Database technology organizes Antarctic treaty documents, more

June 28, 1999

Columbus, Ohio -- International documents from the Handbook of the Antarctic Treaty System, which had previously only been disseminated in paper form, are now available in an easily-searchable database on the World Wide Web thanks to the efforts of an Ohio State University researcher.

For the first time since the Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959, resolutions, measures and decisions from the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings are now available to anyone on the planet who has access to the Internet.

What's more, the technology for creating the searchable Antarctic Treaty database provides an easy visual display for collapsing large amounts of information from an Internet search into an expandable hierarchical display which can be viewed on a single computer screen.

According to Paul Arthur Berkman, Earth scientist at the Ohio State University's Byrd Polar Research Center, this technology has broad applications for easily searching, organizing and displaying information -- from small databases in personal computers to large databases such as the ever-growing World Wide Web itself.

By signing the Antarctic Treaty, the 12 original signatory nations -- Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Great Britain, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the United States, and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics -- agreed to manage the entire Antarctic continent for "peaceful purposes only" based on international cooperation. For the last four decades, the Antarctic Treaty System, which now includes 43 nations, has created innovative strategies for resolving issues from commercial fisheries and conservation to tourism and environmental protection.

In spring 1999, Berkman began using the Antarctic Treaty searchable database in an interdisciplinary course on Antarctic science and policy which he has been teaching at Ohio State for the last 10 years. Previously, his students had found the massive list of Antarctic Treaty measures, figures, and tables unwieldy. Now his students can examine the Antarctic Treaty documents with a click of a button.

Berkman first approached the United States Department of State in 1998 to find out whether his students could access an electronic version of the treaty documents. When he found out that no electronic version existed, he contacted the Government Printing Office about creating the searchable database. Soon after, Berkman was introduced to George J. Maynard, owner and founder of Native Voices International (NVI-Datanet) of Wooster, Ohio. Maynard had developed the patent-pending database technology now used in searchable database while organizing the Code of Federal Regulations in 1996. With additional support from the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs and Division of Undergraduate Education, the current iteration of the Antarctic Treaty searchable database was born.

While most search engines on the Web list results across many pages, the new technology allows Berkman and Maynard to organize results chronologically or topically on a single screen. The user can search across a branching tree-like structure to find the desired documents. "Our database presents documents in a simple, intelligent and clear manner," said Berkman. "You don't have to be a policy wonk who has a long history of searching legal documents to use this database."

However, the database also is helpful to legal experts. In June 1999, the Department of State introduced the Antarctic Treaty searchable database to the international community at the 23rd annual Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Lima, Peru. Berkman already has received inquiries from the Argentine and German delegations about the database.

As the depository government for the Antarctic Treaty, the United States is responsible for maintaining these documents for all nations. Berkman said the Department of State and the National Science Foundation have expressed interest in having him develop the database further, so that it can serve not just as an educational tool, but as a resource for anyone in the world who is interested in learning about Antarctica. In the meantime, Berkman and Maynard are developing the database technology further as part of their ongoing collaboration.

Work on the Antarctic Treaty Searchable Database is being funded by the National Science Foundation.
Contact: Paul Arthur Berkman, 614-292-3670;
Written by Pam Frost, 614-292-9475;

Ohio State University

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