LTER Network Data Access Policy, Data Access Requirements, and General Data Use Agreement

Revised by the LTER Science Council, May 19, 2017.

Long Term Ecological Research Network Data Access Policy

The LTER data policy includes three specific sections designed to express shared network policies regarding the release of LTER data products, user registration for accessing data, and the licensing agreements specifying the conditions for data use.

LTER Network Data Release Policy

Data and information derived from publicly funded research in the U.S. LTER Network, totally or partially from LTER funds from NSF, Institutional Cost-Share, or Partner Agency or Institution where a formal memorandum of understanding with LTER has been established, are made available in a community accepted data repository (e.g., LTER Repository, EDI Repository, Arctic Data Center, BCO-DMO) with as few restrictions as possible, on a nondiscriminatory basis. LTER Network scientists should make every effort to release data in a timely fashion and with attention to accurate and complete metadata.


There are two data types:

Type I – data are to be released to the general public according to the terms of the general data use agreement (see Section 3 below) within 2 years from collection and no later than the publication of the main findings from the dataset and,

Type II - data are to be released to restricted audiences according to terms specified by the owners of the data. Type II data are considered to be exceptional and should be rare in occurrence. The justification for exceptions must be well documented and approved by the lead PI and Site Data Manager. Some examples of Type II data restrictions may include: locations of rare or endangered species, data that are covered under prior licensing or copyright (e.g., SPOT satellite data), or covered by the Human Subjects Act. Researchers that make use of Type II Data may be subject to additional restrictions to protect any applicable commercial or confidentiality interests.

While the spirit of this document is to promote maximum availability for ecological data in either Type I or II status, there are criteria by which priority for data release may be determined. Primary observations collected for core research activities directly supported by LTER research must receive the highest priority for data release. Data collected by other sources to which LTER supported research has added value is also a high priority Other types of data including non-LTER data that was acquired for LTER research, student thesis data, schoolyard LTER data, or legacy data that already suffer from inadequate documentation or format obsolescence may be ranked a lower priority by a site with justifications provided in their data management policy. Finally, some data may be determined of lowest priority for archiving on the grounds that they are interim data that led to final products that carry the scientific value. These might include data files created during stages within an analytic workflow, raw or replicate data values that were subsequently aggregated or processed for release, or individual outputs from stochastic models.


  1. Metadata documenting archived/online data sets of all types listed above will be made available when, or before, the dataset itself is released according to the terms above.
  2. All metadata will be publicly available regardless of any restrictions on access to the data.
  3. All metadata will follow LTER recommended standards and will minimally contain adequate information on proper citation, access, contact information, and discovery. Complete information including methods, structure, semantics, and quality control/assurance is expected for most datasets and is strongly encouraged.

Data Use Agreements

The ‘Intellectual Rights’ within each metadata document determines the exact data and metadata use agreement between the data user and the LTER site releasing the data. LTER data and metadata may be released under the license: CC BY - Attribution. This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work (even commercially), as long as you are credited for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, and is recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

Alternatively, LTER data and metadata may be released into the public domain: CC0 - No Rights Reserved. CC0 states that data are placed in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright or database law. It is usual practice for major databases to make data freely available under CC0. In either case it is recommended to include this text:

The consumer of these data ("Data User" herein) has an ethical obligation to cite it appropriately in any publication that results from its use. The Data User should realize that these data may be actively used by others for ongoing research and that coordination may be necessary to prevent duplicate publication. The Data User is urged to contact the authors of these data if any questions about methodology or results occur. Where appropriate, the Data User is encouraged to consider collaboration or coauthorship with the authors. The Data User should realize that misinterpretation of data may occur if used out of context of the original study. While substantial efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of data and associated documentation, complete accuracy of data sets cannot be guaranteed. All data are made available "as is." The Data User should be aware, however, that data are updated periodically and it is the responsibility of the Data User to check for new versions of the data. The data authors and the repository where these data were obtained shall not be liable for damages resulting from any use or misinterpretation of the data. Thank you.

For comments or questions, please contact: LTER Network Communications Office or Environmental Data Initiative



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