New data-sharing partnership in the Gulf of Maine (Portland Press Herald, April 24, 2004)
Portland Press Herald
April 24, 2004
American and Canadian researchers met in Woods Hole, Mass., Friday to work on a new data-sharing project that will make scientific information about the Gulf of Maine more accessible than ever to researchers and the public.
Using a special Internet portal, scientists, teachers, fishermen or anyone else with an interest in the Gulf of Maine will be able to combine and analyze information on fish, water temperature, ocean currents, the geography of the sea floor, and other oceanographic topics in ways they never have been able to before.
Interested in trends in shrimp populations over the past 10 years? Ask the Internet server to fetch information on shrimp trawls and water temperature.
Want to predict what lobster populations might be like in a few years? Ask for information on ocean currents and the early life stages of lobsters. The latest data from more than a dozen research institutions will be collected and dropped at your virtual doorstep. Overlay it with information on temperature or geography, or create a map, chart or graphic.
"The real treasure is in being able to combine these pieces of information in order to build a much more comprehensive understanding of how the Gulf of Maine works," said Evan Richert, program director for the Gulf of Maine Census of Marine Life at the University of Southern Maine.
Richert coordinated the meeting Friday of about 20 scientists working on the project at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole.
Researchers have been collecting data on the Gulf of Maine for years. But as soon as it's collected, the data often becomes "stranded," Richert said. At the same time, the amount of new information is exploding, thanks to sensors and other innovative technologies that are making it easier to explore the seas.
The new project, called the Gulf of Maine Ocean Data Partnership, is not the first to try to make all of this information more accessible and useful to the researchers who need it. The Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System, for example, has been making real-time information on water temperature, wind speed, waves and other oceanographic measurements available on the Internet since 2001.
Being able to share data in meaningful ways is more important than ever now that the Gulf of Maine Census of Marine Life project is trying to summarize what's known about the oceanography, flora and fauna of the Gulf of Maine. The project is part of a larger, global effort to understand the diversity and abundance of life in the seas.
The National Marine Fisheries Service in the United States and the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Canada have been doing trawl surveys of the fisheries for decades, Richert noted. But it's hard to gain access to that research in a way that it can be combined with other data - information on ocean currents, water temperature and the geography of the sea floor - for a big-picture look at what's going on in the ocean.
"Even though the data has been collected very routinely for 30 or 40 years, it really wasn't available," Richert said. "So one question is, how do you liberate some of those data sets to be used in new and intriguing ways? The second question is, is there new data not dreamed of 10 years ago?"
George Lapointe, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said there's been a lot of cooperation among Gulf of Maine researchers over the years, but the new partnership will broaden and institutionalize that
"It will allow a more sophisticated exploration of issues affecting fisheries and issues affecting the ecosystem," he said.
Here are the organizations in the United States and Canada that will be participating in the new Gulf of Maine Ocean Data Partnership, a data-sharing project that will make scientific information about the Gulf of Maine more accessible to researchers and the public:
Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans
Centre Centre for Marine Biodiversity
Coastal Ocean Observation and Analysis, University of New Hampshire
Coastal Services Center, NOAA
Environmental Protection Agency, Atlantic Ecology Division
Gulf of Maine Census of Marine Life
Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment
Gulf of Maine Ocean Observing System
Huntsman Marine Science Centre and its Atlantic Reference Centre
Maine Department of Marine Resources
Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Program
Northeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA
St. Andrews Biological Station, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans
Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA
Wells National Marine Research Reserve
Woods Hole Field Center, U.S. Geological Survey