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Lego-Like Process Helps Share Science Findings

Ocean research has been thrust into fast-forward with the Platform for Ocean Knowledge Management (POKM). The network enables scientists to piece together research from institutions across the globe to better understand issues from coastal flooding to marine animal behaviour.

POKM, a partnership between the Faculty of Computer Science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the Ocean Tracking Network (OTN), is a web-based research platform where researchers from around the world share their scientific work. For the first time, collaboration between scientists can occur in real time regardless of their location.

“The platform is ubiquitous to the worldwide community,” says Dr. Raza Abidi, principal investigator of POKM and Dalhousie professor of Computer Science. “Now information is not only accessible, but can be shared and moved from anywhere in the world in real time.”

Canarie Inc., a non-profit collaboration between government and business, has funded the platform to the tune of $1.7 million. Canarie’s high bandwidth network is capable of sharing the massive amount of data gathered by OTN.

“(Now) all end users will have the same response and turnaround time regardless of where they or the data might be located,” says Mike Stokesbury, director of research for the Dalhousie-headquartered OTN. “We expect to discover relationships between marine life and their physical environments that no one has expected let alone been able to test.”

Traditionally, if scientists wanted to track the migratory habits of leatherback turtles, a specific system would be created. If the scientist then wanted to track their feeding habits, a new system was needed. POKM allows scientists to change the configuration so they can now perform multiple experiments with the same data simply by making a few adjustments.

“POKM’s architecture offers a series of web services where each step is self contained and has its own function,” says Dr. Abidi. “It’s similar to Lego. You may have all the same pieces, but you can arrange them in such away that you have a different output each time.”

Dr. Abidi, who has made similar systems for healthcare over the last decade, built a system that best fit OTN’s needs and created a user friendly platform to enhance its research capability.

“OTN had the research and resources, but not the technical ability to maximize its potential,” says Dr. Abidi. “We took their data and used our tools to provide a service for OTN that promotes the potential for greater discovery.”

The computer science research team for the POKM project consists of Dr. Abidi, professors Evangelos Milios and Nur Zincir-Heywood and undergraduates through to post-doctoral students from the Faculty of Computer Science and departments of Biology and Oceanography.

Charles Crosby | Newswise Science News
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