ERCIM News No.22 - July 1995 - CNR

The South Pole Information System

by Stefania Biagioni, Carlo Carlesi, Giorgio Leone and Ovidio Salvetti

An integrated multi-disciplinary information system, known as the South Pole system, has been developed within the framework of the Italian Programme for Research in the Antarctic promoted by ENEA (National Agency for Alternative Energy). The system consists of a series of heterogeneous data banks sited in Local Centres, each one dedicated to a particular theme, geographically distributed throughout the territory. The Local Centres are connected via telematic networks (Internet, TCP/IP).

The main objective of the South Pole system is to make all the data and information concerning the Italian Antarctic expeditions available to the scientific community, through the creation of a series of specific thematic databanks.

The system thus provides:

The project is part of a collaboration between ENEA and CNR. IEI-CNR is responsible for implementing the interconnections and the interfaces between the Local Centres (LCs), and for supplying them with the necessary technical assistance to create and maintain their databanks.

Much of our efforts have been concentrated on creating a user-friendly environment which can simulate the entire information system so that the end-user, at any Local Centre, can access any of the other geographically distributed centres.

Figure 1: the overall structure of the system

The nucleus of the system is at the European Space Agency (ESA-ESRIN) of Frascati. ESA-ESRIN functions as a bridge between the Local Centres, allowing remote users to connect directly to any LC, utilizing their own local access modes. At the moment, IEI-CNR acts as a filter between the LCs and ESA-ESRIN, organizing and converting the data structures used by the LCs according to predefined standards.

In order to evaluate system performance, a prototype has been implemented at IEI which can simulate the entire distributed information system. This prototype has allowed us to set-up a laboratory to experiment and test possible developments of the system and applications.

In the design of the data representation schema and access modes, we have had the following objectives:

Consultation is through access to a Meta-Database Management System which contains the descriptors for the single databases belonging to the Local Centres. These descriptors represent the information structure at two levels:

Figure 3: data organisation

In order to develop the system interfaces, we have had to analyse:

We have attempted to define a universal model which covers both internal aspects (i.e. data access and retrieval by local users) and external aspects (remote access). A client-server architecture has been adopted, giving the user guided access to the distributed data via the network on public servers, in totally transparent mode. Efficient browsing, search and retrieval mechanisms have been developed.

The system has been implemented under WWW. The IEI-CNR home page can be seen in the figure below.

The thematic databases have been developed mainly under the Oracle DBMS. The importance of the contribution of IEI-CNR, Pisa, to the National Antarctic Project has led to the Area of Research of Pisa becoming the National Coordinating Centre for the International Antarctic Project.

Please contact:
Ovidio Salvetti - IEI-CNR
Tel: +39 50 593455
or Carlo Carlesi - IEI-CNR
Tel: +39 50 593483
or Giorgio Leone - IEI-CNR
Tel: +39 50 593483
E-mail: salvetti / carlesi /

return to the contents page