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Advancing the European Long-Term Ecosystem, critical zone and socio-ecological Research Infrastructure towards ESFRI

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Advance_eLTER (Advancing the European Long-Term Ecosystem, critical zone and socio-ecological Research Infrastructure towards ESFRI)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2017-12-31

Advance_eLTER has achieved its overall objective to outline the important components of the distributed formal European Long-Term Ecosystem, critical zone and socio-ecological Research Infrastructure (eLTER RI). The RI will enable long-term European-scale investigation of major ecosystems and socio-ecological systems, targeted at supporting knowledge-based decision making concerning ecosystem services and biodiversity at various levels.

Project work built upon, and was complementary to, previous EU grants and likewise to ongoing projects and processes, where some of the components of an eLTER RI have already been developed or conceptualized. These include proof tested categories of in-situ facilities, basic data architectures and integration mechanisms, established standards like controlled vocabularies and metadata for describing sites and datasets, basic mechanisms for prioritizing variables and parameters to be observed and quantified across domains, and basic interfaces with related infrastructures.

Specifically, all deliverables, were directly targeted at providing the contents, concepts, and explanations that amounted to the eLTER ESFRI 2018 Roadmap application. Moreover, Advance_eLTER placed emphasis on team-building and fostering the strong LTER community within Europe, because mutual trust and well-established collaboration is one of the major prerequisites for a fruitful development of the eLTER RI in the near future.

Advance_eLTER worked towards the common vision of a distributed eLTER RI, enabling research to foster the practice of knowledge co-production and learning in landscapes and regions across Europe. Such an RI marks a paradigm shift in ecological research, promoting an integrated whole system approach, and allowing a unique combination of in situ and satellite data, local knowledge, data assimilation and fusion, storage and data sharing in the long term ecological and socio-ecological research. The RI has a high value for the European societies because it will support major strategies and policies regarding biodiversity conservation, sustainable usage of ecosystems and ecological restoration at the European level.
A detailed Design and Feasibility Study was worked out including the Science case, which is the major driver of the eLTER RI Design development. eLTER RI service design and planning encompassed the development of the concept for eLTER RI services for their multiple use and prioritisation, and the plan for development, testing and running of eLTER RI services at service provider levels (i.e. site/platform, cross-site, central). Service design specifically influenced the quality assurance approach, the business model, and the governance plan. The feasibility study addresses underlying experiences, the technological, financial and operational feasibility as well as quality control and risk management aspects.

To ascertain eLTER financial sustainability, the business plan was developed to analyse the relevant RI landscape, to focus on key elements to be developed, and to prepare for emerging problems and opportunities. The detailed cost analysis includes an estimation of the past investments and operational costs in the existing eLTER RI components, and the planned costs of future eLTER RI national and central operations. The eLTER RI quality assurance plan considers anticipated risk management and KPI (Key Performance Indicator) analyses. To foster the professional governance and organisation of the eLTER RI, a plan was developed for an efficient and smooth transition from preparation and construction to operational governance, and to enable shareholder negotiations for the implementation and operation of the eLTER RI. Furthermore, the eLTER Human Resources strategy in different phases was outlined.

In terms of consulting, communication, and team-building, Advance_eLTER has actively and inclusively consulted and informed the stakeholders and increased the internal communication in the LTER community. Advance_eLTER has also produced a project website, print materials, and other communications. To better illustrate the strategic role of eLTER in the environmental RI landscape, a study was conducted towards quantifying the eLTER RI's socio-economic impact in Europe. To promote cooperation with closely related RIs in Europe, a proximity study was performed where the already existing commonalities were analysed, and the next steps towards operational linkages were outlined. The major way of exploiting project results was to utilise them as components of the eLTER ESFRI 2018 Roadmap application. Furthermore, exploitation will continue – provided the ESFRI Roadmap status is granted – in that the outcomes of Advance_eLTER will then be the basis for the further elaboration and development of the eLTER RI during the ESFRI Preparatory Phase.
The large impact which can be specifically attributed to the Advance_eLTER project, is manifested in the huge mobilisation of resources which has resulted in substantial support for the eLTER ESFRI 2018 Roadmap application. A targeted exchange with a range of stakeholders inside and outside the eLTER communities has resulted in EoS (Expression of political Support) from 17 countries. EoC (Expressions of financial Commitment) were received from 78 institutions in 18 countries and MoU (Memoranda of Understanding) were received from 160 institutions from 27 countries.

The project defined the architecture and policies of the services which will be provided by the eLTER Sites and eLTSER Platforms to a variety of users, e.g. from academia, governmental agencies, practitioners and related NGOs. The technological development capacity of ecosystem research sites was strengthened through a customized Technical Development Plan. An in-depth discussion was framed regarding the eLTER RI design and services across 25 European countries, including essential national-level dialogues between eLTER and sister environmental RIs, which will strongly contribute to related activities in the framework of the ENVRI+ cluster project.

The consortium has informed and engaged with the shareholders in Member States to commit resources and to approve the legal agreements necessary to solidify long-term ecosystem RI and its services in Europe. The basis was outlined for new and more efficient ways of integrated site-based ecosystem research, including collocation and division of tasks with other RIs. Overall, the LTER community was strengthened in that the project facilitated genuine collaboration and knowledge sharing by bringing together many stakeholders. Not least, the project has contributed to priority setting and strategy development within the stakeholder organisations notably on national infrastructure roadmaps.

These specific impacts of the Advance_eLTER project must be viewed within the larger impacts envisaged by the to-be-created eLTER RI. So far, the project has provided the prerequisite for these larger impacts to be realised. The eLTER RI, once fully established, will support the implementation of a range of EU environmental policy through tailor-made information which will enable knowledge-based decision making. Thereby, the eLTER RI will help European societies to tackle current Grand Challenges and work towards several Sustainable Development Goals.