Approaches for Sustainability of Observing Systems

What attributes are critical to sustainability of a system? The primary attribute is that the information “meets the users’ needs”. Primary among these is that users perceive they are working with a “trusted source”. Second, the source should be scalable in geometric coverage and in volume of requests. Third, the data sets should be comprehensive in the source’s specialty areas. Ultimately, there should be a “perceived sustainability” so that users are willing to invest their own efforts/resources to learn to work with it.

These are a starting point for discussion by the RCN as it works to define the key attributes and how they are translated into ocean observing systems sustainability. Sustainability has been a continuing subject over many years voiced in many committee reports and major international meetings (e.g. the Ocean Commission2 and the OceanObs’09 meeting4). The RCN draws together a multi-year international network to look at the common issues of observation system sustainability on a global scale. The Network strength is in creating and vetting approaches that are best stimulated by collaborating in an “environment of innovation”. Sustainability also comes from technology innovation, both from improved performance and reduced costs. Concepts such as common international sensor builds – a model demonstrated through the Argo float program5 – will be one of the technology areas for RCN discussions as well as defining common interfaces for observatories. Identifying areas of technology to improve performance and reduce costs are key RCN discussions that benefit from sustained dialogue and broad community engagement.

Ultimately, the RCN outputs will be brought to government organizations for further examination and appropriate actions. Members of the Steering Committee will guide the discussions.

Stimulating interdisciplinary cooperation

Interdisciplinary cooperation thrives when there is a clearly defined need and benefit for it. The understanding of climate drivers has involved multiple disciplines and bridges between them resulting in outcomes and predictions for decision makers. Multidisciplinary research involves risks to scientists in working with other “unknown” communities, whose metrics and languages are different and who may approach problems with different methodologies. These can be overcome with a number of steps in building new “multi-lingual” communities. The first is to have clearly defined needs which demand multi-disciplinary solutions – examples include understanding forcing functions in global climate change or evolution of coastal environments. There should be common languages (common use of terms), translatable methodologies and metrics. There should also be a resource for documentation of shared best practices.

The RCN will address these issues and identify resources that can be leveraged. Through workshops with themes at major conferences, community building will be encouraged. The development of common, accepted ontologies such as those being build for GEOSS will be evaluated. Approaches for translation of metrics across disciplines will be important, particularly when the fields are as diverse as physical measurements and the sociology of user response. A good example is the user perceptions of data quality within and outside the community of scientists. The RCN will select among these and other subjects for facilitating effective multi-disciplinary collaborations and develop guidelines along with recommended implementation methodologies. The desire is to have an example of a new and successful collaboration.

3- Facilitating Open Exchange of Data and Information


There has been a significant trend toward free and open access to data in the last few years. At the GEO Summit in Cape Town, South Africa 2007, the US announced that Landsat data would be available at no charge. The Chinese and Brazilian offered CBERS (satellite) data to Africa at no cost. GMES Sentinel system subsequently offered similar opportunities. Float data from the US (NDBC), JCOMM and OceanSites offer web-based access. However, this global trend is less robust when the observations occur in national waters. Restrictions on data are at the discretion of the national government and vary significantly from country to country.

While there are many technical issues for open access (see next sections), the policy and cultural issues, even within the ocean/academic community will dominate discussions. For example, SCOR and IODE are looking at the challenges of career advancement for publishing quality data without interpretive analyses. Historically, data is sequestered, sometime for years, while preparing analyses and publication. Such items will be points of dialogue for the RCN in conjunction with other organizations. Other areas of intellectual property and national security are less tractable for the science community. Policy aspects of the free and open access issue has been take up by GEO at the ministerial level. The RCN contribution will be to address issues within the context of globalizing ocean observations and input to discussions that take place through GEO, IOC, WMO, etc. The RCN will thus encourage the formation of a team to address these areas with a focus on observatories and coastal observations.

The key question is how we can maximize open access to data (in volume as well as timeliness) by a wide variety of users and with the most advanced and appropriate technologies, while respecting intellectual property rights and data policies.

So the main topics to be discussed by the group could be:

  • open exchange of data and intellectual property
  • open exchange and institutional/national/regional/international data policies
  • open exchange and science publishing
  • open exchange and real-time data access
  • open exchange and key technologies

The above main topics will need to be further detailed and expanded by the group.

Members of the Group

Click here

Terms of reference

New technologies and approaches are emerging to vastly improve ocean observations. Cabled observatories are an example of a paradigm shift, providing a relative abundance of power and bandwidth for observations covering scales from cm to km and times from seconds to decades. Sensors traditionally only available in laboratories can now be adapted for in-situ observations. The potential for interdisciplinary collaboration is significant. To leverage this, an ocean observation Research Coordination Network (RCN:OceanObsNetwork) is proposed.

Observations collected need to be managed and made available to the research community. A balance needs to be found between the interests of the individual or group who was responsible for the collection of the data (and who wishes to use these observations for intellectual work that will contribute to science as well as to his/her career) and those of the global ocean observation and science community.

The working group dealing with "Facilitating Open Exchange of Data and Information" will need to address the above mentioned balance by considering the following elements (*):

  1. Data and Information formats and standards
  2. Data access models (incl IPR, business models for open data, data policies,...)
  3. Data publishing, data citation

 An important element in the work of the groups will be not to re-invent the wheel but rather identify and possibly compare ongoing initiatiatives that deal with the selected issues.These will be researched by members of the group and then documented in this web site. Group members can be given permissions to submit content to the web site.

For each of the three elements a task team was created. Each task team was asked to start their work with a literature search on existing practices, then to identify similarities and differences. In order to facilitate their work an online work space was created for each task team. (accessible through These sites are accessible only by members of the task teams. 


  1. Data and Information formats and standards
  2. Data access models (incl IPR, business models for open data, data policies,...)
  3. Data publishing, data citation



For each of the three elements a task team was created (click on link above to fnd out more). Each task team was asked to start their work with a literature search on existing practices, then to identify similarities and differences. In order to facilitate their work an online work space was created for each task team. (accessible through These sites are accessible only by members of the task teams. 







(*) note: the above shortlist of topics was created based upon a more extensive list discussed at the first telephone conferences:


  • Data availability: what are the availability timescales for different types of ocean observations and different levels of quality
  • Should metadata be compulsory and where should the metadata be reposited? Is there are global metadata base?
  • How do we deal with intellectual property rights (of the individual scientist, organization,...)?
  • What are the minimum usage statistics that should be collected? (should registration be compulsory – should the planned use of the data be a condition to access? – how and who to police this?)
  • Should there be a difference in access to coastal (EEZ) vs open ocean data? How can we convince governments?
  • What global data policies exist, how compatible are they and are they applied?
  • What regional or national policies exist, are they compatible with global policies and are they applied?
  • Are those collecting and managing ocean observations aware of data policies?
  • Do we have globally accepted standards and best practices for the major observations and their quality management? Do we have a quality management framework/system for these observations (which includes minimum requirements for those who collect and manage the data)
  • A number of data citation systems are coming up. How many should or can there be? (How) will data citation assist scientists in their career?



Events organized by this group can be found in the Events calendar.



Promote Standards and Interoperability including approaches for common sensor builds

The many issues to be addressed are ease of access, consistency of access, timeliness of access, availability of metadata, quality of data and stability of provenance. The challenges are significant. While there are significant efforts in ocean and marine standards through ISO, OGC, IEEE, NSF, NASA, NOAA and other federal agencies, the steps forward are modest. Individual programs are also working to address these subjects. For example, OOSTethys is an ongoing project that is developing servers, clients, registries, and a suite of open-source software to help the international community publish near real-time ocean observation data in standard formats

When the question of interoperability is raised, most respondents think of data interoperability. There are really three facets of interoperability that are important in a global scale “system of systems:” sensor and infrastructure, data, and access/distribution. Infrastructure interoperability relates to the functionality and interfaces of observatories providing utilities and infrastructure for sensors and information flow. Work has been ongoing in OOI, at MBARI for MARS and elsewhere to define utility (power, control) and information interfaces for different sensors as discussed at the 2010 Seattle GEO ocean observations workshop25. While these impact the costs and utility of a single observatory, it is a critical issue for interoperability between observatories (where similar instruments may be used at several systems).

The RCN can constructively contribute to these areas by encouraging a global catalog of existing and planned standards for interfaces within observatories from an end-to-end system perspective. The RCN will invite organizations such as the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society, MTS and others to participate in the collection and cataloging of interface information from observatory teams and vendors. The goal is to provide core information upon which interoperability on a global scale can be envisioned.

For access, many new approaches are being tested including those using web 2.0 capabilities. Brokers have been demonstrated in the EuroGEOSS project26 and web processing is maturing27. The RCN will actively encourage dialogue for advanced web technologies and related standards for ocean applications, again addressing the viability of global-scale implementation.

For data applications, in addition to facilitating data access through standards and policy, data quality and provenance need to be addressed. This issue was raised, for example, as a practical concern in Europe for MyOcean when data of “known quality” is needed for disaster response. Quality indicators are being addressed in the QA4EO GEO task led by CEOS and IEEE 28. The RCN will support the dialogue on quality indicators, drawing on the experts in the network and interacting with the broader IT/scientific expertise available within the international community.