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Interoperable research infrastructures for addressing societal challenges

Zhao, Zhiming

Challenges such as climate change, natural disasters, pollution, and loss of diversity all threaten the natural ecosystems that human society depends upon. To understand these challenges and their impact, scientists need to observe the environment on a global scale, and understand the interactions between different environmental systems. Information technology facilities provided by research infrastructures (RIs) are increasingly used to support research across all disciplines of environmental science. However typical RIs are constructed for specific environmental domains, making it difficult to conduct interdisciplinary research. For new RIs, being interoperable with RIs from other domains is essential, as is contributing to cross-domain initiatives such as Copernicus and GEOSS.

Sharing solutions to common problems reduces development costs and promotes interoperability—many RIs face similar challenges, including: 1) how to identify and cite data; 2) how to control the quality of real-time data; 3) how to catalogue data to support discovery and access; 4) how best to support data processing with tools and remote services; 5) how to manage computing resources; and 6) how to record experimental processes so as to permit easy replication of results. Addressing these challenges in a standard way and having RIs then adopt the resulting solutions is challenging however. The specific needs of different communities result in often quite different priorities, and a lack of a shared conceptual vocabulary makes it difficult for developers to understand where commonalities lie. Moreover, the maturity of different RI projects vary, along with the adoption of existing standards by different communities.

In order to break the barriers between RIs and provide standardised solutions, a reference model guided engineering approach has been proposed in the EU H2020 ENVRIPLUS project within the ‘Data for Science’ theme. A reference model for providing a common understanding of the concepts and components of an environmental science RI will be produced based on analysis and review of existing RI projects. It will aid the development of solutions in six priority areas: identification and citation, curation, cataloguing, processing, optimisation and provenance.

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