Open Access in the geosciences

The geosciences, or earth sciences, are among those disciplines in which open access (OA) is already widespread.

In a report on the main results of a survey conducted by the Study of Open Access Publishing (SOAP) project, the earth sciences are located in the middle or in the upper third of the tables that document positive attitudes towards OA by discipline. And when it comes to pursuing the green road to OA, the earth sciences are in the top group, compared to other disciplines (cf. Anatomy of Green Open Access).

One example of a publisher that promotes the green road to OA in the geosciences is the American Geophysical Union (AGU), which publishes a number of well-established journals. Authors of contributions to its subscription-based journals are granted general permission to deposit the final published citable version of record of the article six months after official publication by the AGU.

Open Access journals

As early as 2001, the European Geosciences Union (EGU) went one step further when it began collaborating closely with the OA publisher Copernicus Publications – a collaboration that continues to this day. Based in the German city of Göttingen, Copernicus Publications is one of the most renowned OA publishers in the world. All the journals it publishes practise the OA business model, and in the last few years many of them have developed into prestigious journals with a corresponding impact factor. By now, the portfolio of over 30 journals covers extensive areas of the geosciences. A number of the journals practise a system of open peer review (cf. here).

Journals from other publishers have also gained a similar reputation in the community. For example, MDPI, which is also a purely OA publisher, publishes 20 journals in this field.

In the meantime, the AGU, too, publishes several newly-established journals in OA. And Springer’s portfolio of OA journals, SpringerOpen, also includes a number of geoscience titles.

In addition to newly established journals, the first transitions from subscription-based to full-OA journals have already taken place. The tradition-steeped German journal Die Erde has switched to an OA business model (and is published via an Open Journal Systems (OJS) platform). The journal Meteorologische Zeitschrift (1884 ff.), which is published by the geoscience-oriented German publisher Schweizerbarth, has also migrated to an OA business model – as the first journal in Schweizerbarth’s portfolio to do so. Unfortunately, however, the publisher has not gone the last mile, insofar as it does not yet use the Creative Commons CC-BY licence which has become the standard licence for OA journals worldwide.

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists ca. 100 OA journals in the geosciences.

Disciplinary repositories


The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) offers users the option of refining search results by Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC). As the content providers of the retrieved titles are displayed, users can obtain quite a comprehensive overview of geoscience-oriented repositories.

The following are examples of discipline-specific collections:

Agris, a harvester for the agricultural sciences

Aquatic Commons, an offering of the International Association of Aquatic and Marine Science Libraries and Information Centers

GEO-LEOe-docs is a disciplinary repository for Geology, driven by the German specialized information service on geoscience (Fachinformationsdienst für die Geowissenschaften der festen Erde, FID GEO).

NASA Technical Reports

OceanDocs, a repository of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)

The repositories of the research institutions in the geosciences are, of course, particularly useful for direct searches. They include:

Earthprints, Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia

EPIC, Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research.

GFZpublic, the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Helmholtz Centre, Potsdam

Oceanrep, GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel

Research data

Research data have traditionally played an important role in the geosciences. Hence, open access to research data is a pressing issue. The way in which research data are handled in supplementary material published with journal articles is currently being addressed here: Statement of Commitment from Earth and Space Science Publishers and Data Facilities (cf. also here).

It is no coincidence that the first newly established journals that are devoted exclusively to articles on research data – namely, Earth System Science Data (ESSD) and the Geoscience Data Journal – are in the field of geosciences.

The Registry of Research Data Repositories,, is a good source of information on platforms throughout the world that hold research data and make them available to the public.

Literature and research data searches in the geosciences

The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) offers users the option of refining search results by Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC). Some 270,000 titles can currently be found under “earth sciences” (DDC 550).

For searches at article level, the discovery system ALBERT indexes, inter alia, the metadata of articles in OA journals in the geosciences and of geoscience articles held by a number of relevant repositories. Indexed metadata increasingly include those of published datasets.

The number of OA journals in the geosciences is growing (ca. 10 percent of the articles in the geo-relevant groups in the Science Citation Index in 2014 were published in OA journals). As a consequence, these articles can, of course, be searched at any time via the discipline-specific bibliographic databases (e.g. GeoRef) and the popular multidisciplinary scientific offerings (Science Citation Index, Scopus, etc.).

Key players

Many professional societies in the geosciences in Germany are involved in journal publishing. The further transition of geoscience journals to the OA model should therefore be promoted in collaboration with these societies.

Existing subscription-based journals should at least be urged to improve their authors’ “green-OA” rights. The approach taken by the AGU, a recognized global professional society, can serve as a model in this regard.

Open Science

The geosciences are a typical example of a scientific field in which open science was an important topic avant la lettre. Accordingly, open science will remain a decisive issue here. Indeed, the handling of research data has been a decisive issue since the International Geophysical Year (1957/58). The International Geo Sample Number (IGSN) is currently being developed as a unique identifier for referenceable samples taken from the natural environment. For over 10 years now, open peer review has been standard practice on the part of a number of the journals published by Copernicus Publications. As the geosciences are software-intensive disciplines, increased attention is being given to the handling, publication, and referenceability of software.

Content editor of this web page: Roland Bertelmann, Helmholtz Association