As climate change wreaks havoc on societies and ecosystems across the world, from floods and droughts to degraded water quality caused by wildfires and anthropogenic pollution, the need for transparent and accessible research about the planet’s water has perhaps never been greater. Open access academic journals remove the paywall that would require interested readers to have a paid subscription, thereby increasing equitable access to the latest advances among researchers and the public alike.
AGU’s journal Water Resources Research (WRR), which publishes original scholarship on the movement and management of Earth’s water, is transitioning from a hybrid publishing model to be fully open access as of 1 January 2024.
“Water Resources Research has been the cornerstone of the hydrological sciences for almost 60 years,” said John Selker, president of AGU’s Hydrology section and a hydrologist at Oregon State University. “Now, anyone who needs to make use of the cutting-edge hydrological science found in WRR will be able to do so, as we have long believed should be the case. The Hydrology section of AGU is delighted to see this important move and to be able to tell authors that this flagship journal is open to the entire world.”
The concept of open access journals traces its recent growth to a Budapest Open Access Initiative conference in 2001, where institutions, organizations and individuals from around the world met to discuss how research in all fields could be made freely available on the then-nascent Internet. AGU released its first statement acknowledging the need for open access research in 2002, as part of a broader statement on data preservation and heritage.
“AGU embraced the idea of open access pretty quickly,” said Matthew Giampoala, vice president of publications at AGU. “We’ve been moving in this direction for a long time. When we made our agreement with Wiley, our publisher, more than 10 years ago, we saw open access as the future.”
AGU’s first fully open access journal was the Journal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems (JAMES), which was acquired in 2012. When AGU signed with Wiley, the Board of Directors determined that all new journals would be open access by default and that any subscription journal articles would automatically be opened 24 months after publication. Soon afterward, AGU established the open-access journal Earth’s Future. Most recently, in 2022, the short-format journal Geophysical Research Letters went fully open access, in line with the Board of Directors’ commitment to transitioning at least one journal to fully open access every five years. That same year, the Biden administration mandated that taxpayer-funded research be publicly accessible by 2025.
When AGU considered which journal should be next to make the switch, Water Resources Research was a natural choice. Over the past five years, AGU’s Hydrology section has held town hall discussions and disseminated surveys about open access that made the journal’s authors’ and roughly 7,000 members’ desires clear.
Water research is important and relevant worldwide, and AGU recognizes that while open access journals increase access for readers
“Open access publication is a cornerstone of open science, and arguably a moral imperative for openness in all aspects of our research,” said Georgia Destouni, editor in chief of Water Resources Research and a hydrologist at Stockholm University in Sweden. “Transitioning to open access is essential for Water Resources Research and water science, as it enables equal access to vital research information for a wider audience of scholars, policymakers, practitioners and the general public.”
The journal publishes approximately 650 articles per year (about 44% of which are already published as open access) covering every angle of water research imaginable in many corners of the world. Some of the journal’s most popular articles from the past year explored the forecasting of summer droughts in the United States, the swelling intensity of global droughts due to climate change, flooding in the Himalayas, and how global river widths have changed over time. Agriculture, water chemistry, wildfires and policy are well represented.
Water research is important and relevant worldwide, and AGU recognizes that while open access journals increase access for readers, a financial burden may be placed on the researchers. Many factors go into the cost of publishing, from editorial and publisher staff time to long-term web hosting and indexing, and subscription fees partially fund that work. Switching to a fully open access publishing model means a loss of subscription fees, so to make up for that financial gap, the cost to publish a journal article increases.
To ensure equitable access to both publishing and reading journal articles, AGU has in place a system of institutional agreements and waivers that cover the Article Processing Charges (APCs) for a wide range of researchers.
“A lot of people don’t realize what’s available to them in terms of funding, waivers, and other means of support,” Giampoala said. “We don’t want authors deciding between sending a grad student to a meeting or publishing a paper.”
Many authors have access to funding for publishing in our fully open-access journals via institutional agreements and open-access accounts, and the AGU publications team encourages authors to explore pricing, funding and waiver options, Giampoala said. AGU currently has in place 79 funding agreements across 37 countries, covering more than 2,400 institutions worldwide. Authors from qualifyingcountries are eligible for fee waivers. AGU has also created an additional fund to cover waivers for those in need who do not qualify for automatic waivers based on country. (Additional helpful links are available at the end of this article.)
“We’re confident that AGU is fully invested in working with authors if they don’t have the funds to publish with open access,” Selker said. “This is critical for ensuring that access is truly open for the entire community.”
Literal access to a journal article — viewing the study for free — is only part of what makes research accessible.
“We’re also passionate about helping scientific research reach a broader audience,” Giampoala said. “AGU tries to make sure the public has an awareness of science and kindles that connection.” For example, many AGU journals, including Water Resources Research, require authors to submit a “plain-language summary” to help break down the study’s key points for any interested person, from reporters to the science-invested public.
Open data and software, part of the FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable) data initiative, go hand in hand with open access.
“Open science doesn’t only mean the paywalls are gone — it also means that we’ve published in a way that allows people to take research and build on it themselves,” Giampoala said. “It’s not just about open access but open science, an open way of doing things. That’s why we believe that data sharing is important, and part of our process is making sure that authors have appropriately shared their research data and software.”
Whether for reading a study or accessing its data, “paywalls aren’t good for expanding knowledge,” Giampoala said. AGU will continue to transition journals to fully open access while remaining committed to ensuring that anyone who wishes to publish their research in an AGU journal can do so.