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We consider the scenario of distributed data aggregation in wireless sensor networks, where each sensor can obtain and estimate the information of the whole sensing field through local data exchange and aggregation. The intrinsic trade-off between energy and delay in aggregation operations imposes a crucial question on nodes to decide optimal instants for forwarding their samples. The samples could be composed of the information from their own sensor readings or an aggregation of information with other samples forwarded from neighboring nodes. By considering the randomness of the sample arrival instants and the uncertainty of the availability of the multiaccess communication channel due to the asynchronous nature of information exchange among neighboring nodes, we propose a decision process model to analyze this problem and determine the optimal decision policies at nodes with local information. We show that, once the statistics of the sample arrival and the availability of the channel satisfy certain conditions, there exist optimal control-limit type policies which are easy to implement in practice. In the case that the required conditions are not satisfied, we provide two learning algorithms to solve a finite-state approximation model of the decision problem. Simulations on a practical distributed data aggregation scenario demonstrate the effectiveness of the developed policies, which can also achieve a desired energy-delay tradeoff.