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A New Challenge: Building Multidisciplinary Distributed Research Data Infrastructures – EPOS - European Plate Observing System

Aude ChambodutA Blog post by Aude Chambodut (WDS Scientific Committee member)

Researchers who specialize in a particular Earth Science discipline (seismology, geomagnetism, gravimetry, geochemistry, geology, etc.) cannot fully describe the history and crustal structure of a region of the globe using ONLY their specific research field. They often need to consult a large number of references and databases from other research domains. Interdisciplinary studies are still hampered by the necessity for researchers to document themselves effectively with many ‘external/foreign’ contributions, and to have colleagues in these fields who are willing to collaborate.

Of course, many efforts have been made to group datasets, mainly by discipline, and make them available to the greatest number in a trusted database. However, interdisciplinary approaches still remain a matter of exception. Good ideas are sometimes dismissed simply because of life: difficulty in easily finding a reliable data source understandable to a non-specialist, trouble in speaking the same language as the scientific colleague of the other discipline, lack of time,…

The greatest advances in Earth sciences were made using transdisciplinary collaborations. We say often that ‘the data noise of one proves to be useful information to another’ and vice versa. This is true even within the same discipline; indeed in geomagnetism: for one magnetic field measurement, the inner part interests the main-field modeller, while its ‘noise’ contains the ionospheric field studied by an ionospheric physicist.

Over the last decades, considerable advances in information technology have made an integrated approach possible, easing access to the tremendous amount of data and products available across the Earth Sciences and related fields. Large multidisciplinary projects are initiated to facilitate integrated use of data, data products, and tools from distributed research infrastructures for Solid-Earth science in Europe.

In this matter, EPOS—the European Plate Observing System1—is currently one of the most exciting under-development, long-term integration project in Europe. EPOS strategy is not to erase all that was previously done, but to integrate existing national or transnational structures (e.g., seismic and magnetic permanent monitoring networks, and analytical laboratories) and to develop a new interoperabillity layer that will be seen as a common interface.

Long-standing existing structures (National, European, or International services and data centres), together with newly developed databases (for less centralized/organized disciplines), will be virtually gathered into a central hub of which the key functions will be: an Application Programming Interface, a metadata catalogue, a system manager, and services that will enable data discovery, interactions with users, as well as access, download and integrate data2.

Data will be made available from the Solid-Earth Science disciplines that each community deals with, such as seismology, geomagnetism, geodesy, volcanology, geology and surface dynamics, analytical and experimental laboratory research, rock physics and petrology, and satellite information. Available data will be quality controlled according to the appropriate standards as defined by each of the disciplinary data providers.

For pre-existing entities, their visibility will be enhanced. For new structures, their creation will help the community to consolidate scattered data that are hidden and distribute them in a uniform database. For researchers in the Solid-Earth Sciences, EPOS will facilitate innovative cross-disciplinary approaches for a better understanding of the physical processes and the driving forces involved (a seismologist will get access to trusted magnetic anomaly maps; a gravimetrician will be able to use reliable strain rate maps from the Global Navigation Satellite System community to compare with their own results). From a societal point of view, EPOS will enable scientists to better inform governments and society on natural hazards, such as earthquakes, volcanic events, tsunamis, and major land movements. 

EPOS is in its implementation phase. By 2018, EPOS is expected to be a legal entity: the EPOS ERIC (European Research Infrastructure Consortium).

For more information see:
2. EPOS is a partner of RDA Europe, the European plug-in to the Research Data Alliance (