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Data archiving is a process that supports long-term storage of scientific data and methods used to read or interpret it.


USGS Archiving Guidelines 


Best Practices 

  • Ideally, Archives should be created in a platform- and software-independent format on stable media such that they can be retained and used indefinitely. For example, data in geographic information system (GIS) databases may be stored in a proprietary format. This proprietary format may be altered over time as the GIS software evolves. Hence, in order to ensure that the data will be useful years later, it's necessary to export these data in a standard and portable format. Magnetic tapes and inexpensive optical media have a limited shelf life. Care should be taken to find and use appropriate archival quality media. It is understood that Archives may have to be moved to new media periodically in order to ensure their viability. Information on archival formats is available from the National Archives. The Library of Congress also posts a Recommended Formats Statement annually.

  • Often, Archives are created for legal reasons. They provide a snap-shot of data as a historical record, similar to the way an accountant may retain tax records. Outside entities may expect that Archives be periodically created of all system data including logs, Web cache, email, project proposals, and the like. It is not unheard of to have such records subpoenaed in legal proceedings involving USGS offices and programs.

  • Archives must be uniquely labeled, thoroughly catalogued, and stored in a controlled and protected environment. System Administrators should consider contracting with a firm that specializes in long-term storage of archives. Also, the benefits of creating multiple copies of Archives to be kept in separate locations should be given appropriate consideration.

  • Archives can be made for various reasons. An archive may be made at the end of a project to create a historical record of all data and information from that project. Archives are also made as part of federal records management.



  • Archives and Records Centers Information System (ARCIS)

    ARCIS is the Web-based IT system of the Federal Records Centers (FRCs) of the National Archives and Records Administration. The system is the online portal through which your agency can do business with the FRCs.



Example USGS Archives 

The USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center archives remotely sensed images of the Earth's land surface. These data are acquired by civilian satellites and aircraft and used to study a wide range of natural hazards, global environmental change, and economic development and conservation issues.

Available data include:

  • Aerial Photography
  • Satellite Imagery
  • Elevation
  • Land Cover
  • Digitized Maps
  • Image Gallery Collections

Learn about the High Density Digital Tape (HDDT) Landsat Data Recovery process at EROS:

Video Transcript
High Density Digital Tapes (HDDT) containing Landsat scenes arrive at EROS from International Cooperators located around the world. Operators use a baking process to recover the imagery from the HDDTs. Video download available. Jennifer Oeding, USGS EROS Center(Public domain.)

What the U.S. Geological Survey Manual Requires: 

The USGS Survey Manual chapter SM 502.9 - Fundamental Science Practices: Preservation Requirements for Digital Scientific Data requires data be preserved in accordance with the USGS records disposition requirements and the Federal Records Act 36 CFR 1220.14.  When creating permanent Federal records, consider long-term preservation needs and select formats that will facilitate storage or transfer to National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).


The USGS Survey Manual chapter SM 431.1 - Records Management Program describes the USGS Records Management Program objectives and assigns responsibilities for records management.