White Paper Title: 
A Working Group Approach to Integration and Synthesis of Mid-Ocean Ridge Studies

Ken Rubin (Univ. of Hawaii) and Dan Fornari (WHOI)

Introduction and Background
The overarching goal of the Ridge 2000 program is to answer key questions pertaining to fundamental processes that control biological, chemical and geological phenomena at oceanic spreading centers using observational, experimental and modeling data derived from the past few decades of research on mid-ocean ridges. The program has completed many successful field campaigns and shore-based research projects, resulting in the publication of a large volume of scientific papers spanning many subjects. The task the program now faces is how to synthesize the accumulated knowledge from the past ~8 years of field and laboratory data, and decades of allied research, into widely accessible published products.  This synthesis is expected to yield new insights into oceanic spreading center processes, impact multiple related research fields, and pave the way for new scientific directions that will extend our knowledge of fundamental earth-ocean processes.

The work of Ridge 2000 (R2K) is multi-disciplinary. Answering some of the broader research questions posed in the R2K science plan requires a collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach that has proved difficult thus far to initiate on a community wide scale.  One difficulty has been the delay of key experiments at some sites, with the result being that key data sets have only recently been collected and published, or are in the final stages of publication. Nevertheless, there is a general consensus that R2K has contributed substantively to both the ocean sciences in general and in a focused way to multidisciplinary studies at ridges, both through the scale of the effort and through the development of new technologies required to study seafloor processes.  However, the successful completion of the synthesis of R2K scientific results both within and across the key study areas (aka Integrated Study Sites) is required to demonstrate that R2K has fully reached it stated program goals.  We expect that many in the program will see the results of this effort as both a very satisfying culmination to decades of MOR research and a roadmap to future questions and research on the general topic.

The Working Group Approach
This white paper describes how a team-work approach to the synthesis of R2K scientific results, using topical/thematic working groups with foci that address a subset of the overall program goals, can be used to advance integration and synthesis goals of the R2K program. This method has proved successful in multiple other research venues.

The idea in a nutshell is to use topical and ISS focused working groups to formulate ideas, stimulate discussion, and synthesize results on program-relevant topics into high profile publications. This effort uses a systems approach, focusing the groups toward different ridge processes and/or structural elements of ridge environments.  It differs from the largely geographic (ISS and cross-ISS) focus R2K has used for the past 3 years of community meetings. 

Working groups will be formed in conjunction with a research community-wide meeting with group topics loosely defined by the meeting organizers. Groups will work together before, during, and following the meeting to choose topics and datasets within their focus area that are ready for this synthesis effort, work toward integrating and synthesizing knowledge on them, and write and publish synthesis papers. Large groups may choose to work as several subgroups if this best meets their needs.  In other research communities, the most successful implementations of the working group approach suggest that the R2K groups will be maximally productive if they operate over a one to two year period, and if members of multiple disciplines are committed to communicate, learn from each other, and develop a shared-vision for their objectives and published products. Thus, the products of the groups will be developed over time, with the hope that additional collaborations are born from this process and that new ideas spring from the synthesis effort. While we hope that some of the ideas and papers developed at the community meeting can be published in the following year, we fully realize that in some cases this process may take longer.

Interactions within each working group:
Each group will likely comprise approximately 10 participants of different backgrounds, perspectives and seniority levels.  Groups should therefore have a high degree of flexibility in terms of how they interact and schedule their interactions, and how they divide up tasks to individual members. But, group interactions should nevertheless be guided by functional and ethical protocols established by the architects of this effort before the groups meet.  Groups should have multiple tools and venues for interaction at their disposal, including telecommunications, virtual meeting, on-line forums and in-person meeting options.

Working Group Leaders:
To be most effective, each group should have several leaders who are generally knowledgeable about the topic, open-minded, and willing to commit to the effort.  These leaders will jumpstart discussions, facilitate the integration and synthesis process-before, during and after the meeting, and referee the interactions within the group.  They need not be the leaders of paper writing efforts that arise from the group, but certainly can choose that role if they wish.

Integration and Synthesis Leaders:
The overall effort described here needs a few higher level leaders that will devise the structure and operating protocols of the working groups and the community meeting, interact with group leaders, mediate sticking points that might arise within groups, and generally steer the overall process.

The Community Meeting:
The role of the community meeting is to bring all the groups together face-to-face after they have had a chance to begin interactions, to give them the opportunity to have focused, multi-day discussions on the work at hand, set schedules for producing their group products, and to learn about the work of other groups, including topics they are addressing and successful collaboration modes.  The community meeting is a means to an end, rather than a specific, fixed time frame to accomplish the synthesis effort. The key point is that the meeting can serve as an impetus for the community to embark on the path that will lead to fully capitalizing on R2K research to date,  by synthesizing and integrating information to achieve a more complete knowledge of MOR processes.

Community Commitment to Achieving R2K Program Goals
To be successful, large-scale scientific research programs such as R2K require vision, innovation in conceptualization and execution of its studies, community participation at all levels, and funding agency support over the term of the program.  In practice the ‘net-worth’ of a large-scale research program is measured by its productivity, both in terms of scientific results and in terms of impacts on the field(s) of study.  R2K has in many ways been the vanguard of ‘multidisciplinary’ ocean-earth studies and has demonstrated how researchers with a broad array of research tools, methods and practices can work together on shared research goals.  Researchers involved in the program have a strong desire to understand the ‘interconnectedness’ of MOR phenomena as epitomized by the ‘Mantle to Microbe’ iconic statement that ushered in R2K nearly 10 years ago. The process will be challenging, but we believe the community is ready for an organized effort like the one described here