Introducing a new virtual water-science lab that supports open-source research

A new virtual water-science lab that has been developed by the EU project SWITCH-ON is opening its doors. The water-science lab allows researchers to collaborate and observe each other’s experiments before they are even published. This speeds up the progress of the research and opens it up for review.

“The water-science lab facilitates global collaboration. As we are collaborating online, there are no geographical distances,” says Berit Arheimer, a researcher in hydrology at SMHI who is also the coordinator of the EU project SWITCH-ON, which is responsible for the water-science lab.

The water-science lab is intended for virtual data experiments, in which researchers can conduct comparative analyses, for example. The lab makes it possible to duplicate different experiments and compare the results of various calculating methods. The content is based on documented records of the experiments and the methods used.

“Comparison and repetition are cornerstones of scientific research. Facilitating them opens up the research and allows us to assess the scientific progress and push the frontiers of research at a quicker pace,” says Berit Arheimer.

Open-source research

Developing ideas step by step is currently a common method within research and innovation. An experiment often involves several parties, and the collaboration is made easier when data, tools and models can be shared openly. The water-science lab contains search functions for open data and the possibility of sharing your own results and software. The water-science lab also makes it possible for new research groups to join or suggest brand new experiments.

“It’s impossible to fit all documentation into a scientific publication, which makes documentation through records absolutely essential. We need to look at each other’s codes and data in order to understand the results,” says Berit Arheimer.

So far, the water-science lab has been used for five completed experiments yielding articles that have been submitted or published in scientific journals, and three experiments that are now in the final phase. And three more experiments are about to start, which also involve research groups outside of the original EU project.

Growing possibilities

Now that the lab is becoming accessible to researchers outside of the project that built the infrastructure, Berit Arheimer sees an opportunity for it to grow much bigger:

“The fact that we already have three new experiments with new research projects is great news! We always believed in the possibility of this kind of collaboration, and the interest we have seen indicates that the water-science lab will live on after the project has ended. It may seem like an additional burden for individual researchers to document their experiments via these records, so we need support from scientific journals and research councils in order to introduce this working method more broadly.

The water-science lab will be used within the global research association IAHS (International Association of Hydrological Sciences). A presentation will be given at the next general assembly of the EGU (European Geoscience Union) in April 2017.

The virtual water-science lab can be accessed via the SWITCH-ON project website.