Community-driven work towards more harmonized and FAIR environmental observation landscape in Europe

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This blog post was reproduced from the ENVRI-FAIR newsletter with permission from the authors.

The Earth is a highly complex system, formed by a large variety of sub-systems such as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and lithosphere. These sub-systems are interacting by the exchange of energy and mass which makes the Earth system highly interlinked. Our capacity to understand the system is dependent on our ability to observe, analyse and model these subsystems and their interactions. What we need is a system-approach.

Environmental research infrastructures that are delivering the in-situ and space-based observation data and services from different sub-domains play a significant role for the improved understanding. However, current environmental monitoring infrastructures in Europe were built separately from each other, mostly focusing on their own discipline, studying only a very limited phenomena of the entire system.

It was clear already a decade ago that significant efforts towards the research infrastructures’ interoperability and harmonisation of their operations must be taken to address environmental challenges we are currently facing.

The idea of closer collaboration among the environmental research infrastructures was supported by the European Commission (EC), which funded the first cluster project called ENVRI (2011-2014). The project paved the path towards conditions where multidisciplinary scientists can access, study and correlate data from multiple domains for the system level research. This was done mainly through the development of so called ENVRI Reference model, an ontology model created by capturing the semantic resources of each participating research infrastructure. The model established taxonomy of terms, concepts and definitions, which provided a common language unifying the understanding among the infrastructures from different disciplines, which ultimately helped developing common standards, deployable services and tools. Moreover, ENVRI has created the nucleus of collaboration and trust among the individual environmental research infrastructures, and common understanding of the importance of their integration and co-development.

The follow-up of the ENVRI project – ENVRIplus – was funded from 2015 until. The scope of this project was much broader – it had six main objectives, called Themes, spreading from the development of common technical solutions, through work on policies for multidisciplinary access to research infrastructures to transfer of knowledge through training activities, and of course harmonisation, integration and interoperability of data and services, etc.

It was in 2015 when the idea of a European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) started to take shape, as a vision of the EC of a large infrastructure to support and develop open science and open innovation in Europe and beyond. Environmental research infrastructures, being the larger producers and providers of environmental data in Europe, obviously play an important role in EOSC and its development. To smoother the process of connecting the ENVRI community to EOSC and to ensure the data provided by the research infrastructures are FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable), the EC funded another cluster project called ENVRI-FAIR (2019-2022).

The overarching goal of ENVRI-FAIR is to advance the FAIRness of the digital assets, in particular, data and services provided by the ENVRI cluster, and connect them to the emerging service ecosystem of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC). Well advanced flagship research infrastructures with a high level of maturity, such as EPOS, IAGOS, ICOS, EURO-ARGO, and EMSO, will lead the development and implementation of interoperable services and provide support and guidance to the less mature and upcoming infrastructures.

Development of common policies, open standards, interoperability solutions, operational services, and stewardship of data on the basis of FAIR principles again require a common approach. Developing these within the community that collaborated together for over 8 years makes the development much simpler. This is the added value of building a long-term community based on the mutual understanding, partnership and trust.

Text by Magdalena Brus, Andreas Petzold, Ari Asmi and Daniela Franz , ENVRI-FAIR

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