Review Article

Earth Science Informatics

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 139-160

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

On the utility of identification schemes for digital earth science data: an assessment and recommendations

  • Ruth E. DuerrAffiliated withNational Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado at Boulder Email author 
  • , Robert R. DownsAffiliated withCenter for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), Columbia University
  • , Curt TilmesAffiliated withNASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • , Bruce BarkstromAffiliated withNASA/NOAA
  • , W. Christopher LenhardtAffiliated withOak Ridge National Laboratory
  • , Joseph GlassyAffiliated withR&D, Lupine Logic Inc.
  • , Luis E. BermudezAffiliated withOpen Geospatial Consortium (OGC)
  • , Peter SlaughterAffiliated withEarth Research Institute, University of California at Santa Barbara


In recent years, a number of data identification technologies have been developed which purport to permanently identify digital objects. In this paper, nine technologies and systems for assigning persistent identifiers are assessed for their applicability to Earth science data (ARKs, DOIs, XRIs, Handles, LSIDs, OIDs, PURLs, URIs/URNs/URLs, and UUIDs). The evaluation used four use cases that focused on the suitability of each scheme to provide Unique Identifiers for Earth science data objects, to provide Unique Locators for the objects, to serve as Citable Locators, and to uniquely identify the scientific contents of data objects if the data were reformatted. Of all the identifier schemes assessed, the one that most closely meets all of the requirements for an Unique Identifier is the UUID scheme. Any of the URL/URI/IRI-based identifier schemes assessed could be used for Unique Locators. Since there are currently no strong market leaders to help make the choice among them, the decision must be based on secondary criteria. While most publications now allow the use of URLs in citations, so that all of the URL/URI/IRI based identification schemes discussed in this paper could potentially be used as a Citable Locator, DOIs are the identification scheme currently adopted by most commercial publishers. None of the identifier schemes assessed here even minimally address identification of scientifically identical numerical data sets under reformatting.


Digital identifiers Unique Identifiers Permanent identifiers Global unique persistent identifiers