European Commission, in collaboration with the former ENVRIplus Coordination team, has recently published a long-awaited article summarizing the results of the highly successful project.
Solving shared problems in environmental research
For years, environmental scientists across different disciplines have struggled with the same technical challenges. In response, EU-funded researchers have created a community where scientists can pool their resources to find joint solutions to common problems.
Rising sea levels and extreme weather events do not respect national borders. Instead, emissions produced in one country can have dramatic consequences in another. Thus, in the face of climate change, countries’ fates are interlinked, with experts warning that only combined international efforts can be effective against the impacts of global warming.
That is why the EU has set up a series of organisations called research infrastructures (RIs) to help scientists working in different EU countries form long-term partnerships in order to tackle specific environmental challenges. For years, these RIs have collected data about the environment while functioning as models of cross-border collaboration and accelerators of scientific achievement.
However, until recently, many of these environmental RIs were facing the same technical challenges. Researchers from different disciplines have long struggled to find effective ways to share and coordinate their data. For example, scientists studying methane, had difficulties understanding how the gas travelled between the ocean and the atmosphere because marine scientists, geologists and atmospheric scientists each collect, store and share their data on methane in different ways.
That is why the EU-funded project ENVRI PLUS gathered together a Europe-wide community of 26 RIs to encourage environmental researchers to pool their resources, search for joint solutions to their common problems and develop common capabilities. By bringing the RIs together through joint research campaigns, workshops and meetings, the ENVRI PLUS team was able to establish what these common problems were before helping the community to develop a series of tools, products and solutions from which they could all benefit.
‘With the support of technical partners, ENVRI PLUS enabled its members to invest in a series of new technical systems that would allow them to carry on with their important work,’ says project coordinator Werner Kutsch of the Integrated Carbon Observation System, an RI coordinated from Finland. ‘We built a community where environmental RIs can learn from each other, enhance their impact and speak with one voice about our planet’s environment.’
Better data processing
The ENVRI PLUS workshops were attended by around 1 000 people, including environmental researchers and technology experts. Together, they designed a technical framework that enabled the RIs to successfully standardise how they process data. This means researchers from different environmental disciplines can now analyse each other’s work and gain a more holistic understanding of how the Earth functions as one system.
By efficiently pooling their resources, the RIs also developed the crucial tools they needed to carry out fieldwork. Under ENVRI PLUS, a shared testing facility was established, where scientists developed energy solutions able to operate in extreme environments, such as Arctic and alpine research stations.
During the project, the RIs developed a wide range of services and tools, each improving the capabilities of individual research infrastructures while enabling better collaboration between researchers from different disciplines.
Kutsch compares the enhanced cooperation to turning a disparate group of ships into a coordinated fleet. ‘The project has been able to unite these RIs so they can behave as a fleet that is more manageable,’ he says. ‘Although the fleet has harmonised technologies and a common approach to data, each ship has its own specialisation.’
The success of ENVRI PLUS has created a benchmark in scientific collaboration and sparked interest around the world about how the project can be replicated. ‘ENVRI PLUS has attracted a lot of attention outside Europe and the results may be taken up in other regions,’ says Kutsch. ‘This would help to standardise the research globally and develop international cooperation on global environmental problems.’
In an era where policymakers are facing growing demand for economies to become more sustainable, Kutsch notes that ENVRI PLUS is providing an important service – giving environmental researchers the best tools possible to produce the high-quality information societies need.
‘We are providing policymakers with the basic information to decide what is the right direction for our environment,’ he says. ‘I believe we should have societies that make decisions based on knowledge – not fake news or emotions – and we can provide this knowledge in the form of data.’
This article has first appeared on the European Commission website dedicated to success stories of EU funded projects – https://ec.europa.eu/research/infocentre/article_en.cfm?artid=54125