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Enhancing NASA's Contributions to Polar Science

A Review of Polar Geophysical Data Sets

Committee to Review NASA's Polar Geophysical Data Sets

Polar Research Board

Division on Earth and Life Studies

National Research Council



NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS
Washington, D.C.



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Page i Enhancing NASA's Contributions to Polar Science A Review of Polar Geophysical Data Sets Committee to Review NASA's Polar Geophysical Data Sets Polar Research Board Division on Earth and Life Studies National Research Council NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS Washington, D.C.

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Page ii NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20418 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This study was supported by Contract/Grant No. NAG5-8766 between the National Academy of Sciences and NASA. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project. International Standard Book Number 0-309-07401-0 Cover: Space radar image of the Weddell Sea. The cover image shows two large ocean circulation features, called eddies, at the northernmost edge of the sea ice pack in the Weddell Sea, off Antarctica. The eddy processes in this region play an important role in the circulation of the global ocean and the transportation of heat toward the pole. The image was produced at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory by the Alaska SAR Facility's ScanSAR processor system, using data obtained on October 5, 1994 during the second flight of the Spaceborne Imaging Radar S/X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SIR-C/X-SAR) onboard the space shuttle Endeavour. The image has been reversed for purposes of this cover. In reality, the ocean eddies have a clockwise (or cyclonic) rotation. The dark areas are new ice and the lighter green areas are small sea-ice floes that are swept along by surface currents. First year seasonal ice is shown in the darker green area. The open ocean to the north is uniformly bright and appears blue. The small image inserted on the back cover shows the size of a standard space-borne radar image as a comparison to what can be created when the radar instrument is used in the ScanSAR mode (the main image). This image and many others are available at NASA's Visible Earth website, < http://visibleearth.nasa.gov>, which provides a central catalog of Earth science-related visualizations and images. Additional copies of this report are available from: National Academy Press 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W. Lockbox 285 Washington, DC 20055 800-624-6242 202-334-3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area) http://www.nap.edu Printed in the United States of America Copyright 2001 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

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Page iii THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES National Academy of Sciences National Academy of Engineering Institute of Medicine National Research Council The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts is president of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. William A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering. The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine. The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy's purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Bruce M. Alberts and Dr. William A. Wulf are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.

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Page iv

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Page v COMMITTEE TO REVIEW NASA'S POLAR GEOPHYSICAL DATA SETS JOHN E. WALSH, Chair, University of Illinois, Urbana JUDITH CURRY, University of Colorado, Boulder MARK FAHNESTOCK, University of Maryland, College Park MAHLON C. KENNICUTT II, Texas A&M University, College Station A. DAVID MCGUIRE, University of Alaska, Fairbanks WILLIAM B. ROSSOW, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York MICHAEL STEELE, University of Washington, Seattle CHARLES J. VOROSMARTY, University of New Hampshire, Durham ROBERT WHARTON, 1 Institute for Management Studies, Reno, Nevada Staff CHRIS ELFRING, Director ANN CARLISLE, Senior Project Assistant ROB GREENWAY, Project Assistant 2 1 Resigned May 2000. 2 Until November 2000.

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Page vi POLAR RESEARCH BOARD DONAL T. MANAHAN, Chair, University of Southern California, Los Angeles RICHARD B. ALLEY, Pennsylvania State University, University Park ANTHONY J. GOW, U.S. Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory, Hanover, New Hampshire HENRY P. HUNTINGTON, Huntington Consulting, Eagle River, Alaska DAVID J. HOFMANN, Climate Monitoring & Diagnostics Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado MAHLON C. KENNICUTT, Texas A&M University, College Station (exofficio) P. BUFORD PRICE, JR., University of California, Berkeley ROBERT RUTFORD, University of Texas, Dallas (ex officio) CAROLE L. SEYFRIT, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia MARILYN D. WALKER, University of Alaska, Fairbanks PATRICK WEBBER, Michigan State University, East Lansing (ex officio) Staff CHRIS ELFRING, Director ANN CARLISLE, Senior Project Assistant ROB GREENWAY, Project Assistant

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Page vii Preface When NASA first explained its hope that our committee could review its strategy for providing satellite-derived geophysical data sets to the polar science community and provide guidance to make future data sets more useful, the task seemed somewhat ambiguous and daunting. We could not look in depth at every available data set given the time and resources available, nor did it feel particularly useful to comment on what was right or wrong in past decisions. But as the committee met and gathered information, it became clear that our most useful contribution could lie in determining how a better match could be achieved between NASA's data sets and the needs of NASA's current strategic guide, the Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) program. By analyzing what information is needed to address the ESE questions from a cryospheric perspective and then mapping those needs against existing resources, we found a way to turn our review into concrete suggestions to guide future activities. To support this approach, our report has a simple structure. After a brief introduction ( Chapter 1), we provide an overview of existing geophysical data sets—describing what things are now measured by NASA and by others, identifying the resulting data sets, and gauging the experiences of users of these data sets ( Chapter 2). Next, we cite the five key questions guiding the ESE and then recast each question into a cryospheric framework ( Chapter 3). Thus the first ESE question, “How is the global Earth system changing?” becomes “Are changes occurring in the polar atmosphere, ice sheets, oceans, and terrestrial regime?” and for each of

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Page viii these we developed a series of polar-focused sub-questions. After much brainstorming and debate, we reduced these “science-driving questions” to those we consider most important. Then we developed a list of the measurements required to support research on those questions, in essence the high-latitude observations most needed to detect global change. This analysis appears in Chapter 3. In Chapter 4, we assess some of the specific polar observational programs and data sets that NASA has supported. This assessment, when related back to the science-driving questions, allows us to judge the adequacy of current data collection efforts from an ESE perspective and sets the stage for our advice on how to improve the agency's overall high-latitude program strategy. Finally, in Chapter 5 we provide conclusions and recommendations grouped in three areas: key gaps and measurement needs, general NASA strategy for supporting high-latitude research, and specific issues related to the effectiveness of the Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs). This report focuses on data sets of cryospheric importance, not all of geophysics, in an attempt to target our advice to be most useful to NASA's High Latitude Program. Many people had a role in providing information to our committee as we prepared this report. In particular, the committee would like to thank Kim Partington, former manager for the High Latitude Program, at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., for his leadership and assistance. We also appreciated the information provided by our DAAC liaisons: James Conner, DAAC manager, Alaska Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Facility; Mark Parsons, DAAC manager, National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC); David Bromwich, Ohio State University and member of the NSIDC Users Group; and Benjamin Holt, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California, and member of the Alaska SAR Users Group. We also wish to thank Drew Rothrock, Jamie Morison, and others who came to our meetings for face-to-face discussions and the more than 100 people who took the time to complete the questionnaire that we offered on the Polar Research Board's homepage. This survey, although anecdotal, gave the committee broad insights into how users perceive and use the available geophysical data sets, and helped us formulate our recommendations on the data archival and distribution system used by NASA. On behalf of the entire committee, I want to express our appreciation to the Polar Research Board's supporting staff, Chris Elfring, Rob Greenway, and Ann Carlisle. Their guidance kept us on track, and their expertise and support, in too many ways to mention here, enabled the project to proceed far more efficiently than it would have without them. Finally, let me add a word of thanks to the committee's members. This was a highly talented and extremely hardworking group, and it showed

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Page ix exceptional ability to work together as a team. I found it remarkable that individuals with so many other commitments were willing to volunteer the time and effort required to complete this activity on a relatively tight schedule. JOHN WALSH, Chair Committee to Review NASA's Polar Geophysical Data Sets

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Page xi Acknowledgment of Reviewers The committee would like to express its appreciation to the people who served as reviewers for this report. These individuals were chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC's Report Review Committee. This independent review provided candid and critical comments that assisted the authors and the NRC in making the published report as sound as possible and ensured that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The content of the review comments and draft manuscript remains confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their participation in the review of this report: Steve Ackerman, University of Wisconsin Charles Bentley, University of Wisconsin David Bromowich, Ohio State University Jennifer Frances, James J. Howard Marine Laboratory Lars-Otto Reiersen, Arctic Monitoring Assessment Program, Oslo, Norway S. Fred Singer, Science and Environmental Policy Project Patrick Webber, Michigan State University E-an Zen, University of Maryland While the individuals listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, responsibility for the final content of this report rests solely with the authoring committee and the NRC.

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Page xiii Contents EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1     The Polar Regions and NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, 2     Do Existing Data Sets Provide What Is Needed to Answer the Science-Driving Questions?, 3     Conclusions and Recommendations, 9 1     INTRODUCTION 15     Purpose of this Study, 17     Methods, 19 2     OVERVIEW OF NASA DATA SETS 21     Examples of NASA-Supported Activities, 22     NASA's Distributed Active Archive Centers, 29     Other Agency Data Sets, 34     International Data Sets, 36 3     SCIENCE-DRIVING QUESTIONS: THE POLAR REGIONS IN THE CONTEXT OF NASA'S EARTH SCIENCE ENTERPRISE 44     Summary, 67

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Page xiv 4     ASSESSMENT 72     Assessment of Data Set Availability by Variable, 73     Summary of Major NASA Contributions, 90     Better Management of NASA's Current Generation of Polar Geophysical Data Sets, 91 5     CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 95     Data Gaps and Measurement Needs, 96     NASA's General Strategy on Polar Data Sets, 99     Effectiveness of the Distributed Active Archive Centers, 101 REFERENCES 104 APPENDIXES 107 A     Acronyms and Initialisms, 107 B     Data Sets Survey, 111 C     Biosketches of the Committee's Members, 121