Metadata are "data about data". They describe the content, quality, condition, and other characteristics of data. Metadata also provide supporting documentation which can be used to understand decision rules and content of the data. Metadata help a person to locate and understand data.

A metadatabase is not a database of scientific data observations. Rather it serves as a tool that references the existence of data and information products. A metadatabase can be imagined as a directory (such as a telephone directory) that lists and describes data being held by someone else, for example research data held by a university or research institute, and tells how to acquire those data. A metadatabase record is not the data itself but a simple text or image description of the data that provides enough summary information to assess if the actual information is useful in providing answers to the question being considered.

From the metadatabase, individuals will be able to easily ascertain whether a certain type of data exists and the characteristics of the data. Characteristics include such information as the extent of temporal coverage (by calendar year, monthly), geographic extent (latitude and longitude, biophysical domain, statistical reporting area), where it resides physically (location), what type of information is archived (scientific measurements, specimens, paper records), if data what type it is (physical, biological, chemical, atmospheric), who owns it and how to contact them, purpose for collection, data format, what components of the Bering Sea ecosystem the data describe (trophic levels), media type (on-line digital, CD-ROM, computer printouts, original data forms), and metric units of measurement.

We have organized the information according to the recently established Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) Metadata Standards. The purpose of the standard is to provide a common set of terminology and definitions for documentation related to data content, quality, condition, and other data characteristics.

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[Last updated: 2007-07-03]