“Open data” means that scientists make the data that they collect available to everyone, without any cost or other barrier. This is part of “Open Science”, which also includes publishing research articles in open access, and involves making citizens part of the research (Citizen Science) in addition to other practises. Open Science allows everyone to get involved in research, which can increase the trust of society in science, because everyone has the possibility to understand better what scientists do. Other benefits of Open Science are higher quality and reproducibility of research results. This means that if someone else tries to repeat a measurement, they will know exactly how to do this and will get similar results. Sharing data openly reduces efforts and costs because less data get lost and the same data do not have to be collected again. Researchers can simply use data that are already there. When the data are published in trusted repositories it is easy to give proper credit to those who have produced the data.

The ocean is so large and complicated that each year huge amounts and a great variety of data are generated. It is impossible for one research team alone to handle all this information. This is why databases were created that can integrate and provide the data in the long term. One of these databases is PANGAEA – Data Publisher for Earth and Environmental Sciences (https://pangaea.de/). It already holds more than 400,000 datasets mainly from the biological, geological, oceanographic and climate sciences. It allows for example to explore the change of seawater temperature over time. At the European Nucleotide Archive (https://www.ebi.ac.uk/ena/browser/home) one can find millions of genetic sequences. These can be used to identify fish species from DNA found in the sea water.

In the past, researchers shared data openly only on a voluntary basis, but now many scientific journals and most public funding agencies, including the European Commission, make this a requirement. Also, databases need to meet the FAIR principles, making the data Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable. Scientists and data editors (also called data curators or data stewards) work together to make high quality standardized data records. This way, more data become available for reuse. Researchers can more easily access and bring together different kinds of observational data and can use powerful new “big data” methods. Nowadays, open data are extremely important for scientists to do their job. They need the data to study the past, present and future of ocean systems. And they use this knowledge to inform society and policymakers about global change and sustainable use of resources.


Text by Astrid Wittman, Center of Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen

Picture by Chinnapong, Adobe Stock