The OpenMI-LIFE project's rationale lied in the Water Framework Directive, which demands an integrated approach to water management. This requires an ability to predict how catchment processes will interact. In most contexts, it is not feasible to build a single predictive model that adequately represents all the processes; therefore, a means of linking models of individual processes is required. This had been met by the FP5 HarmonIT project's innovative and acclaimed solution, the Open Modelling Interface (the OpenMI).

The purpose of the OpenMI-LIFE was to transform the OpenMI from research output to sustainable operational product, by

  • building the capacity to use the OpenMI
  • demonstrating it in real-life situations
  • demonstrating the technical support and co-ordination
  • disseminating information about the OpenMI to users.

The OpenMI-Life project was supported by the European Commission under the Life Programme and was contributing to the implementation of the thematic component LIFE-Environment under the policy area "Sustainable management of ground water and surface water managment" Contract no : LIFE06 ENV/UK/000409

On 26th May 2012 the OpenMI-Life project, along with thirteen other projects, received a "Best of Life Award" during a Life Conference, held in the European Parliament in Brussels.

Read more about the Conference and the Award Ceremony.

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Description of Work

The goal of OpenMI-LIFE is to support the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and, more particularly, make integrated water management feasible. This requires an ability to predict not only how individual catchment processes will respond to "programmes of measures" but also to foresee how those processes will interact with each other. Prediction is achieved through the use of models but until the development of the OpenMI, no generic open practical mechanism existed that could link together models of different processes from different suppliers running on different machines - see State-of-the-Art section. HarmonIT, funded by FP5, has developed and proved the highly innovative concept of the Open Modelling Interface, which solves this complex problem. OpenMI-LIFE will demonstrate how it can be deployed, used, supported and funded at the operational level on real world scale problems. This demonstration will be conducted in co-operation with Competent Authorities in two Pilot River Basins, the Scheldt and the Pinios. It will also show how requests by users for changes to the interface will be handled and implemented. It is the intention that the procedures and systems demonstrated and refined in this project will continue after the project. The long term aim is that the OpenMI should become the European and global standard for model linking in the environmental domain.

Figure 1 Simplified view of stakeholders and their involvement in the use, maintenance and dissemination of the OpenMI

Figure 1 illustrates the key stakeholders, procedures and products involved in the use, evolution and maintenance of the OpenMI. The tasks listed below are designed to demonstrate the OpenMI and these procedures working at an operational level. It is anticipated that the project will identify the need for change both in the OpenMI and the support procedures. The demonstration will show that both types of request can be handled in a sustainable way. Listed below are the main tasks involved in staging the demonstration:

A) Build capacity

For the OpenMI to become widely adopted there must be a core of knowledgeable modellers. This task will create and deliver training courses to developers, modellers and users in the Competent Authorities of the Scheldt and Pinios and the wider modelling community if resources permit.

B) Demonstrate the OpenMI in the Scheldt and C) the Pinios river basins

The Scheldt and Pinios are Pilot River Basins where implementation of the WFD is being trialled. Both basins contain problems whose management requires an integrated approach and hence the use of linked models. The Competent Authorities of these basins will identify a range of problems. The modelling community will use models linked by the OpenMI to perform an integrated analysis of the problems and indicate the likely outcomes of different policies to the Competent Authorities. Model providers will upgrade the relevant models to be OpenMI-compliant so that they can be linked. The OpenMI Association will maintain and support the OpenMI making new releases in response to requests for change. An evaluation report will assess the value of a) integrated modelling and b) the OpenMI and its support organisation.

D) Demonstrate the OpenMI technical support, maintenance and co-ordination

The success of the OpenMI as a standard depends upon its widespread adoption at the European level. However, its use requires a small but significant degree of investment by developers. Therefore, it will only be taken up if there is confidence that it will be supported and maintained into the future. This task will identify and test a sustainable support and co-ordination organisation. The demonstration will begin using the current open source version of the OpenMI, the research output of HarmonIT. It is expected that this will not satisfy all the user needs. The resulting change requests will be used to exercise all aspects of the support organisation including the periodic release of new open source versions of the OpenMI standard and its supporting software and documentation.

E) Disseminate information

Global awareness of the OpenMI has been achieved in the water modelling community. If the OpenMI is to be widely adopted, it is essential that this is maintained and, ideally, extended into other domains. This task will confirm the target community and the best media for communication. It will then use those media to deliver appropriate information about the OpenMI and the benefits of integrated modelling.

F) Manage OpenMI-LIFE

The transformation of an IT product is a complex task involving risk. Substantial time will be allocated for active monitoring and management. A risk management plan is in place.

Figure 1 shows the OpenMI-LIFE participants and the stakeholder roles they will represent in the demonstration. The "Competent Authorities" responsible for implementing the WFD and IWM are represented by VMM - AK, AWZ, VMM - AWA and RIKZ who are, in their domains, the competent authorities for the Scheldt Basin. They are actively involved in the preparation of programmes of measures and the development of River Basin Management Plans. VMM - AK and RIKZ are leading members of the International Scheldt Commission. They have also been members of the Interreg III Scaldit project, which tested the implementation of the WFD. VMM - AK, RIKZ, AWZ, VMM -AWA, Aquafin, and NTUA represent the modelling community. VMM - AK, RIKZ, AWZ, VMM - AWA are regulators and Aquafin is the company responsible for waste water treatment for the whole of Flanders. All actively own and use models to analyse water management problems and are anxious to know if integrated modelling will lead to better, more integrated solutions to water management problems. DHI, WL Delft, and WSL represent the major commercial model developers in Europe and probably the world. ULg, NTUA and UTH are academic developers, many of whose models have been taken up commercially. In the demonstration, the developers will interact with the modelling community and the OpenMI Association as they would in a real world context. Their motivation is to understand the opportunities and the threats that the OpenMI creates together with the costs and savings. They will receive requests for change to their models from the modelling community. If these requests require a change to the OpenMI, they will pass them to the OpenMI Association represented by NERC, DHI, WL Delft, WSL, AQUAFIN and NTUA. These organisations have been responsible for leading the €6M FP5 HarmonIT project that created the OpenMI and have planned the support organisation. NERC, DHI, WL Delft and WSL all have experience of maintaining standards and software on a national and international basis. All have a long term interest in and understanding of water management. NTUA managed the global dissemination programme for HarmonIT. Their collective interest is to be sure that the proposed support organisation is viable.

The OpenMI-LIFE project will be led by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology - NERC), a world class research organisation with over 2500 staff and turnover in excess of €420M. Its science programme covers most aspects of the natural environment and related technologies; of particular relevance to OpenMI-LIFE are: hydrology, ecology, integrated management (especially of water resources), sustainable economies, modelling, data management, database design and environmental informatics. NERC works with both the public, private and academic sectors and has extensive experience of managing large national and international projects. It is committed to the delivery of its science to the user community and the market place. NERC has successfully led and managed the 14 partners from 7 countries, who developed the OpenMI over 4 years through the €6M FP5 HarmonIT project (Contract No EVK1-CT-2001-00090), delivering it on time and to budget.

Of the participants, NERC, VMM - AK, AWZ, VMM - AWA and RIKZ are publicly funded national bodies. NTUA, ULg and UTH are Universities and Aquafin, DHI, WSL and WL Delft are non profit companies.

All the partners have participated in many past and current EC projects. Much of their recent contribution has been underpinning research for the Water Framework Directive. VMM - AK and NTUA are representing the Pilot River Basins where the WFD is being trialled. The two most relevant projects are the FP5 HarmonIT and Interreg III Scaldit.

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Demonstration use cases

Pinios river basin

The Pinios watershed belongs to the 8th Water District of Greece (Thessaly Area: 14,000 km2, Population: 760,000 (2005 demographics)) and was selected by Greece as a pilot basin for the Water Framework Directive. The total length of Pinios River is 205 km and the whole Pinios basin (including Lake Karla) drains an area of approximately 10,500 km2. Agriculture is the major source of income and employment for Thessaly (~4,000 km2 of cultivated area) which represents the main agricultural production area of Greece. Main crops produced in the plain area are cotton, wheat and maize whereas apple, apricot, cherry, olive trees and grapes are cultivated at the foothills of the eastern mountains. Thessaly is not heavily industrialized. Food processing represents the most prominent industrial activity. Other important sources of income include breeding, fisheries, forestry, and tourism.

The need for integrated water resources modelling

The sustainability of Thessaly's natural and built environment depends entirely on Pinios water quantity and quality. Available surface water and groundwater has to satisfy the needs of farmers, industry and local municipalities and furthermore, to support the local environmental ecosystems. Changing water availability and distribution may have a wide range of impacts to a variety of life aspects: from wildlife disturbance to economic growth and from land use development to human mobility patterns. Various models developed by different interested parties provide "limited snapshots" of the water resources management's "bigger picture". Integrated modelling is essential in order to link those "snapshots" by successfully connecting the interacting processes and in that manner, facilitate the work of Decision Makers.

Scheldt river basin

The river Scheldt has its source in France and flows through Belgium (in a small part of the Walloon region and in the Flemish region), finally entering the Netherlands before flowing into the North Sea. This international dimension in a relatively small geographic area makes the Scheldt River Basin an interesting case for integrated river management. The South-Western part of the international Scheldt river basin district is composed of several streams flowing to the Channel or the North Sea and which have been added to this river basin district. In the OpenMI-Life project, there were four use cases studied in the Scheldt river basin.

Use Cases A, B and C are applied mainly in the Flemish Region, and more specifically around the sub-basin of the river Dijle (a tributary of the Scheldt river via the river Rupel). Use Case D is mainly applied on the Scheldt estuary around the Dutch-Belgian border.

The following figure gives a schematic overview of the interrelation between the four use cases.

More information on the Pinios and Scheldt use cases can be found on the OpenMI-Life website.

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The following organisations were involved in the OpenMI-Life project:

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Main results

The OpenMI-Life project resulted in a variety of technical reports and documents, which are available via the OpenMI Association's document store and the Technical Committee's wiki site.

Besides these, the following general reports were produced :

  • Layman´s Report: What is integrated modelling using OpenMI all about
  • Evaluation Report 1: OpenMI-based integrated modelling in relation to water management issues from user and developer perspectives
  • Evaluation Report 2: OpenMI from user and developer perspectives
  • Evaluation Report 3: OpenMI support organisation from a user perspective
  • Evaluation Report 4: Technical support provided to developers using the OpenMI

Finally, the conclusions from the demonstration use cases are summarised below.

Pinios use cases

Results from all Use Cases

  • Legacy and in-house models were successfully migrated in OpenMI
  • All models were set up, calibrated and validated in the study area
  • In most cases, the selected models were successfully linked and run using the Configuration Editor provided by the OpenMI Association Technical Committee
    • Visual Modflow (Use Case C) was limited by its migration to exchange data in OpenMI only with MIKE 11.
    • New compliance rules demand that developers provide an .xml file with exchange parameters and information so that interested researchers can see whether a specific model satisfies their needs
  • Missing exchange variables and numerical error/instabilities at selected nodes were addressed by modifying the available model codes and adjusting internal timestep lengths

Building an OpenMI Community

  • Improve the training of students/ future modellers in OpenMI
    • Introduce the use of OpenMI in courses to support teaching of integrated modelling (across disciplines)
    • Set up research focusing new avenues enabled by OpenMI (sustainability assessment, multi-modelling etc)
    • Use the OpenMI E-learning tool (upload new training material and download existing courses) ; expand into a collaborative learning environment.
  • Increase the availability of experts capable of migrating models in OpenMI
    • Provide seminars and training for new developers
  • Increase the availability of OpenMI compliant models
    • Migrate legacy and in-house models
    • Built the new models to be OpenMI compliant
    • Request partners and cooperating companies to migrate their models in OpenMI
    • Approach departments from different scientific fields, such as economics, public health, computer science and suggest the use of OpenMI
  • Use OpenMI in research work, studies and papers
  • Present insights/thoughts/results on OpenMI in conferences

Scheldt use cases

The OpenMI-Life project was successful in demonstrating that:

  • In general, improvements in results could be obtained compared to the current standalone models.
  • Integrated modelling provides a better insight to and understanding of the interactions between different water domains and the necessary data exchange.
  • Modellers obtain a better understanding of the potential and limitations of their own models and the associated models in establishing linked simulations.

Although some specific integrated modelling frameworks may currently have better performances, the OpenMI offers a unique technology standard that allows the linking of legacy models from different organisations in their own software and hardware environments. Partners are committed to participating in the further implementation and improvements of the OpenMI in future projects, in the short, medium or long term. A small number of practical (technical, organisational and legal) issues still need to be overcome, but the partners are looking at the possibilities of future applications, such as extensions of the above use cases and new applications. The project provided a good opportunity for the different partners (competent authorities, model users, model developers and the OpenMI Association) to collaborate and learn from each other's practical organisation.

The following recommendations can be made for a successful further implementation of the OpenMI:

  • Before embarking on a practical application, it is important that all partners involved make a thorough investigation of the specific needs for linking and the potential improvement that is expected from an integrated approach. This will avoid the situation where scarce resources are spent on less interesting cases.
  • A number of technical issues remain to be solved or improved, e.g. user interfaces (link configuration and temporal data operations), performance (multi-threading), remote linking.
  • Where possible, the models and the interface should be prepared consistently from an early stage in order to minimise the need for modification and the cost when linking them up.
  • Guidance documents and best practice manuals should be composed from as broad a user community as possible, e.g. to gain experience on numeric stability issues and the use of more efficient geospatial linking.
  • Partners need to strive for high-level collaboration agreements in order to minimise or overcome practical institutional and legal barriers; agreements must be sought with software providers to guarantee technical support and to resolve licensing issues.

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