Data rescue and re-use: archiving historical datasets to address new environmental challenges

Data rescue and re-use: archiving historical datasets to address new environmental challenges

Data rescue and re-use: archiving historical datasets to address new environmental challenges

Lead supervisors: Dr Louise Firth

Location: School of Biological and Marine Sciences, University of Plymouth

Duration: 8 weeks

Suitable undergraduate degrees: Biological science, marine science, environmental science, marine biology

Project background

We live in an era of big data, open science and data sharing. There is a requirement for modern data to be collated, uploaded to open-access databases and shared with the global research community. An enormous wealth of data is available from historical studies that represent invaluable and often untapped resources for the big data movement. One of the most in-depth, continuous and long-running datasets on reproductive phenology of marine invertebrates was collected by Dr Rosemary Bowman (Robin Hood’s Bay Marine Laboratory). She collected monthly samples of limpets with different biogeographic origins (coldwater Patella vulgata and warmwater P. ulyssiponensis) from Yorkshire between 1967-1991. Never before, or since, has such a dataset been collected. These data are “famous” among the rocky shore ecology community for being one of the most complete, long-term datasets on a species that have long been considered sentinels of climate change (Southward 1995, J. Therm. Biol.; Firth 2009, Glob. Change Biol.). Whilst a high-level descriptive summary of the results was published (Bowman 1986, Hydrobiologia), this was prior to recent rapid global warming. Moore (2010, Glob. Change Biol.) found that the breeding cycles of limpets from different biogeographic origins (P. vulgata and warmwater P. depressa) are differentially affected by climate change, but this study was based on comparisons of means of small datasets (3-4 years) collected between the cooler 1940s and warmer 2000s.

Rosemary passed away in 2021. The raw data (recorded on physical hand-written spreadsheets) were gifted to Louise Firth by Rosemary’s sister, with the view that they would be digitized and made available to future generations. Intriguingly, some of the earliest in-situ temperature measurements (from devices deployed on the shore, combined with data of sea surface and air temperatures, in addition to 100s of newspaper weather cuttings) are available in her files. Such high-quality biological data and in-depth temperature data provides a unique opportunity to explore a number of questions. Firstly, a comparison with recently-collected data (already acquired by Firth from 2011-2013) would allow a test of the effect of rising temperatures on breeding phenology; secondly, a quantitative comparison of in-situ and satellite-derived temperature data; thirdly, the collation of the Bowman dataset with existing historical and modern data would provide an invaluable mega-dataset that would form the foundation of future studies of the breeding phenology of key climate change indicators in a changing world.

This placement has four key objectives:

1. Digitize Bowman’s biological/temperature data;

2. Collect samples from a number of locations in the southwest to gain experience in planning and executing field sampling, in addition to laboratory processing and analysis;

3. Collate existing data from papers across Atlantic Europe of limpet reproductive cycles ( vulgata, P. depressa, P. ulyssiponensis) using online “data scraping” software;

4. Compare (graphically/statistically) historical and modern datasets (e.g. Bowman/Moore) to test the hypothesis that recent warming has altered breeding patterns.

NERC themes: climate and climate change; ecology, biodiversity and systematics

ARIES themes: Ecology and Biodiversity; Marine, Atmospheric and Climate Science

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