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SensorNIS: Community engagement to build a resource guide for managing sensor networks and data

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Issue: 
Fall 2012

Don Henshaw (AND), Corinna Gries (NTL), Renee Brown (SEV), Jason Downing (BNZ)

LTER Information managers and site researchers are actively developing sensor networks and supporting information systems. Sensors are increasingly used in LTER research and information managers are expected to manage large, near real-time data streams. As sites develop system software and management protocols to accommodate these sensors there is need for coordinated efforts to help build agreement on general strategies and provide training for handling these large data streams. The willingness of site personnel to share expertise and explore possible solutions has been evident in several activities over the past year. Strong interest in information exchange workshops and training sessions both within the LTER Network and throughout the broader environmental community demonstrate the pressing need for common strategies and shared resources. This article reviews some of these activities including the recent workshop at the LTER All-Scientist Meeting (ASM), and invites your participation in these ongoing efforts.

The need for information exchange regarding sensor network expansion within LTER was targeted by NSF supplemental grants to LTER sites in 2011 and SensorNIS was born. SensorNIS funding to sites in co-sponsorship with the Northeastern Ecosystem Research Cooperative (NERC) supported the “Environmental Sensor Network / LTER SensorNIS Workshop” at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest LTER, New Hampshire, in October 2011 (http://databits.lternet.edu/fall-2011).  A pre-workshop survey indicated that existing site sensor systems did not meet site needs in terms of acquiring, handling, providing quality control, and documenting high volumes of incoming streaming data. The workshop focused on management of sensor networks and quality control (QA/QC) of incoming data streams (http://im.lternet.edu/projects/SensorNIS). Thirty LTER representatives were among the seventy-two participants. Recommendations from this workshop included increasing training opportunities and developing a web-based resource guide or best practices covering many aspects of sensor network establishment and management through community participation.

Subsequently, the LTER Network Office hosted the 2012 cost-shared training workshop, “Software Tools for Sensor Networks” (http://news.lternet.edu/Article2590.html), sponsored by the LNO, NCEAS, and DataONE. This training workshop demonstrated multiple software tools in the handling and managing of sensor data including acquisition, transport, raw data storage, QA/QC, and archival (http://im.lternet.edu/node/999). Highlighted software tools included GCE Matlab Toolbox, Kepler, DataTurbine, the CUAHSI software stack, and R. Additionally; the Sevilleta LTER provided the “Data Acquisition from Remote Locations” training workshop to demonstrate existing experiments with telemetry operations and to provide hands-on training in basic electronics, photovoltaic systems, Wi-Fi telemetry, data loggers and basic programming. The number of applicants for both workshops far exceeded the training room capacity and similar training sessions have been proposed for 2013. Moreover, results from both of these training sessions indicate the need for better information exchange and common resources throughout the broader community.

The ASM 2012 workshop, “SensorNIS: Building a sensor network resource guide through community participation”, was intended to build on the results of the NERC/SensorNIS Workshop and subsequent training sessions in developing a sensor network resource guide. The initial outline for such a resource guide was presented by workshop organizers and has been modified based on the review and feedback from the twenty-five participants (http://im.lternet.edu/resources/im_practices/sensor_data). The intent of the organizers is to engage the environmental sensor community to identify potential sources of information, solicit and assemble contributions, and enlist editors to moderate each topical section of the resource guide. The planned topical sections are:

  • Sensor, site and platform selection
  • Data acquisition and transmission
  • Sensor management, tracking, and documentation
  • Streaming data management middleware
  • Sensor data quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC)
  • Sensor data archiving

Suggestions for how to approach building the resource guide were made by workshop participants and fulfilling these recommendations will rely primarily on community engagement. A proposal for a product-oriented working group was submitted, titled “Managing sensor networks and data: Best practices for LTER”, and is currently under review. Other information gathering efforts geared toward building the resource guide include this issue of DataBits, which is collecting narratives of different sensor implementations at sites, and specific site surveys, which are planned to learn about sensors, platforms, data acquisition and transmission approaches.

In addition to these more LTER-centric activities a user group is currently being formed under the umbrella of ESIP (Federation of Earth Science Information Partners http://esipfed.org/). ESIP provides basic support for such a user group, that is, it provides a managed e-mail discussion list, web space for the resource guide, teleconferences, and an annual meeting where members of this user group may get together. ESIP was chosen because many participants of the aforementioned workshops and trainings came from a wider community of environmental sensor users and expressed their interest in participating in this activity. An invitation to this new user group will be forthcoming and we welcome your participation!