As a consequence of the rapidly evolving and expanding number and kinds of users of operational environmental satellite data and of the changing relationships between government system providers, users, and third-party stakeholders, there is a need to articulate a new vision for the future of operational environmental satellite data utilization and to assess the implications for what this will mean for how the systems operator plans and carries out its functions.

The nation’s current operational environmental satellite system has made possible today’s 3 to 5 day weather forecasting, as well as provision of data for a broad range of science and applications users. Currently, the civilian geostationary and polar operational environmental satellite systems are acquired by NOAA through NASA, and an ongoing NRC study is addressing the transition of new technology into the satellite systems that NOAA acquires and operates. The next generation of polar orbiting operational environmental satellites is being developed by NOAA, DOD, and NASA in a collaboration to produce a converged military and civilian system that will also continue the climate-quality record of observations begun by portions of NASA’s Earth Observing System. New measurements that may be undertaken in an operational mode over the next decade include ocean topography and ocean surface winds, as well as requirements identified but not met in the aforementioned military/civilian convergence process. New data types from the evolving polar and geostationary will lead to new applications and new users as well as larger data volumes.

The nation’s expanding environmental information needs carry serious implications for ready accessibility of high-quality, stable data in each of the research and applications areas. Users will require education on the nature and quality of the data, but the providers of the data will require an equally intense education on the needs of the user community and the data forms that will best meet those needs. Even in advance of the new needs that will inevitably emerge in the 2020s, the crest of an enormous wave of data is already approaching NOAA/NESDIS and its data centers. The sheer quantity of data is vastly greater than what the agency has accommodated in the past, and the rate at which the data will flow into and through the NOAA system is unprecedented. Estimates of increases by factors of 100 have been projected, based only on systems already in the pipeline.

At the same time, user needs will evolve and change. The production of real-time, high-resolution data products involving as little as a single observation will coexist in the overall information system with the development of synthesized, derived products involving data taken over decades, with all of the concomitant data quality issues. Long-term archiving and retrieval of environmental data is an accepted NOAA responsibility, but the impending data crest will make new demands for data stream transparency, traceability, access, and characterization. The archives

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