Stachelek, J., C. Ford, D. Kincaid, K. King, H. Miller, and R. Nagelkirk. 2018. The National Eutrophication Survey: Lake characteristics and historical nutrient concentrations. Earth System Science Data 10:81-86.
Historical ecological surveys serve as a baseline and provide context for contemporary research, yet many of these records are not preserved in a way that ensures their long-term usability. The National Eutrophication Survey (NES) database is currently only available as scans of the original reports (PDF files) with no embedded character information. This limits its searchability, machine readability, and the ability of current and future scientists to systematically evaluate its contents. The NES data were collected by the US Environmental Protection Agency between 1972 and 1975 as part of an effort to investigate eutrophication in freshwater lakes and reservoirs. Although several studies have manually transcribed small portions of the database in support of specific studies, there have been no systematic attempts to transcribe and preserve the database in its entirety. Here we use a combination of automated optical character recognition and manual quality assurance procedures to make these data available for analysis. The performance of the optical character recognition protocol was found to be linked to variation in the quality (clarity) of the original documents. For each of the four archival scanned reports, our quality assurance protocol found an error rate between 5.9 and 17 %. The goal of our approach was to strike a balance between efficiency and data quality by combining entry of data by hand with digital transcription technologies. The finished database contains information on the physical characteristics, hydrology, and water quality of about 800 lakes in the contiguous US (Stachelek et al.(2017), https://doi.org/10.5063/F1639MVD). Ultimately, this database could be combined with more recent studies to generate meta-analyses of water quality trends and spatial variation across the continental US.
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