Thursday, 13 June 2013

S2S incubates a data alliance

Two horses by working together can pull a load of almost 4 tons. When you combine four horses, they’re not limited to 8 tons but can pull a whopping 123 tons -15 times as much because they work in unison and maximize synergies.  By forming an alliance between data custodians and infrastructure capabilities, the Soils to Satellites (S2S) incubator project has leveraged synergies in technical expertise and datasets to create a web service that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Professor Andy Lowe at The University of Adelaide is a world renowned plant evolutionary biologist addressing ecological, evolutionary and biosecurity questions using molecular approaches, and he with funding support from  the Australian National Data Service, has sponsored joint development by TERN Eco-informatics and the Atlas of Living Australia’s (ALAof the project.

S2S is a ground breaking project because it brings together, through web services, different types of data from different sources, stored on different platforms, for researchers to reuse for different scientific purposes’, said Andy.

‘It represents the start of a strong data  alliance for environmental data in Australia, and this give us great opportunities to bring together cutting edge expertise in IT, Ecology and Data Management to advance science.’

Dr John La Salle, director of ALA, said working on the S2S project was a great opportunity to further demonstrate the openness of the ALA system.
For the first time, the system brings a range of data together from the ALA and TERN Eco-informatics’ Australian Ecological and Knowledge Observation System (ÆKOS). These data are a mix of biodiversity, ecological and genetics data and derived spatial data covering environmental layers such as landform or climate, and other features derived from remote sensing technologies and maps of soils.

‘Having this rich mix of data available via a single application is a huge benefit to science, as modellers can work immediately with integrated datasets and save lots of valuable time,’ says Andy.

‘We were able to achieve this breakthrough literally because of our fledgling alliance for sharing resources and leveraging the “openness” of our systems. Our work brought together volumes of data and specialist expertise - especially in the technology and technical infrastructure which underpins the ALA and ÆKOS.  The result is a service that furthers represents the potential of integrating major research infrastructure.’

How is this so? S2S brings in data from a broad range of custodians as shown in the diagram below. Open remote sensing products are available by the Bureau of Meteorology and TERN AusCover. These have been leveraged by CSIRO and the ALA, making available valuable spatial layers representing different types of climate and environmental data. These data can then be further overlaid with soil maps that are created by CSIRO and TERN’s Soils and Landscape Grid ofAustralia facility on demand by the user . Biodiversity data on plant species initially is also integrated into this system and these data have been contributed to the ALA by its partners  Commonwealth and State Herbariums and Museums, government agencies and the public. The raw ecological plot data available in ÆKOS presently has databases and datasets contributed by government agencies and TERN’s Multi Scaled Plot Network  (AusPlot Rangelands and the AustralianTransect Network TREND) and will also house a number of additional researcher datasets in the near future. The genetics data are contributed by the Barcode of Life, GenBank and BioPlatforms Australia to the ÆKOS.

S2S will be launched at the end of this month and is a strong ‘proof of concept’  demonstrating that a system can successfully integrate disparate data from different platforms. The system has been made possible through the generous funding support of ANDS and underpinned by strong collaboration between talented ecological, data and cyberinfrastructure experts.  This service will be developed further in the future.

The executive director of ANDS, Dr Ross Wilkinson, said ANDS was delighted in the way that the project demonstrates the power of bringing data together to answer new questions.

The Soils to Satellite application provides a service to researchers that further represents the potential of integrating major research infrastructure.  Data available from TERN Eco-informatics' ÆKOS data portal (raw ecological data) and the Atlas of Living Australia (biodiversity data and spatial products) can be searched, displayed and visualised thanks to an alliance of data custodians who publish their data and products.

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