Understanding how quickly environmental reactions take place is the goal of EarthKin, a geochemical database focusing on the rates of geochemical reactions. EarthKin scientists from University of Maine, Penn State, Columbia, and Saint Francis University will compile existing reaction rates into a one-stop database that will allow access to researchers working on a diverse range of projects ranging from removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and permanently storing it beneath the ground to cleaning up contaminated environmental sites. When completed EarthKin will be available to scientists free via the web at www.earthchem.org. Not only will we compile existing data, but we will also encourage new researchers to become involved by uploading their new results into the database.
Recent advances in geoinformatics (the subdiscipline of developing technological and computation tools to facilitate information dissemination in the geosciences) have drastically increased access that researchers have to geological information. Many recent endeavors have focused on online publishing of large data sets in order to make data available to the wider community. EarthKin is especially interesting in that it is one of the first attempts to include experimental data in a web-based data management platform. To do this, we will need to build new tools and data structures that will allow the existing EarthChem platform to incorporate a new type of data.
Reaction kinetics describe how fast chemical processes occur. Numerous earth scientists have made measurements of reaction kinetics for the chemical processes that are shaping the environment in which we live, but those measurements have been hidden away in technical publications. The research conducted under this award was focused on building a database called EarthKin where reaction kinetics information can be stored and shared. The volume of information that could go into such a database is monumental, so the initial work conduction from 2011 through 2012 was focused on mineral dissolution rates as well as the reactions through which bacteria can enhance mineral dissolution rates. The resulting database is being used to develop better ways to predict reaction kinetics in environmental settings. Applications include better predictions of contaminant transport in groundwater and a more wholistic understanding of the key processes that occur when soils errode. The EarthKin database also has educational value. Undergraduate engineering students have done much of the difficult work needed to populate the database. These same students have used the database to help highschool students understand what a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics can entail. The data in the database will ultimately be useful in developing authentic class projects that are based on real-world datasets.