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Surfing the marine data wave

iMarine is an open and collaborative initiative that will establish a data infrastructure to support the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management and conservation of marine living resources. It is co-funded by the European Commission under its Seventh Framework Programme. Image courtesy iMarine.

Today, 88% of fish stocks in the European Union are fished beyond their maximum sustainable yield, which has led to a steady decline in average fish size over the past 20 years. Achieving good environmental status by 2020 is a requirement of the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Avoiding significant adverse impacts on stocks, species, and ecosystems is crucial to this goal.

Data challenges

Marine data is essential to understanding marine ecosystems, but obtaining data is much more challenging than it may seem. Data is usually collected for different purposes and often varies in quality. Integration and processing might be computationally intensive and time-consuming, which no single researcher can afford to do on his or her own. Overcoming these barriers to discovery is central to facilitating science as an open enterprise.

Data infrastructures need to be interoperable while guaranteeing service usability, which is challenging because data is spread across different providers. Another challenge is data location and ownership: how do we ensure that data is openly accessible and fit for use? "Clearly, no single institution or initiative can claim to have all the data and tools that researchers need to carry out their scientific investigations efficiently," explains Donatella Castelli, National Research Council of Italy (ISTI, CNR) and coordinator of iMarine. "This is where interoperable and standardized data products and services come into play to ensure data is available in harmonized formats."

Science-as-a-service

The iMarine infrastructure is a power tool combining over 500 components into a coherent and centrally managed infrastructure of hardware, software, and data resources. gCube serves as the underlying software system to build and operate iMarine as a hybrid data infrastructure. Key technology enablers supporting open science include:

· A 'system of systems' based on the federation of existing systems, including grid- and cloud-based solutions, helping to create a self-contained infrastructure.

· Computing and storage capacities for the efficient and elastic provision of compute and storage services, scaling up and down to meet demand.

· Data management facilities as a service capable of tackling a rich array of data types, ranging from papers to tabular data and maps and a comprehensive set of research products. The service-oriented-architecture approach enables a building block approach to extending these facilities as new needs emerge.

· Virtual research environments offer flexible and secure web-based, community-centric platforms, so researchers can work together on common challenges. These collaborative platforms, as well as a complete set of accompanying tools, can be created quickly and easily.

In the marine environment, scientific research plays a key role in improving our knowledge of aquatic ecosystems in the drive towards efficient fisheries management and sustainable use. Much of this highly challenging research takes place collaboratively. "By facilitating data discovery, exchange and harmonization for scientists and practitioners, iMarine enables the exploitation of massive data volumes and computing capacity to support this goal," says Castelli. "This approach is based on the concept of open science, to enable new ways to share, compare, and discover data."

Creating innovative research environments that offer everything a scientist needs 'as-a-service' is a game-changing process. The idea is to enable scientists to focus on their core work, without needing to know about the underlying technologies. Researchers only see 'off-the-shelf' facilities for data access and processing catered to their specific application domain.

The iMarine application bundle

The iMarine infrastructure is like an archipelago where applications emerge as islands of services resting on an underlying infrastructure bedrock. While each island focuses on a specific application domain, the archipelago is an interconnected system, enabling marine researchers to go 'island-hopping' whenever they need a purpose-built application for their work.

The platform can host a compelling portfolio of applications that help generate new knowledge of the marine ecosystem. The current iMarine catalogue of applications captures four main domain bundles that can be customized to meet specific needs:

  • BiolCube is for practitioners working with species occurrence data and taxonomic profiles. It helps them to generate new knowledge from this data (e.g. modeling and analyzing distribution data, comparing checklists, and producing maps).
  • GeosCube is for practitioners dealing with geospatial information. It helps them to properly access, consume, and produce data. For example, it allows them to perform data processing tasks via Web Processing Service standard, as well as visualizing and publishing such data via state-of-the-art techniques.
  • StatsCube is for practitioners working with a rich array of information, ranging from observational data to statistical data. It is a complete data-life-cycle-supporting framework, including data validation, data enrichment, and efficient analytical tools.
  • ConnectCube is for practitioners wanting to produce information-rich objects, resulting from the aggregation and synthesis of data from multiple sources. It offers a comprehensive tool suite, which supports a collaborative, standards-oriented data-publication environment, including semantic technologies.

"By bringing all these rich sets of capacities together, iMarine provides an ideal platform supporting the development of partnerships among knowledge institutions involved in the implementation of the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management and conservation of living marine resources", says Marc Taconet of FAO, a member of the iMarine consortium.

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