As part of the interim assessment of the European Marine Observation and Data Network, a contractor, MRAG, is assessing the user-friendliness of the portals and the legal aspects of data use.
A meeting on 17 May was held between the contractors (Stephen Hodgson and Conor Okane), Iain Shepherd and Thomas Strasser (Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries), Jean-Noël Druon (Joint Research Centre) and Trine Christiansen and Constança Belchior (European Environment Agency) to discuss the interim findings. Members of the Marine Observation and Data Group as well as the consortia developing the portals have already commented on the interim report.
The consortium examined five portals – those for hydrography, geology, chemistry, biology and physical habitats.
Each has different characteristics, depending partly on the intrinsic nature of the data and partly on the technology used. In all cases the software platform was based on previous projects and this had an influence on performance
The contractor felt that the hydrography and chemistry portals which are based on Seadatanet technology were the easiest to use and had the most features.
The initial registration for these is done on line but it can take up to a week for confirmation to arrive because a nominated data centre from the user's own country (or Ifremer if the user is from a country that does not have a national oceanographic data centre). The data centre defines a role (research, commercial etc).
Data downloads can be instantaneous if there are no restrictions but can take up to a month otherwise – even with the standard Seadatanet licence which places few restrictions on use. Nearly all the background data layers (ie not produced as part of the project) in the hydrography portal are restricted although the 500 metre digital terrain model is not. However, downloaded files were not sorted by requested content, and it was not possible to determine search content from the provided metadata.
The biology portal is rather easy to use but not so good as the chemistry portal even though there are fewer legal restrictions on use. The data available tends to be interpreted datasets rather than primary data. Much of the metadata, for instance dates and species are missing. It is not possible to directly extract data on one species – rather complete datasets or measurement stations (the difference was not too clear), and downloaded files sometimes had fields e.g. time missing.
Maps showing the horizontal distribution of chemicals should at least show the position of measurement stations for the user to estimate the degree of interpolation. Nitrogen/Phosphorus ratio (N/P), silicates/nitrogen ratio (Si/N) and silicates/phosphorus (Si/P) would be valuable products for the chemical lot (and easy to produce) as these ratios provide important characteristics of eutrophication.
The geological portal was the poorest. It was difficult to find on the OneGeology portal and only provided one data layer – marine sediments.
None of the portals have completely solved the problem of quickly providing users with a quick view of the spatial and temporal extent of the data.
The question of identifying if the user should update its already downloaded data was raised. The mention of the date of the last update of data (new data or reprocessing) could easily be implemented for each data set.
Similar considerations applied to legal aspects of the data. There has been great progress in clarifying data ownership and usage conditions; the Seadatanet-based portals allowed users to click on metadata to see the licence. As a general comment though it is not always clear who is actually licensing the use of the data on behalf of the data owner. The issue of personal data may need to be looked at more closely in the future. Some restrictions were applied to commercial users