Data and information services are triggering an unprecedented leap in the economic value of met-ocean data, becoming essential for managing marine resources efficiently, says Aldo Drago

We live in a knowledge-based society. But do we all know what this means? As a concept it is simple: utilising knowledge as a key ingredient to endow human activities towards excellence. In reality its practice is complex, being achieved across many different facets, and interpreted to serve diverse and often competing goals.

For many, it is about building opinions on concrete facts and enabling informed decisions; exploiting knowledge to describe activities, processes and phenomena quantitatively; using knowledge to drive innovation and to generate added value; and many other different aspects.

We cannot encapsulate the term into a single exhaustive definition, but for sure we know that the common factor is about knowledge, and on how knowledge is generated and used.

The essential starting point of knowledge is data, principally in the form of measurements and records. Data is the fuel and electricity for generating knowledge. Data and its interpretation into information feeds a process of elaboration leading to the extraction of higher levels of understanding, and this is how knowledge is generated from the raw data.

Explaining this process by a simple example like that of meteorological data gives better insight on what we mean. Taking air temperature, humidity, pressure, precipitation and wind measurements by themselves is next to useless unless they are interpreted to construct statistics, assess the levels of variability, generate indices and monitor trends, integrate within the overall dynamical context of the atmosphere, and be able to provide dedicated products such as in atmospheric forecasting services which have become essential to the planning of activities, even at the individual level for scheduling daily arrangements.

Taking sea temperature as another example, this time from the marine field, again measurements become useful upon elaboration: to give insights on the levels of changes in sea temperature in space and in time; provide interpretations within the overall marine ecosystem context, enabling implications of temperature on the marine food web or the presence and behaviour of living organisms to be understood; and aid the provision of services such as by forecasting sea temperature to sea divers or bathers.

These are just two examples of how data can be accessed, shared, codified, re-used and transformed into knowledge. The creation and re-creation of hierarchical levels of increasing complexity of interpretation, merging and synthesis of data constitute the channels for the organised use of increasingly ramified networks and clusters of distributed data sources across different scales (global, regional and local) and different scopes (scientific, technical and socio-economic) to deliver integrated, specialised and smart services.

The service is intended to provide a national platform for sea-based data reposition

This is already becoming critical to competitiveness, product development and enhancement of services. In the marine and maritime sectors, data and information services are triggering an unprecedented leap in the economic value of met-ocean data, becoming essential for managing marine resources efficiently, and feeding benefits to the marine-related industry and the services sectors. The future points to multiple-purpose observing systems and enhanced techniques to simulate the functioning and response of the marine ecosystem to external factors, linking marine data to economic, environmental and social domains. Such systems cater not only for monitoring, but also for research, service provision, security, safety and for policy purposes. Moreover this is critical to competitiveness, product development and enhancement of services, and will weave the intricate way to shape blue growth in practice.

Aldo DragoAldo Drago

In this rapidly evolving scenario, the Physical Oceanography Research Group established at the Department of Geosciences of the University of Malta is supporting the Malta Marittima Agency (MMA), acting as the national entrusted entity, to set up a Marine Core Data Service for Malta. With a prototype system to be delivered within the year 2021, the service is intended to provide a national platform for sea-based data reposition, serving as a dedicated data silo, managing all the data layers for quality and using standard protocols, merging and enhancing data streams to generate products that are shared free of charge to registered public and private users through an interactive online catalogue.

The target datasets are principally those generated by local observing systems that satisfy multiple needs, coming from research, monitoring and the private enterprise. Examples include systematic measurements, ad hoc data acquisition campaigns, and numerical modelling data that are often generated as a downstream service, providing higher resolution coastal realisations of marine systems by linking to the coarser scale boundary conditions from the Copernicus Marine Environmental Monitoring Service (CMEMS).

The nature of the data contemplated by the national service is not exclusively scientific, and is actually envisaged to link to a wide range of data strings such as shipping (position, fluxes, logistical info, cargo handling, and more); fisheries and aquaculture (catches and productions), tourism (visits and economic return), coastal information (amenities and services), market indicators and many other fields of information that are often generated for a specific scope, but which may prove essential for other applications and users.

The service will complement and link to regional data platforms like the European CMEMS platform, adding the resolution and spatial detail required by local users, and serving as a platform to provide data and information for maritime spatial planning, planning and policy development, environmental management, research, monitoring as well as serving to boost blue growth and the maritime economy.

Most importantly MMA is expected to seek a government commissioned framework to secure a sustained long-term support to local data providers for the provision of essential strategic datasets of national interest.

The case has been made for the value of data as the currency for competitiveness. New applications and innovative products are indeed often triggered by smart ideas and the exploitation of fresh technological avenues, but in practice the creation and forging of quality activities is in essence highly based on the value addition to data and its transformation into information and knowledge.

In a nutshell, the national Marine Core Data Service is setting up the structure by putting all the relevant marine data in one place and support it by a service. It offers unrestricted and free access to data for use and re-use by public and private parties. The acquisition of data is promoted, incentivised and supported. The benefits point to a stronger marine and maritime economic sector. This is just a peep at the exciting evolving scenarios on the value of data that never was. Are we ready to be amongst the first to exploit the golden age of data? Well, it is already happening.

Prof. Aldo Drago leads the Physical Oceanography Research Group (ex Physical Oceanography Unit, PO-Unit) within the Department of Geosciences of the University of Malta. The Group undertakes oceanographic research, in a holistic perspective, including operational marine observations and forecasts, specialised data management and analysis, with the participation in international cooperative research ventures.