The amount of data collected in archives is astounding. I'm back in Minnesota, looking through the archives of Glacier Bay research, collecting information on the past 100 years of permanent plot data. We have a paper in review which uses published information (1916-2016) but there's a wealth of additional, unpublished data that remains to be analyzed. I'm finding far more than expected, including a wealth of old photographs, information on wildlife ecology over the past century (bird and mammal observations), and correspondence which allows us to really quantify changes. One reason this is valuable is it provides a successionary "baseline" of sorts in terms of speed - as the climate warms, will succession proceed faster? Nutrient cycling, germination, microbial communities - all tied to temperature. With this historical work and the work ongoing now in GBNP, we can start to investigate that question like nowhere else in the world.
Another thing this makes me think of, unrelated to ecology, is what I've heard described of as the "digital desert" that is anticipated in the future due to a lack of physical records. All my data is digital, with the exception of field notebooks (and many people use digital field notebooks now anyway). All my photos are. True, they are backed up on the cloud, but that's not any more physical and just as subject to the whims of data storage. This work wouldn't be possible without these physical records - perhaps we should all be printing everything out and storing it.
This is plot level data for Q3, from 1916 to 1984, mostly unpublished; the 1988 data is in text form. 2016 data from our expedition not shown. This data, plus ancillary notes, exists for all the plots, allowing us to follow small plant communities with unparalleled precision over time.
NB: May not be in order, I don't have access to Photoshop to pretty them up, and the connection is somewhat slow here in the archives so just bear with it. All will be further processed upon return...