Increased efficiency in environmental research: long-term monitoring to be included in the European infrastructure roadmap after glowing assessment

The European long-term ecosystem research infrastructure, eLTER, aims to produce observations on the state of the environment and related changes at permanent sites throughout Europe. This centralised knowledge will be refined into services for researchers, decision-makers, authorities, education providers and local inhabitants.

The eLTER infrastructure project, focused on long-term and multidisciplinary monitoring of the environment, took a significant step towards its consolidation, as it was included in the ESFRI (European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures) research infrastructure roadmap, updated in 2018.

“Inclusion in the roadmap demonstrates that the EU considers it important to systematically monitor the environment in changing conditions. Global threats, such as climate change, pollution and declining biodiversity, are weakening the environment and its ecosystem services around Europe,” says Michael Mirtl, chair of the LTER-Europe network and eLTER coordinator.

eLTER aims to produce harmonised observations on the status of the environment and its changes at permanent sites throughout Europe. The goal is to produce information in a centralised manner and to refine this information into services targeted at different groups: researchers, decision-makers, authorities, education providers and local inhabitants.

The eLTER infrastructure is being developed under the direction of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany. Seventeen countries have politically committed to the process, while 161 organisations from 27 countries have given it their scientific support.

The University of Helsinki has actively participated in establishing eLTER and is heading the Finnish FinLTSER network. The University of Helsinki, the Finnish Environment Institute, Natural Resources Institute Finland, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the Universities of Jyväskylä, Oulu and Turku, as well as the CSC – IT Centre for Science have financially and scientifically committed themselves to eLTER’s operations. The Ministry of Education and Culture has given its political commitment to support the eLTER infrastructure and its development on the national level.

Joint central services for the network of research sites

During the next stage, eLTER will apply to the European Commission for funding for a preparatory phase project to turn its site network into an independent research infrastructure with central services, administrative and funding models included. At the same time, eLTER’s scientific operations are being developed through another project.

In Finland, the establishment of the eLTER infrastructure is being promoted by INAR RI Ecosystems, a research infrastructure project, and FinLTSER. On the eLTER level, the updating and maintenance of national research sites is based primarily on the funding of individual organisations. EU funding is being used for international planning activities, as well as for establishing centralised services and conducting scientific research at the eLTER sites.

The new ESFRI roadmap was published in Vienna on 11 September. The research infrastructures included in the roadmap have been divided into six domains: energy, environment, health and food, physical sciences and engineering, social and cultural innovation, and e-infrastructure.

In addition to eLTER, five new research infrastructure projects were included in the new ESFRI 2018 roadmap, which focuses on broad research infrastructures. Altogether 49 infrastructure projects have been incorporated into the ESFRI roadmap, set up in 2002.