Scaling Up

Network News Fall 1988, Vol. 4 No. 1
NSF News

The issue of “scaling up” is particularly appropriate in the LTER context at this time. The total number of projects has been increased again; there are now 17.

Additionally, the projects are now much less "stand alone” entities, since the concept of networking is being widely discussed if not yet universally adopted. Computer assisted communication is being utilized by increasing numbers of LTER participants, bulletin boards are being established, GIS technologies are being acquired, and remotely sensed data are making their entry into the LTER scene. An executive committee of the LTER/CC has been chartered and become active, and a new and expanded LTER network office is going through the birth process. An international workshop on long-term ecological research was recently held in West Germany (attended by representatives from 6 of our LTER projects) for the primary purpose of expanding the opportunities for collaboration at the global scale. All these factors give substance and definition to the ‘scaling up” assertion. However, some might say that “scaling up” does not equal “growing up.”

LTER is having its successes. It is attracting from individual scientists broad and enthusiastic interest that, hopefully, will be enhanced by NSF’s recently announced “Supplements for Research at LTER Sites.” Several different funding agencies currently support collateral research at sites. It is attracting additional fiscal resources. But is LTER actually maturing?

At this time it appears that LTER has entered the maturation process, but only just. LTER is an adolescent  active, attractive, curious, and unsure. New technologies are being acquired, but is this teenager really ready to drive? One thing we can be pretty sure of is that an opportunity ignored may never arise again. The present appears to be full of opportunities for the participants who make up LTER comprises. These participants - singly, as project groups, and as network collaborators - must come to grips with the opportunities that exist. In doing so they must recognize and define the opportunities. They must formulate the questions and select the methods, gather the data and synthesize the answers. Integration and comparison within and among projects must become a significant reality.

The technologies of GIS and remote sensing, for example, are seductive and should provide a substantial framework for broadly based comparisons among ecosystems. LTER is currently constrained, however, by apparently having few data sets that are comparable across sites. Comparability is an issue that must be effectively addressed. In order to begin one must decide what is to be compared and that, of course, must be driven by a significant scientific question.

The LTER/CC has assumed responsibility for designing and defining the general guidelines for format and content of renewal proposals. It has also asserted its position with regard to coordinating project requests for f uture technology acquisition supplements. In this context, there exists the opportunity for LTER participants to exert a strong influence upon

  1. The formulation of the driving questions
  2. The actual, system-level comparisons to be made
  3. The means by which such comparisons may be accomplished

That is to say, LTER scientists are in the position to exert a controlling influence upon the overall scientific objectives of LTER during the next five- to-ten year period. With this in mind, it seems to be time to get down to business in the most serious manner and directly address those difficult conceptual and practical issues that have been dodged until now.