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Locations of Biological Field Stations (OBFS members and non-members)

Working with biological field stations to improve access to environmental data

NCGAS (National Center for Genome Analysis Support) attended the 2017 Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) meeting to improve protection of valuable data.

Itasca, MN – What is a biological field station and where are they? According to the recent survey conducted by Laura Tydecks and collaborators, 78% of the American population live within 60 miles of a field station - making them incredibly valuable for communicating science to the public (information from the public’s backyard!)1.

Students at FT Stone Laboratory

Students at FT Stone Laboratory, Ohio State University (photo credit, Organization of Biological Field Stations)

Biological and marine field stations serve many functions including providing outdoor laboratories for students, researchers, and the general public interested in the environment. In addition, they are often sources of long-term environmental data, often extending decades into the past. NCGAS (National Center for Genome Analysis Support, Indiana University) attended the 2017 Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS, http://www.obfs.org/) Meeting at the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories in the Northwoods of Minnesota to better understand how NCGAS and Jetstream (https://jetstream-cloud.org/, NSF grant #1445604) can improve access to cyberinfrastructure.

Measuring gas exchange at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve

Measuring gas exchange at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve (photo credit, Organization of Biological Field Stations)

Why do biological field stations need access to national-scale cyberinfrastructure? In a recent overview of the function of field stations in modern science, noted scientist Beth Baker indicated that networking and cyberinfrastructure were lacking in biological field stations. At the OBFS meeting, the field station members and directors further clarified their needs for data storage, computation, and national-scale resources. In keeping with recent partnerships, NCGAS provided information regarding Jetstream and XSEDE resources (https://www.xsede.org/), as ecological and environmental data account for roughly half of the data collected in field stations (according to survey of OBFS managers and directors conducted by Indiana University). From these interactions, several specific ideas emerged:

  • Field stations have significant internet stability issues, making it hard to host data locally. A suggested solution was to host science data using Jetstream, and as it is running from IU’s campus, limited downtimes are expected.
  • Field stations are relying more and more on remote sensors to collect environmental data. One such group has this data feed to a virtual machine hosted on a paid service. NCGAS and Jetstream will be following up to learn how field stations are handling this data collection and explore a migration of these services to XSEDE resources (i.e. Jetstream and Wrangler).
  • Field stations host workshops on data collection and analysis, but valuable class-time is lost while novices install the necessary software. NCGAS/Jetstream will be exploring partnerships with some such workshops (i.e. GLEON <gleon.org>) to provide provisioned Jetstream virtual machines for use in these workshops.
  • In more and more cases, genomics and metagenomics are a component of ecological studies, and in these cases NCGAS services can be of direct help. For example, we discussed the population genomics of poison tree frogs, and the interbreeding of introduced quail species with local species in Baja Mexico with researchers.

1Biological Field Stations: A Global Infrastructure for Research, Education, and Public Engagement. Laura Tydecks Vanessa Bremerich Ilona Jentschke Gene E. Likens Klement Tockner; BioScience, Volume 66, Issue 2, 1 February 2016, Pages 164-171, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biv174