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Sky’s the limit with TERN collaboration

Our infrastructure and data products are being used by some of Australia’s most successful ecosystem scientists, spread across many universities and institutions. How do we know? More than $3 million worth of the ARC Discovery projects funded in November 2013 rely on components of the collaborative research infrastructure delivered through TERN. We’re only four years old, but already we’re struggling to keep up with demand.

Collaboration isn’t always easy – something we here at TERN know only too well! – but the rewards for successful collaboration can be great. There is considerable evidence that our infrastructure has been instrumental in establishing and maintaining successful collaborative networks among Australian ecosystem scientists. Other articles in this newsletter explore our burgeoning collaborations with other NCRIS platforms, and science and management agencies at federal and state government levels.

However, TERN is not only about Australian ecosystem scientists – this is only the beginning. Our collaborative networks are spreading into other areas of scientific endeavour: internationally, and into local community and Indigenous organisations, business enterprises, and agricultural industries.

A catalyst for cooperation in ecosystem science

On top of the ARC Discovery projects, a number of quantitative metrics demonstrate that the Australian ecosystem science community appreciates and supports TERN’s collaborative and networked approach. Subscriptions to our monthly newsletter have soared since its inception (which is currently approximately 1850 individuals).

Our annual stakeholder surveys show that about 96% of respondents believe ongoing investment in TERN is important or very important, and that their awareness of TERN’s activities and relevance has increased considerably over time and is now stable at a high level. Information about the surveys and the latest statistics are on page 5 of our publication TERN Delivers.

TERN’s strong networks and collaborative approach also act as a platform for wider collaboration and collective activity across the ecosystem science and management communities. Nowhere is this more evident than in the development of the forthcoming Ecosystem Science Long-Term Plan.

TERN is working closely with the long-standing partners the Ecological Society of Australia and the Australian Academy of Science to offer coordination and leadership for the development of the plan, which has included extensive consultation over the last 8 months.

TERN’s extensive and strong networks have been vital in spreading the word about this process, and encouraging involvement from a diverse cross-section of the ecosystem science and management communities. Over 600 people from across the country have participated in surveys and town hall meetings so far; they range from students to policy makers, to senior academics, to consultants, to on-ground environmental managers, and concerned citizens. They work across all sorts of ecosystems from marine and aquatic, to terrestrial, to atmospheric, and represent a long list of organisations, professional societies, companies and interest groups.

By providing a platform to bring these communities together and plan for the future, TERN’s networks are enabling a new kind of coordinated and collaborative effort across our diverse ecosystem science community that will ultimately lead to better outcomes for Australia’s ecosystems, and therefore Australian society.

Participants at the Sydney town hall meeting voicing their opinions on the future of ecosystem sceince in Australia (photo courtesy of Aaron Greenville) 

Affiliates from a broad cross-section of Australian society will help the plan to be robust

Two dream teams streamline big data processes

TERN is playing major roles in two collaborative projects which are making data discovery, extraction and assimilation into models more streamlined, saving time and resources, and improving our understanding of ecosystem processes along the way.

According to the experts, there are 101 ways to discover and extract spatial data on the internet. The problem is that each one is designed for a different purpose and there isn’t an easy-to-use ‘one size fits all’ service. Users are forced to spend large amounts of time manipulating the datasets post-download, greatly slowing their workflow.

To address this, Dr Brad Evans and Dr Siddeswara Guru recently convened an ACEAS workshop which brought together an all-star national team to consolidate approaches to storing and delivering Australian gridded datasets. The team is creating an open-source tool, called the Spatially Explicit Data Discovery, Extraction and Evaluation Service (SPEDDEXES), which will allow users to more easily query, extract and visualise national spatial datasets.

Team members include representatives from TERN, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), NCI, Geoscience Australia (GA), CSIRO, Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), UNSW, UQ, Macquarie University and INTERSECT

‘The SPEDDEXES team demonstrates the value of the existing infrastructure as a collaborative environment, as well accelerating both the use and gaps in our knowledge or technology,’ says Dr Ben Evans from Australia’s National Computational Infrastructure (NCI).

Adam Lewis of GA says, ‘We at GA are keenly anticipating the development outcomes of SPEDDEXES and the potential to incorporate them back into our development of the Australian geoscience data cube.’

Tim Pugh of the BoM echoes Adam’s anticipation: ‘We are excited to join this cross-section of technologist and environmental disciplines to explore new methods in scientific data access and visualisation.’

The IMOS Satellite Remote Sensing facility leader Dr Edward King says, ‘This is a unique opportunity for those of us grappling with big spatial datasets to understand who in the community is doing what, and to identify opportunities to adopt common approaches that will facilitate and enable data sharing and use across domains.’

A second dream team, this one led by TERN’s Ecosystem Modelling and Scaling Infrastructure (eMAST) Director, Dr Brad Evans, is also working on streamlining ecosystem science data processing. Together with Dr Luigi Renzullo (CSIRO) eMAST is developing a tool for efficient national-scale data assimilation, using real observations create more accurate models of the real world.

 A league of experts from the CSIRO, the US-based National Centre of Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) joined forces with technical experts from the NCI, and the CSIRO’s Community Atmosphere-Biosphere-Land Exchange (CABLE) model development team to develop and deploy a continent-scale data-assimilation system.

Going well into overtime, Brad’s dream team were able to help set up NCAR’s Data Assimilation Research Test-bed (DART) and couple the model to the Community Earth System Model (CESM) and Australia’s own CABLE model to produce more accurate continental estimates of land-surface parameters, including gross primary production, evapotranspiration, soil moisture, and stomatal conductance.

Installing and testing DART on NCI supercomputer Raijin: (left to right) Dr Brad Evans (eMAST director, Macquarie University) , Tim Hoar (NCAR, USA), Dr Andy Fox (NEON, USA) and Dr Luigi Renzullo (CSIRO)

Working with locals in their communities

Other noteworthy examples of how our collaborative networks are spreading into other areas of scientific endeavour, internationally, into local community and Indigenous organisations, business enterprises, agricultural industries, and more include:

  • Small businesses such as Falls Creek Alpine Resort collaborating with TERN-associated research programs because ‘having robust science on which to base our weed or fire management programs means we have much greater confidence that the effort we put in will deliver the desired outcome in an efficient way’.
  • Partnering with local councils, state governments, and other organisations to collect and facilitate open access to coastal ecosystem data for use in policy, planning and management decision-making about extreme events on coasts.
  • Working with traditional land owners and management groups to produce landmark studies on Aboriginal burning practices in Australia.
  • Forming strong connections with local communities by working on long-term projects in remote parts of the country, which is at least as educational for the scientists as it is for the locals. Plot by plot, research becomes part of the social landscape.
  • Facilitating public involvement in science via citizen science programs.
  • Providing access to the best available technology for farm advisors and land managers.

Published in TERN newsletter April 2014

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