Collaborating for impact

Collaborating for impact
March 11, 2017 Karen Mecoles

How the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) powers international marine research collaboration by combining smart tools and technology

IMOS – the Integrated Marine Observing System – is Australia’s premier marine infrastructure system providing the all-important ocean component for Australia’s national research data landscape.

Bringing together eleven partner organisations from the Australian marine science community, IMOS provides an unprecedented level of open access research infrastructure. Around 200 national and international partner and collaborative organisations use the data it produces, across academia, government and industry.

Data sets and time series information are built from an extensive array of marine observation equipment located in Australian coastal and open oceans. Data observations occur at ocean-basin and regional scales, and cover multiple combinations of physical, chemical and biological variables, before being streamed by ten technology platform facilities across eight institutions to a single, national marine information infrastructure facility of IMOS called the AODN (Australian Ocean Data Network).

“IMOS is committed to scientific and technological excellence as well as impact – impact driven by an understanding of the current and evolving needs of the marine science community,” according to IMOS Director Tim Moltmann.

Managing large volumes of data

Behind the IMOS story is a collaboration reaching across all levels of the eResearch sector.  Core data storage and back-up data storage has been provided by Research Data Services (RDS), while the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) has helped improve data discoverability and connectivity. Capability has been enhanced by Nectar’s Marine Virtual Laboratory (MARVL).

“We are witnessing increasingly large volumes of data that cannot be readily stored or analysed via traditional desktop infrastructure” according to Tim. “Satellite data is our biggest growth area where we are seeing an explosion of data. This means a national, collaborative approach is vital – we need to do it once, and well”.

RDS provides IMOS with essential core data storage, back-up storage and failover facilities at the Tasmanian Partnership for Advanced Computing (TPAC) as well as providing much-utilised bridging interfaces between NCI compute and storage. IMOS facilitates an increasing number of machine to machine transfers which relies on strong underpinning storage infrastructure.

Easy data discovery, access and use of the data is also important, which is why IMOS and ANDS staff have worked closely to define the common data standards and formats that enable international data sharing. This delivers more efficiencies and is used across the sector to describe elements, such as organisation names.

“Common vocabularies are fundamental for effective and efficient data use and are a common challenge facing many organisations and activities across Australia’s eResearch sector,” says Tim.

Utilising Virtual Labs

Using MARVL Virtual Lab from their desktops, researchers and students can define an area of the ocean in time and space, choose and setup models, access and collate IMOS data, and leverage processing power to deliver and visualise the results – all in a fraction of the time taken for traditional methods – and facilitated by the NeCTAR research cloud.

“We are very enthusiastic supporters of the Nectar Virtual Lab program. MARVL is a strategically well placed investment at the nexus of observations, data and numerical modelling, an area that previously lacked infrastructure investment. It is one of the most exciting developments in the sector and a key part of our future”.

“Bringing computational ability is bringing knowledge,” notes Tim. MARVL brings smart tools and technology together by providing access to marine modelling via an online portal that simplifies the process of marine modelling.

The observations and modelling scenarios are used extensively across several increasingly high profile areas such as fisheries management and the Great Barrier Reef marine systems management.

Other eResearch capabilities have also supported the IMOS project. Network capability has been provided by Australia’s Academic and Research Network (AARNet), identity management offered by Australian Access Federation (AAF), and access to computational capability provided by National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) and Pawsey supercomputing centre.

“Data is King and Queen!”

Celebrating their first 10 years of operation in 2016, IMOS is experiencing an ever-increasing demand for their services – services that rely on strong collaboration with the underpinning infrastructure, data capacity and compute providers.

“Data is King and Queen,” says Tim. “It’s all about the data!”

IMOS’ vision is that by 2025 Australia will have a continuously growing time series of essential ocean variables for estuary, coast, shelf and ocean environments. In addition to enabling class-leading research on contemporary problems, these all-important data streams will form a robust and reliable scientific base that leads to more efficient, more reliable and better informed decision making.

From observations to impact, IMOS continues to power the international marine research collaboration by combining smart tools and technology in collaboration with RDS, ANDS and Nectar.

Want to learn more about how IMOS initiatives can benefit your organisation or project? Please visit: