The rocky road to taxonomy standards

Jeremy Giles (British Geological Survey) and Kristine Asch (Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe) argue for sharing geological data dictionary definitions across academia and the commercial world. A symposium is planned next year. In this contributed article, they argue the case for sharing taxonomies.

Databases are an essential tool for geoscience research and being created and populated in many diverse industry sectors, universities and geological surveys. While such databases are valuable tools, they are not in general exploited to the full because the scientific language standards implemented across different databases are rarely compatible. The dictionaries, thesauri or lexicons used are normally only developed to satisfy local needs. Inter-organizational and international communication is rarely considered.


It would seem desirable to develop and support inter-organizational and international communication which should provide significant rewards and savings both for researchers and in the commercial world. However, the various proposals that have been developed within a range of sectors have had limited uptake. In general, organizations put most of their effort into designing and populating databases and building applications. Proposals from external bodies for standards are generally perceived as intrusive and are rarely implemented.

Cost savings

Nevertheless there are logically common dictionaries that are repeatedly reinvented and repopulated across many different database systems. For example many geoscience systems contain dictionaries describing rock type, lithostratigraphy, fossil names, mineral names, chemical elements etc. The process of constantly reinventing such dictionaries prevents the sharing and exchange of information. It also significantly increases the costs of system design when such key elements have to be recreated and repopulated.


At the 32nd International Geological Congress (IGC) meeting (ITALIA 2003) that will be held in Florence, Italy, next August, a Topical Symposium is being organized to discuss these issues. The objective is to bring together project managers, database managers and strategic planners from industry, universities, and geological survey organizations to share information on the status of dictionaries, standards and technologies used for geoscience data management and delivery. The project also sets out to initiate collaborative projects to work on reviewing existing systems, identify best practices and promote the use of preferred, publicly available dictionaries.

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