Data Policy

Coweeta Long Term Ecological Research (CWT LTER) Data Management aims to serve collaborating researchers as well as the public and the greater scientific community. Researchers who work with the LTER benefit from having their data professionally archived and securely stored in perpetuity. The public and greater scientific community benefit from gaining access to clearly documented and well organized data that can continue to prove useful after the original research questions that motivated its collection have been answered.

Successful data management archives and protects data, provides well documented and organized data for future use in a timely manner, and protects its original collectors and provides them with reasonable opportunity for first publication. It involves the cooperation of the IM, researchers, and subsequent data users, all of whom have distinct responsibilities in the CWT LTER Data Management Policy. These responsibilities are detailed below. In addition to this policy, the Coweeta Information Management Office provides an IM Guide that serves as a practical, step-by-step procedural manual for implementing the policies outlined herein.

Duties of the Information Manager

The Information Manager shall assure that:

  • integrity and accuracy of the data are maintained in transference from the researcher to the archives
  • electronic datasets are maintained through off-site backups
  • data is released to the public as soon as appropriate, but after the original collector has had reasonable opportunity for first publication of the information he or she collects
  • data that is not  yet ready for release remains secure and is not distributed without the permission of the researcher responsible for the collection of the dataset
  • sensitive data that is inappropriate for public release (such as locations of endangered species or archaeological sites) remains private and secure
  • resources are provided such that researchers submitting data will be ensured that their data are curated in accordance with LTER EML guidelines

Duties of Researchers

Defined here, researchers include all whose research was supported directly or indirectly by the National Science Foundation grant(s) to the Coweeta LTER program. Direct support might include funds for personnel, sample processing or equipment use; indirect support might include use of facilities such as the Coweeta Analytical Lab or the Coweeta Residence, assistance by CWT LTER field or laboratory technicians, or use of CWT LTER field vehicles and equipment.

Duties before submitting a proposal

As of January 2011 all NSF proposals must include a Data Management Plan. Before submitting a proposal and Data Management Plan, all researchers must first submit a Project Proposal Form and then meet with or correspond with the CWT IM. Researchers should come prepared to discuss the type of data they will be collecting, their data collection procedures, quality assurance, storage, and backup as well as their publication plans and plans for release of data.

The required components of a Data Management Plan are detailed in the Data Management Plan writing guidelines section of the IM Guide. Even if no data are to be produced, e.g. the research is purely theoretical or is in support of a workshop, a Data Management Plan is required. In this case, it can simply state that no data will be produced [1] and give a clear explanation of why no data is required. Simultaneously submitted collaborative proposals and proposals that include subawards are a single unified project and should include only one supplemental combined Data Management plan, regardless of the number of non-lead collaborative proposals or subawards included. [2]

In the data collection phase

  • In addition to going over the IM Guide, researchers are strongly encouraged to meet with the IM, either virtually or in person, prior to data collection. The IM can advise on designing field and laboratory data sheets that facilitate efficient data entry and analysis for the researcher and efficient archiving for the IM.

After every field season of data collection

  • Within six months after the conclusion a field season or post processing (in which case a researcher must include in his or her data management plan an estimate of how long this post processing will take), a researcher must submit all data to the information manager. There are no exceptions to this policy. This includes:
    • your database: all data tables, pictures, samples, GIS layers, transcribed interviews, and any other data collected with the purpose of answering the research question. This includes data of a sensitive nature. Researchers will have the option to exempt certain data from publication if it meets certain criteria. It is the responsibility of the researcher to ensure that data provided to the data manager is accurate
    • your metadata
      • data that describes the content, quality, condition, and other characteristics of the data [3]
      • data that describes the study including title, abstract, purpose, dates, methods, site location and characteristics, etc
    • Physical specimens collected (either the specimen itself with appropriate documentation, or information on where a specimen has been accessioned in a collection elsewhere) [4]
  • While the Information Manager is willing to work with any Coweeta researcher who wants to submit data, it is strongly recommended that researchers follow the guidelines provided in the Data Format Guidelines and Data Documentation sections of the IM Guide.

After completion of fieldwork

Although data must be archived with the IM within six months of the completion of each field season, the data will not be publicly available for up to two years after its collection in order that the researcher has fair opportunity for first right of publication of the information they collect before the release of their data to the scientific community. However, all PIs must release their data to the public within two years from the completion of field work and no later than the publication of the main findings from the dataset. All graduate students must release their data to the public within two years from graduation. The only exceptions to these rules are as follows:

  • Study length: Long term projects for which data must be collected over multiple field seasons to be useful (in which case the researcher must specify up front how many field seasons will be required), may be retained for a period up to two years after the final field season. 
  • Situations in which field work is followed by a prolonged (three months or more) period of chemical analysis or complex post-processing in order to produce a useful raw data product: In this case the researcher must specify how long said analysis will take. In these cases, data must be released within two years from the completion of analysis or post processing
  • Type IV data status: The data is of a sensitive nature and its public release could potentially result in harm. Type IV data are considered to be exceptional and should be rare in occurrence. The justification for exceptions must be approved by the LPI and IM as well as documented in the Data Management Plan submitted with the original proposal and in the Study Metadata form. [5] However, note that all metadata, regardless of any restrictions on access to the data, will be accessible publicly.

After publication

  • Within one month of publication, all researchers must submit reprints of publications, theses, and dissertations written with data collected with support of the CWT LTER for the publications catalog.

Data Users (Data Access Policy)

The re-use of scientific data has the potential to greatly increase communication, collaboration, and synthesis within and among disciplines, and thus is fostered, supported, and encouraged. [5]

There are four types of data available from the CWT LTER. [5] [6] [7]

  • Type I: Public Resources including most CWT metadata, data from published studies, literature citations, and conference presentations. May also include special reports or unpublished treatments of public data sources. These data are available without restriction from the CWT database.
  • Type II: Program generated resources including monitoring data generated by the U.S. Forest Service, and metadata containing PI information. Initially these data are available for a specific scientific purpose by permission of the investigator who collected them. One year after generation and after the data are in the CWT LTER database they are available without restriction.
  • Type III: PI generated resources including data from individual directed studies or student projects supported by CWT funds, and resources contributed by CWT-affiliated research programs. These data are available to the general public within 2 years from collection and no later than the publication of the main findings of the dataset.
  • Type IV: Sensitive resources including datasets subject to PI, copyright, or other legal restrictions. Some examples may include: data covered under prior licensing such as SPOT satellite data, personal identifiers or other data concerning human research participants covered by the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) [8] and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [9], locations of endangered species or other data protected by the Endangered Species Act [10], or location of cultural resources or other data protected by the Historic Preservation Act. [11] These data are not freely available, but may be distributed under specific restrictions specified by the data set owners.

Data maintained by the CWT IM shall remain available in the database even though an investigator is no longer associated with the project through transfer, retirement, disassociation, death, etc. [7]

In order to gain access to CWT LTER datasets:

  • All users must provide a valid name and contact information prior to downloading online data
  • All users must agree to our Data Use Agreement for Type I, III, and III data or to a Restricted General Data Use Agreement for Type IV Data.

By using or copying these data and documentation, the Data User agrees to abide by the terms of this agreement. The Data User may be held responsible for any misuse that is caused or encouraged by the Data User’s failure to abide by the terms of this agreement. [12]

Thank you for your collaboration!

Disclaimer: While substantial efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of data and documentation, complete accuracy of data sets cannot be guaranteed and are made available "as is". [8] [13] [14]

[1] Quoted from Data Management for NSF SBE Directorate Proposals and Awards -

[3] Quoted from Andrews LTER Data Submission Policy -

[4] Quoted from Virginia Coast Reserve LTER Information Management Policy -

[5] Quoted from LTER Network Data Access Policy, Data Access Requirements, and General Data Use Agreement -

[6] Quoted from Georgia Coastal Ecosystems LTER Data Access Policy -

[7] Quoted from Bonanza Creek Site Data Management Policy -

[8] The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 45, part 46 -

[9] Information Sheet Guidance for Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), Clinical Investigators, and Sponsors -

[10] Endangered Species Act -

[11] National Historic Preservation Act -

[12] Quoted from Andrews LTER Data Access Policy -