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Last Update: 2018-09-24   Source: Research Headlines
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Blue e-infrastructure to inform blue growth policy

Without a clear view of marine resources and environments, efforts to derive sustainable growth from the seas cannot fully succeed. An EU-funded project has developed virtual labs for research relevant to policy aimed at activating untapped economic potential in a sustainable manner and stimulating job creation in the marine and maritime sectors.


© mirifadapt #133684397, 2018

The virtual research environments (VREs) at the core of the EU-funded project BlueBRIDGE are web-accessible collaborative environments tailored to the requirements of individual users or groups of users.

They also appeal to users in business and education, says project coordinator Donatella Castelli of Italy’s National Research Council. A total of 66 VREs were running when the project ended in February 2018.

‘The idea behind BlueBRIDGE was to demonstrate that by exploiting a single e-infrastructure we can serve different sectors – notably research, decision-making, business and education – in a similar way,’ she says. ‘It is much easier to achieve results by going from one sector to the other.’

Sharing data and tools is not currently the norm, and the individual sectors tend to operate in silos, Castelli notes. The inspiration for BlueBRIDGE and its distinctive take on supporting sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors originated from precursor project iMarine, she explains.

Fishing out relevant data

The e-infrastructure that underpins the VREs leverages other European infrastructures and services, from which BlueBRIDGE gathers computing resources and data, Castelli notes. These providers include the European Grid Infrastructure, the European Earth observation programme Copernicus and the pan-European infrastructure for ocean and marine data management SeaDataNet, among many others.

‘Essentially, the VREs are environments that can be created on demand to provide access to specific data and software tools a group of scientists needs to address a given research problem,’ says Castelli. A team interested in tuna migrations, for instance, does not need the same data and tools as a group studying the sea floor in a specific geographic area.

The VREs are also designed to facilitate collaboration. Users can communicate in a style similar to Facebook. ‘They can also share all the digital artifacts they use and produce in conducting their research – data, software tools, work flows, products, articles and so on,’ Castelli observes.

Great care was taken to ensure that VRE users do not have to concern themselves with the complexity involved behind the scenes. The project’s determination to build bridges extends not just to interaction between different sectors, but also to ensuring seamless operation across heterogenous data streams and resources, Castelli observes.

A vibrant ecosystem

BlueBRIDGE’s VREs are divided into four categories. While some are dedicated to fisheries issues such as stock assessment, others focus on aquaculture or marine spatial planning. A fourth group supports the training of scientists.

‘Once you have an infrastructure that has algorithms and data for analytics purposes, it can also be used to offer innovative environments for education, for example by universities,’ Castelli explains.

Examples of BlueBRIDGE’s virtual labs include the French Tropical Tuna Atlas VRE. This collaborative space was set up in the context of a partnership involving the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development – a BlueBRIDGE participant – and the French ministry in charge of fisheries.

A dedicated VRE was used by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a project partner, at a workshop on best practice in training and reporting on the percentage of biologically sustainable fish stocks, an indicator used in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It is under consideration for adoption as an FAO e-learning resource from late 2018, Castelli reports.

The reusability of data and tools, such as those channelled through the infrastructure on which BlueBRIDGE relies, are at the core of an open approach to science, she notes, adding that open science enables scientists to tackle issues faster and more effectively, underlining the need for a new mindset to harness its potential. Examples such as BlueBRIDGE are powerful in that they showcase practical applications and thereby help to generate momentum, Castelli observes.

The project consortium was one of the first signatories to endorse the declaration guiding the implementation of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), the EC initiative that federates existing and emerging data infrastructures and provides European researchers with world-class data infrastructures and cloud-based services. Castelli underlines that BlueBRIDGE members hope to play a central role in the development of the marine science part.


Project details

  • Project acronym: BlueBRIDGE
  • Participants: Italy (Coordinator), France, Greece, Denmark, UK, Norway
  • Project N°: 675680
  • Total costs: € 5 295 753
  • EU contribution: € 5 295 753
  • Duration: September 2015 to February 2018

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