The Importance of Ontologies

We've discussed controlled vocabularies, what they are, how they are created, and how they are put into use. Using controlled vocabularies in the form of ontologies gives you all the benefits of normal vocabularies with the added robustness of ontologies. Though there is a learning curve, when you begin to see vocabularies from an ontological point of view, the potential for more complex relationships in your data, greater interoperability, and using computer reasoning becomes apparent.

We are just beginning to see the potential of ontologies, especially in the realm of the semantic web. The Open IOOS Sensor Web demonstration shows a small piece of what ontologies can do for the marine sciences. Using an OGC Sensor Web, Open IOOS has been successful in creating a real-time sensor map that provides data from over 1000 observation platforms. While the demonstration is a significant step, future projects, such as the Ocean Observing Initiative Cyberinfrastructure project will put entire worldwide systems into operation that use a semantic infrastructure as the basis for much of their data framework.

Looking beyond projects such as these, it is conceivable that data from marine science could interoperate with all of the sciences, and vice versa, enabling powerful insights into large-scale phenomena. By laying the infrastucture now, we will be prepared to participate in and lead these projects as they become reality.

Suggested Citation

Alexander, P. 2011. "The Importance of Ontologies." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. Accessed October 20, 2020.