3 December 2021 | Category: Data champion, WUR shares data

Blog series: WUR shares Data on Global open weather data for agriculture

By Sylvie van der Poll

It is inescapable: in science there is an increasing focus on sharing research data, software and code. The often-used slogan for data sharing by research institutions and funders is “as open as possible, as closed as necessary”. Wageningen University and Research is no exception and has included this principle in its strategic plan 2019-2022.

WUR’s open data and data applications are accessible via the WUR Data Portal, where a selection of inspiring examples of open data sharing are showcased. In this blog series we ask WUR researchers about data sharing. What do they think about data sharing? Do they encounter barriers? And how can they be supported better?

For this blog post we interviewed Allard de Wit and Hendrik Boogaard on the AgERA5 global weather database for agriculture.  Both researchers have been working at WUR for more than 25 years. Hendrik is involved in projects on the use of weather data and crop models to monitor and predict crop production.  Allard works on projects that use the same technology, but focus on supporting smallholder farmers in developing countries in collaboration with local partners.

The AgERA5 database has been developed within the framework of the European Copernicus program aiming to make weather data globally available and suitable for agricultural applications. This is important because in some countries/areas a limited number of measurements are collected or available measurements are not accessible, while (daily) weather data is essential to be able to analyze crop growth. For example, how crops grow and the different stages of growth.

The database is developed at Wageningen Environmental Research together with colleagues from DTN (formerly MeteoGroup). Together they collect and process the data, so that it can be used by others afterwards.

What is the AgERA5 global weather database for agriculture?
Allard: One can imagine the prime influence of weather on agricultural production, both in terms of yield and quality. Using the AgERA5 database we are able to better understand the impact of weather on crop production. The AgERA5 database helps researchers and farmers to put the weather in perspective: is it warmer than normal? How much rain does my area receive?

AgERA5 is an open weather database, derived from the ERA5 reanalysis data produced by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). A “reanalysis” is a global weather simulation of the past 40 years using a numerical weather prediction model. The ERA5 reanalysis provides the input data for AgERA, but AgERA takes several elements/parameters from ERA5, such as hourly temperature and precipitation, and tailors them to fit the needs of users in the agricultural domain.

You developed the database together with DTN, using data from ECMWF. How is this collaboration set up?
Hendrik: WUR has been working with DTN in a European context for more than 20 years. See also the Copernicus program and the MARS project (Monitoring Agricultural Resources). Both DTN and WUR benefit from the collaboration. DTN is the first to have control over the data and as such has an advantage over other users of the data. WUR needs this data as input for productivity models and analyses – is the current growing season normal/abnormal – which requires a data archive to be able to compare the weather and put it in perspective.

AgERA5 data is free to use; how has that been achieved?
Hendrik: These are contractual preconditions within the Copernicus programme and have been established for some time. Even more important is the underlying idea that the EU wants to stimulate and facilitate the opening of data via Copernicus. So, when you take on such a Copernicus project, you conform to those terms.

In 2021 we aim to increase the findability of WUR data. Are there any barriers to mention from your perspective? Any solutions?
Allard: AgERA5 Data is well accessible through the Copernicus Climate Datastore. However, the way in which the data is presented could be more user-friendly. Before you can use the data, you as a user still have to perform some actions. For example, NET CDF files are not very user-friendly for end users. An API can be a solution or think of a site/portal where you can easily make a spatial subset or retrieve time-series. A comparable dataset that uses such an API is NASA Power. Within WUR, for example, GYGA is working on an API (Hugo de Groot).

Hendrik: In addition, little research by WUR itself is published in the Open Data Journal for Agricultural Research, ODJAR. The further development and validation of models is better facilitated if the number of open data sets also grows.

What do you think of the principle “as open as possible, as closed as necessary?”
Allard and Hendrik: that’s a good thing. At the start of a project, be aware that companies often are reluctant to share data for competitive reasons which is also understandable from their perspective. So, make sure to make good and clear agreements about the use of the data at the start. For example, that the company may use the models and data, but not exclusively. Our models use the EUPL license which is a free/open source software licence published by the European Union and tailored to EU law.

Which data sharing incentives do you wish to see for researchers?
Hendrik: offer researchers help, provide guidelines / explanations in which repositories you can place data and how to do this. Highlight the benefits of sharing data (openly) and what it delivers. In the short term you may experience it as a burden, it takes time. But in the long run it will bring you more impact through increased use and citations.

Allard: Sharing data also results in new research, new business. But if you share, you have to do it right (FAIR)!

Thank you very much Allard and Hendrik for this interview!
Within WUR, Wageningen Data Competence Center is your first entry point for questions on Data Science, Research Data Infrastructure or Data Management. Please contact us when you have questions on Data or Code Sharing, licensing or data sharing agreements. And did you know we have Data Sharing Guidelines available?

By Sylvie van der Poll

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