AWIMRI e-conference
 E-conference on Marine Research Infrastructures
   the need for better Information and Co-ordination
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 This e-conference will be held to inform the marine science policy conference EurOCEAN 2004 in Galway 10-13 May 2004. EurOCEAN 2004 provides a forum for policy makers and strategic planners from EU Member State administrators to interface with the marine research community and marine stakeholders.

Final Report

Herman, R.; Mees, J.; d'Ozouville, L. eds (2004). Electronic conference on 'Marine Research Infrastructures (MRI): The need for better Information and Co-ordination', 26-30 April 2004 - Final report. VLIZ Special Publication, 18. Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ): Oostende, Belgium. iii + 20 pp.
Download here [PDF - 441 KB]


Download powerpoint presentation, which was presented at EurOCEAN2004 by Rudy Herman.

Final summary of the discussions

Although the E-conference on 'Marine Research Infrastructures (MRI): The need for better Information and Co-ordination' was open for only one week, we had 189 registered participants (from 35 different countries, 21 of which are EU Member States). There were 57 contributions to the discussions. It was encouraging to see that several contributions came from researchers not directly involved in the MRI decision-making processes. As for ourselves, we learned something from this electronic conference and we hope that all of you - contributors and non-contributors - enjoyed the same feeling.

The discussions on the first day were focused on what the European Marine Scientific Community expects from optimising MRI and on perspectives related to new developments (both institutional developments and new infrastructures - including the integration of the facilities offered by the new member states).

Keith Hiscock stated: 'Get the bottom-up right and good top-down will follow'. In my opinion this is very valid. Several contributors (also from other sessions) underlined the importance of the willingness to co-operate within the scientific community, both at regional and pan-European scales. Information and networking are important: knowing and involving the key players who can contribute their experience and knowledge to the development of infrastructures makes that it will work and become a de facto standard.

The scientific community recognizes that the new instruments within FP6, such as 'Networks of Excellence' and ERA-NETs, will play an essential role in developing infrastructures and infrastructure standards.

The funding of these new developments may come from pooling existing nationally funded infrastructures to obtain a minimal critical mass - also at an operational scale - and the joining of funds from Member states and the EU for new infrastructures and their operation and use, including education and training. When there is enough political will to bring together these different financial resources, an improved planning of the development and use of MRI at mid- to long-term scales could be secured. Criteria for continued funding could include usage statistics and research outputs (a.o. graduate training, databases, publications).

There was no elaboration on how to integrate the participation of third countries, especially the developing countries. Europe committed itself to be active in supporting sustainable development. For MRI, the Commission needs to work out specific measures to increase participation and to support the sharing of MRI when partners from third countries participate in projects.

Some contributors argued that private companies and organisations that have viable product(s) should not rely on funding from the European Research budgets. Other funds are available for commercial development (unless they really contribute to research).

Special attention was given to small research vessels (RV's). These are generally considered to be very important and specific infrastructure facilities in marine science. The larger ocean going RV's are subject to different collaboration schemes between several member states. The further development of the equipping of those vessels is part of the EU business. The role and the importance of coastal research vessels in Europe is not very visible, although their number is 90+, representing 45% of the research fleet in Europe. The need for co-operation between smaller coastal research vessels is maybe as high as that for large ocean going ships. As Per Nieuwejaar explained, it is an issue of decision making rather than infrastructure. A system - preferably adapted for the regional scale - that allows for "exchange" of ship time between countries would increase mobility, co-operation and the use of facilities.

The suggestion to standardise the coastal sea RV's facilities as one of the objects of EU marine research development plans was well received. An initial step towards the standardisation of these coastal RV's and the exchange of ship time is to have an inventory of the European RV's and of their specifications, to identify how and where they operate. Standardisation of RV's would be beneficial for scientists but necessitates a clear unambiguous definition of what the standards include. At least, research and other data generated using small RV's should be comparable.

Another important issue is the use of coastal stations as bases for long term observing and monitoring activities and networking in Europe. These stations are very cost effective in carrying out specific types of research, and they constitute a perfect basis for establishing links with local stakeholders and for public awareness building. The latter aspect is very important, since communicating science to the public at large and to the classrooms becomes a challenging task. MRI can play an important role in making this communication more attractive, being a focal point where new technologies, research, education and information interact, by preference in a participative approach.

The topic of the second day of the conference was 'Rationalisation of information: Integration of information, data and services'. Discussions revealed the need for a single platform. This requires a more complex architecture than an 'ocean portal' alone.

The new funding instruments 'Integrated Project' (IP), 'Network of Excellence' (NoE) and ERA-NET partly meet this requirement. Internet tools are very attractive, when used correctly to meet the needs. But even more important is to bring the people together. Several NoE's and ERA-NETs have highly similar work-packages. There is a need to avoid duplication and to optimise efforts by integration of information. Some of the deliverables need actions beyond the competence and possibilities of the single activity. This is particularly true for the ERA-NETs.

It is important to make a distinction between marine (or oceanographic) data centres and marine (or oceanographic) information centres.

The efforts that have been undertaken for a long time at national, European and international levels for the implementation of oceanographic data centres and the organisation of data exchange have to be acknowledged.

The management of information has not been recognised as a priority until quite recently. Access to information on marine science and technology in Europe, particularly in the domains related to marine infrastructures and national programmes, should be facilitated. At this moment access to this information - when it exists - is difficult and dispersed. Standards are also missing to compare and to compile information related to the same topics but having different sources. These are some of the very reasons to create a single focal point for information on marine science and technology.

Next to a better management of information, a similar effort should be envisaged to share knowledge and experience.

The central question of theme 3 was 'What can be expected from new technologies and what are their needs for information and data management, products and services? '

One emerging new way to do science in the deep seafloor is to install long-term observatories equipped with multidisciplinary arrays of sensors. New sensors adapted to long-term deployment on the seafloor will have to be developed. These will furthermore have to be maintained on a regular basis. This calls for a programme of planning cruises and the use of large marine facilities.

Next to this, there is a constant demand from marine scientists for scientific ocean drilling. ECORD is the European answer to this, offering the provision of Mission Specific Platforms to IODP.

A lot of attention was given to taxonomy-related issues, such as the lack of human resources (taxonomic expertise) and the need to apply the latest techniques for imaging and species categorisation to improve automatic species identifications. Automation is clearly an issue for existing marine science, especially for physical oceanographers. Analysis of taxonomical data will have to be automated, although visual identification is a very difficult and complex task. People are incredibly good at visual identification, but unfortunately marine scientists do not like technology that appears to replace their expertise.

During the last day, the conference saw an interesting discussion between marine biologists (mostly linked to coastal stations) and biological oceanographers (operating from vessels). Their MRI-needs are different and their languages are not fully compatible. But both communities study the same system and they are complementary. Despite some perceived differences, we all may learn from each other.

Categorical questions brought forward by Stephen Atkins (Irish Sea Project) are related to application of marine infrastructure to policy development and still need an answer.

What enhanced role should marine infrastructure play in the provision of the data and information required for high quality policy development?
How do we increase the links between the operators of infrastructure and those developing the policy so that the data collected is more relevant to policy needs?
How do we increase the efficiency of the system so that we make the most cost effective use of the infrastructure, avoiding gaps and duplication?

We may find part of the answers as the outcome from the activities within the NoE and ERA-NETs. In addition to this, information technology and management is the appropriate approach to weave the links between the operators of the infrastructures and those developing the policy.

The information on all the existing marine infrastructures in Europe should be made available on the WWW. This is presently not the case. Such information must include, amongst others, inventories of all infrastructures, technical specifications, operating conditions and administrative rules. Furthermore, the information has to be tailored according to the end users, be it decision makers, operators or scientists. Efforts towards this goal are presently engaged by various actors in Europe.

We need a European focal point for information, where end-users have easy access to coherent, reliable and updated information.

Some findings and recommendations:

Key references:

Go to forum to log on to the conference and get access to the messages (only for registered users!), to summaries for an overview of the discussions, to help for more information on how to use this discussion board.

General coordination: Rudy Herman
Web site and conference hosted by VLIZ
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