Maximizing Research Investments in Ocean Science
Chapter 5 defines the criteria that could be used to prioritize the development, maintenance, and eventual replacement of research infrastructure that will be needed to answer fundamental and applied scientific research related to the ocean. This chapter builds upon that discussion by including best practices that could be used to maximize the value of federal investments in ocean infrastructure for research: effectively managing existing resources; providing access to data, information, and facilities; fostering collaboration at several organizational levels; facilitating the transition of infrastructure from research to operational use; and ensuring the next generation of ocean science infrastructure.
These best practices are placed within a conceptual framework that follows the general development pathway of ocean infrastructure assets: prototype infrastructure is developed to respond to science needs; mature technologies are deployed in direct support of science; and finally, infrastructure is used for long-term, routine observation in support of numerous societal and scientific needs. Of course, there is not always a direct correspondence between infrastructure needed to conduct ocean science research and that needed to support long-term, routine monitoring of the ocean. However, an effective development process fully exploits the ability to successfully use both cutting-edge technology and infrastructure standardized for operational use. National investments can be further optimized if the observations related to routine monitoring are of a nature and quality sufficient to support primary research objectives.
This framework also recognizes the inherent collaborative, interdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary nature of ocean research, which is critical to its continued success. A number of recent reports (NRC, 1999, 2004b; ORRAP, 2007) address collaboration or interdisciplinary research, with conclusions that are applicable to this discussion. Overall, interdisciplinary research and collaboration have been increasing for decades. This is evidenced by an increased scope of new funding initiatives, newly generated academic fields and departments, and changes in both student interests and societal needs.
Ultimately, the success of ocean infrastructure will be measured by how well it enables advancement of the ocean sciences. Yet, there are recent indications that the process by which science is accomplished can be transformed in a data-rich environment (known as The Fourth Paradigm; Hey et al., 2009). In 1990, the user community of the ocean science infrastructure largely consisted of seagoing scientists who required access to ships and submersibles. In 2030, the user community will likely be quite different, with a greater percentage of scientists who interact with the ocean only remotely, through ocean data supplied via the internet. Although the trajectory of science cannot be predicted, it seems likely that significant transformations are in store, and indeed will likely be enabled by a more effective ocean infrastructure. This argues above all for an ocean infrastructure that will be highly responsive to the needs of a changing ocean science enterprise.
EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT OF RESOURCES
Coordinated Strategic Planning
As demonstrated in Chapters 2 and 3, oceanographic research in the next two decades will encompass a broad scope of scientific questions and require a wide assortment of ocean infrastructure assets. Although long-range planning has often been advocated to promote the most efficient use of expensive assets such as ships, the committee strongly believes that coordinated strategic planning for critical infrastructure assets needs to be established. In order to establish and continuously adapt a strategic plan for ocean infrastructure planning, funding agencies need to ensure that the resources and expertise are in place to carry out a systematic prioritization process. Expertise that is required for this type of planning includes both scientists and people trained in economics of information,
valuation, and investment analysis under uncertainty. It is expected that this could be done both within the agencies and collectively, through interagency coordination such as the Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology’s (SOST’s) Interagency Working Group on Ocean Partnerships. Engaging both the broad ocean research community and stakeholders advocating for societal needs could provide valuable insight into the planning process.
Effective resource management for infrastructure requires long-term planning that takes into consideration the cost of support over its full life cycle. Beyond the initial cost of developing and deploying infrastructure assets, maintenance, operations, and upgrades can be significant cost factors. Yet, to sustain the required level of data quality from infrastructure, sufficient maintenance (including routine calibration) needs to be done on a regular basis. In addition, full life-cycle costs need to include support for training technical personnel to sustain infrastructure assets, for the user community to access them, and for student education to provide future scientists and technicians able to continue to utilize the assets. Full life-cycle planning would also need to take into consideration any interdependencies between ocean infrastructure assets, and how to best support and exploit those connections.
It is important to periodically evaluate federally funded ocean research infrastructure in order to best decide where future investments should be made and where obsolete or underutilized assets could be discontinued. As a current example, the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) consortium regularly assesses its users, engages in internal plans for fleet improvement, and responds to external reviews. Another example is NASA’s use of decadal surveys1 (NRC, 2007b) to prioritize future space science needs. In a similar fashion, community-based reviews of major infrastructure assets are periodically needed to account for changing societal needs, new or different facilities, technology developments, and development, maintenance, and replacement costs. Timing of these reviews should be based on capabilities specific to different types of assets, including projected lifespan.
Efficient Use of Infrastructure
As part of the research proposal process, principal investigators could be required to justify that they are making efficient use of national infrastructure (if relevant to their project). This justification could be added as a criterion to be reviewed (for example, including “Efficient Use of Infrastructure” to “Intellectual Merit” and “Broader Impacts” during the National Science Foundation [NSF] proposal process) and could include a brief consideration of existing infrastructure; emerging technologies that could be effectively used; and/or justification for developing alternative assets that could potentially yield greater benefit than more traditional infrastructure capabilities.
Finally, current planning for ocean infrastructure does not reflect sufficient consideration of surge capacity in order to respond to unanticipated ocean incidents. As the ocean is increasingly used for large-scale human activity, major incidents and disasters will happen. This was evidenced by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in repurposing academic and federal research vessels, individual investigator assets like gliders, and private commodities such as charter boats for incident response and cleanup. The federal investment could be maximized by ensuring that there are comprehensive plans in place to anticipate such events, with both adequate facilities and strategies to quickly deploy personnel and assets when needed. There are also opportunities to involve industries in planning, possibly during their permitting processes.
Recommendation: Federal ocean agencies should establish and maintain a coordinated national strategic plan for critical shared ocean infrastructure investment, maintenance, and retirement. Such a plan should focus on trends in scientific needs and advances in technology, while taking into consideration life-cycle costs, efficient use, surge capacity for unforeseen events, and new opportunities or national needs. The plan should be based upon a set of known priorities and updated through periodic reviews.
Recommendation: National shared ocean research infrastructure should be reviewed on a regular basis (every 5-10 years) for responsiveness to evolving scientific needs, cost effectiveness, data accessibility and quality, timely delivery of services, and ease of use in order to ensure optimal federal investment across a full range of ocean science research and societal needs.
PROVIDING ACCESS TO DATA, INFORMATION, AND FACILITIES
Efficient access to raw data, to information (data that have been processed and interpreted), and to capable facilities is critically important to the scientific enterprise and maximizes the return on investment in oceanographic data collection (Wright et al., 2005; Baker and Chandler, 2008; Mascarelli, 2009). Such access supports published literature,
enables global syntheses of scientific knowledge, allows important confirmation and ground-truthing of results, enables rediscovery and reuse of data for novel purposes, facilitates informed policy making, and reduces decision uncertainties. Modern data management systems that are designed to reduce procedural, institutional, or cultural barriers to data access and to facilitate data-intensive scientific research are needed. An informatics approach, where computational, cognitive, and social aspects of information technologies are taken into account (Hey et al., 2009; Nativi and Fox, 2010), could assist federal agencies in realizing the full potential of their investments in ocean sciences (Helly et al., 2003; Baker and Chandler, 2008). Sound data management practices, substantial improvement of national data repositories, increased access and use of facilities, and engaging the public are best practices to implement this approach.
Sound Data Management Practices
Sound data management practices organize and optimize data so that they can be effectively retrieved, preserved, analyzed, integrated into new data sets, and shared across communities. Such practices include proper data documentation and curation, data accessibility, re-analysis of historical data, encouraging database growth through data set submission, implementing crossdisciplinary searching, and collaborative editing capabilities.
Data Documentation, Curation, and Quality Assurance and Quality Control
In general, proper data storage includes supporting metadata, quality and fitness-for-use statements, and measurement error or uncertainty estimates. This is critically important for ocean research because data are often collected in remote, hard-to-access areas. Data management facilities need to support efficient archival services and provide the capability to migrate data to different formats as computer technologies evolve (e.g., Miller et al., 2009). The Marine Metadata Interoperability Project2 and Quality Assurance of Real Time Oceanographic Data3 are current examples of such efforts. Involving early career scientists in these and other activities will lead to better understanding of the fundamentals and implications of data reduction and quality management.
Making Data Searchable and Freely Accessible
Accessibility to data is an important management practice that requires well-tested, user-friendly services and protocols that continue to improve their utility, efficiency, and interoperability (e.g., Open Geospatial Consortium web mapping services; Lassoued et al., 2010). There is also a need to ensure that scientific results funded by federal agencies (including those data taken by agency scientists) are made available to the general public, not just those with access to scientific journals.
Curation and Reanalysis Capabilities for Historical Data
It is impossible to return to the time and location at which historic observations were made or measurements recorded. Resampling may not even be possible in all cases. Hence, long-term stewardship of data and metadata, including data rescue, are vitally important (NRC, 2009a; Porter, 2010; “Data for eternity,” 2010).
Encouraging Data Set Submission and Peer Review
An appropriate protocol that better enabled scientists to receive citation credit for posting their data in the public domain could encourage more investigators to release their data, and would also allow for better peer review of data sets (e.g., using digital object identifiers as is routine for journal articles; Parsons et al., 2010; Helly, 2010). Federal funding could be linked to mandatory data set submission, with additional funding withheld for noncompliant scientists.
Implementing Cross-disciplinary and Umbrella Searching
Umbrella searches would enable scientists from a variety of disciplines (e.g., atmospheric science, genetics, electrical engineering, computer science) to access oceanographic data. This approach requires the use of controlled vocabularies when providing metadata descriptions, which can be used to create thesauri in these cross-disciplinary catalogs as well as ordered groupings of spatial, thematic, and temporal reference objects; these, in turn, can be used to tag and link metadata and data (e.g., Isenor and Neiswender, 2009).
Participatory, Collaborative Editing Capabilities
Collaborative online analysis of oceanographic data would allow scientific users to augment an existing data set with additional data or descriptions in order to improve the data set, add value, and provide context. This approach would be similar to the use of scientific wikis or crowd-sourcing, which are driven by the open-source software movement (e.g., Waldrop, 2008).
Improving National Data Repositories
Presently, data are still not always systematically archived at national data centers like the National Ocean Data Center, and archived data are rarely available in a timely manner—remarkable in an “information age.” Additionally, although centralized facilities are an intuitive solution to
data management, often the best arbiter of data quality is its original source, combined with collected comments of users and reviewers. National data repositories are likely to find more success by implementing a distributed system where local partnerships are used to gain access to data, allowing teams of data scientists, information managers, domain experts, and data originators to better enable data discovery and integration across systems. The partnerships could make use of a standards-based informatics approach designed to ensure effective access to and permanent archiving of data.
Program or project offices often serve as data repositories, facilitating the dissemination, preservation, and storage of research-related data. These types of offices generally ensure routine and consistent data delivery to national data centers, as well as routine and consistent data access for data assembly centers. Best practices for these offices include planning for data dissemination and data set archival when the program ends, which could logically be expected for all federally funded science programs (whether extramural or intramural).
Access and Best Use of Community-Wide Facilities
There are presently several examples of broadly accessible community-wide facilities in oceanography and allied disciplines, including those that provide sample analyses (e.g., National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Facility for radiocarbon dating; see Box 6.1), instruments (e.g., U.S. National Ocean Bottom Seismography Instrument Pool), modeling capability (e.g., the National Center for Atmospheric Research [NCAR] Community Earth System Model), and coordination of distributed assets (e.g., UNOLS, Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology). These types of facilities are crucial for connecting people to needed resources that may be too expensive for one investigator, necessitate an array of many instruments for a limited time, or require specific calibrations or unique facilities. However, these facilities also promote interaction and opportunities for collaboration. Given the increased volume and complexity of data, it is likely that utilization of existing facilities will be increased and new facilities established as infrastructure needs are redefined. One example of such a facility is the Ocean Observatories Initiative,4 which seeks to provide novel platforms and near real time data for research and education on a broad scale.
Federal agencies will need to prioritize investments and maximize value by recognizing which efforts are best serving their communities and continuing those investments, especially in those that employ contemporary approaches to information management (e.g., Baker and Chandler, 2008; Hey et al., 2009; NRC, 2009a; Nativi and Fox, 2010; Wright et al., 2005). These efforts use infomatics concepts to develop flexible information systems that support ongoing maintenance, implementation, and dynamic redesign for both localized and broad-scale needs (Baker and Chandler, 2008).
Data with supporting documentation will continue to become more publicly available as principles of data management are integrated into research programs (NRC, 2009a; Ryan et al., 2009; Stocks et al., 2009). As the proliferation of data portals and web mapping sites continues, the public is more likely to use oceanographic information if it is packaged in intuitive user interfaces that are targeted for specific stakeholder groups (e.g., currents for boating enthusiasts, fisheries data for resource managers and the commercial fishing community) but also address broader issues (e.g., ecosystem-based management, marine spatial planning, incident response). Improving data accessibility for general use also helps to foster a more science-literate society, a goal of the National Ocean Policy (CEQ, 2010).
The growing volume and complexity of ocean research data requires the use of sound data management practices, improvements to national, distributed data repositories, better accessibility and use of community-wide facilities, and increased engagement with stakeholders and the general public.
Looking Beyond the Ocean Sciences
It would be beneficial for federal agencies to periodically examine and adopt data management practices that come from beyond the ocean sciences, as well as approaches to grow access to and use of community-wide facilities. Proven efforts from beyond the ocean sciences can be very informative and helpful. Examples include NCAR, which provides to its community access to supercomputers, model development, source code, and more than 8,000 Earth science data set collections.5 Community-specific organizations that focus on data use and data quality will also be valuable to the ocean sciences (for example, the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the American Geophysical Union’s Earth and Space Sciences Informatics Focus Group).
Substantial and meaningful collaboration between nations; across agencies; among federal, state, and local governments; among academic, government, nongovernmental, and industry sectors; and between disciplines will not only maximize the value of infrastructure investments but will in fact be required to meet the growing science and
societal needs of 2030 and beyond. These partnerships will work at a maximum level when the goals, responsibilities, resources, and data sharing and limits are agreed upon at the onset. For the ocean research enterprise, these types of collaborations are inherently interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. However, the overall success rates and effectiveness of all collaborations need to be substantially improved.
Working between nations presents the greatest challenges, but it also has the greatest potential gains. The global ocean is simply too large and has too many complex challenges for individual nations to manage. In order to make progress in the realm of international ocean infrastructure, explicit agreements on data sharing, permissions and security, resource allocation, and networking of system collections will be needed. Individual nations cannot sustain all innovative, continuous, frequent, or large-scale (e.g., global) sampling programs of interest. Instead, international collaborations, even among a few key contributors at a time, are essential to produce data that can be used in the study of large-scale or globally ranging processes, such as climate change or geohazards. Such collaborations are required to maintain networks of global satellite infrastructure for physical properties such as temperature, wind, or ocean color, for example. Intergovernmental bodies (such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, which cosponsors the Voluntary Observing Ship program with the World Meteorological Organization) and political entities (e.g., the European Union) could be leveraged as vehicles to more efficiently utilize ocean infrastructure.
International collaboration also presents opportunities for capacity building and strengthening international relationships with developing nations. Although agreements do exist between the United States and other nations, fundamental structural impediments prevent unified requests for proposals, joint proposal preparation, joint review, and joint funding of collaborative international projects. Too often the final review and funding become parallel processes, yielding multiple points of failure. These barriers need to be identified and lowered in order to have true international collaboration in ocean science research.
Across Federal Agencies
Because each federal agency has a different mandated mission, creating successful working relationships between agencies can be difficult. Institutional barriers between federal agencies, generally associated with varying missions and cultures, can prevent essential collaborations needed for planning operation and maintenance of critical, broad-scale, high-cost, ocean research infrastructure assets (including ships, observing systems, and satellites [see NRC, 2007b, for further discussion]). There are also barriers put in place by the legislative branch of government and the nature of the appropriations process. However, as evidenced by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program, interagency collaboration is indeed both feasible and fruitful. Science objectives, whether research-related or society-relevant, provide the focal point for collaboration, and both program managers and working level scientists need to be involved from the outset. An advocate for the “sum of the parts” is a useful mechanism to foster improved success (ORRAP, 2007). The ocean-related federal agencies also choose to fund their extramural research in different modes, involving varying criteria and peer-review roles. While these differences can lead to challenges for agency collaborations, research funding, and strategic choices for infrastructure assets, sponsor diversity has also generally been a means to foster competition and creativity.
Between Federal, State, and Local Governments
At the federal, state, and local levels, impediments to collaboration often stem from differences in missions, cultures, and available resources, as well as perceptions of overlapping jurisdiction. These differences will be greater than for federal agencies and therefore require more adaptation by participants to overcome the disparities. Successful collaboration can be built upon identification of mutual benefit between levels of government. For example, NOAA’s Cooperative Institutes6 promote collaboration and involvement between federal agencies and universities. The committee endorses the general approach found in the NRC report Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change (NRC, 2010a), which combines federal coordination with state-based initiatives. As individual states move forward with plans to manage their ocean resources, strong collaboration between state governments, regional associations, and the federal government are likely to lead to better outcomes at all levels.
Among Academic, Government, Nongovernmental, and Industry Sectors
In expectation of increasing commercial ocean ventures by 2030 and growing debates about proper regulation of those activities, partnerships between sectors are likely to be needed to build and maintain infrastructure, particularly in the coastal ocean. However, differences in resources, skills, organizational cultures, and ranges of desired outcomes will also be much greater between these different sectors, and in fact there may often be little overlap. When working across these sectors, the focus will need to be on specific outcomes and timelines, with clear and explicit agreements on resources and any limits on information sharing. Organi-
zations like the Consortium for Ocean Leadership,7 whose members comprise oceanographic institutions, aquaria, and commercial companies, can facilitate linkages between these sectors.
The research community has inherent motivation to rapidly adopt knowledge and tools that enhance individual scientific endeavors. Impediments to collaboration across disciplines (whether ocean sciences or allied fields) stem primarily from the magnitude of current science and technology developments, as well as variations in culture and terminology, all of which pose significant challenges. Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary science programs have been moderately successful in overcoming these challenges by defining their research programs in terms of the problems to be addressed as well as the inherent scientific issues. This approach is likely to continue to have advocates among the federal agencies, within industry, and increasingly, in academia.
Substantial collaboration on many levels is needed to maximize the nation’s investment in ocean research infrastructure: between nations; among federal agencies; at local, state, and federal governments; between academic, industry, government, and nongovernmental sectors; and within and among ocean science and allied disciplines.
ENABLING TRANSITION OF OCEAN INFRASTRUCTURE FROM RESEARCH TO BROADER SOCIETAL APPLICATION
Many infrastructure capabilities developed by the scientific community for fundamental scientific research have broader applications. However, it is often challenging to create infrastructure that simultaneously meets both research and operational requirements. To address critical societal needs, it is expected that many ocean infrastructure assets will continue to evolve from a research context operated by principal investigators or research agencies to routine, sustained observing and monitoring resources operated by mission agencies, the private sector, or dedicated organizations (ORRAP, 2007). The sustained value of the investment, as well as measure of its successful transition, is dependent on continuing the data’s scientific utility for a variety of purposes, from research to applications. Research and end user involvement, not just during the transition from research but also throughout the lifespan of the monitoring infrastructure, is a best practice that is also likely to optimize data quality at a level sufficient for scientific research (ORRAP, 2007). However, sustainable, reliable operations and data continuity are also dependent on adequate resources.
The meteorology community has developed approaches to address many of these issues, which could have direct applicability for ocean infrastructure (e.g., NRC, 2000b, 2003c). For example, the NOAA Climate Program Office’s Transition of Research Applications to Climate Services8 program was established to enable transition of mature climate information techniques, applications, and tools from research and development to sustained operations and services, where these products can be used by decision makers at a variety of levels. An analysis of lessons learned in meteorology with a view toward their applicability to ocean research infrastructure would be of considerable value to federal agencies and state and local governments.
Successful transitions between research and operations will also require engaging the commercial sector. While it is challenging to stimulate commercial investment, particularly with the constraint of limited market, broadening to industry helps to ensure viability and competitiveness. Federal agencies can play a role in this regard, particularly in effecting efficiencies and economies of scale. One way is to have industry-government collaborations in standardization and acquisition of potentially transitionable assets. Successful transition of technologies in various stages of maturation needs careful management of a number of dynamic balances as well as skilled, broadly experienced people.
Ocean infrastructure that can successfully transition from research to routine operational use is needed, especially in areas that have broad societal applications. Organizational mechanisms that enable scientific research user oversight of the capability through and after transition to routine operations are needed, as well as resources to ensure that data quality is known and remains of sufficient quality for research use.
ENSURING THE NEXT GENERATION OF OCEAN SCIENCE INFRASTRUCTURE
The technological foundations underpinning ocean infrastructure continue to evolve rapidly, enabling both incremental changes and revolutionary new capabilities. Development of future ocean research infrastructure will encourage exploration of new pathways to make successful technologies broadly available to the research and operational communities. New capabilities are also often accompanied by the creation of business opportunities that support economic growth. Best practices for encouraging the next generation of ocean infrastructure include allocating adequate resources for developing new innovations, which ensures continual improvement of research infrastructure; sustaining efforts into the long term (a decade or more), which allows research teams to pursue promising technologies for the full development-to-application cycle; and sup-
porting refinement and validation of prototype technologies, building user awareness, and promoting early opportunities for commercial exploitation (e.g., through efforts like the Small Business Innovation Research Program, the Alliance for Coastal Technologies, or the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Technology Verification program [also see Chapter 3]).
Although it is impossible to predict which technologies and capabilities will attract capital in the global marketplace of 2030, it is likely that many ocean science infrastructure components will appeal to only small markets. In these cases, incentives could be provided to develop assets that have potential to address societal needs (e.g., by reducing the cost of capital through government guarantees). In order to ensure that optimal investments transition from research to operation and commercialization, such considerations could be part of the 5 to 10 year formal infrastructure review.
In addition, encouraging “high-risk/high-reward” activities makes certain that novel approaches remain part of the technology portfolio, as does funding alternative, competitive development approaches as a means to mitigate risk while maximizing opportunity. Another method is to incentivize collaboration, which encourages communication and lowers barriers between oceanography and allied disciplines (e.g., medicine, engineering, computer science). A final but essential step is educating and training the next generation of engineers, technologists, and scientific users to create new capabilities in research infrastructure and continue the use of data generated.
Ensuring the next generation of ocean science research requires a competitive and innovative ocean research enterprise. This includes sustaining long-term efforts, encouraging high-risk activities, supporting technology maturation and validation, ensuring adequate resources, incentivizing collaboration, and promoting education and training for future scientists and engineers.
The major science questions expected to be at the forefront of ocean science in 2030 will encompass a broad range of issues from fundamental inquiry to issues with great societal relevance. While it is likely that, due to unanticipated advances in technology, some of the questions in this report will be answered in the next two decades, others will continue to be of importance for decades beyond 2030. The categories of infrastructure, framework for investment prioritization, and ways to maximize research investments outlined in this report provide guidance that will enable the federal agencies and their partners (local and state governments, academia, ocean industries) to make wise choices when planning for the future ocean infrastructure investments. Addressing the most significant oceanographic research and societal issues in 2030 will require a comprehensive range of infrastructure. As ocean science continues to evolve toward more interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, a growing suite of infrastructure is needed.