More than just beer and waffles: Germany and Belgium offer ecosystems collaboration

At TERN we believe that open access to data is pivotal in collectively addressing Australia’s ecosystem information gaps and management challenges. As such, the TERN Data Discovery Portal has begun providing Australia’s ecosystem science community with open access to high-quality data across a diversity of disciplines. The importance of this work – and its potential for global impact – was on show this month when TERN was invited to share our progress and experience at two international data initiatives in Europe.

First stop on the knowledge-sharing trip was the fifth open workshop of the TRY initiative, hosted by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) with support from DIVERSITAS and the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, in Leipzig, Germany. TRY aims to bring together and share a global database on plant traits, and since its beginnings in 2007 it has acquired 3 million trait records, representing 69,000 plant traits from 8,000 measurement sites.

TRY has begun exploring an open-access policy to increase ease of access to and re-use of its wealth of data. At the workshop, TERN’s Data Synthesis and Integration Coordinator, Dr Siddeswara Guru, gave a presentation on TERN’s data-management and access policies and practices – effectively a case study of implementing an open-access policy in the diverse field of ecosystem science.

In his typically modest way, Guru says that he ‘simply wanted to give attendees something to think about and to show that an open way of approaching data access is effective’.

Going by the high level of attendee interest and subsequent follow-ups, Guru has done more than simply generate interest. TERN’s Ecosystem Modelling and Scaling Infrastructure (e-MAST) facility leader, Professor Colin Prentice, is on the steering committee of TRY, and he says that the TERN presentation sparked new discussions on data management and access in Europe.

‘Guru’s presentation helped workshop participants to realise that open-access data policy is feasible on a large scale database, and that intellectual property (IP) issues can be resolved by such an approach,’ Colin says.

One of the things that many attendees were most impressed by was how such an approach can free their organisations from often laborious and expensive data-access approvals processes.

‘By showing data custodians what is possible and giving them multiple options for licensing their data, we hope than others will follow TERN’s lead and take a more open data access policy with efficient data management’, Guru says.

This certainly appears to be the case, with Colin recently confirming that ‘a number of large European research organisations and networks are now considering major revisions of their procedures, designed to facilitate data providers to move their data to open access’.

Such a successful day in Leipzig was hopefully celebrated with an appropriate stein of beer and maybe even a bratwurst complete with sauerkraut!

Next stop on TERN’s relationship-building trip was Belgium, for collaboration and, possibly, chocolate waffles. Guru travelled with Dr Brad Evans (of e-MAST, based at Macquarie University) to Mol to meet with VITO, a research organisation involved in remote sensing. There is a large potential for collaboration between TERN and VITO, particularly in the fields of remote sensing and data processing.

‘VITO has much to gain from TERN’s experiences dealing with heterogeneous data collections, and they’re very interested in working with TERN to harness some of the data management and delivery capabilities,’ Brad says.

Likewise, TERN has plenty to gain from a collaboration. Of particular interest to e-MAST is the potential to tap into VITO’s expertise and technology in the field of data processing and assimilation. Brad is liaising with other TERN facilities, including AusCover, the Australian Supersite Network and the Australian Transect Network, to assess the possibility of utilising VITO-developed products to assist in the process of the assimilation of remotely sensed hyperspectral data into land-surface models. These models are important for understanding energy and gas exchanges between ecosystems and the atmosphere under a changing climate, and accessing the technology is an exciting prospect for TERN.

By building relationships with such international groups as TRY and VITO, TERN is strengthening its ability to facilitate world-leading ecosystem science. In addition, such collaborations can assist other research networks around the world in addressing the major challenges facing the world’s terrestrial ecosystems.

After a whirlwind trip, the visiting TERN team returned home having confirmed that TERN’s approach is at the forefront of global efforts to address the challenges of sharing and accessing multidisciplinary data.


Brad Evans takes a moment to reflect on e-MAST’s
European collaborations

Published in TERN e-Newsletter September 2013

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