Data Sharing Focus of Discussions at Oil Spill Conference

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Information and Data Cooperative (GRIIDC) presented workshops and hosted an exhibit to answer researchers’ questions about data submission and organization at the 2016 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference, hosted Feb. 1-4 in Tampa, Florida.

Data accessibility and sharing were the focal point of the conference, evidenced by the keynote address, panel discussion, and oral session, making GRIIDC’s work at the conference especially relevant.

The theme of this year’s conference was “One Gulf: Healthy Ecosystems, Healthy Communities,” and included 18 sessions, 285 oral presentations, and 246 posters. An estimated 1000 people were in attendance from 35 states and 16 countries. The conference commenced with a speech from Dr. Rita Colwell, Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) Research Board Chair, who emphasized the need to share, preserve, and maintain data.

In addition to exhibiting and fielding questions, the GRIIDC team also held five workshops covering the following topics: Introduction to GoMRI Data Management, GRIIDC Data Submission, and GRIIDC Data Organization. Workshops were about 25 minutes long with attendance of over 100 people.

Dr. Marsha McNutt, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Science presented the keynote address: “One Gulf: Perspectives on Environmental and Health Data for Advancing Science and for Informed Decision-Making.” Her address focused on the importance of data transparency and issues of reproducibility in science. She explained that replicability of research depends on the availability of data. She also described new ways to receive credit for research besides authorship such as citation of data. She discussed how it is not practical to credit everyone as an author on publications and gave an entertaining example about how a data synthesis paper on the South Pacific should not include Captain Cook as a co-author because he collected data for one shipwreck. A panel discussion followed, led by a number of experts and moderated by Dr. Peter Brewer, GoMRI Research Board Data Subcommittee Chair, which continued the discussion about data sharing in the scientific community.

The oral session, “Data Portals, Integrated Datasets, and Tools Supporting Researchers Synthesizing Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science,” was co-chaired by GRIIDC Director Dr. Jim Gibeaut. Dr. Cyndy Chandler, Information Systems Specialist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was the invited speaker for the session and discussed the Biological and Chemical Oceanography Data Management Office (BCO-DMO). Other presenters during the session discussed specialized databases for deep sea corals and sponges, geospatial tools, data servers and digital object identifiers (DOIs).

On the last day of the conference, each session chair discussed summaries and highlights of their respective oral sessions. The conference concluded with a special screening of the documentary “Dispatches from the Gulf,” an episode in the Journey to Planet Earth series narrated by Matt Damon. The documentary featured GoMRI scientists showcasing their Deepwater Horizon oil spill research.

Overall, the conference was a success, bringing together researchers from around the globe to discuss Gulf of Mexico health and the importance of data sharing and preservation.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) is a 10-year independent research program established to study the effect, and the potential associated impact, of hydrocarbon releases on the environment and public health, as well as to develop improved spill mitigation, oil detection, characterization, and remediation technologies. An independent and academic 20-member Research Board makes the funding and research direction decisions to ensure the intellectual quality, effectiveness and academic independence of the GoMRI research. All research data, findings and publications will be made publicly available. The program was established through a $500 million financial commitment from BP. For more information, visit