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03.10.2012 05:55 Age: 5 yrs
Category: IMOS

From the deep to the desktop

Eighty marine and coastal scientists from across Australia and overseas are descending on the Academy of Science this week. Their goal is to make use of a range of new research tools to unlock the secrets of Australia’s vast marine and coastal estate.

“It’s surprising that we don’t have better knowledge and information about marine and coastal systems in Australia” says Mr Tim Moltmann, Director of the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS).  “As an island nation these systems are vital to our livelihood and prosperity.  But in the past we’ve been quite poor at sustaining observing and monitoring programs, and at managing marine and coastal data so that it can be discovered, accessed, used and reused”.

This has all been changing for the better over the last five years through the IMOS program.  Universities, research institutions, governments and industry partners around the country are now working together to undertake sustained observations of essential ocean variables, from physics to fish.  Importantly, they’re also making all of the data available to the entire research and user community. 

And it’s about to get even better as new tools enable the data collected in the field to inform and improve computer modelling of marine and coastal systems – modelling that is essential for research, and for management.

“The focus of what we’re doing this week is closing the loop between marine observations, data management, and numerical modelling” says Mr Moltmann.  “Marine and coastal systems are so vast and complex that we have to use computer models to understand them.  The models have to be grounded in observations, and quality controlled data has to be available to do this   All three elements are necessary for success, and we’re very fortunate in Australia to have a national research infrastructure program that’s taken this ‘big picture’ approach.”

Marine and coastal scientists are now able to access large data stores, fast networks and high performance computers to help with their studies.  And they’ll soon have brand new software tools to bring all these elements together, and go ‘from the deep to the desktop’.

One new tool: Virtual marine laboratories

One of the new tools to be presented at the workshop, the Marine Virtual Laboratory, helps researchers to define a part of the ocean, for example the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef over the last decade, and then access all the observations, data and models required to run experiments about this area from their desktop computer.

“Virtual laboratories provide a new place to access data libraries and computer tools,” says Associate Professor Glenn Moloney, Director of the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resource program which is establishing the virtual laboratories.

“They will allow scientists to collaborate more easily, streamline research workflows and enable new opportunities for research innovation.”

Both IMOS (imos.org.au ) and NeCTAR (nectar.org.au/home ) are Australian Government projects conducted as part of the Super Science initiative and financed by the Education Investment Fund. The University of Tasmania is lead agent for IMOS, and the University of Melbourne for NeCTAR.