraged existing database development, but also facilitated cross-regional analyses. The organizers of PDSRFE were interested in Beringian questions, and the Alaskan data were in NAPD. Mexico is part of both Latin American and North America.

Joint pollen-database workshops organized by different database cooperatives in Boulder (1999), Denmark (2001), and Casablanca (2002) have all agreed on the objective of establishing a truly Global Pollen Database. The main sticking point has been the need for personnel from different database projects to have the ability to upload and maintain data remotely, a need that Neotoma now addresses.

A number of needs have motived the development of Neotoma and the transfer fo NAPD to Neotoma. Development of more sophisticated cyberinfrastructure, especially moving NAPD from Paradox to a more powerful client-server database management system, underlies all of these needs, which include: (1) enabling real-time acquisition of data, (2) allowing data stewards to remotely upload and manage data, (3) facilitating multi-disciplinary, ecosystem-level analyses, and (4) lowering overall paleodata maintenance costs.