I'm asking this because of the closing of this question asking how to plot wind barbs in python. The reception from the community seems to be split. One one hand it was upvoted to +7, and on the other hand it was closed. Even the reviews were a going both ways.

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Furthermore, we've been inconsistent in our treatment of these questions.

A previous meta discussion suggests that we do want these kind of questions here. Has that standpoint changed?

I see comments from time to time saying "go post this on GIS.se" but I'm not really concerned with whether or not these kind of questions are on-topic there ("this Q is on topic somewhere else" is not a valid close reason). I want to get consensus if they are on-topic here.

Are questions like these on-topic here? Should the wind barb question be re-opened? Should the others be closed?

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    $\begingroup$ When we were still in private beta, we did discuss this very briefly (meta.earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/77/…) and we did seem to agree that this would be on-topic. $\endgroup$
    – plannapus
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ (as long as it is specifically relevant to earth science) $\endgroup$
    – plannapus
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ What plannaplus said! If is about implementing concepts from earth science into code, fine. If it is a pure programming issue like "How do I inherit..., how to join this in SQL ..., is there a function/design pattern to..." I will vote to migrate it to Stack Overflow (or Software Engineering). It's a fine line, but a programmer like me recognizes it. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Doggen
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ And the meta effect has now made sure that all these questions are open... $\endgroup$
    – Jan Doggen
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 12:14

2 Answers 2


I feel strongly that programming-related questions should be on topic here. For many geoscience programming questions, this is the only SE site where one could reasonably expect to get a good answer. Much Earth Science software has little or no direct connection with GIS (or with other neighbouring topics like physics or chemistry). A question about plotting a FORC diagram or using stratigraphic correlation libraries would be probably deemed off-topic on any other SE site.

There are also cases where and Earth Science question might have a GIS (or mathematics, statistics, physics, chemistry, engineering, etc.) component. But as casey rightly said, "this Q is on topic somewhere else" is not a valid close reason. Some questions which might be on topic at gis.se still have a more natural home here. For example, the Lambert azimuthal equal-area projection is commonly used to represent three-dimensional directions in Earth Science; asking about it on gis.se would be more likely to elicit expertise about its use as a map projection. Of course, plenty of GIS-related questions are more suited to gis.se, but where there's a clear geoscientific element I think they should be welcome here too.

For me personally, practically every day of my work as a geoscientist involves programming and/or use of highly geoscience-specific applications or libraries. I'm sure that the same is true for many of my colleagues. When I supported the Earth Science proposal, I assumed that we'd be able to ask and answer about these aspects of our work here. This was reflected in some of the higher-rated example questions submitted during the pre-beta phase:

  • What tools are there to read a [GeoTIFF,KML,FITS,CDF,NetCDF,HDF] file? [this is the top-rated sample question]
  • What is a good open source package to process 2D [reflection,refraction,passive] [land,ocean] seismic data?
  • I'm looking for a hydrological model to estimate various properties a river system. What are some publicly available software/modeling options?
  • What tools exist to read AVHRR GAC data?

Yes they are on topic and I think they are great for the site. Questions like these will increase the usefulness of the site and attract more technical users. The scientific community has many list-serves and other sources for Q/A on these types of questions. However, in my experience, the content is often only available to list-serve members and not necessarily searchable on the web. This site provides so much more than that by making it open to the entire international community (some of which might not even know about the other options out there).

GIS stack exchange is a great resource for GIS data processing. However, much of the data we work with in Earth Sciences is not commonly used in typical GIS software. For instance, in my field, the data formats used for air quality work are so specific, that GIS software is pretty useless. Instead we use Models-3 I/O API tools and other packages like NCL. I don't think the GIS stack exchange community is especially helpful in those instances. Though, if it is a python-related question, GIS would probably be the best stack exchange.

Just My 2 Cents! Still learning how this whole meta site works!


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