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Making Biological Data Accessible

Posted: July 22, 2021
Category: Featured News , Researchers

Making biological information fully interoperable is essential to informing policy and management on the scales needed to address expanding human pressures on marine resources, coastal development and climate change. It’s a difficult task because the research is so varied — covering everything from habitat features to biotic measurements to metadata about sampling methods.

Back in 2000, when the decade-long Census of Marine Life program was ramping up to assess the diversity, distribution and abundance of species in the world oceans, leaders recognized that a system for data management on marine life was a critical prerequisite.

That led to the development of the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) — today known as the Ocean Biodiversity Information System — which was launched with a $3.7 million grant from the U.S. National Oceanographic Partnership Program and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The OBIS framework, called Darwin Core, is an evolving community-developed data standard that enables the sharing, use and reuse of open-access biodiversity data collected in different ways from variable sources. One limitation remained: Darwin Core’s standard file format  lacked the ability to compare biotic data parameters with abiotic measurements.

One solution was the creation of the National Science Foundation Environmental Research Division’s Data Access Program (ERDDAP), a data server that offers a way to download and compare subsets of scientific datasets in common file formats.

As part of GCOOS’s South Florida MBON contributions aimed at supporting understanding of long-term trends of major indicator species in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), Senior Research Associate Marion Stoessel is processing in ERDDAP decades of data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project (CREMP). Her work is making available the information on the temporal changes in benthic cover and diversity of stony corals and associated marine flora and fauna at fixed sites in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary since 1996.

This effort is one example of how GCOOS is working with South Florida MBON to advance internationally agreed upon conventions and best practices, enabling access to and application of biodiversity and biogeographic information on marine life by the global community.

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