SUSTAINING CLIMATE DATA RECORDS PROGRAMS
To meet the stated objectives of the SDS and CLASS programs, the production and maintenance of CDRs have to be long-term activities. The committee’s first report emphasized that “producing ongoing climate products (such as CDRs) is contingent on having stable funding both for obtaining data and for conducting the sustained scientific research that will necessarily underlie the production of CDRs” (NRC, 2004, p. 58). Specifically, the committee recommended that resources be made available for forward processing of data in near real time and for reprocessing the CDRs as new information and improved algorithms become available. Further, NOAA should make a long-term commitment of resources to the generation and archiving of CDRs and associated documentation and metadata in the context of national and international plans and standards.
NOAA is to be commended for its recognition of the importance of data management and preservation to a successful CDR program (NOAA, 2005, pp. 22-23). However, the implementation plan provides few details about how these goals would be achieved. In particular, responsibilities for creation of the metadata and documentation necessary to allow long-term understanding of the products, access to the data, and processes for external review need to be defined and periodically revisited.
The draft SDS Implementation Plan embraces this long-term commitment—for example in stating that the “overall goal of SDS is to create high-quality, long-term data sets of global climate conditions …” (NOAA, 2005, p. 17). The plan provides limited information about how NOAA plans to develop reasonable cost projections, what future resources will be available to the program, and how NOAA will prioritize among competing objectives given limited resources. Regarding cost projections, the plan briefly mentions a new cost estimation model that is under development; in briefings to the committee, NOAA representatives indicated that they did not feel that this model was sufficiently developed to present fully at this time. The President’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2006 includes $6,541,000 for CLASS (NOAA Blue Book, 2005, available at http://www.publicaffairs.noaa.gov/budget2006/pdf/bluebook2006.pdf). Although it is not included in the Blue Book, comments by the plan’s authors at the committee’s meeting indicate that the FY 2006 request for SDS was about half of this amount.
The current proposed NOAA budget establishing a separate line item for SDS is a significant accomplishment and will enable this new organization to begin to address a number of core CDRs. The plan does not specify which CDRs or other activities among the wide range of responsibilities of the SDS program will receive priority. A prioritization strategy is especially important because the full scope of FCDRs and TCDRs described in the plan clearly cannot be sustained within the current budget level. Based on experience with similar efforts in the Pathfinder programs and other NASA programs, such as the Sensor Intercomparison for Marine Biological and Interdisciplinary Ocean Studies (SIMBIOS) project, the committee concludes that the current budget cannot fulfill the expectations for a NOAA leadership role in generating CDRs. A prioritization strategy can also help NOAA make decisions about how to balance funding for internal versus external research, operations versus research, and climate versus shorter-term forecasting needs. A process for the specific prioritization of and methodologies for CDR generation, access, and preservation was described in the recommendations of the committee’s first report (NRC, 2004) and should be applied to ensure that the limited resources are employed most effectively.
If NOAA is to exert national leadership for satellite-based CDRs, it will have to address the growth of CDR programs resulting from the increased number of national and international satellites, an expanded suite of sensors, and more complex climate data products. SDS should plan for considerable growth beyond FY 2007 as NPOESS is launched and the United States takes on a larger role in the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) effort, as described in the Strategic Plan for the U.S. Integrated Earth Observations System (IWGEO, 2005). The SDS plan recognizes these needs and the need for integration of NOAA’s observing systems, data, and quality control with other nations’ efforts, especially through GEOSS. The SDS program should develop more
detailed estimates of future resource needs and seek the funding necessary to meet its stated objectives. The committee expects that this growth in resources to support the SDS program will be needed primarily in its initial phase because future economies of scale, improvements in the quality and stability of climate sensors, and further experience at sustaining perpetual climate observing systems will allow for a leveling off of support in the future. Once this leveling off takes place, intermittent spikes in funding may be necessary to accommodate major new initiatives or responsibilities.