At the request of the committee, NASA provided the following examples (reprinted here as received) to illustrate societal benefits accruing from applications of NASA’s Earth science program:
NASA-Developed and -Flown Thermal Infrared Sensor Measurements Used Operationally by States and Other Federal Agencies for Essential Water Monitoring
A NASA-developed and -built instrument, the Thermal Infrared Imager, flies on Landsats 5 and 7 and will be one of 2 instruments on the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM). No other satellite system provides the requisite thermal imagery required for water management in the western US. TIR measurements from these NASA-built research missions are used OPERATIONALLY by state agencies to monitor snowpack runoff and water consumption on a field-by-field basis in 9 western states (Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota). TIRS data have been called by State water managers the “Gold Standard” for cost-effective administration of water transfer agreements, and an “irreplaceable tool for western water managers.” The data from the NASA-supplied instruments are indispensable for administering many USDA, Interior, and other federal water and land management programs. An Idaho Dept of Resources study notes that use of NASA Landsat thermal imagery “in lieu of expensive and problematic pump flow measurements, site visits, and electrical power consumption records” is estimated to save the western states $1B per decade in consumptive water monitoring costs. Landsats 5 and 7 are operated by the US Geological Survey, as will LDCM [be].1
MODIS Products Used by DoD During Operation Iraqi Freedom
Extreme weather conditions over southwest Asia posed significant challenges to military operations conducted during the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) campaign. Improved environmental characterization from a suite of value-added NASA research satellite imagery from the Terra and Aqua platforms [was] made available to operational users in 2 to 3 hours turn-around time via a near real-time processing effort [involving] interagency collaboration between NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Defense (DoD).
NASA MODIS measurements were used to distinguish airborne dust from the surface and other atmospheric features, resulting in a revised enhancement useful in observing and tracking the dust storms frequent
to southwest Asia. A post-deployment report from the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) noted, “The [MODIS-based] dust product was invaluable—we were able to track the progression of dust through southern Iraq and Kuwait.… We used model data in conjunction with the dust product to nail down the forecast in regards to the possibility of dust being advected to the [aircraft carrier].”
During OIF, MODIS fire products assisted analysts in monitoring the oil fields of southern Iraq for possible environmental sabotage (similar to what occurred during the 1991 Gulf War). Global fire products from MODIS, available to the public in near real-time via NASA sources, are being used operationally by a number of agencies including the United Nations Global Fire Monitoring Centre (GFMC) for monitoring, planning, and disaster mitigation.2
NASA Measurements Improve Volcanic Ash Advisories for Aircraft Routing and Safety
NASA-sponsored projects have demonstrated reliable and accurate detection of volcanic ash clouds using NASA Earth science satellites. The proven utility of this data led to its operational use by the NOAA National Weather Service to formulate Volcanic Ash Advisories. (These products were used extensively in the Iceland volcano in April 2010.) Recently, the NASA satellite data was used in volcanic ash advisories for aviators across the Gulf of Mexico due to the February 1 eruption of the Popocatepetl volcano in Mexico.3
NASA Measurements and Analyses Show Dust Deposits Darken Snow Over Large Regions and Accelerate Melt
NASA satellite observations have demonstrated how deposition of dust on western snowpack is leading to earlier snowmelt by 3-5 weeks in the Colorado River basin, resulting in a 3-week acceleration of the peak runoff period in Arizona. This is of vital importance to water managers and demonstrates essential linkages between atmospheric effects, radiation, and terrestrial processes including local and remote land use change.4
Forest and Timber Productivity Forecasting
A NASA-sponsored project applying Earth science satellite data and models indicates large-scale disturbance to western conifers by as early as 2020. Lodgepole pines, the backbone of the timber industry, will be gone from almost all of the Pacific Northwest by 2080 and replacement species (Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine, Larch) will likely be less productive.5
Impacts of Sea Level Rise on Coastal Communities (and NASA Facilities)
NASA Earth science researchers are applying satellite observations and modeling to assess impacts of climate change on NASA facilities to support risk management activities and adaptation. The first study [at] Kennedy Space Center indicates a 9-15 inch sea level rise by 2080 along the Space Coast. Overall, projections for the Space Coast indicate higher temperatures, fairly consistent annual precipitation, and rising sea levels.6
Electric and Gas Utilities Load Forecasting
A NASA-sponsored project is demonstrating improvements in short-term utility load forecasts by adding NASA Earth science data to the gas and electric utilities’ existing load forecasting tools. The addition of NASA Earth science data allows the load forecast models to capture both microclimates and larger patterns across the service area and forecast load more accurately. Better load forecasts allow utilities to plan more
2Adapted from S.D. Miller, J.D. Hawkins, T.F. Lee, F.J. Turk, K. Richardson, A.P. Kuciauskas, J. Kent, R. Wade, C.E. Skupniewicz, J. Cornelius, J. O’Neal, et al., MODIS provides a satellite focus on Operation Iraqi Freedom, International Journal of Remote Sensing 27(7):1285-1296, 2006.
3For information on the use of NASA data by NOAA’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center, see http://www.ssd.noaa.gov/VAAC/washington.html and http://satepsanone.nesdis.noaa.gov/pub/OMI/OMISO2/index.html.
5See G. Hamilton, Climate change to drive lodgepole pine trees from B.C., Vancouver Sun, March 1, 2011; N.C. Coops and R.H. Waring, A process-based approach to estimate lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Dougl.) distribution in the Pacific Northwest under climate change, Climatic Change 105:313-328, 2011.
6See Climate Adaptation Science Investigator Workgroup, Adapting Now to a Changing Climate: Florida’s Space Coast, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, N.Y.
precisely in the 1-10 day timeframe, and improved load forecasts can save utilities money by reducing the swing volume they require.7
Flood Disaster Response (Australia and Pakistan)
NASA supported US disaster response efforts to Australia flooding earlier in 2011. NASA observations provided unique, daily observations of the flooding, which were used by several Australian agencies, including the Department of Transport and Main Roads, Dept. of Environment & Resource Management, and Geoscience Australia.8
The global coverage and technical capabilities of NASA Earth science satellites enabled NASA to perform flood mapping for Pakistan floods in late 2010. NASA investigators modified flood mapping algorithms to accommodate the extremely high sediment concentrations of those floods. NASA’s products were added to those provided to disaster responders, relief agencies, and aid providers, including the International Red Cross/Red Crescent, World Bank, World Food Programme, and US military.9
New Map Offers a Global View of Health-Sapping Air Pollution
In many developing countries, the absence of surface-based air pollution sensors makes it difficult, and in some cases impossible, to get even a rough estimate of the abundance of a subcategory of airborne particles that epidemiologists suspect contributes to millions of premature deaths each year. The problematic particles, called fine particulate matter (PM2.5), are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, about a tenth the [diameter of a] human hair. These small particles can get past the body’s normal defenses and penetrate deep into the lungs.
To fill in these gaps in surface-based PM2.5 measurements, experts look toward satellites to provide a global perspective. Yet, satellite instruments have generally struggled to achieve accurate measurements of the particles in near-surface air. The problem: Most satellite instruments can’t distinguish particles close to the ground from those high in the atmosphere. In addition, clouds tend to obscure the view. And bright land surfaces, such as snow, desert sand, and those found in certain urban areas, can mar measurements.
However, the view got a bit clearer this summer with the publication of the first long-term global map of PM2.5 in a recent issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. Canadian researchers Aaron van Donkelaar and Randall Martin at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, created the map by blending total-column aerosol amount measurements from two NASA satellite instruments with information about the vertical distribution of aerosols from a computer model.10
Observing Recovery at Mt. St. Helens
NASA has helped document recovery of the Mt. St. Helen’s area [from] the volcanic eruption (1980) by showing how the distribution of vegetation has recovered over a 30 year period. In the three decades since the eruption, Mt. St. Helens has given scientists an unprecedented opportunity to witness the intricate steps through which life reclaims a devastated landscape. The scale of the eruption and the beginning of reclamation in the Mt. St. Helens blast zone are documented in this series of images captured by NASA’s Landsat series of satellites between 1979 and 2010.11
NASA Demonstrates Tsunami Prediction System
A NASA-led research team has successfully demonstrated for the first time elements of a prototype tsunami prediction system that quickly and accurately assesses large earthquakes and estimates the size of resulting tsunamis.
10“New Map Offers a Global View of Health-Sapping Air Pollution,” published online by NASA on 09/22/2010; available at http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/health-sapping.html.
After the magnitude 8.8 Chilean earthquake on Feb. 27, a team led by Y. Tony Song of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used real-time data from the agency’s Global Differential GPS (GDGPS) network to successfully predict the size of the resulting tsunami. The network, managed by JPL, combines global and regional real-time data from hundreds of GPS sites and estimates their positions every second. It can detect ground motions as small as a few centimeters.
“This successful test demonstrates that coastal GPS systems can effectively be used to predict the size of tsunamis,” said Song. “This could allow responsible agencies to issue better warnings that can save lives and reduce false alarms that can unnecessarily disturb the lives of coastal residents.”12
U.S. Navy Use of NASA MODIS Aerosol Observations
Aerosol optical depth data from NASA’s MODIS satellite are being operationally assimilated into the numerical model of the US Navy’s Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC), improving model performance two days out.13
NASA, Japan Release Most Complete Topographic Map of Earth
NASA and Japan released a new digital topographic map of Earth that covers more of our planet than ever before. The map was produced with detailed measurements from NASA’s Terra spacecraft.
The new global digital elevation model of Earth was created from nearly 1.3 million individual stereo-pair images collected by the Japanese Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer, or Aster, instrument aboard Terra. NASA and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, known as METI, developed the data set. It is available online to users everywhere at no cost.
The Digital Elevation Model from the joint Japanese ASTER instrument aboard NASA’s Terra spacecraft was made publicly available through NASA’s Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (operated for NASA by USGS), which within a few months had distributed data to over 30,000 users (and with so much short-term demand that the data center computers crashed within 24 hours of [the] release).14
NASA Data Reveal Major Groundwater Loss in California
Data from NASA’s GRACE satellite mission have documented the seasonal and interannual variability of total water storage in the Sacramento and San Joaquin drainage basins, including how agricultural use is affecting water storage.15
NASA Improving Short-Term Weather Prediction by the National Weather Service
NASA satellite data are [being] routinely used by operational weather forecasters in the Southern region of the US National Weather Service through the Short-Term Prediction Research and Transition (SPoRT) [center] in Huntsville, AL.
“It’s not just a matter of them throwing random data sets over the fence to us and hoping we might be able to use them,” says Chris Darden from the National Weather Service (NWS). “They work with us to figure out precisely what we need. Then they put that data into a format we can read, actually integrating it with our radar displays. And they train us to understand and interpret the information they give us.”16
16NASA Science News, April 22, 2009, available at http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2009/22apr_severeweather/.