CEO visit to LifeWatch Belgium

The LifeWatch General Assembly (GA) invited the newly appointed LifeWatch ERIC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Christos Arvanitidis, to visit all national LifeWatch nodes. The first step on this tour was Belgium, so on Tuesday 18 June our CEO, accompanied by Juan Miguel González-Aranda, interim Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of LifeWatch ERIC, visited LifeWatch Belgium, at the premises of a principal partner, the Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ). 

LifeWatch ERIC is a geographically distributed infrastructure consisting of three common facilities (the Statutory Seat & ICT Core, the Service Centre and the VLab & Innovation Centre), and several Distributed Centres which contribute with in-kind activities on top of the states’ in-cash contributions. Therefore, LifeWatch CEO’s visits are of a particular importance as they are truly an opportunity to reinforce the level of engagement and synergy of National Centres within the Infrastructure and in its core activities.

At the heart of this visit, the LifeWatch ERIC CEO stated there is the need to set a general framework in formalising a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between LifeWatch Belgium and LifeWatch ERIC, thus providing a first example.

Each national Distributed Centre needs to develop and sign an SLA with LifeWatch ERIC. Each SLA shall detail the functional relationship between each national node and LifeWatch ERIC: what in-kind contributions the Distributed Centre is offering and where the Distributed Centre fits into the organisational structure and the Strategic Plan of LifeWatch ERIC. 

“It has truly been a pleasure for me coming to Belgium today,” the CEO added, “LifeWatch ERIC would not be the same without the huge efforts of LifeWatch Belgium and I am glad to have had the chance to meet with the people who are working hard every day to make it possible. My special thanks go to our current GA chair, Gert Verreet, (Department of Economy, Science and Innovation – EWI), for his dedication and commitment”.

EU-CELAC & LifeWatch ERIC

Towards sustainable biodiversity and ecosystem management through LifeWatch ERIC

From 25–27 June 2019, representatives of the Working Group on Research Infrastructures met in Doñana and Seville, Spain, in an inter-regional gathering organised by LifeWatch ERIC and promoted by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities and the European Commission. Representatives from Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Honduras and Spain, and international entities specialised in the field of Climate Change and ICT for Biodiversity and Ecosystems, such as the Climate KIC-EIT, AIR Center, and Copernicus initiatives, contributed to the meeting, which was organised with the support of the Junta de Andalucía and witnessed the presence of its Secretary General, José Carlos Álvarez Martín, and the Managing Director of the Agency for Agrarian and Fisheries Management of Andalusia (AGAPA), Raúl Jiménez Jiménez.

The theme of the conference was ‘Finding synergies between EU-CELAC Research Infrastructures and LifeWatch ERIC in a scenario of global climate change’. The growing articulation of technological services enabling more and more advanced use of open and FAIR compliant data for the transfer of knowledge, the promotion of best practice, the definition of environmental indicators and the development of virtual research environments (VREs) dedicated to analysis, are all crucial factors that LifeWatch ERIC advocates. This makes it the most fruitful interface from which to start building a common strategy, to create the knowledge that assists the most effective decision-making processes to tackle global challenges, as the motto says: “Think global, act local.”

“The Working Group on Research Infrastructures EU-CELAC made progress in defining priorities and concrete actions to support decision-making in political, scientific and citizen spheres,” said the CEO of LifeWatch ERIC, Christos Arvanitidis. “We highly value the Working Group’s commitment to working together towards the federation of biodiversity and ecosystem research infrastructures, and to commencing activities within LifeWatch ERIC, integrating digital services and tools”. The CTO of LifeWatch ERIC, and director of its ICT Technical Office in Spain, Juan Miguel González Aranda, together with the Coordinator of International Initiatives, Cristina Huertas Olivares, underlined that the meeting made significant progress towards the definition and planning of specific actions to address global objectives, such as desertification, water scarcity, invasive species, sustainable R&D agri-food and fisheries (circular economy), and the like, through the use of the most innovative ICTs. And all this within the framework of a policy of excellence of cooperation both from the European Commission and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, and at a bilateral level between regions, which was initiated in 2010.

Once again, LifeWatch ERIC has proved itself capable of reinforcing synergies and acting as an aggregator for many key players in the field of biodiversity and ecosystem research, from both government and business domains, demonstrating the relevance of its public-private collaboration initiatives with the EU’s Regional Development Funds for Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) as in the case of Andalucía in Spain and Puglia in Italy. Representatives from both sides agreed that the next steps to be taken to strengthen cooperation in research, innovation and technical development between the EU and CELAC are achievable through mutual interchange, recognition and cooperation.

Portugal joins LifeWatch ERIC

Photo credit: César Garcia

Portugal is the most recent member of LifeWatch ERIC. LifeWatch Portugal is managed at a national level by PORBIOTA – e-Infrastructure Portuguese Information and Research in Biodiversity, led by CIBIO-InBIO, the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources. The integration into LifeWatch reinforces and projects onto an international scale the contribution of our country to understanding the factors that threaten biodiversity and ecosystems as key elements for the well-being and development of society.

By joining LifeWatch ERIC, Portuguese researchers in the field of biodiversity will be part of an important international research network and unique computing resources that will enable them to explore new frontiers and applications of science relevant to meet key societal challenges. At the same time, they will contribute with their experience and knowledge to reinforce LifeWatch ERIC’s impact, for instance, by taking part in the development of innovative models for mobilizing and processing biodiversity information.

50th Anniversary of NIB-Marine Biology Station Piran

When the Slovenian Consortium, LifeWatch-SI, was established in 2015, the National Institute of Biology (NIB) was a founding partner, but marine research and monitoring of seawater quality operations at the NIB’s Marine Biology Station Piran began a long time before that. Indeed, in 2019, the interdisciplinary marine station is celebrating 50 years of physical, chemical and biological oceanography. The Marine Biological Station (MBS) was founded in 1969 by a small group of enthusiastic researchers and the very first premises were in small house located in coastal city Portorož. Today it is one of the largest departments within the National Institute of Biology, a truly trans-disciplinary, vibrant and modern marine station. From the very beginning, research work was focused on ecological research and the consequences of anthropogenic impact in the coastal sea. Now that LifeWatch ERIC plays a key role in data management, historical records can be updated and analysed to deliver the ultimate in biodiversity and ecosystem research. Modern approaches to biology in the widest sense, spanning disciplines that include microbial and phytoplankton ecology, and geochemistry, provide scientific knowledge and solutions on current issues for the benefit of society and stakeholders. The unique environment of the Northern Adriatic Sea and its rapid changes demand constant monitoring and efficient observation systems, in which a crucial part is covered by the “Vida” buoy with sensors that provide a vast amount of useful data. Infrastructure facilities also include also a diving base and the “Sagita” research vessel. As a marine station, Piran is always open to the general public and has been awarded many times for its extensive dissemination of knowledge. Global changes and enormous pressure on marine environments demand greater international collaboration for scientific work to be truly efficient. MBS is closely connected with many European marine institutions and networks, and being part of the LifeWatch ERIC community ideally complements its long-term research and conservation commitment to marine biodiversity.

Biodiversity_Next

Naturalis Biodiversity Center in collaboration with the Netherlands Biodiversity Information Facility and in partnership with LifeWatch ERIC, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), a new pan-European Research Infrastructure initiative (DiSSCo), the national resource for digitised information about vouchered natural history collections (iDigBio), Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG), is organising Biodiversity_Next, a conference that brings together, for the first time on this scale, major international organisations, research scientists, and policy makers to jointly identify socio-technical bottlenecks and horizon-scan opportunities around data-intensive biodiversity and geodiversity research.

Biodiversity_Next aims at:

  • Promoting innovation in biodiversity & geodiversity information science and applications;
  • Sharing and enhancing community data standards and information management practices;
  • Improving domain reach to new audiences (incl. scientific, policy and industry);
  • Inspiring new generations to more enthusiastically embark on data-intensive science around bio- and geo-diversity;
  • Building community consensus on pivotal technical and sociocultural aspects of the community practices.

Moreover, conference participation grants are available for biodiversity scientists, infrastructure operators, data managers and policy makers from African countries thanks to the support of JRS Biodiversity Foundation.

More information on https://biodiversitynext.org/

Info day on ERDF for Andalusia Region

LifeWatch ERIC held its open info day on 4 June 2019, in the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC – the Spanish National Research Council), in Sevilla (Spain), on European Research Development Funds -ERDF – for the Andalusia Region. The focus was on the resources allocated for LifeWatch ERIC on the programme. Through this networking event LifeWatch ERIC aims to identify and highlight key directions to boost research in tight collaboration with its Communities of Practice at pan-European and regional levels.

LifeWatch ERIC CEO, Christos Arvanitidis opened the event, and Juan Miguel González-Aranda, LifeWatch ERIC interim CTO, presented LifeWatch ERIC infrastructure in Spain, its ICT architecture and its integration at the European level. 

The many contributions scheduled during the day aimed at delivering a clearer picture of the potential and applications for research that LifeWatch ERIC brings, from smart and remote sensing, to supercomputing and data interoperability, from data management, the semantic web and Big Data, to deep learning and Artificial Intelligence. Cloud computing services such as Virtual Research Environments, IaaS, PaaS and SaaS featured consistently.

The event demonstrated integration and synergies with specific projects, such as EOSC, IBER-GRID and IBERLIFE, GBIF and networks like EU-CELAC and BIODIVERSA. Connections with the institutional actors were also at the heart of today’s programme with particular reference to the Environmental information system of Andalusia (REDIAM) and the Spanish cadastre of biodiversity (IEPNB). Last but not least, a wide space was left for the presentation of case studies and Q&A, with a full session dedicated to the technical aspects and project teams.

Towards a cultural change | First LifeWatch ERIC Scientific Community Meeting

The Scientific Community Meeting held in Rome from 27  29 May 2019 was designed to bring together the wider LifeWatch ERIC scientific communities of researchers and developers to generate and advance the discussion of the most promising lines of scientific development. In the view of the conference coordinator, Alberto Basset, Interim Director of the LifeWatch ERIC Service Centre in Lecce and Professor of Ecology at the University of Salento, the 3-day event hosted by the Italian National Research Council, leader of the Italian contribution to the infrastructure, “was a great success”.

A truly international event, the meeting boasted 150 participants from 12 different countries which, thanks to the contributions given by LifeWatch ERIC Common Facilities and National Nodes (Belgium, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain), delivered to its participants a rich programme featuring 20 plenary sessions and 40 presentations in working sessions. The Scientific Community Meeting was the first of its kind and ended in widespread positive feedback and calls for greater interdisciplinary cooperation.

The three days were structured around the three complimentary strands of Biodiversity & Ecosystem TheoryMarine Biodiversity & Ecosystem Functioning, and Data, Modelling & Supporting Disruptive Technologies. There was widespread appreciation of the e-Science capabilities that LifeWatch ERIC provides, and agreement that the architecture is flexible with a user-friendly interface.

Many technologies and innovative case studies were also on display: from remote sensor monitoring of fauna and flora populations, to collecting data on marine life. But beyond gizmos, the working groups ended up agreeing on the need for collaboration, to work across borders and to use metadata to create user stories that everyone can relate to, to create greater common understanding.

Over these three days in Rome, LifeWatch ERIC has moved closer to identifying major gaps in scientific knowledge that need to be addressed, has emphasised key societal challenges that biodiversity and ecosystem science are required to address, gathered indications of the services and VRE developments that user communities need, proposed innovative approaches, like the use of blockchain, and has identified the need to reinforce collaboration and trust. 

LifeWatch ERIC CEO, Christos Arvanitidis, closed proceedings by saying that the processes of life on this planet are complex; that we need complex infrastructures to model and understand that complexity, a task which no country can do alone; and that the scientific community has a responsibility to answer global concerns about climate change. He concluded, “We will use all our arsenal to integrate everything we have and try to give a synthetic knowledge to many more recipients, so we can make a proper response to society. All disciplines need to come together with open communication.”

Leading. Pioneering. Inspiring. | Inaugural address by LifeWatch ERIC CEO

LifeWatch CEO

Today is a very humbling day for me. It reminds me of my very first days with LifeWatch, when the idea of such a Research Infrastructure (RI) was conceived and then announced to the marine biodiversity community during the kick-off meeting of the MarBEF Network of Excellence, back in 2004. Like all of you, I was an enthusiast of LifeWatch (LW) RI and since then, I have been involved in the design, the development and operation of this great RI. The vision of this perpetual process of construction, operation and evolution of such an RI, where people meet and collaborate in cyberspace in order to test their hypotheses on biodiversity and ecosystem research, has never stopped fascinating and inspiring me.

Since the early times of LW, I saw clearly how we can empower people to do and achieve things never attempted before with our creations and ultimately make the LW RI a better place to work. By analyzing, understanding and modelling Biodiversity and Ecosystem functioning, we provide science-based evidence to preserve and sustainably use our resources, our biodiversity, our ecosystems and the services they provide to our common planet. I felt there was no better RI to join if I wanted to try to make a difference to this discipline. This is the very same inspiration that continues to drive me today. It is, therefore, an incredible honour for me to lead and serve LifeWatch ERIC (LW ERIC) and above all the community interested in this discipline. I’ve been fortunate to lead the construction and operation phase of LifeWatchGreece RI and work closely with all members of the LW ERIC Executive Board and General Assembly over the last five years. I have, therefore, gained a good knowledge of what has been done so far but I’m also looking forward to working with the members of the broader LW ERIC community. This community has achieved, so far, a great success, but we are all so hungry to do a lot more. As we depart on this new journey of LifeWatch ERIC together, I wanted to share some background on myself and what inspires and motivates me. 

What has been achieved so far at LifeWatch?

LifeWatch has undergone a remarkable evolution during the three years of its existence as an ERIC: (a) the legal entities and bodies that are absolutely necessary for its operation have been established; (b) both the headquarters and the distributed components of the ERIC have been hosted in physical installations; (c) a lot of the machinery to be used has been purchased and is already in operation; (d) currently, we’re on the process of the integration of all the technology (e.g. data, tools and services) that has been developing over the past years by the national nodes of LW ERIC. I feel extremely grateful to all those who have worked hard for LW ERIC to become a reality, those pioneers who have laid the foundations of LW ERIC.

Our ERIC respects three things: (a) science, the driving force for the production of new knowledge; (b) innovation, an essential aspect for the RI to make a difference not only to science but also to the attitude of the community involved; and (c) community, the most critical of all the ingredients for the successful development and implementation of an RI.

Who am I?

I am 53. I’ve been a humble servant of biodiversity and ecosystem research discipline for almost a quarter of a century now. And like anyone else, a lot of what I do and how I think has been shaped by my research family and my overall life experiences. I’ve spent many thousands of hours digging in mudflats and lagoons, sampling the ports, the coastal substrates by SCUBA diving or from a scientific vessel or inflatable and so many more hours at the microscope, conducting traditional taxonomy on countless thousands of creatures, and on computer screens, trying to analyse the data. I have been running the Biodiversity laboratory in the Institute of Marine Biology, Biotechnology and Aquaculture (HCMR) for more than fifteen years now. This laboratory conducts research on the cutting edge of ecology, genetics/genomics and cyber-taxonomy, using the institute’s state-of-the-art heavy instrumentation such as micro-CT scanners and next generation sequencers. I have worked with people in the field, in the laboratory, with people at all levels of investigation, from the technicians to computer scientists, and stakeholders and policy makers at local, regional, national and European (international) levels. My special drive in my scientific life is an insatiable thirst for learning new things, doing new things, wondering, discovering, reading, writing, training, teaching. That’s me, that’s how I think, what I do and how I live my life.

Why am I here?

I am right here for the same reason I think most members of this wonderful research (and not only) community: to change the current way scientists conduct biodiversity and ecosystem research through the ever-growing Research Infrastructure of LW ERIC; to work hard in order that LW ERIC provide them with Virtual Research Environments (VREs) where they can carry out almost the entire process of research making, from the conception of the idea and formulation of the hypotheses to test, all the way to the interpretation of the results and the production of knowledge. Over the next decade we shall witness that power- and cloud-computing will become even more ubiquitous and that artificial intelligence and intelligence from machine learning will prevail in our discipline. We will also witness a faster co-evolution of hardware, software and scientific thinking. All these create a wonderful challenge for us to achieve our mission.

Why is LifeWatch ERIC here?

When we started this journey of the RIs foundation, our mission was to create machine-to-machine readable data and to develop software (web tools and services) for data analysis, a task which over the last couple of decades has created a big ecosystem of both data and services. The opportunity ahead requires us to re-imagine and re-think a lot of what we have done in the past for this community and to create new things.

Our big challenges require VREs where both data and software can be combined, integrated and used to: (a) test complex hypotheses on biodiversity and ecosystem patterns and processes at multiple levels of the biological organization and scales of observation; (b) explore and model the consequences from possible alterations in these patterns and processes as a result of multiple drivers of change. We are the only ones who can harness the power of such VREs through devices and web services that truly empower every researcher or any other type of user in doing biodiversity and ecosystem research. We are the only RI with a past history and a continuing focus on laying the foundations for building those VREs that create great opportunities. What we do empowers our community to do more of what they care about, that is, to accomplish great things and in so doing, also to have fun and real enjoyment. Ultimately, this is what makes the hard core of who we are, and meeting our future great challenges and achieving our goals is why we are here.

What do we do next?

We’re fortunate to have a clear vision and sense of mission that leads us to imagine, design and deliver our next generation of biodiversity and ecosystem research products and services. Our mission for the next period of LW ERIC is to turn scientists’ attitude from working in isolation in a single-core PC and with licensed software into using and benefiting from an ecosystem of web services publicly available on the web site of the LW RI with huge data management effort and support, storage capacity and computational power, which provides them not only with the capability to scale up their research interests and work on global hypotheses but it also ensures transparency, repeatability and attribution for their endeavour. All of the above constitute the very fundamentals of the scientific method and production of knowledge. Therefore, the vision for LW ERIC should be to achieve this groundbreaking change in the way most scientists on biodiversity and ecosystem research currently work: to change their everyday habits by opening the LW RI web page as they turn on their PCs and use their preferred operational platforms. This change would direct most of the scientific effort from a single-core brain (SCBs) operation or “brain-etics” to high-performance brain network synthesis (HPBNs) or “brain-omics”. This is a cultural change we have to drive our community. 

This is the only way to ensure that the research effort goes far beyond the personal interests of each scientist and delivers a synthetic view of the phenomena and processes we explore, trying to understand and provide prognosis in the discipline of biodiversity and ecosystem research. Delivering such a science-based synthetic knowledge is the best way to address current and urgent societal demands and assist the EU efforts for growth and job creation.

Our new LifeWatch tagline: Leading. Pioneering. Inspiring.

During the next period of LW ERIC, every one of us needs to do our best and try to make this cultural change happen. What is clearer than ever before, though, is that we cannot achieve any degree of success if we choose to pursue the above goals independently. We need to do this, together and with our community.

Many Research Infrastructures aspire to bring about cultural changes, changes to the current landscape, and to achieve the de-fragmentation of their communities. Very few though have all the elements required: physical installations, hardware, software, data and data observatories, resources, and above all, the right people to do the job. LifeWatch ERIC RI has proven that it has all of them and in abundance.

As the new CEO, I can’t ask for a better foundation.

Let’s build on this foundation together.

Christos Arvanitidis.

Acknowledgements:

I’m very grateful to the former CEO Jesús Miguel Santamaría Ulecia, the interim CTO Juan Miguel González-Aranda and the members of the Executive Board, Prof. Alberto Basset and Prof. Peter van Tienderen, for their Herculean work to make this ERIC operational; also Prof. Jesus Marco de Lucas vice-President of CSIC and Prof. Enrique Alonso Council of State for the Kingdom of Spain for their continuous support at all levels and phases; the former Chair of the General Assembly Prof. Benjamin Sánchez Gimeno, our deceased Chair Mr Marc de Jong, our current acting Chair Mr Gert Verreet and the members of the General Assembly for laying the foundations of this ERIC; the LifeWatch ERIC staff for all the hard work and dedication they put in daily; the national coordinators and their teams for their massive support and for building the components of this wonderful Research Infrastructure and finally our scientific community for being the soul of LifeWatch ERIC. I’m much indebted to all of you and I hope my service here will meet your expectations.