Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Grants $1.76 Million to Support Global Network Uniting Environmental Researchers
The sensors on this buoy in Taiwan's Yuan Yang Lake measure dissolved oxygen and temperature at various depths, wind speed and wind direction. Frequent data retrieved wirelessly can be accessed and analyzed by researchers worldwide using the advanced information technologies supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
December 2004 —Where will coral reefs exist in the future? How do thunderstorms affect lake ecosystems? Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), in collaboration with biologists and computer scientists from around the world, plan to answer these and other decades-old environmental questions using a 21st-century solution: information technology.
To integrate ecological data worldwide, The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has awarded $1.76 million to the project "Toward a Distributed Information System for Marine Biology and Limnology." This initiative will support the construction and refinement of a " cyberinfrastructure," an advanced information infrastructure of data and analysis tools, for two research groups: The Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS), a global network of more than 40 marine research programs, and the North Temperate Lakes Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Project, which studies long-term, regional changes in lake ecosystems.
This cyberinfrastructure will allow researchers thousands of miles apart to share data through a user-friendly interface on their desktop. The initiative promotes collaboration among researchers around the globe, allowing them to solve ecological mysteries more efficiently as a team than if they worked alone, said Dr. Peter Arzberger, principal investigator of the project and director of the life sciences initiative at UCSD.
For example, information technologies that will integrate the more than 5 million pieces of data collected by OBIS can help scientists identify habitats, such as coral reefs, that host unique or very diverse forms of life. Through the network, scientists will harvest and analyze data about the ocean's chemistry, climate conditions and ocean life to locate hotspots of life and areas that may be threatened by human use or climate change, said Dr. Karen Stocks, co-principal investigator and assistant research scientist at the UCSD San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC).
The results achieved by gathering, correlating and analyzing the data will lead to "more effective management of the resources of our planet," Arzberger said.
In another example, the project is expected to help the United Nations General Assembly determine ways of protecting seamounts from overfishing. Seamounts—underwater mountains rising from the ocean floor—accommodate large numbers of fish and may soon be unable to support the growing numbers of fisheries they now sustain. "To determine how to approach the problem, U.N. officials will need to examine the kind of large-scale data we can provide," Stocks said.
Overfishing also presents a conservation concern, Stocks added, as seamounts support rare and distinct communities of corals, sponges and crinoids (more commonly known as "feather stars"). "Seamounts are undersea Galapagos Islands," said Stocks. Because of their isolation, seamounts are home to species not found anywhere else. These rare creatures may be threatened by overfishing, she said.
Like the seamount study, the lake metabolism project will enhance an information system that integrates data-this time about lakes in the U.S., Taiwan, New Zealand and several other countries-to help researchers "develop a richer understanding of land-water interactions and the effects of climate changes on ecosystems," said Dr. Tim Kratz, co-principal investigator and director of the Trout Lake Research Station at the North Temperate Lakes LTER site.
Data gathered by state-of-the-art sensors deposited in lakes can be transmitted wirelessly to the web, giving scientists access to frequent data. The information system, Kratz noted, can help scientists interpret data to understand how thunderstorms in Wisconsin or typhoons in Taiwan, for example, affect lake dynamics-from zooplankton abundance to carbon dioxide concentration.
Correlating these diverse types of data, which are gathered by different sources using varied methods, is a major goal of both the lakes and oceans projects, said Dr. Amarnath Gupta, co-principal investigator and associate research scientist at SDSC.
To integrate such varied data, computer scientists will build on information technologies already used by the biomedical and clinical research communities, Gupta added. The Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN), a National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative, has constructed an infrastructure that allows researchers nationwide to share and analyze biomedical data. The lakes and oceans projects will extend that infrastructure to handle queries on spatial and temporal data, Gupta said.
The BIRN's technologies are being applied for the first time to the environmental sciences, illustrating "how researchers from different branches of science can share and specialize a common technical infrastructure," Gupta added.
Education within the ecology community is also a goal of the project, which will organize workshops to educate scientists about the use of wireless networks and information technology in ecological research.
Ultimately, Arzberger said, this project will be a "unique and pioneering contribution that will serve the environmental community and promote the health of our planet."
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation launched its 10-year Marine Microbiology initiative in April 2004, with the goal of attaining new knowledge regarding the composition, function and ecological role of microbial communities in the world's oceans. Funding strategies include supporting Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation Investigators, linking scientists in related fields, establishing intern programs and supporting select research projects that will affect ocean science as a whole.
The Foundation was established in September 2000 to create positive outcomes for future generations. The Foundation funds outcome-based grants and initiatives to achieve significant and measurable results. Grant making supports the Foundation's principal areas of concern: environmental conservation, science, higher education and the San Francisco Bay Area.
For further information, visit www.moore.org.
Peter Arzberger, Principal Investigator
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Karen Stocks, Co-Principal Investigator
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Tim Kratz, Co-Principal Investigator
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Amarnath Gupta, Co-Principal Investigator
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Skip Cynar, External Relations
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Lee Hornbrook, External Relations
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