It is becoming increasingly important to the scientific and wider non-academic communities that the data that underpins key scientific results must be made available to allow for the testing and confirmation of those results. Historically, publishing the results of data rescue and processing activities have been prohibitive, and in those cases where it has been possible, the raw data has had to have been converted to other formats; for example, instead of raw numbers being published in a (lengthy) table, it has been converted to a graph.

As scientists' ability to create and collect new data has grown, so too has our ability to archive and curate it. A dataset can be stored on any digital medium that is convenient, but future-proofing the data so that it is readable and understandable in future years remains a time consuming and difficult job. Yet, if the results drawn from that data are to stand up to scrutiny in the future, the data must be curated and archived properly.

Modern demands on geoscience data require them to be of high spatial and temporal resolution, globally and/or regionally complete, with well-documented metadata, of long temporal length, having quantified uncertainties, in addition to being freely available and fully traceable. In some areas of the geosciences, historical data still only exist in paper form, and are located disparately in various repositories around the world. In many cases, these old records are deteriorating beyond recognition at an alarming rate.

The major impediments to data rescue are resources (especially financial), personnel and the administration to engender the coordination needed for coherent global, regional and national programs. A compounding issue is that in some countries data are seen as a potential source of revenue, and are therefore not shared openly. Thus, there are gaps in our global, regional and national records that could, albeit with considerable effort, be filled. The recent global economic downturn has exacerbated this situation. Yet, ironically, this is happening amongst continued and growing calls for more observations in order to improve our understanding of the earth system.

A number of data journals have recently been launched in both online and/or hard copy formats.Some are focused on a few disciplines, while others are looking to cover all subjects.

Geoscience Data Journal (GDJ) is an online-only, Open Access journal, publishing short Data Papers in the fields of Weather and Climate, Oceanography, Atmospheric and Ocean Chemistry, Cryosphere, Biosphere and Land Surface, and Geology, cross-linked to – and citing – datasets that have been deposited in approved data centres and awarded DOIs.

In GDJ, a Data Paper is one that describes a dataset, giving details of its collection, processing, file formats etc., without going into protracted detail of any scientific analysis of the dataset or drawing conclusions from the data. The Data Paper should allow the reader to understand the when, why and how the data were collected, and what the data are. Further analysis of the data (other than what is required for calibration, data conditioning etc.) and conclusions drawn from these analyses should be reported separately in a standard scientific paper. There will be a fee to publish – unless this is waived for exceptional circumstances – using the Open Access model, so that the Data Paper will be freely accessible to end users.