Skip to main content

What Does Science Gateway Sustainability Look Like?

By: Claire Stirm


What makes a successful science gateway last? How do we define “sustainability” for science gateways? You might think that a sustained gateway is funded indefinitely, which would be a very impressive feat. Yet, there are other challenges in maintaining the community around the gateway and continuing to provide value to keep both the community and funder satisfied. For a framework or open-source software, other ways of interpreting “sustainability” could mean that there is an active network of developers maintaining the code. While this is a common solution for supporting other research teams, long-term maintainability becomes a challenge if another software captures the market or there are no minimal funds for the leading developer or PI of the project. Such complexities sparked a pilot series of case-studies to explore how different science gateways take steps towards sustainability. 


Three case studies were written by SGCI team members, Claire Stirm, Juliana Casavan, and Nancy Maron. The team interviewed and researched three science-gateway teams: OpenTopography, the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program’s Information Portal (CoRIS), and Zooniverse (Galaxy Zoo). 


OpenTopography: Demonstrating Impact Through Audience Engagement

OpenTopography is a web-based, cyberinfrastructure platform that enables public access to high-resolution topography data and processing tools. Over the past decade, there has been exponential growth in Earth-oriented topographic data through publicly funded programs. These data are not always easy to work with due to their massive size and complexity. OpenTopography makes these data easy to discover, access, and process, thereby expanding their impact for research, education, and other applications. Over the last decade, the OpenTopography team has developed its community of users by strategically utilizing education and outreach, building from available resources, and listening to the needs of different stakeholders.


The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program's Information Portal (CoRIS): When Colleagues are Clients

Each year, coral reefs are responsible for $3.4 billion in revenue into the U.S. economy. The NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program's Information Portal (CoRIS) is an internal repository that brings together coral reef datasets, products, and management planning across the entire agency. CoRIS has become an essential asset for NOAA internal stakeholders and local decision-makers, and the value it continues to demonstrate has been the key to its continued growth. This case study illustrates how one team has applied sustainability techniques by listening to the needs of their data producers and consumers.


Zooniverse: Growth by Fostering a Culture of Experimentation

Zooniverse is a platform that helps non-scientists participate in activities that further scientific aims. Since its creation over a decade ago, the platform has become home to nearly 100 live crowdsourcing projects, which are used by over 100,000 active volunteers each year. The platform has continued to grow due to several key factors: the willingness of the project leads to be alert to new opportunities as they arise, to benefit from scale where possible, and to permit the team to explore and experiment. This approach has resulted in an in-demand service with a growing user base, which in turn has permitted the team to develop a diversified range of funding types to support the enterprise.


The team plans to continue to produce case-studies for the science-gateway community to share lessons learned from your fellow community colleagues. 


These three case-studies have been embedded into the content of the Gateway Focus Week, a 5-day workshop focused on working with teams who are writing a sustainability plan or applying for their next funding proposal. If you are interested in sharing your sustainability story, contact Claire Stirm (cstirm@ucsd). Learn more about the Focus Week program at