Towards a global ecosystem observatory

TERN is leading concerted multi-national efforts to create an integrated network of networks that would observe and assess the current state and trajectory of ecosystems worldwide.  Building on last year’s TERN-hosted meetings, we’ve just finished further discussions in China, Vietnam and France with leaders of analogous ecosystem observing networks from around the world.

All around the world analogous, but independent, ecosystem observing networks provide essential infrastructure to those who monitor and manage the ecosystems that underpin life on Earth. In the case of the Australia, TERN is the national ecosystem observatory, delivering data streams that enable environmental research and management.

However, TERN has always recognised that when we tackle complex issues such as climate change or biodiversity loss we need an internationally collaborative approach if we are to truly make a difference.

That’s why we’re leading multi-national collaborations in the area of ecosystem observation that are working towards creating an integrated network of networks that would observe and assess the current state and trajectory of ecosystems worldwide.

The envisaged global ecosystem observatory would provide sound, science-based guidance to policy makers and planners responsible for managing and protecting our ecosystems.

China, Vietnam, France: latest round of meetings strengthens plans

Building on last year’s TERN-hosted meetings, we’ve just finished further discussions with leaders of analogous ecosystem observing networks from around the world.

At September’s INTECOL conference in Beijing we took the opportunity to further discuss tangible mechanisms for aligning measurements and working towards interoperability between TERN and our long-standing partner, the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN).

Timing was apt as CERN is currently preparing proposals for its next decade of activities, and is working closely with international partners, including TERN, to explore opportunities for alignment of measures and activities.

Despite the discussions occurring just a couple of months ago, TERN is already in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with CERN, which will assist with the development of complementary infrastructure systems across the networks—our second international MoU in 2017.

Globally aligned measurement Pho’-nonmenon on the table in Hanoi

It is clear that there is a desire for countries in our region to align environmental measurements for regional and global synthesis.  Essential environmental measures (EEM) are considered a crucial part of this and at the recent Asia-Pacific Biodiversity Observation Network (AP-BON) meeting in Vietnam there was much discussion of what these might be.

It appears there are many initiatives—local, regional and international—that are wrestling with this question coupled with concern that there is duplication occurring at a broad scale.  The AP-BON meeting delegates, which included invited TERN speaker Associate Professor Nikki Thurgate, considered it important that EEMs are reporting directly to the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs).

 “Thanks to its involvement in the Australia Government’s Essential Environmental Measures for Australia program, TERN has a lot to offer the international community in the identification of essential measures for tracking change in the state of our environment,” says Nikki.

“One of the key learnings that TERN offers the international community is that to improve the discovery, access and reuse of data and information under any essential measures, partnerships need to be based on a mutual willingness to share data, codes, products and information.”

“Like TERN, AP-BON is promoting data sharing to increase access to environmental information that will enable effective and consistent monitoring and reporting of changes in biodiversity and ecosystems and progress towards meeting the environment focussed SDGs.”

TERN is currently consulting with AP-BON and others about the possibility of establishing an Aus-BON hub centred around TERN infrastructure.

TERN shines brightly in Nantes

TERN collaborates within the framework of a number of global ecosystem networks, including ILTER, the globally operating International Long-Term Ecological Research Network. ILTER aims to foster collaboration, resulting in mutual benefits in terms of improved opportunities for the global exchange of ecosystem related data and research outcomes.

“TERN has been a star for integrating a national research infrastructure”, says ILTER’s Dr Michael Mirtl. “We learned a lot from TERN, we have been using the TERN example all across the globe.”

The October meeting of ILTER in Nantes, France provided a timely opportunity for TERN to discuss its work with international partners, and get the latest updates on the development of ecosystem research infrastructure globally.

At the meeting TERN presented a proposal to reinvigorate the Australian node of ILTER (Aus-LTER) so Australian long-term ecosystem researchers can gain greater benefits from this network domestically; contribute more to ILTER; and leverage more from TERN’s membership of ILTER.

Australia currently has 26 sites registered as formal ILTER sites, and yet we know there are many more long-term ecological studies in Australia. As the coordinating body for ILTER in Australia, TERN will work with ILTER over coming months to look at ways that a greater breadth of Australia’s long-term research sites can be registered with ILTER*.

By reinvigorating its national coordination role for Aus-LTER, TERN will be providing a more direct service offering for this niche research community and we expect this to influence Australia’s reputation in the international LTER community.

This is also an important step to ensure we can adequately track such activities in Australia and guarantee they, and their valuable data and knowledge, are not lost. 

*Registration with ILTER is not automatic and requires applicants to meet certain criteria

*Registration with ILTER does not provide access to funding

Published in TERN newsletter October 2017

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