‘Virtual laboratory’ allows health researchers to analyse
environmental risks

10 December 2018

CAR has developed an online platform for analysing and sharing pollution data using the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network’s (TERN) CoESRA Virtual Desktop ­­­– a cloud-based computational environment for big data analyses and data sharing.

Through the platform, pollution datasets suitable for use in exposure assessments are stored in a searchable repository with detailed metadata.

The platform also enables data access from other online open repositories portals, such as the Bureau of Meteorology, Geoscience Australia, the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network (AURIN) and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN).

Analysis-ready datasets can either be downloaded or used in the TERN CoESRA Virtual Desktop through an access-control mechanism that allows data creators to control who has access to their data.

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The advantage of this online cloud-based data analysis environment is that tools are integrated with the data, enabling researchers to both build new analysis workflows, and run pre-defined and customised analysis workflows.

Researchers can access a range of data analysis software, including RStudio, Canopy, Kepler Scientific Workflow, KNIME, QGIS, for statistical analyses, data workflow creation and GIS manipulation.

Dr Ivan Hanigan, a postdoctoral fellow with CAR who was part of the CoESRA team at TERN, said data sharing and analysis infrastructure allowed researchers access to a larger range of datasets and tools, as well as greater computing power, than was possible from the user’s own local desktop.

“Our project aims to develop a virtual laboratory for assessing environmental risk factors to human health such as air pollution and enable sophisticated exposure analysis, leveraging off the associated data repository, and our team’s expertise in deploying tools for exposure assessment,” Dr Hanigan said.

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