A paleoclimate reconstruction storehouse


Paleoclimate reconstructions (PRs) are the most widely used scientific product from the paleoclimate community. They constitute statistical inference based on thousands of field and laboratory measurements: a single chart like the “Hockey Stick” temperature reconstruction of the past 1,000 years synthesizes what is known about past climate variations in a form that is easily digestible within and beyond the geosciences: in climate science of course, but also the paleogeosciences at large, and even in the social and life sciences. However, PRs are infrequently updated and commonly lag many years behind the latest data and methods. Furthermore, the lack of a central clearinghouse for PRs means that they are difficult to find. PRs also involve subjective choices that have not been exhaustively explored, and are opaque to most users. In this Catalytic Track proposal, we propose to take advantage of our experience in paleoclimate informatics to develop a Paleoclimate Reconstruction “Storehouse” (PReSto, led by Nick McKay) that will 1) Draw from the most up-to-date, curated paleoclimate data; 2) Apply an array of published methods to produce continuously-updated reconstructions; and 3) Provide broad access via a responsive web front end, allowing to easily visualize and compare published reconstructions, investigate unexplored combinations of data and methods, and generally lower friction to develop or use PRs in research and education.

PReSto concept diagram

Project Goals

PReSto is an integrated solution that builds on existing and emerging cyberinfrastructure to (1) connect a steadily growing digital collection of paleoclimate data to evolving methodologies, (2) distribute the results and (3) effectively visualize them online. This solution will have multiple impacts. Within paleoclimatology, integrating the improving data coverage and evolving methodologies will serve as a catalyst and testing ground for continued development of PRs, accelerating the inference spiral from paleoclimate data. Beyond paleoclimatology, this project will systematically release versioned PRs in a community repository, increasing access and ease-of-use for the diverse scientific communities that rely on PRs. Although PReSto will be designed for paleoclimate reconstructions of any climate variable or time period, we will pilot the platform with two use cases. These reconstructions will focus on two complementary time periods: the Common Era (the past 2,000 years) and the Holocene (the past ~12,000 years). Both periods help place modern climate into a much longer context, allowing researchers to probe low-frequency climate variability and its drivers. These two pilot intervals were chosen for their scientific value, and their complementarity from a geoinformatics perspective. The Common Era enjoys monthly and annual records and established methodologies, whereas Holocene climate is typically observed at lower temporal resolution and synthesized using methods that are still under rapid development. Being able to provide access to established reconstructions and showcase the development of new methods are both fundamental benefits of the proposed research.

PReSto is built on open-science principles, using open-source data and code to the maximum possible extent. All code and outputs will be publicly available and support knowledge transfer to constituencies at all levels of data and science literacy. PReSto will build capacity in the wider paleoclimate community with two workshops that will 1) train data stewards to properly digitize and describe paleoclimate datasets for such applications, and 2) train early-career researchers to use this cyberinfrastructure to further their scientific objectives. PReSto will also make paleoclimate information vastly more accessible beyond academia; as part of this project we will develop resources for K-12 and tribal college teachers in Northern Arizona, and design and offer one-day educational workshops for teachers throughout the region. The workshop will be centered around familiarizing teachers with PReSto, including how to use the platform to explore case-studies that place key historical junctures in the context of environmental change. PReSto will lower the access barrier to paleoclimate research for a large constituency, from high- school students to undergraduate interns, researchers without data science or paleoclimate expertise, to citizen scientists.


National Science Foundation, Geoinformatics program (EAR 1948822). If you are interested in participating, get in touch.