Although there are considerable site-based data for individual or groups of ecosystems, these datasets are widely scattered, have different data formats and conventions, and often have limited accessibility. At the broader scale, national datasets exist for a large number of geospatial features of land, water, and air that are needed to fully understand variation among these ecosystems. However, such datasets originate from different sources and have different spatial and temporal resolutions. By taking an open-science perspective and by combining site-based ecosystem datasets and national geospatial datasets, science gains the ability to ask important research questions related to grand environmental challenges that operate at broad scales. Documentation of such complicated database integration efforts, through peer-reviewed papers, is recommended to foster reproducibility and future use of the integrated database. Here, we describe the major steps, challenges, and considerations in building an integrated database of lake ecosystems, called LAGOS (LAke multi-scaled GeOSpatial and temporal database), that was developed at the sub-continental study extent of 17 US states (1,800,000 km2). LAGOS includes two modules: LAGOSGEO, with geospatial data on every lake with surface area larger than 4 ha in the study extent (~50,000 lakes), including climate, atmospheric deposition, land use/cover, hydrology, geology, and topography measured across a range of spatial and temporal extents; and LAGOSLIMNO, with lake water quality data compiled from ~100 individual datasets for a subset of lakes in the study extent (~10,000 lakes). Procedures for the integration of datasets included: creating a flexible database design; authoring and integrating metadata; documenting data provenance; quantifying spatial measures of geographic data; quality-controlling integrated and derived data; and extensively documenting the database. Our procedures make a large, complex, and integrated database reproducible and extensible, allowing users to ask new research questions with the existing database or through the addition of new data. The largest challenge of this task was the heterogeneity of the data, formats, and metadata. Many steps of data integration need manual input from experts in diverse fields, requiring close collaboration.
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