The Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (CSDMS)

The Community Surface Dynamics Modeling System (CSDMS) supports scientific research involving earth-surface processes: landslides, soil erosion, glaciation, river sedimentation, coastal change, sea-floor processes, and other natural phenomena that can impact human life and infrastructure. CSDMS focuses on the development and applications of computer models that help researchers and other professionals understand these processes and their potential impacts on human activity. The organization provides support in three main areas: community, computing, and education. Community-oriented activity includes maintaining an interactive online database for sharing of research software and other resources, hosting an annual scientific conference, and providing logistical support for workshops and related events. Computing-related services include developing software technology for running and coupling process models, hosting high-performance computing resources, providing technical computing assistance to scientists, and designing and promoting common standards and best practices for research software. Educational activities include summer schools in scientific computing for early-career researchers, workshops on various technical topics, and a web-based repository of online educational materials, such as animations, lecture slides, laboratory exercises, and “science-on-a-sphere” data sets.

This is a nice overview of CSDMS. Since a community of CSMDS depends on contributions of volunteers,you have a potential challenge of collective action. Perhaps you may want to share what some of the key lessons you have learned to get members actively involved.

Good question! It is indeed a challenge to engage volunteers, especially given that most of these particular volunteers are already intensely busy. I cannot claim that we have discovered a highly effective, “one size fits all” method of engagement. But one approach that can work well is to assemble a team to write a grant proposal for a project that contributes to the overall mission. This is how the Landlab project came about. Now that the main functionality has been built, there are several groups outside of the original team who are now using it research. But it took that initial funded effort to build the tools and get them to a level of functionality and (importantly) documentation that makes them attractive to busy researchers. More generally, weaving together software development activity with research applications of the software can be a good way to both ensure that the “right” software is being developed, and to drive its development with real and meaningful use cases.