Statement of Task
Background: Environmental data collected by the nation’s operational satellite systems are applied to numerous disciplines: research, operations, meteorology, hydrology, oceanography, rivers, coasts, fisheries, hydrology, agriculture, solar-terrestrial interactions, etc. Orthogonal, related, and parallel uses abound. The collected data are not blindly delivered to a passive user community, but may and often should be shaped by the needs of the user community. Hence, the interface must be bi-directional. Furthermore, it is not simply the individual data bits that must flow in all directions and be tailored according to their destination, it is likewise the overall conception of the system and its segments that must also serve multiple uses and respond to the special requirements of those uses. The third-party “added-value” commercial and non-profit users who broker applications by converting the data to more usable form are particularly notable. Such groups can play an important role at the bi-directional interface.
User communities served by NOAA as the satellite systems operator include intra-governmental (at all levels), international, and regional researchers and for-profit, non-profit, and educational entities and consortia. The increasing sophistication of requirements spawns increasing complexity in applications. The need to lessen adverse consequences demands greater timeliness in responses to observed phenomena. These satellite and data systems must be designed to meet the nation’s and—in many instances—the world’s environmental information needs. Those information needs will expand in the future.
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
will have to provide carefully documented descriptions of algorithms and models that are employed with the data. Changes in understanding will require extensive reprocessing of data. Modifications in interpretive algorithms will be common, especially for so-called “difficult” variables, such as soil moisture and all-weather atmospheric soundings over land. Such modifications will lead to a need to reprocess massive amounts of data.
The operational environmental data system includes the community conceiving of a sensor, the manufacturer building a sensor, the data and information system that processes the sensor data, the distribution system delivering data to users, the short-term active archive, the long-term permanent data archive, and the myriad users who will employ the data in various ways. In some instances those users may be principally concerned with relative measurements, e.g., a time series showing how a particular phenomena evolves where the desired information is in the changes rather than their absolute values. In other instances, as in the measurement of climate change, issues of data continuity, calibration, and long-term stability will dominate as researchers examine data over the extended lifetime of an individual sensor or from several sensors on multiple space platforms. The ubiquitous presence of the Internet also shapes the way that we think of data availability and distribution.
Plan: The Space Studies Board (SSB), in cooperation with the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB), will conduct an end-to-end review of issues pertaining to the utilization of operational environmental satellite data for the period 2010 and beyond. A committee of approximately 12 experts will be assembled to conduct this study. The study will include the following tasks.
Review the likely multiplicity of uses of environmental data collected by the nation’s operational environmental satellites, both in terms of the disciplinary applications of the data (e.g., research, operations, meteorology, hydrology, oceanography, rivers, coasts, fisheries, hydrology, agriculture, space weather) and in terms of the institutional or organizational origins of the users (e.g., intra-governmental (at all levels), international, regional, researchers, for-profit, non-profit, and educational entities).
Characterize the likely interfaces between NOAA as a data provider and the range of data users, as well as third-party “added-value” commercial and non-profit users who broker applications by converting the data to more usable form.
Assess the implications of these multi-directional interfaces in terms of needs for (a) data accessibility and quality, (b) compatibility and cross-accessibility with data from other government sources, (c) data volume, (d) information technology, (e) user education, and (f) user participation in planning and performance feedback.
Identify critical factors that may drive the evolution of data management responsibilities in areas such as real-time processing; data stream transparency, traceability, access, and characterization; data archival and retrieval; and reprocessing.
Recommend appropriate approaches to secure the engagement of the science and applications community in successfully dealing with the challenges identified in the tasks above and in enhancing the utilization of both active short-term and long-term NOAA data archives.