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MAPSTORY: AN INTERDISCIPLINARY

RESEARCH PLATFORM FOR


THE EARTH SCIENCES
One can only understand our planets present day and historical
dynamics through the many sciences that help us explore the
fundamental processes that have shaped and reshaped our planet.
These include, but are not limited to, the physical processes that
have driven change on Earth over the past 4.54 Billion years, and
which have brought us the map of the Earth that we all identify
with today. Biopoiesis, or the process by which living organisms
arose from non-living matter, some 3.5 Billion years ago, unleashed
evolutionary biological processes that were necessarily intertwined with
these physical processes, refashioning our planets ecosystems time and time
again. And evolutions processes yielded humans and an Anthropocene era that have,
over the millennia, transformed large swaths of the Earths geological, biological and hydrological surface and
subsurface, as well as its atmosphere. Our Earth has continuously changed under these co-evolving natural
and anthropogenic processes, across space and time. Indeed, it is only on a foundation of space and time that
we can truly understand our Earths rich past, complex present and uncertain future. As such, it is imperative
that the Earth sciences fnd new and compelling ways to organize, share, and collectively refect upon scientifc
observations and perspectives in space and time.
In recent decades, digital scholarly resources for the Earth sciences have often drawn upon the power of
geospatial applications. Some have managed to map Earth science observations and model outputs in
terms of space and time. Many specialized applications have even enabled 4D volumetric mapping (including
subsurface and atmospheric) of change over time - whether observed or modelled. But, little has been done
to enable Earth science scholars to curate collections of resources across space and time, enabling their
refections to be shared in tailored and focused ways. And, no digital scholarly resources have provided a
global platform that allows scholars, students, professionals, citizens, and youth to collaborate in a continuously
peer reviewed open environment over time, therefore enabling an ever-improving picture of Earth history to
emerge.
LOCATING EARTH SCIENCE DISCIPLINES IN
SPACE AND TIME
The Earth sciences have a natural afnity with geographic
information, and the representation of change over space and
time. After all, everything that has ever happened on Earth has
happened in space and time. These underlying processes have given
our continents, our coastlines, and our landscapes their very shapes, and
have caused them to change over time. But, too often, Earth science data is
not managed spatio-temporally, making the discovery, exploitation, visualization and
interpretation of Earth science knowledge highly problematic. Even when Earth science data is
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... IT IS ONLY ON A
FOUNDATION OF SPACE
AND TIME THAT WE CAN TRULY
UNDERSTAND OUR EARTH'S RICH
PAST, COMPLEX PRESENT AND
UNCERTAIN FUTURE.
SPACE AND TIME
SERVE AS THE ANVIL
ON WHICH A COMMON,
INTERDISCIPLINARY
UNDERSTANDING CAN BE
FORGED.
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managed spatio-temporally, too often information systems built around disciplinary stove-pipes
have made it difcult if not outright impossible to conduct real interdisciplinary Earth science.
Earth science scholars increasingly recognize the payof of conducting empirical and
interdisciplinary research, particularly when trying to develop explanations for how the world is
changing over time - locally, regionally or globally. Yet it remains difcult for knowledge produced
from diferent disciplinary lenses about the same places or times to literally interact and layer in
geographic space, allowing for a comprehensive picture to emerge. Instead, all too often, the
work goes on in its own silos.
In the end, it is advantageous to have knowledge from all Earth science felds of study organized
spatio-temporally - whether geology (e.g., mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry, geomorphology,
paleontology, stratigraphy, structural geology, and sedimentology), physical geography (e.g.,
geomorphology, soil study, hydrology, meteorology, climatology, and biogeography), geophysics
and geodesy, soil science, ecology, hydrology, glaciology, and atmospheric sciences (e.g.,
meteorology, climatology, atmospheric chemistry, and atmospheric physics) - since they all
interact over various spatial and temporal scales. And, it is no less important to our understanding
of the nexus of culture/nature, with natural sciences felds like ecology, geology, hydrology and
climate sciences shaping how we think about critical issues in the humanities - particularly the
social sciences, human geography, history, archeology, anthropology and area studies. Space
and time serve as the anvil on which a common, interdisciplinary understanding can be forged.
BUILDING A PLATFORM FOR SPATIO-TEMPORAL DATA SHARING
AND INTERPRETATION
MapStory was conceived of as a new dimension to the global data commons that lets everyone
organize and share what they know about the world both spatially
and temporally, license free and in perpetuity, so that others can
beneft from and improve upon their contributions. Perhaps
more important, it was conceived of as a platform that
enables everyone to compose and share their stories
about topics of personal importance to them, to local,
regional and global audiences. While MapStory enables
individuals to pursue individual excellence in both
data curation and (map) storytelling, it was specifcally
designed to enable both the crowd-editing and
improvement of spatio-temporal data and a communal
process of MapStorytelling. The Earth sciences ofer
vast wells of knowledge that should impact how everyone
understands the world around them. Organizing, sharing, and
refecting upon this knowledge in a way that is accessible to everyone is
a central challenge to the Earth sciences and to society writ large. It is part of MapStorys raison
dtre to bring this about.
Fortunately, we live in a moment when the open data, academic and technological models
have sufciently matured to make a common content-channel for interdisciplinary research
rooted in time and place possible. Nonproft projects like Wikipedia demonstrate the viability of
crowdsourcing data from expert and lay audiences alike. Open source mapping software like the
MAPSTORY ... PUTS
EMPIRICAL RESEARCH TO
WORK IN SERVICE OF QUALITATIVE,
REFLECTIVE STORYTELLING, ALLOWING
US TO MOVE EVER CLOSER TOWARDS
AN UNDERSTANDING OF OUR
RICH PAST AND COMPLEX
PRESENT
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GeoNode now provide geospatially and temporally-enabled frameworks for adding and managing
complex data. And the moves to open data being pushed by governmental agencies and private
foundations has resulted in a rapidly growing body of Earth science related data for researchers to
draw upon.

Pure empirical research, whatever statistical modeling it employs, can never bring us to the point
of fully understanding a particular phenomenon, place or time. MapStory, in its most ambitious
conceptualization, puts empirical research to work in service of qualitative, refective storytelling,
allowing us to move ever closer towards an understanding of our rich past and complex present.
GOING FORWARD
As mentioned before, MapStory is not the frst or only platform to help scholars from the Earth
sciences think geographically, or to orient their work in space and time. But, though it has a ways
to go, MapStory is the frst and only platform purpose-built to enable their ongoing interaction and
continual debate around spatio-temporal data and stories related to complex, interdisciplinary,
Earth science questions. MapStory is not a technical platform that a given scholar should
deploy and manage for his or her own content. MapStory is not a commercial service that can
be used to visualize ones data, or to tell a story about ones data. MapStory is a global data
commons where ones work in the Earth sciences can be organized and shared, in perpetuity,
for a global community to discover, learn from, and even embellish over time. MapStory is an
Open Educational Resource that any scholar or student can leverage to advance and share their
understanding of the Earth sciences. MapStory is a platform for telling stories, in space and time,
that leverage the data from any scholar, professional or lay person who has generated data of
verifable provenance and value. MapStory is a community of people seeking to better understand
how the world has changed over time.
MapStory expands the role geography and spatial analysis can play in Earth sciences scholarship
by empowering scholars, practitioners and citizens who dont happen to be GIS experts or
software coders with an entry point to project their knowledge and stories about the world into
a common spatial and temporal framework. Doing so will dramatically expand the power of
work done by Earth science scholars with deep qualitative knowledge of issues and places, and
accelerate knowledge creation by enabling future scholars to critique and build upon the work of
others.