HyperDiver in use - a hyperspectral surveying instrument for scientific divers | Photo: Arjun Chennu

23/04/2020 | As part of its digitization strategy, the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) has now established the new working group “Data Science and Prediction”, which will be headed by physicist Dr. Arjun Chennu starting in May 2020. The working group will focus on building data-driven analytics such as artificial intelligence, modelling and the integration of cross-disciplinary data towards the study of tropical marine systems. The development of data science and digital infrastructures at ZMT within the framework of the so-called DigiZ Initiative is funded by the German federal and state governments with more than 500,000 Euro per year.

Dr. Arjun Chennu moves to ZMT from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology (MPI) in Bremen, where he focused his research on habitat mapping, benthic ecology, technology development and machine learning.

At MPI, the Indian-born scientist developed the HyperDiver, a hyperspectral – i.e. sensitive beyond visible light – surveying instrument for scientific divers. The tool allows researchers to capture rich images of shallow marine habitats such as coral reefs or seagrass beds and to produce rich descriptions of these coastal ecosystems with high detail.

“My research in marine biology has shown me the importance of being invested in the lifecycle of data – an engineer’s view in creating new instruments and data, a physicist’s view in modelling it and an ecologist’s view in assessing the results,“ says Dr. Arjun Chennu. “I’m excited to be joining ZMT as it starts the DigiZ initiative, which has a focus on the integration, reuse and availability of data for studying tropical coastal systems. The breadth of ZMT’s thematic focus to cover complex ecological and social issues makes it an alluring place to develop cross-disciplinary perspectives and solutions.”

Data-oriented approaches to identify patterns and relationships

Through the rapidly developing possibilities of data science in ecological and socio-ecological research, new, previously hidden relationships, correlations, patterns and causal connections can be identified. Especially in marine research with its global and interdisciplinary view these approaches to identify patterns and correlations are very promising.

In order to produce robust projections of trajectories for ecological and social change in complex coastal socio-ecological systems in the tropics, the new research group will use approaches and methods of data science to integrate and comparatively analyse heterogeneous, discontinuous but also large quantitative and qualitative data in the future.

“The new working group ‘Data Science and Prediction’ will play a crucial role in the expansion of data science at ZMT,” says Prof. Dr. Hildegard Westphal, Scientific Director of ZMT. “Arjun Chennu is an excellent scientist, he brings not only expertise in data analysis to the table, but also has many year of experience as a researcher in the tropics and in scientific diving. He is therefore an ideal choice to lead our new research group.”

About the DigiZ Initiative at ZMT

ZMT has been conducting research in tropical countries for more than 25 years and can look back on a long history of collecting natural and social science field data from marine tropical habitats. As part of its digitization initiative DigiZ, the institute plans to continuously expand data sciences and its digital infrastructure in order to evaluate typically heterogeneous research data from tropical coastal regions using modern data science methods. Thus, social science and marine science data can be systematically linked in order to gain new insights with transdisciplinary relevance. This data science approach is supported by a strengthening of research data infrastructure  at ZMT. With the funding from the German federal and state governments ZMT can now process its rich treasure chest of data and to set the benchmark for making the results of its research digitally available not only to the local scientific community and various stakeholders from politics, industry and society, but also to the institute's partners in the tropics. With this initiative, the ZMT contributes to the digitization strategy of the Leibniz Association as well as to the data infrastructure initiatives of the German Alliance for Marine Research (DAM).