#06 2020

Landmark agreement signed for Global Ecosystem Research Infrastructure

Article based on GERI media statement

Institutions from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America that operate six different continental-scale ecosystem observing infrastructures signed a landmark memorandum of understanding (MoU) on December 8, expressly committing to the development of the first-ever Global Ecosystem Research Infrastructure (GERI). GERI is an integrated network of site-based research infrastructures dedicated to improving our understanding of the function of – and change in – indicator ecosystems across global biomes. This would support excellent science that would also inform political and managerial decision-making, addressing grand societal challenges.

A fully functioning GERI will deliver harmonised data, forge international partnerships and enable a new understanding of global ecological processes in ways not previously possible, stretching across continents, decades and ecological disciplines.

By bringing together these infrastructures for the first time in history, we now have the infrastructure capability to ask environmental research questions with both societal and scientific importance across and among continents.

The capabilities of GERI are vital to address critical future challenges for the sustainable management of our limited natural capital under (known) environmental change, and future (yet unknown) environmental challenges to assure long-term human well-being on the planet.

A fully functioning GERI will deliver harmonised data, forge international partnerships and enable a new understanding of global ecological processes in ways not previously possible, stretching across continents, decades and ecological disciplines. (Map: GERI)

Current participating Environmental Research Infrastructures (ERIs) in the GERI project. Please note that the shareholders/sponsors are NOT signees of the MoU. 

Environmental Research Infrastructures Host country/continent Signatories/ Managing Organisations Shareholder/ Sponsor
Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN) China/Asia Chinese Academy of Science Chinese Academy of Science
European Long Term Ecosystem, critical zone and socio-ecological systems Research (eLTER) Germany/Europe Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research

GmbH – UF

European Commission
Integrated Carbon Observing System (ICOS) Finland/Europe ICOS ERIC Head Office European Commission
National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) USA/North America Battelle National Science Foundation
South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) South Africa/Africa National Research Foundation National Research Foundation
Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) Australia/Australia University of Queensland National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy

The seeds for GERI were sown at the 2018 International Conference on Research Infrastructure (ICRI). From left: Beryl Morris, TERN Australia; Marjut Kaukolehto, LTER-Europe; Michael Mirtl, ILTER chair; Hank Loescher, NEON; Bill McDowell, US-LTER and Julia Glenday, SAEON (Photo: Michael Mirtl)

Integrating global capabilities 

The MoU reaffirms the long-standing partnerships among the six analogous, but independent, ecosystem observing networks that monitor the ecosystems that underpin life on Earth.

Prior to this MoU and the creation of the GERI, these national Environmental Research Infrastructures (ERIs) have, for the past decade, been delivering national and continental-scale data to gain a better understanding of the responses of the biosphere to the anthropogenic drivers of environmental change.

However, when tackling complex global issues such as climate change or biodiversity loss, we need an internationally collaborative approach if we are to make a real difference. To this end, multi-national collaborations in ecosystem observation over several years have led to the signing of the GERI MoU and the creation of a global ERI network.

Integrating capabilities will enable researchers around the world to tackle the programmatic work and meet the grand challenges at the global macro scale. Even though GERI is currently terrestrial-based, broader inclusion is encouraged to bring together other ERIs and networks in support of this endeavour, and more broadly integrate atmospheric, terrestrial, coastal and ocean observations within their social-ecological context.

The MoU describes the type of relationship between the continental observatories and the overarching goals the GERI plans to achieve.

G7 GSO accepted 

The potential for increased international cooperation on research infrastructures has for a long time been recognised during international high-level meetings on science policy. At the first G7 Science Ministers’ meeting in 2008, the Group of Senior Officials on global research infrastructures (GSO) was established. GSO´s mandate includes assessing and identifying research infrastructures of global interest and identifying possible new areas of cooperation.

At the 14th GSO meeting in Shanghai (2–4 December 2019), the GERI case was presented to the GSO, underpinning the global momentum and their respective research infrastructures’ strong commitment to GERI. As a result, the GSO encouraged further development of GERI with a focus on refining governance.

The discussions in Shanghai highlighted that this partnership would follow the GSO Best Practice Framework of research infrastructures of global interest, which will benefit all stakeholders and the successful implementation of GERI.

Participants in a breakaway group at the GERI Governance Workshop held in Boulder, Colorado in June 2019.  Standing (from left): S. Zacharias (Helmholz UFZ), M. Mirtl (Helmholz UFZ), W. Kutsch (ICOS ERIC), M. Grant (U Queensland), G. Feig (U Pretoria and NRF/SAEON), J. Tang (Marine Biological Lab), B. Ruddell (Northern Arizona U), J. Bäck (U Finland), H. Loescher (Battelle), M.A. Genazzio (Battelle), J. Pauw (South Africa, NRF/SAEON), L. Zhang (CAS). Seated (from left): M. Hawkins (U.S. NSF, GSO representative (observer)), C. Schaedel (Northern Arizona U), B. Morris (U Queensland) and X. Yu (CAS).

Participants in a breakaway group at the GERI Governance Meeting held in Washington DC in February 2020. From left: B. Morris (U Queensland), L. Zhang (CAS), M.A. Genazzio (Battelle), H. Loescher (Battelle), M. Mirtl (Helmholz UFZ), G. Feig (U Pretoria and NRF/SAEON), M. Grant (U Queensland).

GERI governance

All the GERI observatories are equally important to the monitoring of ecosystems on our planet, and the governance of the new global infrastructure has been designed to reflect this.

Regularly rotating the chair of its governance board is just one of the ways in which GERI is demonstrating the balance among its members. The role of chair for the governance board of GERI was officially handed from eLTER, Europe to TERN, Australia in September, where it will remain for the next six months.

Additionally, GERI’s system of governance utilises sociocracy principles (i.e. dynamic governance), which is built upon the trust and ‘group understanding’ established over several year of catalytic workshops, which does not infringe upon the fiduciary relationship with their respective sponsors and shareholders. This is a necessary requirement for international partnerships with different sponsors.

Over the next six months, a suite of working groups will be established to help in developing the common science questions, protocols, parameters, data systems and so on that will be adopted by GERI. The GERI Governance Board meets online bimonthly and hopefully in person at the June 2021 International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI 2020).

GERI landscape map. This conceptual landscape map demonstrates the collective suite of data that constitutes GERI. The data suites (fields) provided by the GERI-member Environmental Research Infrastructure are mapped against the drivers of change (cause) and the ecological processes (effect). Each Environmental Research Infrastructure is colour-coded, with weighted lines that quantitatively indicate the number of data products/sets and the data suites they contribute to GERI.