Research Infrastructures | JPI OCEANS

Research Infrastructures

Research infrastructures (RIs) play an increasingly important role in the advancement of knowledge and technology. They are a key instrument in bringing together a wide diversity of stakeholders to look for solutions to many of the problems society is facing today, offering unique research services to users from different countries, also attracting young people to science and helping to shape scientific communities.

Scope of Research Infrastructures

In the field of marine sciences Research Infrastructures include research vessels and their underwater equipment (e.g. ROV, AUV, manned submersible, USV, towed devices, sea-floor drilling and coring equipment),fixed coastal and open sea observatories (e.g. buoys,ballast and other type of platforms, anchored or fixed in the sea bottom, moorings, sea-floor stations, landers, etc.), mobile observatories (e.g. oceanic profilers, gliders, drifters, ferrybox), relocatable observatories(coastal HF radars), marine land-based facilities and in situ testing sites for ocean engineering (e.g. deep wave basins, water circulation canals, hyperbaric tanks, material behavior in sea water testing laboratories, marine sensors calibration laboratories, in situ test sites for marine renewable devices), experimental facilities for marine biology, biodiversity and ecosystem studies (e.g. marine genomics facilities, aquacultureexperimental facilities, mesocosmfacilities, ecosystems and biodiversity observatories).

Besides the infrastructures above, intended as major scientific marine equipment or set of instruments and knowledge‑based resources such as collections, archives or structured scientific information, we should consider also ICT‑based e‑infrastructures(networks, computing resources, software and data repositories, such as satellitedata processing centersand generally marine data centers, for data validation, storage and dissemination through web portals, including access to high computing facilities & generic modeling).

Each class of facility above is peculiar for the services and access offered, and this should be taken into account when defining integrated rules for transnational access, sharing, management and costs reporting.

Accessing And Sharing Marine Infrastructures

RI are often the key to enable excellent researchers to tackle effectively complex or very fundamental questions, to gain new knowledge, to create innovation or to play an important role in education e.g. in training of young scientists and technological personnel. These tasks could not be fulfilled without access to these RI.

Moreover, sharing of infrastructures among their operators, for common programs or projects, is becoming a requirement in order to lower/optimize their costs. The degree and method of infrastructure sharing can vary in each country depending on regulatory and competitive climate.

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A summary overview of European projects/initiatives proposing Trans National Access is provided by Seasera (Masset, 2013), including experiences matured in providing access.

In the domain of marine sciences, 12 research infrastructure projects are being or have been funded under FP6 and FP7 (Figure below), promoting Trans National Access, and data and knowledge sharing. The EU will continue to support research infrastructures under Horizon 2020 ensuring Europe has world‑class research infrastructures (including e‑infrastructures) accessible to all researchers in Europe and beyond. The activities will also contribute to fostering the innovation potential of RIs with a focus on instrumentation and the participation of industry, and on reinforcing international cooperation with strategic third country partners.


Transnational Access

The so far used terms "transnational access" (TNA) usually means supporting new opportunities for research teams or individual researchers to obtain access to specific pan-European, national or regional RI they require for their work. Several types of TNA formulas can be identified:

  • in the framework of FP7 projects,
  • within thematic joint calls between Member States,
  • within the framework of "pure" common program.

When dealing with Actions aiming at tackling societal challenges it is often desirable to focus on the services and deliverables which are “end-users driven”. Providing a societal impact within such a complex initiative implies a very flexible governance (more info: Managing trans-national distributed infrastructures/facilities and research teams).

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For FP7 funded projects, RI transnational access is one of the three mandatory components of the Integrating Activities (IAs).Such infrastructures must be rare in Europe, must provide a world-class service essential for the conduct of top quality research, and must typically have investment or operating costs that are relatively high in relation to those costs in their particular field. The infrastructures must also be able to provide adequate scientific, technical and logistic support to external, particularly first-time, users.

In these projects, provisions for TNA activities are defined in Annex III to the Grant Agreement, which sets performance obligations and commitments of the infrastructure provider as well aseligibility and selection of the user group:

  • Leader + majority of users must work in a Member State or Associated State
  • Leader + majority of users must work in country other than that of infrastructure (if several installations, conditions apply to each installation except where remote access to distributed set of RIs)

The opening is offered to any kind of scientific themes, excellence being the main mandatory criteria for the evaluation/selection of the applicants. The only inconvenient of this formula are the budgetary constrains, which limit its scope to only few % of the available resources and moreover whitin the framework of fixed term projects.

As regards ESFRI projects, currently there is no EU-wide policy for access to RIs since this is often dependent on specific negotiations for their funding and development.

In the case of TNA as implemented within thematic joint calls between Member States, with orwithout the pop up support of the EC, the access times pooling comes as "In Kind contribution", in addition to the cash of a common pot. When EC also participates, within an Eranet+ or an Article 185 (for examples Bonus), it contributes to the access costs with dedicated funds up to 30 % to 50. Except for certain administrative red tapes which could be revised and relieved, this formula is potentially flexible: in particular, we can mix a common pot with " juste retour" for the cash part of the scientific projects with a common real pot for the In Kind part related to the MRI access. Furthermore, for the selected applicants, this avoids the project double evaluation (and its hazards) usually necessary to have successively the budget and the MRI access.

TNA can also be implemented within the framework of "pure" common program, i.e. with only the existing resources of the research performing organisations. In this case, there is an agreement on a multi annual program of common actions, involving a pool of pre identified MRI to aim their use in a optimized way. As typical examples, the recurrent at-sea campaign in a regional sea basin for the needs of oceanography (physics, ocean circulation knowledge) and/or for sea monitoring (parameters contributing to the good environmental status assessment) and/or the DCF (data Collection Fisheries, commercial species stocks assessment).

Infrastructures Sharing

A particular form of TNA is in the form of sharing under specific agreements. Sharing an infrastructure among bodies means to put at mutual disposal a platform to perform research and development activities, that hopefully should be of common interest of the involved parties. Since it is estimated that 50% of national budgets for marine science is required for operating and replacing marine infrastructures assets, cost-sharing and widening access are necessary steps towards integration reflecting national needs.

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The Ocean Facilities Exchange Group (OFEG) is an example of a well established barter system, dating 1996, providing a forum to consider exchange of ship time or equipment or instruments and co-operation opportunities among parties, at present six European institutions and ministries (Ifremer/France, NERC/UK, BMBF/Germany, NIOZ/Netherlands, IMR/Norway, CSIC-UTM/ Spain). In a long term perspective, OFEG aims at the logistic optimization of at-sea campaigns of several countries

Other examples of European activities aiming at fostering a more synergetic use of marine research infrastructures are the barter system of the Marine Facilities Tripartite Group (MFTG) that facilitates the sharing of Dutch, French, German, Spanish and UK marine facilities (established 1996) and EuroGOOS, established to further the development of Operational Oceanography in the European Sea areas and adjacent oceans (funded in 1994).

As marine research infrastructure are nationally owned, in order to foster the infrastructures sharing, some conditions should be established and encouraged.

The table below summarizes the main conditions for the shared use of research infrastructures:

Conditions for shared use of European infrastructures (research vessels)

The main conditions for the shared use of facilities include:

  • Mutual exchange agreements for the barter and/or charter of marine facilities must be set up on a global and on a regional scale (e.g. covering the Mediterranean Sea and the Baltic Sea);
  • Mutual exchange agreements must be arranged so that they do not financially disadvantage any of the member organizations;
  • Requests for marine facilities must be submitted 12-18 months in advance of when they are required due to the long-term planning requirements of marine facilities programmes. Requests at short notice will only ever be accommodated on an opportunistic basis;
  • The programming of marine facilities will remain the sole responsibility of the owner;
  • The cost of the loss replacement, and/or damage repair, of exchanged marine facilities (for which no operational support is provided) is the responsibility of the user. The main problems to be resolved include:
  • Programming timetables for marine facilities will need to be aligned if there is to be effective co-ordination of facilities;
  • A system that assures equivalent values when exchanging facilities will need to be developed;
  • Legal and administrative issues regarding trans-boundary mobility of ships and scientists will need to be solved;
  • Member organizations will have to establish a mechanism that provides the internal financial flexibility to deal with the exchange of their marine facilities in return for access to another organization's facilities.

Operative Procedures And Agreements For Tna And Infrastructures Sharing

The provision of access to or a sharing of a research infrastructure should be ruled by a Memorandum of Understanding between involved parties (user and infrastructure provider). This agreement defines the terms whereby the infrastructure provider will put at disposal to the user partner a facility as a platform to carry out an experiment detailing:

  • The access/sharing conditions, including timing, location, quantity and restrictions of the use of the infrastructure.
  • The user commitments regarding any obligation in using the infrastructure, including commitments regarding safety rules.
  • The infrastructure provider commitments regarding any obligation towards the user partner (e.g. technical support and training to be provided, applicable safety rules on-site, requested insurance policy, etc.).
  • Commitments related to costs sharing (e.g. user access costs, infrastructure provider operating costs of the facilities in the period of access/sharing).
  • The reporting requirements, including evidence of the use.
  • Obligation for data delivery.
  • Obligations and rights of the involved parties for what concerns: intellectual property rights, confidentiality, liability and other legal issues regarding the signed agreement.

A detailed working plan should be part of the agreement presenting the scope of the work and its schedule.

The MOU can therefore include options for both TNA and infrastructure sharing.

Access/sharing Costs Standardization And Reporting Procedures

in order to standardize and reduce the complexity of adopting different procedures for recognizing and accounting costs of infrastructures and their access, and taking into account the experience established within FP7 projects, the proposed approach is mainly in tune with the EC one. This does not prevent to introduce changes when the EC contribution is not involved and more flexibility and feasibility is requested by partners.

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Access costs definition in FP7 projects is based upon a unit cost and the quantity of access provided to the specific activity:

Access costs = unit cost x quantity of access provided

as a rule, the EC financial contribution will not exceed 20% of costs of providing total access to the installation over the duration of the project.

The unit costs is the costs of providing access to the installation during the FP7 project life-time divided the total quantity of access provided during the same period. In the Grant Agreement it is provided as an estimate, but it is finally reported as the real one in the final financial statement (Form C).

This approach of calculation of the access costs, even if suitable for large scale single site infrastructures, can present some problem for distributed infrastructure, where some of the costs can change significantly with respect to an averaged reference depending to the specific use. As an example, we refer the case of gliders, small autonomous vehicles used for data acquisition at sea. This is a "mobile" infrastructures, that is deployed in a geographical location or another depending on the needs of the user. Some issues could arise concerning the transport of the glider and the transfer of the supporting staff to and from its base to the effective area/s of operation/s (Sparnocchia, 2013). This often involves high costs that cannot be directly reimbursed and can result underestimated by the project life-time average reference. Moreover, in case of a mixed form of access to the infrastructure, which alternated between "in person" and "remote" modalities (defined "partially remote" in JERICO and FixO3, for instance), defining a unit cost can be tricky because of different references to define the total quantity of access provided over the duration of the projectin the two access modalities. For such applications, a reimbursement based on real cost borne by the facility provider for granting the access is probably preferred.

A standard costs definition was reported as a problem also in the last analysis of ESFRI project implementation made by the ESFRI Implementation Group (2012) that reports criticalities in fields such as social sciences and humanities (SSH). Access to digital data and services itself is not the problem but data processing in many cases needs additional extra expert support which is often not found in RI centres themselves (as they just take care of the technical operation). The conclusion of the IG is that establishing appropriate costing for all RIs which covers the running costs to guarantee access to their services for the scientific community is a challenge and that the priority of defining common standards and harmonized access rules and conditions for the use ofRI and for continued EU support to transnational access activities stressed by the Competitiveness Council Conclusions from 11 December 2012 seems not being the right way to proceed.

An example of reporting on in kind, free of charge infrastructure contributions isprovided in a Guide of BONUS (2012). Categories of national infrastructure addressed by this guide include research ships, field stations with major experimental facilities therein and advanced computing facilities. The value of infrastructure provided by national authorities as in kind, free of charge contributions to BONUS projects is calculated on the basis of the actual costs incurred during the project. This may include capital costs and indirect costs related to the use of the infrastructure. The usual accounting practices are applied, with the exclusion of provisions and profit on the basis of detailed accounts that are open for inspection and audit. The value and nature of the in kind, free of charge infrastructure provided to the BONUS projects is reported annually by the national infrastructure provider to the BONUS EEIG. Due to national differences concerning organization of access to large infrastructures, the 'infrastructure provider' may in this context be the owner of the infrastructure, or the body administrating or granting the right to use a large infrastructure free of charge for the benefit of the BONUS projects.

We can try to establish a "dynamic standardization", allowing the facility provider to adopt the calculation scheme that best adapt to its specific infrastructure.

This is based on three options, that could be used as a reference for both calculating the reimbursement for access or sharing activities, as well as when infrastructures costs are calculated as in-kind resources within a project:

  1. Calculation based on a "unit access cost", as in the FP7 I3 projects.
  2. Calculation based on real costs, as for instance in BONUS.
  3. Calculation based on a fraction of the total costs in a given period related to the period of use in the specific project.

A Guide to reporting on in kind, free of charge infrastructure contributions is provided in Appendix 2, including schemes for infrastructure's costs reporting.

Access to data

Open Access to Data and Data Sharing is one of the big open issues when dealing with Research Projects and environmental research.

Recent technological development greatly lowered the cost of data acquisition, and the growing availability of fast internet connection enables several different ways of data sharing and integration. As a consequence, state of the art science today - especially when considering support to policy at a national and pan-European level - often needs data series that span time and space lengths that are not achievable in single research campaigns, but need integration of different datasets. On the other hand, the cost in term of man days of translating and merging data from different sources, when feasible, is still high, being this often a time-consuming task. Open and interoperable access to data has therefore become, in the past 10 to 15 years, one of the key objectives especially for environmental data, and is considered the easiest and most powerful way to achieve the mentioned integration.

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The basic and most general principles of the Open Access concept have been posed in several statement, and one worth considering for its wide consideration and acceptance is the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities (Max Planck Society, 2003).

This declaration, stated on the 22nd of October 2003, has since been signed by 460 different research organizations and Universities from all the world, and among them are listed the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (signed on 2003), the National Research Council of Italy (signed on 2012), the Smithsonian Institution (signed in 2011) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (signed on 2007).

The Berlin Declaration states that Open Access contributions must satisfy two conditions:

  1. The author(s) and right holder(s) of such contributions grant(s) to all users a free, irrevocable, worldwide, right of access to, and a license to copy, use, distribute, transmit and display the work publicly and to make and distribute derivative works, in any digital medium for any responsible purpose, subject to proper attribution of authorship (community standards, will continue to provide the mechanism for enforcement of proper attribution and responsible use of the published work, as they do now), as well as the right to make small numbers of printed copies for their personal use.
  2. A complete version of the work and all supplemental materials, including a copy of the permission as stated above, in an appropriate standard electronic format is deposited (and thus published) in at least one online repository using suitable technical standards (such as the Open Archive definitions) that is supported and maintained by an academic institution, scholarly society, government agency, or other well-established organization that seeks to enable open access, unrestricted distribution, interoperability, and long-term archiving.

In this first approach the stress is mostly on the Open Access of scientific publications, mostly because it was the easy part, the texts do not need any further modification to be shared effectively.

The work that followed considered two, mostly separate, issues to achieve a betterOpen Access to Data: property rights and interoperability.

Interoperability of Data, or How to publish data

When dealing with Open Data Access the first issue is the realm of different data formats, databases, web services and more, that can be summarized roughly into three categories: how to catalog data; how to format data; how to process and display data.

Each one of these three categories has its own peculiar issues, with a strong common need: standards.

Cataloguing data is solved with standard metadata. For geographic information in general, the current best practice standard for geospatial metadata is the ISO 19115 "Geographic Information - Metadata" from ISO/TC 211 and following specifications, used by the INSPIRE directive, among others. The INSPIRE directive "aims to create a European Union (EU) spatial data infrastructure. This will enable the sharing of environmental spatial information among public sector organizations and better facilitate public access to spatial information across Europe".

The basic common principles of INSPIRE are:

  • Data should be collected only once and kept where it can be maintained most effectively.
  • It should be possible to combine seamless spatial information from different sources across Europe and share it with many users and applications.
  • It should be possible for information collected at one level/scale to be shared with all levels/scales; detailed for thorough investigations, general for strategic purposes.
  • Geographic information needed for good governance at all levels should be readily and transparently available.
  • Easy to find what geographic information is available, how it can be used to meet a particular need, and under which conditions it can be acquired and used.

The ISO 19115 and the subsequent ISO 19135 ("Geographic information - Procedures for item registration") enforced by INSPIRE are aimed at spatial data "needed for good governance", extremely general and cannot grasp the detail needed in all scientific sectors.

In fact most scientific communities have their own sets of metadata, often extending the ISO 19115 set, with more detailed and organized information on the metadata. One good example of this mechanism is the SeaDataNet metadata system, born as main output of the SeaDataNet and SeaDataNet2 projects. These projects that aims to establish a pan-European infrastructure for ocean & marine data management started in the oceanographic research. The metadata usedin this infrastructure became first the de-facto standard for oceanographic metadata, and has been recently upgraded to ISO 19139 XML formats and have become INSPIRE compliant.

Once data is properly metadated, it can be catalogued, looked-up and retrieved without the need of knowing the particular kind of data descripted.

The same standardization process is being carried out for data services (like visualization of raster data), and the standard of reference is the "ISO 19119:2005 - Geographic information -- Services". There is an extensive work on different kinds of services, to summarize in a few words the most advanced in terms of standardization are the Web Map Service (WMS, service that output images), the Web Feature Service (WFS, service that outputs discrete geospatial information). Both services are standards defined by the Open Geospatial Consortium, and their implementation are constantly updated to be more functional and inclusive.

Property Right and Data Policy

The possibility to give access (free or paid) and license to copy/use/transmit/display the Research outputs in the Actions or in Research Projects is a legal issue, and depends on the initial agreement between the funding party and the research institution.

Most Research funding comes from industrial research and development or from governmental funding, and it is then crucial to understand how and to what extent the property rights policy of the funding entity is compatible with the diffusion at large of projects results.

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It is easy to affirm that Research Data coming from projects funded by public money should be public, but it is non-trivial to apply this when activities are carried out by private-public partnership, when dealing with technology development that might arise in new patents, or when the Research Data is sensible, for instance for public safety.

To understand the state of the art is worth to have a look at how some broad actions in the EU address this issue.

For instance, in the next Work Programme of ERC, there is a mandatory clause regarding the deposit of an electronic copy of the final manuscript. It is stated that "the beneficiary is required to make its best efforts to ensure that this electronic copy becomes freely and electronically available to anyone through this repository", immediately if an electronic version is also available free of charge via the publisher, or within 6 months of publication elsewise; no mandatory actions are required on the data part, only guidelines to be followed on a voluntary basis.

They also ask the beneficiary to deposit primary data and data-related products within six months after the publication of the research paper, with no further specifications than the strong encouraging of the use of discipline-specific repositories or, alternatively, institutional repositories or even web pages.

To bring forth an example of how an European initiative approached the property rights matter, we report an excerpt from the MOON (Mediterranean Operational Oceanography Network) Data Exchange Agreement:

  • Each Partner shall provide access to its Data upon request, at the specifications and frequency listed in Annex B hereto, provided they are used for internal purposes only by the receiving Partner.
  • The Partners shall endeavour to provide the Data in accordance with the specifications laid out in Annex B hereto (i.e. the Annex B to the MOON Data Exchange Agreement). If, for any reason, any Data become unavailable or do not meet such specifications, the Partner(s) concerned shall use best efforts to restore service promptly and shall keep the Board informed of the status thereof.
  • Each Partner shall bear its own costs incurred in the production and dissemination of the Data.
  • Derived Products. Any product derived from the Data of two or more Partners shall be exploited under a separate written agreement among the Partners
  • Derived Services. The Partners shall endeavour to create a common Data exploitation policy as soon as is practicable.


  • JPI Oceans Actions should provide Data with standard metadata, and it will be useful to look at the different de-facto standards used and developed by specific communities to better describe and find relevant Data.
  • JPI Oceans Actions should carefully define each kind of user in the Actions agreements, and link this user typologies to their access possibilities and permitted use of the Data produced in the projects. A useful concept - only briefly reported in the lines from the MOON Agreement - is the "quality of service", that is the Action Agreement or one of its Annex should state the specifications of Data-related services in terms of availability and frequency of release.


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  • Bonus implementation agreement – (art. 18 infrastructures contribution)
  • European Commission (2011), Reporting transnational access and service activity costs, May 2011
  • European Commission, FP7 Grant Agreement – Annex III – Specific provisions for transnational access activities
  • Guide to Reporting in kind, free of charge infrastructure contributions to Bonus
  • Inventory of the infrastructures in the Baltic Sea Region suited for BONUS research (Bonus 2011-2017)
  • SEAS-ERA Marine Research Infrastructures (MRIs) common management guidelines for joint research activities

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