Scent Spotlight series – Marian Mierla, Danube Delta National Institute

We recently spoke to Marian Mierla, Scientific Researcher at Danube Delta National Institute (DDNI).

DDNI is the National Institute for Research and Development in the Danube Delta region. Its research and development work also covers the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve, which includes the neighbouring areas as well. The researchers at DDNI, based in Tulcea, Romania, specialise in different aspects of geography and biology, some study water quality, others living species etc. The institute also has an informational system and geomatics department, and parts of the institute’s development activities focus on the planning of dredging processes.

Involvement in Scent

DDNI decided to get involved in Scent for two important reasons. One is the fact that the particular area of study, the Danube Delta, coincides with DDNI’s core area of expertise. The other one is the novelty the involvement of citizens in the research; DDNI considered the citizens’ observatories a new and attractive concept.

Achievements to date

Marian and his colleagues are involved in several work packages and have worked on range of tasks to date. Early on in the project, DDNI completed a detailed end-user needs and requirements analysis. They were also actively involved in creating a Scent taxonomy for land use and land cover. In addition, they played a role in developing the Scent architecture schema, which illustrates the flow of information from the field, from the citizens’ observatories. They have moreover provided IHE Delft with field data on water flow discharge etc. for hydrological modelling. In addition, the institute acts as the legal, ethical and security issues leader in the project.

Reflections on expectations

Marian describes DDNI’s expectations and says they believe the citizens’ observatories will be successful and that the involvement of citizens in the field, both locals and tourists, will bring good results. He admits that involving citizens is a challenge, but says they hope to be able to show that the concept works well and has a positive impact in their region and in Romania more broadly.

Contributions to Scent’s objectives

Marian ensures that the contributions go in both directions. On the one hand, he explains, data that citizens collect in the Danube Delta will contribute significantly to shaping an accurate and up-to-date picture of natural events and phenomena in the area. He thinks the idea of having both locals and tourists generate data about events related to flooding, fires etc. is very nice and interesting and lies at the heart of Scent’s objectives. On the other hand, Marian adds, Scent will offer the opportunity to get people to be more responsible and attentive when it comes to what is going on in their surroundings. This, Marian continues, will be possible thanks to the Scent crowdsourcing platform, which will help raise people’s awareness about what is happening around them. Once people download the app to their mobile they can report events, such as floods, he adds.

Scent and the environment

Marian sees climate change as a hot topic that people speak about everywhere, whether it’s in the context of global warming, changing patterns in temperatures or humidity or moist levels of the soil. He thinks Scent will have a significant impact in generating an open, detailed, accurate, up-to-date image of changes taking place in the environment. The project will gather observations from citizens, changes spotted and recorded, small or large. At the same time, Marian stresses, Scent will help people become more aware of changes taking place. People don’t usually pay attention to differences in the environment between one summer and the next, or the difference in precipitation between one winter and the one before. However, he continues, if they had the opportunity to report these changes, they would start being more attentive.

Showcasing Scent

In May, DDNI had the opportunity to participate in the 25th Deltas and Wetlands symposium, a biennial event that gathers large numbers of researchers from Romania and abroad to present their latest research. The event, held in Tulcea, is open to the general public, and it attracts scientific and technical audiences in particular. Scent was given visibility and publicity when DDNI represented the project and presented its key objectives and activities.

What is unique about Scent?

According to Marian, the Scent crowdsourcing platform is what makes the project unique. None of the other platforms he has seen in other projects are as well-developed and complex. The Scent platform, he says, has good chances to succeed as it takes all kinds of citizens into account; from young to old.

Scent and other EU-funded research projects

DDNI has been involved in several other EU-funded research projects, and Marian sees more and more commonalities between projects. The use of satellite images is one example he gives of a practice that is widespread across domains. Even projects that mainly deal with social sciences incorporate the use of satellite images in their studies, Marian observes. Another similarity that Marian underlines is the interdisciplinary approach adopted across the board. Research combining a whole range of disciplines rather than focusing on one is increasingly becoming the norm, he says.

Surprises in the first year of the project

When asked about whether anything has surprised him in the first year of the project, Marian mentions the wide range of expertise of the project partners. He adds that the spectrum of domains covered is vast, since the consortium includes experts in social and human sciences, IT specialists, hydrologists, GIS specialists etc. The challenge, he says, is to integrate the knowledge of the different specialists in order to unify the results. The next pleasant surprise will hopefully be to see that everything will work well together and produce successful results, Marian concludes.

The overall impact of Scent in three concepts

  1. Citizens’ observatories as a challenge and achievement
  2. Crowdsourcing platform that serves citizens of all ages
  3. Verification of hydrological models through the use of images collected and annotated by citizens.

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