This textbook provides an introduction to environmental and ecological informatics in the context of “big science”- that is, in the context of research infrastructures and observatories that collect and publish reams of observations and derived data products about the earth and its environment. The reader will learn how to make use of environmental infrastructures’ data products.

This textbook introduces a framework of learning outcomes that covers the broad context of these data products that is necessary to make proper use of the information:

  • The infrastructure’s organizational structure and scientific scope;
  • Instrumentation, quality control, metadata, data catalogs, API’s, and data products;
  • Key references, key tutorials, and informatics best practices;
  • Professional career tracks in informatics;

This textbook is intended primarily for graduate students enrolled in computer science and informatics programs but engaged in studies and research on environmental and geoscience topics- with a special emphasis on ecological topics. Advanced undergraduates and other graduate students enrolled in STEM programs may also be well-served if they have a strong background in programming and computing. Additionally, professional scientists may find this textbook useful as a reference and as a training manual when they encounter the need to make use of the research infrastructures and data that are directly covered by the book’s content- or find the need to train a junior scientist on the use of these infrastructures’ data.

The scope of the infrastructures and data products is mostly U.S. focused in this edition, but some of these infrastructures have a global reach, and the material is almost as useful for students in other countries as for U.S. students. The textbook can be tackled one unit at a time as a lab manual within a university course, or- in its intended application- a standard semester-long three-credit-hour graduate course should be offered to cover the entire textbook from start to finish. Digital supplements are provided with examples of successful projects.

Efforts have been made to select activities using data products, software, and tools that are relatively mature and stable. Even so, because this textbook covers a rapidly moving field, portions will, unfortunately, become dated quickly. It is the authors’ intent to release frequent editions that update and expand the material to keep pace with the rapid development of our field.

Informatics is arguably the key scientific discipline of the 21st century, and research infrastructures are the source of the raw natural resource fueling the informatics revolution: observational data. Most 21st century scientists and scientific staff will spend their careers immersed in the data revolution. We sincerely hope that this textbook provides the launchpad you need for your career or for your next project in environmental science.


This first version of the textbook was developed to offer INF550, a graduate course in the School of Informatics Computing and Cyber Systems at Northern Arizona University in Fall 2020, with funding and leadership from the National Science Foundation funded National Research Traineeship “T3” option in Ecological and Environmental Informatics within a PhD program in Informatics and Computing (NRT-HDR #1829075, PI’s Ogle, Barber, Richardson, Ruddell, and Sankey). Our research infrastructure partners were critical to the creation of the material. Our partners at NEON - Battelle deserve special gratitude for anchoring the project. The opinions expressed are those of the researchers, and not necessarily the funding agencies. Special thanks to Megan Jones and Donal O’Leary at NEON-Battelle for their support in pulling NEON materials.

Key Contributors

Alphabetized by organization, then last name:

  • Alycia Crall, NEON - Battelle
  • Chris Florian, NEON - Battelle
  • Megan Jones, NEON - Battelle
  • Hank Loescher, NEON - Battelle
  • Paula Mabee, NEON - Battelle
  • Donal O’Leary, NEON - Battelle
  • Kate Thibault, NEON - Battelle
  • Andrew Richardson, PhenoCam - NAU
  • Bijan Seyednasrollah, PhenoCam - NAU
  • Theresa Crimmons, USA-NPN
  • Kathy Gerst, USA-NPN
  • Lee Marsh, USA-NPN

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