Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 295–310 | Cite as

Data Infrastructures for Estuarine and Coastal Ecological Syntheses

  • Anne E. Thessen
  • Benjamin Fertig
  • Jessie C. Jarvis
  • Adelaide C. Rhodes


Holistic understanding of estuarine and coastal environments across interacting domains with high-dimensional complexity can profitably be approached through data-centric synthesis studies. Synthesis has been defined as “the inferential process whereby new models are developed from analysis of multiple data sets to explain observed patterns across a range of time and space scales.” Examples include ecological—across ecosystem components or organization levels, spatial—across spatial scales or multiple ecosystems, and temporal—across temporal scales. Though data quantity and volume are increasingly accessible, infrastructures for data sharing, management, and integration remain fractured. Integrating heterogeneous data sets is difficult yet critical. Technological and cultural obstacles hamper finding, accessing, and integrating data to answer scientific and policy questions. To investigate synthesis within the estuarine and coastal science community, we held a workshop at a coastal and estuarine research federation conference and conducted two case studies involving synthesis science. The workshop indicated that data-centric synthesis approaches are valuable for (1) hypothesis testing, (2) baseline monitoring, (3) historical perspectives, and (4) forecasting. Case studies revealed important weaknesses in current data infrastructures and highlighted opportunities for ecological synthesis science. Here, we list requirements for a coastal and estuarine data infrastructure. We model data needs and suggest directions for moving forward. For example, we propose developing community standards, accommodating and integrating big and small data (e.g., sensor feeds and single data sets), and digitizing ‘dark data’ (inaccessible, non-curated, non-archived data potentially destroyed when researchers leave science).


Synthesis and integration studies Data Research practices Coastal and estuarine science Informatics Data infrastructure 



The authors thank the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation for supporting their data workshop at the 2013 meeting in San Diego and the workshop participants for providing their input. W. M. Kemp and J. Milliman generously provided their time and information regarding their previous coastal and estuarine ecological syntheses. The authors would like to thank two anonymous reviewers who made comments that significantly improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

12237_2015_45_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (47 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 47 kb)


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne E. Thessen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Benjamin Fertig
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jessie C. Jarvis
    • 4
  • Adelaide C. Rhodes
    • 5
  1. 1.The Data DetektivWalthamUSA
  2. 2.Ronin Institute for Independent ScholarshipMontclairUSA
  3. 3.Versar Inc.Columbia USA
  4. 4.Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem ResearchJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia
  5. 5.Center for Genome Research and BiocomputingOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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