Chapter 3 described the committee’s recommended decadal research strategy to advance Earth system science. Ultimately, our goal is to understand Earth as a system in ways that provide benefit and value to society. Achieving such an understanding requires programs that translate Earth observation data into applications that meet user needs—the subject of the first part of this chapter. The “programmatic context” in which research at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is carried out and applied is the subject of the second part of this chapter.
This chapter is not intended as a general review of all programmatic elements within these agencies (which is beyond the committee’s statement of task). Instead, it focuses on those programmatic elements that are specifically related to the space-based observing system and that the committee felt required particular discussion. Many important programmatic elements, such as workforce, education, and outreach—and even some (such as product generation processes and computational advances such as machine learning) that are more closely related to the observing system itself—are not included. Programmatic topics not directly discussed within this chapter may be addressed to some extent by the guidance in the strategic framework presented in Chapter 2.
Some contextual issues are specific to the implementing agencies, but many are common. The topics presented in this section represent opportunities for each agency to advance individually as well as prospects for cross-agency sharing of best practices to advance together.
Advancing the State of Applications
Applications are often viewed in the context of “practical things that get done with scientific knowledge.” Gradually, this perception is expanding as we come to appreciate the intellectual and practical challenges of ensuring applied impacts from the fundamental science that has been the core of the com-
munity’s work. Applications challenges are many, from how to understand the world’s multiplicity of use cases to more rapidly transitioning knowledge into practical use. These challenges certainly reflect many practical problems, but they also embody a set of intellectual problems that are every bit as important as the foundational Earth science from which they are built.
Importance of an Applications Perspective
The first decadal survey for Earth sciences and applications (ESAS 2007; NRC, 2007) promoted the proposition that the application of scientific knowledge about the Earth system was as important as acquiring it in the first place. This was not a new insight about the Earth sciences, but it was important to articulate it clearly to NASA, NOAA, and USGS. The current decadal survey (ESAS 2017) reinforces this view. The benefits to society of Earth science research are the partners of scientific discovery and progress; they are more than serendipitous by-products of basic research, but are often co-equal in importance. Their impacts on society, from safety to economics (Box 4.1) can be enormous. Conversely, scientific discoveries in the Earth sciences also generate important insights for the use of that new knowledge.
Each of the agencies whose programs and interests we are examining in this survey has a long history of promoting the applications of their science. For USGS, applying their research to land management issues within the Department of Interior, and to mapping for exploration, planning, and management is part of their intrinsic mission. NOAA has both research and policy/operational components under one roof, from the National Weather Service to the National Marine Fisheries Service, and has experience with transitioning knowledge from research to operations and policy. NASA has no formal role in operations (with specific exceptions, notably its formal role in ozone monitoring), but it is actively involved in promoting applied uses of its research and in providing policy-relevant information for global environmental issues, such as tropical deforestation, stratospheric ozone depletion, and climate change.
Valuing information for climate-related purposes is particularly challenging, given the extent to which impacts occur in the far future. Nevertheless, the community is making progress on economic tools. A major challenge for valuing information within any global climate observing system is illustrated through the example of seasonal- to decadal-scale prediction. Current climate studies most often rely on observations designed not for climate but for weather or basic research. The former often lack the accuracy needed for decadal time scale climate change, while the later struggle to achieve continuity of multidecade climate change records (NRC, 2007; NASEM, 2015; Weatherhead et al., 2017; Trenberth et al., 2013). Lack of accuracy of observations on decade time scales has also been shown to delay detection of anthropogenic climate change trends by decades (Leroy et al., 2008; Wielicki et al., 2013).
These delays indicate a substantial societal value for the international community to design and implement an observing system designed specifically to meet climate change requirements. Recent studies have estimated the economic value of a more accurate and rigorous global climate observing system at US $10 trillion to $20 trillion (Cooke et al., 2014, 2016b; Hope, 2015; Weatherhead et al., 2017). Return on investment of a tripling of the current global investment in climate research is estimated at $50 to $100 for every $1 invested (Cooke et al., 2014, Weatherhead et al., 2017). At these levels, even a factor of 5 uncertainty in the economic analysis does not change the final conclusion: development of a more accurate and complete global climate observing system, climate system analysis, and climate modeling is a very effective economic investment. Several reports have also discussed improved methods for the design of a more rigorous climate observing system (Dowell et al., 2013; NASEM, 2015; Weatherhead et al., 2017).
These recent reports and studies suggest a need to consider the appropriate level of investment in Earth observations and suggest that the most cost-effective approach would be a much higher level of investment than current national and international levels. For climate change in particular, society will
manage Earth’s environment indefinitely into the future. An international observing system designed for this purpose appears to be the most cost-effective approach.
Definition of Applications in This Report
A variety of functions could be expressed by the term “applications.” For the purposes of this report, we focus primarily on two of these:
Direct use of remote sensing products in an operational context. This is probably the most commonly understood use of the term applications—data products from remote sensing are used more or less directly in an operational program. They may be used directly to initialize models for numerical weather forecasting, for example. But remote sensing data products can also be used as part of an operational program without necessarily being used for parameter estimation. The use of vegetation index data products, for example, is an essential feature of the Famine Early Warning System,1 which is a collaboration involving NASA, NOAA, and USGS. Remote sensing products are increasingly used in a large variety of ways to improve decision making by government agencies and nongovernment end-users, as well as individuals who make use of a reliable stream of this type of information in their daily lives.
Using remote sensing information in support of decision- and policy-relevant issues. Objective measurements are of critical importance to build understanding of issues around which policy questions are debated and to support decisions made by individuals, businesses, and government organizations. The ability to measure the loss of humid tropical forest in an objective and replicable way through Landsat data has become an extremely powerful tool for understanding the magnitude of tropical deforestation, and more generally, rates of land-cover and land-use change on global scales. In Brazil this measurement capability has become part of the government’s operational program for enforcing laws forbidding deforestation in some areas of the Amazon. Measurements of Earth’s radiation budget, total column ozone, sea-level rise, or ice extent and mass balance have similar roles. They are not necessarily immediately incorporated into operational models or used in operational programs, but they are crucial for a more complete understanding of Earth science issues that are actively discussed and debated in policy forums. One of the earliest examples is the observations of the ozone hole over Antarctica, which led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol. Measurements that fall into this category are also of high value from a purely scientific standpoint—there is little to differentiate their scientific value from their applications value from an information perspective. This is a type of application that is very common in the NASA Earth Science portfolio.
Operations and applications are not identical, and it is often important to make a clear distinction between the two terms. For example, NOAA has a clear operations mandate that is quite different from NASA’s support for applications of data from its scientific satellites. In general, this report does not focus on that distinction. Both operations and applications are considered to be applied uses for observations, in contrast to scientific uses. This distinction is generally reflected in the report rather than that between operations and applications, except in specific instances when the latter is relevant to a particular discussion.
Examples of Current and Potential Applications
Table 4.1 shows the wealth of both existing and potential future applications from the interdisciplinary panels’ responses to a survey from the steering committee. Several important points emerge that are
TABLE 4.1 Examples of Issues Addressed with Remote Sensing, as Responses to a Survey of the Panels
|Societal Issue||Climate||Earth Surface and Interior||Hydrology||Marine and Terrestrial Ecosystems||Weather and Air Quality|
|Greenhouse gases management||Y||Y||Y|
|International environmental agreements and treaties||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Markets for ecosystem services||Y||Y|
|Environmental conservation, protection||Y||Y||Y|
|Extreme events and hazard prediction and response||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Urbanization and other demographic change||Y||Y||Y|
|Improved weather prediction||Y||Y||Y|
relevant to NASA, NOAA, and USGS. All the panels have salient examples of products that could fit in each of the two preceding categories. None of the panels perceived that the goal of being able to apply the measurements was in conflict with being scientifically interesting and important.
Barriers to Improving Applications
ESAS 2007, as well as many other studies, identified a number of barriers to improving the applications use of remote sensing data and science. The most studied examples are those in the research-to-operations challenges exemplified in the relationship between NASA and NOAA vis-à-vis measurements that eventually find themselves being used in operational forecast products.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine itself has examined these issues in many reports over the past decade. There are barriers due to funding constraints, which force choices between new and sustained capabilities. These arise from the understandable and often justifiable conservatism of operational agencies taking on new research products, from technical evolution being too rapid for operations, and from research not taking sufficiently into account the known applications. In nonoperational realms, much of the difficulty stems from resources, and from not appreciating the many different ways in which Earth system measurements might be applied. In addition, the technical requirements for accessing and analyzing remote sensing data can still be overwhelming to many user communities, because they require technical skills that are not often widespread. Lack of standard products with simple documentation can also be a large impediment, requiring users to be satellite experts in order to apply the data. If applications are viewed as an add-on requirement, to be satisfied only if all scientific requirements can be addressed, then they will inevitably be curtailed when budget constraints are inevitably encountered.
Opportunities for Future Investment
NASA has chosen to create and fund a separate Applications program, although there are clearly applications of its remote sensing throughout its program. NOAA has created process teams and collaborations with NASA and its own operational users, to improve communications and intake of research data into operational contexts. USGS, through its sponsorship of the Landsat Science Team, has internalized applications and research in a more seamless manner, although its task is substantially simpler by being primarily concerned with only one data stream.
All three agency programs would benefit from a longer-term, strategic view of how the applications perspective might be improved. There is limited opportunity in these three agencies for research on the science of how to make applications easier and more effective to achieve. Individual projects and “case study” approaches can be successful, but a more structured assessment process is needed to ensure that lessons learned from one project are transferable to future initiatives. In the context of global change science, the National Academies has written a number of reports that are immediately relevant to this problem in the context of use-based science, decision support, co-production of knowledge, and similar issues. NASA, NOAA, and USGS can benefit from substantially improving research-to-operations, applications development, and other aspects of the general process for gaining applied benefits from science.
Applications are often viewed as an engineering problem—constructing an approach for using or disseminating knowledge generated through scientific exploration. Increasingly, the applications field is becoming associated with a science of its own (Dozier and Gail, 2009) related to generating new knowledge about how to effectively apply scientific results, how to rapidly transition science to societal benefits, who potential users are and how to reach them, ways to achieve the broadest possible impacts of science, and much more. NASA, NOAA, and USGS can all benefit by embracing this deeper view of the academic challenges associated with effective applications.
The final missing piece of applications research in the agencies is the very initial phase of creating applications—supporting studies that have an idea about how an application might work, and then attempting to create a community for it, and demonstrate its utility. To expand the potential applications of Earth observations, it would be beneficial to support “proof-of-concept” application studies. Investigators could propose research to evaluate potential data applications, whether a preliminary idea, or a more mature approach to expand the use of remote sensing data.
Finding 4.1: NASA, NOAA, and USGS applications-oriented programs have successfully transitioned remote-sensing-based research into applications of societal, economic, and operational value, but much more is both needed and possible. The transition has recognized barriers: (1) conservatism by operational agencies that is often justified but may also make them slow to adopt advances; (2) lack of early involvement in the research component of the research-to-applications process by operational agencies; (3) a shortage of specific funds and well-defined responsibilities for ensuring the rapid and effective realization of applications from research; and (4) insufficient academic focus on the science of applications.
Recommendation 4.1: NASA, NOAA, and USGS should reduce barriers to applied uses of remote-sensing research and seek innovative ways to accelerate the transition of scientific research into societal benefits.
End-to-End Information Systems
Effective use of Earth information increasingly requires viewing that information within the context of an end-to-end system, involving many elements beyond observations alone. This concept is widely understood
but often still poorly implemented, both for science and for applications. Technological advances, including those available through commercial services, have enabled much of this just within the last decade. In many ways, this systematic connection of observing systems to intermediate data processing steps and ultimately to scientific and practical end-uses constitutes an information infrastructure. Elements of this infrastructure exist in isolation, but to a growing extent this infrastructure is integrated at local, national, and even international levels. Such integration presents exciting new opportunities as well as challenges. It requires its own investments by the nation, led by this report’s sponsoring agencies, consistent with the strategic framework outlined in Chapter 2.
The topic of end-to-end information is critical to both scientific and applications progress over the next decade. Breakthrough science will be done by virtual science teams collaborating through complex, multiobservation data sets. Important new applications will emerge as advanced data systems enable the fusion of multiple, diverse data sources and the rapid communication of decision-support information to governments, businesses, and individuals. However, comprehensive treatment of the topic is outside the statement of task of this committee. For that reason, discussion of this topic is limited within the report.
Modeling and Prediction
Satellite observations are instrumental to development and continued improvement of numerical weather prediction (NWP) and Earth system models (ESMs). These models incorporate our best understanding of the Earth system, integrate the best available satellite and in situ observations, help us interpret the observations to improve our understanding, and provide the best tools for making valuable forecasts of the future. A seamless ESM prediction system connecting weather to climate time scales is fast becoming a reality (Palmer et al., 2008; Hoskins, 2013; Bauer et al., 2015). The growing emphasis on prediction at subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) scales increases the importance of resolving couplings within the Earth system. Increasing use of satellite data in NWP has improved weather forecast quality, and satellite observations provide critical data for the verification and improvement of ESMs. The spatial resolution of these models steadily increases, and the range of interacting Earth system variables that they describe steadily expands to serve scientific and applications needs.
Satellite observations now provide more than 90 percent of all data for global NWP model initialization, though nonsatellite sources remain critically important as well. Sustained satellite observations have provided critical data for climate model evaluation. They include, for example, two decades of global precipitation2 and surface winds3 and three decades of infrared and microwave (following the launch of TRMM in November 1997) sea-surface temperature measurements4 (e.g., Buckley et al., 2014; Banzon et al., 2016). Satellite data for atmospheric composition from instruments on Terra, Aqua, and Aura, in combination with advanced atmospheric models, have provided the basis for quantifying the global burden of disease from air pollution (Bauer et al., 2015). The NASA Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO) has made major contributions to assimilate satellite data to improve the global mapping of
2 From instruments on the NASA-Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency [JAXA] Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission [TRMM] and Global Precipitation Measurement [GPM] satellites.
3 From the NASA scatterometer (NSCAT) carried on the Japanese Advanced Earth Observing Satellite (ADEOS); the wind scatterometer carried on the European Remote Sensing Satellite, generation 2 (ERS-2); Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT); and the advanced scatterometer (ASCAT) carried on MetOp (Meteorological Operational satellite programme), a series of polar-orbiting meteorological satellites developed by the European Space Agency and operated by EUMETSAT (European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites).
4 For example, infrared observations via the Along-Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR) series of instruments that began in 1991 and the multichannel sea surface temperature (SST) data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) series. Microwave measurement of SST have been made by the TRMM Microwave Imager (TMI) and the Advanced Microwave Sounding Radiometer (AMSR)-E.
ozone (Wargan et al., 2015) and polar stratospheric clouds (Stajner et al., 2007), and has provided analysis and reanalysis data for atmospheric chemistry models in NASA’s Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA and MERRA-2). The user community has been served well by NASA’s commitment to being an “end-to-end” agency where satellite observations are carried to their ultimate scientific applications using advanced numerical models.
Earth System Modeling
ESMs have evolved over the last 20-30 years from uncoupled atmospheric NWP and climate models to coupled atmosphere-ocean-land-ice models with complex model physics (e.g., Puri et al., 2013). Recent advances in high-performance computing and computer technology such as the Earth Simulator over the last decade have made it possible to experiment with global cloud-permitting (3-5 km grid resolution) simulations in the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) Nonhydrostatic Icosahedral Atmospheric Model (NICAM) and the National Center for Atmospheric Research Model for Prediction Across Scales (MPAS), and the NASA Goddard Earth Observing System Version 5 (GEOS-5). GEOS-5 has the capability of simulation of global weather at 1.5 km resolution and detailed simulation of atmospheric chemistry with c720 cubed-sphere resolution (~12 km). Improvements in ocean modeling (e.g., Griffies et al., 2016; Rocha et al., 2016), in ice-sheet modeling (e.g., Larour et al., 2012), in the representation of the coupled ice-ocean system (e.g., Buehner et al., 2017), and in ocean state estimation (e.g., Forget et al., 2015; Penny et al., 2015; Stammer et al., 2016) have also played critical roles in advancing Earth system modeling. Research investments by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Office of Naval Research (ONR) in cloud-resolving (~1 km) coupled atmosphere-ocean-land regional models over the last 20 years have contributed to the development of global cloud-permitting coupled NWP and ESMs, which are expected to become operational at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), JMA, the UK Met Office, and other operational centers in the coming decade.
The plan for the national Next-Generation Global Prediction System (NGGPS), initiated by NOAA, in collaboration with the U.S. Navy and NASA, focuses on improving model prediction that could extend weather forecast lead-time from 1-2 weeks to a month. NGGPS will include a global cloud-permitting capability in ESMs. Although coordination of distributed activities among agencies is a good start (Carman et al., 2017), realizing the NGGPS vision requires strong commitment and funding support by NOAA and other agencies.
Data assimilation systems associated with NWP models now weave multiple threads of global satellite and in situ observations into the best available estimate of the detailed state of the Earth system for prediction and analysis. Assimilation of satellite observations has played a leading role in extending the range of weather forecasts over the past two decades. Assimilation of chemical observations from satellites is being used to initialize air quality forecasts. The analysis fields produced through data assimilation, by merging satellite and in situ observations and model information, provide us with continuous global information on the state of the Earth system, which is used in a wide range of Earth system science and applications.
Three important developments over the last two decades have led to significant improvements in model initialization and predictions (Bauer et al., 2015). First, the implementations of 4DVar data assimilation at operational centers, started at ECMWF in 1997 and followed by Meteo-France, the UK Met Office, JMA, Environmental Canada, and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, have set a milestone for NWP. Second, this approach is further improved by direct assimilation of satellite data in their native state by including
a forward model to predict the native satellite data from the model state. Third, the recent trend toward using flow-dependent, ensemble-based estimates of background error covariances and hybrid ensemble and variational data assimilation have been the main advances of atmospheric data assimilation in recent years (Bonavita, 2014; Bonavita et al., 2015), which is also used in current Observing System Experiments (OSEs) for assessing satellite data impact on NWP.
There are many examples of assimilations of new Earth observations in operational analysis systems. Assimilation of Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP) Tb observations in the ensemble-based NASA GEOS-5 land-surface data assimilation system at GMAO has produced the Level 4 surface and root zone soil moisture product for a broad range of applications (Reichle and De Lannoy, 2015). Janiskova (2015) describes the assimilation of CloudSat and Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) radar and lidar data into the ECMWF operational system and impact on the global analysis. NOAA directly assimilates satellite- and ground-based cloud data into its regional models (Benjamin et al., 2016). NASA, NOAA, and NSF have supported the development of ocean models and ocean data assimilation (e.g., Forget et al., 2015; ECCO Consortium, 2017a,b), which will eventually provide the ocean component for subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) NWP and for ESMs.
The next-generation ESMs will weave the coupled atmosphere-wave-ocean-land-sea ice components with data assimilation systems. Augmented satellite observations of the atmospheric variables (e.g., moist physical and dynamic processes, atmospheric composition, wind, and planet boundary layer [PBL] structure) together with observations of the ocean, land, biosphere, and cryosphere will be critical for development of physically based coupling of the components of the Earth system. The resolution and scope of ESMs will also continue to increase, resulting in more explicit representation of important Earth system processes and more effective coupled assimilation of a wide range of satellite data. A truly integrated Earth system modeling and analysis system will make the seamless weather-climate prediction a reality.
Reanalysis products are widely used in Earth sciences (Kalnay et al., 1996). Numerous reanalysis projects have been undertaken to assimilate observations from a variety of sources—ground-based stations, ships, airplanes, and satellites—and forecasts from NWP models. Reanalysis efforts began in the atmospheric community and have since been extended to oceans (Balmaseda et al., 2013) with steps developed toward consistent reanalyses of the coupled climate system (Bosilovich et al., 2015).
Reanalysis products are commonly created using a stable data assimilation system that blends observations and model-based forecasts to produce gridded fields representing hundreds of variables with syn-optically consistent spatial and temporal coverage extending over multiple decades. This combination of space-time uniformity and long time series of variables that include many not available from observations directly is attractive and makes the reanalyses relatively straightforward to handle. However, it is important to note that reanalysis products are blends of observations and models—not observations themselves. Some warn that reanalysis data cannot be equated with “real” observations and measurements (e.g., Schmidt, 2011; Bosilovich et al., 2013), while others argue the differences from actual observations are smaller than might be expected (Parker, 2016). The value of reanalysis versus observations is a complex issue, and for a given variable it depends in part on how well relevant physical processes are represented in the models used. Box 4.2 provides two examples of reanalysis.
The observational program proposed connects to these ongoing reanalysis activities in several important ways:
- Many of the observations proposed relate to processes whose representation today remains challenging in global model and assimilation systems. Advancing the representation of these processes will further advance the utility of reanalysis.
- Many of the observations proposed provide an important independent source of data for assessing variables derived from reanalysis.
Finding 4.2: The integration of satellite data with models provides significant opportunities to advance scientific understanding, prediction skill, and applications. A key factor contributing to the success of global weather prediction over the last two decades is data assimilation systems that optimize the impact of satellite data in NWP models. Assimilation has also enhanced modeling efforts for other aspect of the Earth system and could lead to advances in Earth system models (ESMs). Progress in modeling the Earth system requires a combination of scientific, observing, and computational advances, including a concerted investment in each of these elements. With the expected continuing improvement in NWP and ESMs, and growing societal needs to develop information on finer scales and for a broader suite of Earth system variables, the coupling between the component models for the Earth system and the coupled data assimilation of satellite-based observations will be a focus for advancing Earth system science and applications.
Recommendation 4.2: To ensure continued advances in modeling in conjunction with Earth observation:
- NASA should develop a long-term strategic plan for a strong sustained commitment to Earth system modeling in concert with observations. Success in observation-driven modeling holds the key for
- maintaining the end-to-end capability that has served NASA well in its effectiveness and service to society.
- NASA, in collaboration with NOAA, should take a leadership role in developing fully coupled ESMs that assimilate comprehensive satellite, aircraft, ground-based, and in situ observations to advance understanding of the Earth system.
- NOAA should develop a close partnership with NASA and other agencies to lead the Next-Generation Global Prediction System (NGGPS) effort in developing the next-generation cloud-permitting, fully coupled ESMs with advanced data assimilation and NOAA’s sustained global ocean observing system for enabling subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) forecasting and seamless weather-climate prediction.
Data and Computation in the Cloud
Investments in data, data science, and computation are critical to enabling a future that allows faster development of knowledge and applications. New technologies are appearing rapidly, and the agencies and their supported research communities need to keep abreast. For example, cloud computing has the potential to benefit the community by avoiding data downloading and local management of data. Open source tools to analyze data can potentially enhance the transparency of analytical techniques and attract users to cloud computing and analytics. These benefits become particularly evidence when working with data at large scales.
It is clear that large amounts of data can be analyzed efficiently and made available within a cloud computing environment, but there may also be different cost models for this service, and policy issues surrounding archiving and access to data will be important to get right. NASA and NOAA are both evaluating the use of big data in a manner that facilitates the development of new knowledge and applications, but in very different ways. The European Space Agency (ESA) is also investigating how it might proceed.
NOAA has established Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) contracts that enable partnerships with private contractors or universities, to enable greater access to its data. Among early successes was the provision of Next-Generation Radar (NEXRAD) data on Amazon’s commercial cloud services. When Amazon established those services, usage of the NEXRAD data increased by 2.3 times at no net cost to the U.S. taxpayer. Data access that previously took 3+ years to complete now requires only a few days. Cost recovery strategies in the longer run are unclear, as is whether or not there would be a similar increase in usage if larger amounts of satellite data were to be made available or whether other types of data were available (e.g., ocean). Nevertheless, the success of the NEXRAD services makes clear that these types of opportunities and engagement with the private sector should be further explored.
NASA is studying whether to put their data on the cloud, and how best to provide analytical tools and computational resources to facilitate their use. It has established the NASA Earth Exchange as a virtual collaborative to bring scientists together in a knowledge-based social network to provide computing tools, computing power, and access to big data. NASA also has available a Climate Model Diagnostic Analyzer with web-based tools running on the Amazon cloud. This provides data set and analysis services, allowing users to download original data sets or higher-level data products.
NASA’s 2015 Technical Capability Assessment Team (TCAT) review recommended developing prototypes to explore costs and benefits of using private-sector cloud environments, before moving forward. Longer-term decisions will depend on the outcomes of shorter-term studies. Issues under investigation include (1) getting locked in to a single vendor, (2) unknown future storage cost, (3) potentially uncapped costs for terminating a vendor, (4) security restrictions, and (5) trust in the network access technologies. By
resolving these issues academic and government users should achieve benefits similar to those obtained by many commercial users of cloud resources.
Nevertheless, in the near term NASA is examining the feasibility of operating Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs) and Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) core services using cloud services providers. But many questions remain, such as whether private cloud services offer a cost-effective method of ensuring that publicly owned data are curated and archived properly for future use, and whether reproducing the DAAC architecture in the cloud is really the best model for the future. The present DAAC structure offers one feature that should, somehow, be maintained. Each DAAC is hosted in an institutional setting that has resident discipline experts committed to being good stewards of that data. They have assumed responsibility for maintaining the integrity of its data; this sense of ownership should not be lost but rather nurtured when considering any move to the cloud.
ESA is developing a new mode of operating in response to technological advances (e.g., cloud computing, citizen science). Starting from January 2017, ESA has designated that 25 percent of research funding will be oriented toward new research practices, focusing on interdisciplinary work and pairing big data analytics experts with Earth scientists who can interpret the results. ESA has determined that it is necessary now to invest in training existing and future scientists to use big data.
The majority of U.S. Earth science students and researchers do not have the training that they need to use cloud computing and big data. The barrier to entry can be overwhelming to Earth scientists not trained in data sciences, and it would be valuable for data centers (National Centers for Environmental Information/DAACs) to lead efforts to train the community at major meetings, online meet-ups, and other venues. Moreover, innovation may come from places far outside academia. This is not just “citizen science,” but rather anyone with a network connection and computer will be able to access and analyze enormous quantities of data.
With Geostationary Orbit Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R) data having become available in early 2017, a rapid engagement of the (external) scientific community is needed to use the opportunity for leveraging advances in data science. GOES-R presents an opportunity to explore open-source, version control, workflow documentation, data provenance, security, and quality control details. This “experiment” can be possible at little cost/risk for NOAA but will help all agencies (both in the United States and international) define metrics for success.
Recommendation 4.3: NASA, NOAA, and USGS should continue to advance data science as an ongoing priority within their organizations in partnership with the science/applications communities by (1) identifying best practices for data quality and availability; (2) developing data architecture designs that are effective and agile; and (3) exploring new data storage/dissemination strategies to facilitate more interdisciplinary collaborations.
Investments in observations from space are considerably enhanced by complementary, and generally far less costly, observations from in situ, airborne, and other vantage points. These observations are used for a variety of purposes: (1) complementing space-based measurements within model data assimilation, (2) calibration/validation of space-based measurements, (3) algorithm development/refinement, and (4) providing fine-scale complements to more coarse space-based measurements for process studies, and more. Box 4.3 provides an example from the highly successful Operation IceBridge.
Sensors on commercial aircraft already provide important contributions to the global observing system, with significant opportunities for further contributions. New technologies and methodologies promise sub-
stantial advances in these areas. Drones can make airborne measurements far cheaper and more readily available than some ground-based observations or those from conventional aircraft. Their use for scientific campaigns is growing rapidly. Citizen science and community observing networks, such as the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS),5 have proven enormously valuable for filling space-time scale gaps—increasing the space-time density of observations beyond what is available from institutional networks.
Reference systems that enable quality observations are often forgotten or neglected during observing system development, as they generally play more of a supporting role to those missions built primarily to observe geophysical variables. One critically important example is the Terrestrial Reference Frame, which provides essential information about Earth coordinates that enable a wide variety of observing systems. It is a system-of-systems: (1) Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) and Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) are needed to provide center of mass, orientation, scale, and Earth rotation; (2) a large and international Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) network is needed to provide accurate orbits not only for users
of GNSS ground data, but also to allow satellite and aircraft missions access to the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF); and (3) GNSS is also used to measure Earth rotation and is the key technique for defining tide gauge datums in ITRF.
A substantial amount of science reliant on the ITRF is at risk if the ITRF is not properly maintained and advanced.
Recommendation 4.4: NASA should complete planned improvements to its Global Geodetic Observing System sites during the first half of the decadal survey period as part of its contribution to the establishment and maintenance of the International Terrestrial Reference Frame.
International partnerships have made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to the U.S. Earth science program (e.g., CNES/ESA/European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT)/EC and the JASON series, EUMETSAT and its polar and geosynchronous satellites, JAXA and TRMM/GPM, DLR and GRACE, ISRO and NISAR). Not only do they reduce U.S. costs, but they also engage a larger and more diverse community of scientists (Box 4.3). The priorities of this report would be very different without the critical contributions to Earth measurement from our foreign partners. While partnerships pose a challenge in differing management styles and governance structures, one partner can support the other in challenging times.
The implementation and impact of these partnerships is different for NOAA than for NASA, but they are no less important to each agency. NOAA has enjoyed the benefits of numerous international agreements. These have included accords with Japan for backup satellite coverage from geostationary orbit, with Europe for backup coverage from polar orbit, and with the international Coordination Group for Meteorological Satellites (CGMS), whose members include Japan, China, Russia, India, the European Meteorological Satellite Organization and the World Meteorological Organization.6
NOAA and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), in particular, have long maintained a strategic collaboration in the field of operational meteorological satellite observations that has delivered full, free, and open data sharing essential to meeting NOAA’s commitment to protecting lives and property in the United States. On December 2, 2015, NOAA and EUMETSAT signed the Joint Polar System (JPS) agreement for the period 2020 to 2040. Building on the 2013 Agreement on Long Term Cooperation, the JPS follows the Initial Joint Polar-orbiting Operational Satellite System (IJPS), EUMETSAT’s Meteorological Operational Satellite Program (MetOp), and NOAA’s Polar Operational Environmental Satellites (POES) and Suomi-NPP satellites, with assurance of observations from a pair of complementary morning and afternoon orbits to include each nation’s new generation of polar-orbiting satellites: the EUMETSAT Polar System-Second Generation (EPS-SG) and the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).7
This is only a partial description of NOAA’s international agreements and partnerships, but it illustrates their critical importance. In today’s environment of constrained resources, an issue shared by our partners, effective use of partnerships is more important than ever. Extending and leveraging these partnerships is central to NOAA’s progress. Expanding them to include the larger life-cycle aspects of future capabilities, starting with the science that seeds future operational system priorities, is one possibility.
Science has no boundaries, but policy constraints limit possible partnerships. China is one potential international partner whose capabilities are not available to some U.S. federal agencies by law (see the discussion of legislative guidance in the “Toward a National Strategy” section of Chapter 2). As the world’s largest nation with a robust space program, China (notably the Chinese Meteorological Administration [CMA]) has the potential to fill gaps in our own program. As a specific example, in 2018 CMA is expected to shift at least one (FY-3E) of its polar orbiting meteorological satellites to an early morning orbit in response to international coordination at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), thereby better complementing its counterpart satellites of NOAA and EUMETSAT to provide improved global coverage. In a time of constrained resources, access to all data, including from nations such as China, can enable a
6 See W. Ferster, “Gary Davis, Former NOAA Satellite Executive, Dies,” SpaceNews.com, October 13, 2014, http://spacenews.com/42170gary-davis-former-noaa-satellite-executive-dies/.
7 It is important to note that the two systems operate in distinctly different orbit planes, each designed to preserve its relationship with the Sun such that every orbit for a given satellite passes over Earth at the same local time every day. Due to the nature of these low-Earth orbits, a point on Earth may experience an overpass of the -EPS-SG in midmorning, followed by the midafternoon JPSS overpass. Each of these satellites then flies over the same area some 12 hours later at night.
more robust U.S. program at lower cost to the United States. Those opportunities go unrealized when there are restrictions on federal agencies regarding engaging China and making use of its assets. An example of an opportunity concerning the continuity of microwave imagery and the multiple purposes it serves is provided in Box 4.4.
Finding 4.3: NASA, NOAA, and USGS have successfully relied on international partnerships to enhance their programs. Partnerships potentially lower the overall cost to the United States of space-based observations and enable more of this decadal survey’s priorities than could otherwise be achieved. In certain cases, current restrictions on potential international partnerships hinder access to observations and thus limit opportunities to reduce U.S. cost or enhance science and applications.
Recommendation 4.5: Because expanded and extended international partnerships can benefit the nation:
- NASA should consider enhancing existing partnerships and seeking new partnerships when implementing the observation priorities of this decadal survey.
- NOAA should strengthen and expand its already strong international partnerships, by (1) coordinating with partners to further ensure complementary capabilities and operational backup while minimizing unneeded redundancy and (2) extending partnerships to the more complete observing system life cycle that includes scientific and technological development of future capabilities.
- USGS should extend the impact of the Sustainable Land Imaging (SLI) program through further partnerships such as that with the European Sentinel program.
Technology Innovation, Infusion, and Obsolescence
Progress in space-based observations is being enabled by the technological advances that are being developed both in programs within the federal agencies that are sponsoring or supporting ESAS 2017, as well as those outside government (Box 4.5). The ESAS 2017 recommended program is designed to provide the flexibility and responsiveness needed to leverage new opportunities and technological advances throughout the decade. Rather than locking in specific mission implementation recommendations based on technologies, implementation methods, and known opportunities available at the time of the decadal survey, the committee has provided a set of priority Targeted Observables for the decade. This approach allows for the program implementation to evolve and be optimized throughout the course of the decade at the time each mission is started and/or selected.
Over the past few decades, the space sector has evolved greatly. With an influx of ideas and flight demonstrations of disaggregation, small spacecraft, and constellations, there are now multiple viable approaches to accomplishing many Earth science measurement objectives. In addition to spacecraft and sensor technology, significant advances in software, data analytics, and advanced computational techniques offer the potential of extracting new knowledge and additional accuracy from space-based measurements of Earth. In these domains, commercial and national security interests have resulted in significant investment in industry and academia.
Cutting-edge Earth science relies on continuous innovation, and critical technology developments are now spread across small business, established industry organizations, new entrants, academia, and the NASA Centers. As such, it is important that NASA (as well as NOAA and USGS, where appropriate) not only invest in technology but also identify and build partnerships that import as much innovation as possible into the Earth science enterprise. Mechanisms that offer the potential to improve the performance and efficiency of NASA flight programs include data buys, block buys, standard bus, public-private partnerships, crowdsourcing and citizen science, use of commercial assets, and partnerships with philanthropists,
nonprofits, and the defense community.8 Technology investment in sensors, low size, mass and power electronics, small satellites, small launch vehicles, and secondary payload and rideshare transportation elements remain critical. When possible, such technology investments should be made through competitive means, potentially in partnership with NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
Within NOAA flight programs, GOES-16 and JPSS-1 both benefited from block buys of instruments and spacecraft, with an expected service life continuing through the time frame covered by this decadal survey. However, system replenishment in the following decade (2028-2037) will require decisions and investments in this decade in order to maintain and potentially improve the quality of the data used for both research and operational forecasting. These systems have significant positive impact on U.S. economic competitiveness, national security, and quality of life. The National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) plan is to “develop a space based observing enterprise that is flexible, responsive to evolving technologies and economically sustainable” (Volz, 2016) by moving away from stand-alone space and ground programs and identifying low-cost and rapidly deployable space systems that meet future needs.
While this committee agrees with the NESDIS strategic goal, we suggest an incremental approach in which commercial system and data opportunities demonstrate an “equal or better” performance baseline established by existing GOES and JPSS systems, as suggested in the NESDIS Independent Review Team report (IRT, 2017). This risk of moving to new commercial systems must be balanced against the technology availability risk of these legacy systems, particularly in areas related to critical sensor technologies.
The continuity needs of Landsat data products also suggest that USGS implement a balanced strategy that weighs moving toward commercial systems and employing innovative approaches to advance system capability and reduce cost against the technology availability risk of legacy systems. As such, the committee suggests that both NOAA and USGS make the needed investments in both existing and new technologies to ensure the sustainment and improvement of the measurements required for weather forecasting and continuation of critical climate measurements. In the coming decade it is expected that each of these critical Earth observing systems will move toward further use of commercial systems and data opportunities, while the importance and benefit of federal investment in space technology will continue to increase.
NASA PROGRAMMATIC CONTEXT
NASA’s contextual issues range from programmatic balance to technology innovation. Successfully addressing each of these topics is essential to effective implementation of the ESAS 2017 science and applications priorities and associated observation plan.
NASA Programmatic Balance and Scope
The NASA Earth Science Division (ESD) has a broad mandate to develop measurement technology, to advance scientific discovery, to apply measurements and science for societal benefit, and to educate and inspire citizens and a next generation of scientists. Within its budget, NASA ESD must seek an optimal balance to achieve this broad mission in the most effective and efficient way possible. NASA ESD must support a world-class scientific research program that will both guide the development of the missions and will fully realize the value of the resulting data. While developing improved technology and addressing
8 One critical trade-off is between “block buys” (purchase of multiple instruments or spacecraft to achieve cost savings) and technology advances. Block buys can reduce cost, but they constrain the ability to leverage newer technologies as they arise within the time duration of a block.
novel science questions, NASA also must optimally utilize its existing fleet of satellites that continue to collect important data.
In addition to scientific discovery, NASA has a congressionally directed mission to monitor the stratosphere, and is also the de facto agency responsible for continuing satellite measurements critical to climate science (see the discussion of agency roles in the “Toward a National Strategy” section of Chapter 2). It is also important for NASA to foster the translation of this information to societal benefit through applications of the data, partnering with operational agencies and transferring mature tools to these agencies.
Robustness and Resilience
A major purpose of striving for balance is to achieve programmatic robustness and resilience. To guide the balance discussion, the committee identified characteristics of a robust and resilient observational program, including both flight and nonflight issues.
Finding 4.4: A robust and resilient ESD program has the following attributes:
- A healthy cadence of small/medium missions to provide the community with regular flight opportunities, to leverage advances in technologies and capabilities, and to rapidly respond to emerging science needs;
- A small number of large cost-constrained missions, whose implementation does not draw excessive resources from smaller and more frequent opportunities;
- Strong partnerships with U.S. government and non-U.S. space agencies;
- Complementary programs for airborne, in situ, and other supporting observations;
- Periodic assessment of the return on investment provided by each program element; and
- A robust mechanism for trading the need for continuity of existing measurement against new measurements.
Elements of an Overall Balanced Program
A properly balanced program needs to reflect multiple aspects of balance. In general, these aspects cannot be viewed in isolation. Doing so may result in optimal balance for that particular aspect of the NASA program, but suboptimal balance for the program as a whole. The important aspects of NASA’s overall balance are discussed in this section, with specific topics regarding the flight program covered in the following section.
Balance Between Flight and Nonflight Elements
Figure 4.1 shows the annual ESD expenditures for flight missions and mission support from 1996 to 2017. This figure shows actuals through 2016 and estimates, based on a simple inflation adjustment, during the decade 2017-2027. Total expenditures in constant dollars are currently about 75 percent of expenditures in the late 1990s. In recent years, the ratio of flight to nonflight expenditures has been about 60 to 40 percent. The number of beneficial Earth observations that NASA ESD can make has expanded, but the purchasing power of its budget has declined.
Balance Between ESD Program Elements
Figure 4.2 shows detail on how NASA-ESD expenditures (since 2007) are apportioned among six program element categories. The total ranges of these categories are given in Table 4.2. The proportions have been fairly constant in recent years.
TABLE 4.2 Percentage Ranges of Expenditure Categories Since 2007
|Expenditure Category||Low %||High %|
|Earth Science Research||24||29|
|Earth Systematic Missions||35||52|
|Earth System Science Pathfinder||7||14|
|Earth Science Multi-Mission Operations||9||14|
|Earth Science Technology||3||5|
Figure 4.2 and Table 4.2 show that since 2007 a large fraction of the budget has been spent on systematic missions. In 2016 about 47 percent of the budget is for large missions and 12 percent for Earth System Science Pathfinder and Venture missions. Large directed missions are justified if they are needed to address a particularly difficult but important problem, or to collect the complement of measurements needed to address critical interdisciplinary problems (NASEM, 2016a). However, an appropriate balance for the broader community also requires a cadence of opportunity for principle investigator (PI)-led and Venture class missions that is frequent enough to sustain a culture of innovation and creativity among the Earth observations from the space community.
Balance Between Mission Investment and Science Investment
As stated previously, a balanced NASA program requires a strong scientific research and applications program to plan and utilize remote sensing measurements of Earth. In 2016 about 18 percent of the total ESD budget was directed toward Earth Science Research and Analysis; 3 percent to computing, including the across-NASA High-End Computing Capability (HECC) Project; and 3 percent to administration. Balance requires sufficient support for Earth science research and analysis to effectively develop and utilize the space-based measurements. A balanced Earth science and applications program supports a robust community applying space-based measurements of Earth to benefit society for a broad range of purposes including research, forecasting, public safety, and business.
Balance of Responsibilities to Partner Agencies
NASA ESD has a variety of responsibilities to other agencies. Three core responsibilities are listed here:
- NOAA Operational Satellite Development. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) has responsibility for developing and procuring satellites for NOAA NESDIS, under direct agreement between NOAA and GSFC going back many years. This is not included within the ESD budget, and is not under ESD management authority. A separate NOAA partnership for the on-orbit Suomi National Polar-Orbiting Partnership (S-NPP) mission, initiated during the National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program, was carried within the NASA ESD development budget, although operations are now the responsibility of NOAA.
- Sustainable Land Imaging (SLI). NASA ESD has responsibility for developing and procuring the Landsat satellite series, under its SLI partnership with USGS. The budget for this partnership project is included within the ESD systematic mission budget line.
- Satellite Needs Working Group (SNWG). SNWG provides a means for multiple government agencies to provide input on national needs that could guide priorities for new NASA observations and ensure more effective applied use of current observations throughout the U.S. government.9
NASA’s obligation to the first two of these is well-defined, with clear expectations and budget obligations. The third is quite flexible, with NASA given discretion as to whether and how needs from other agencies get reflected in ESD priorities. In general this SNWG process has proven both less burdensome to ESD and more beneficial to partner agencies than might be anticipated. The balance (between partner needs and ESD’s own needs) achieved by ESD in each of these areas appears appropriate, in that those partner needs complement ESD’s missions without being disruptive and do not dominate ESD budgets.
Balanced Applications to Society
NASA ESD measurements are critical to advancing understanding and prediction of the Earth system, which carry tremendous benefit to humanity. The science program at NASA ESD is designed to perform this function. In addition, space-based measurements of Earth can be applied more locally and in other ways to benefit communities and businesses. The Applications program at NASA ESD is designed to translate NASA Earth observations and science to the benefit of communities and businesses. In a balanced program, measurements of Earth from space are translated into human benefit.
Elements of a Balanced Flight Program
Beyond general programmatic balance, the ESD Flight program has additional balance issues that are critical to address (Box 4.6 provides an example of the trade-offs inherent in achieving balance):
Balance Between Large and Small Flight Missions
A mix of large, medium, and small flight missions will best advance progress in Earth remote sensing science at NASA. More expensive missions with more capable instruments or multiple instrument packages may be the best option for addressing certain critical science questions. Smaller, less expensive missions can address many science questions and provide more frequent opportunities to innovate and engage the science and engineering communities through a higher cadence of mission opportunities. Achieving the right balance among large, medium, and small flight missions is critical. Large missions cannot be allowed to consume too much of the budget and thereby stifle the innovation fostered by frequent opportunities for smaller, competed missions. Large missions, especially, should be cost constrained (NRC, 2012, p. 5).
Balance Among Technology Development Phases
Investments in innovation are critical to the success of this new program. Earth system science and applications rely on long-term (sustained) observations of many key aspects of the Earth system. Yet, there
9 “The Satellite Needs Working Group (SNWG) was chartered as an interagency working group by action of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability (CENRS), U.S. Group on Earth Observations (USGEO) Subcommittee. The SNWG supports an annual Satellite Needs process by which federal departments and agencies can communicate their Earth observation satellite measurement or product needs to NASA and other providers of satellite observations. The SNWG federal high-priority satellite needs collection was initiated in response to the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which reflects the decision to make NASA responsible for the acquisition of the space segment for all U.S. government-owned civilian Earth-observing satellites except National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather and space weather satellites. The Administration further recognized that user agencies will continue to need satellite data from NASA, and that their needs should serve as input to NASA decisions on which measurements to transition from experimental to sustained observations.” From “USGEO Satellite Needs Working Group Reporting Federal High-Priority Satellite Needs,” available at https://remotesensing.usgs.gov/rca-eo/documents/Satellite_Needs_Collection_Survey.pdf.
is at present no mechanism to fund early-stage innovation that might lead to lowering the cost of providing for long-term observations. Instead, teams are currently incentivized to improve upon state-of-the-art to qualify for consideration in competitive funding solicitations that are targeted to new scientific investigations. Put simply, there is no incentive to drive for efficiency. The committee therefore proposes that ESTO establish a competitive call to incentivize development of game-changing technologies to lower the cost and risk associated with provision of sustained observations needed for Earth system science. The ESTO budget is currently at the low end of its historical range as a percentage of ESD’s budget. The committee recommends (Recommendation 4.6) that the ESTO budget be increased to 5 percent of the ESD budget, which remains within the historical range of ESTO funding (Table 4.2).10
Balance of Mission-Enabling Investments versus Flight Missions
NASA must balance its Earth science technology efforts across broadly based investments that reduce cost across multiple programs and focused mission technologies. In particular, broadly based investments that reduce the cost or improve the resiliency of space launch are critical (including small launch vehicles, standard bus architectures, and secondary payload and rideshare approaches). NASA also has the critical role of continuing to advance Earth system science sensor technology. As the Earth science community works to improve the accuracy of its measurement and prediction capabilities and translate this knowledge into applications that impact U.S. economic competitiveness, national security, and quality of life, NASA must continue to keep the Earth science sensor community at the cutting-edge. As a means to provide this
10 As noted in Chapter 3, a portion of the Incubation program’s budget is expected to flow to the Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO) commensurate with its role in the maturation of instrument and technology concepts. The remaining funding to support the recommended increase in ESTO’s budget is obtained through decreases in other program elements consistent with the report’s recommendation to maintain those other program elements within their historical funding ranges.
balance, new technology funds are included in the coming decade for both broadly based investments and focused technology investments through the Incubation program element. In addition to focused technology investments for priority instruments and missions, this program element also includes an Innovation Fund to enable program-level response to unexpected opportunities that occur on subdecadal scales.
Balance Between Heritage Technology and New Technology
The development of advanced technology can provide novel measurement capabilities and the ability to make needed measurements at reduced cost. Less expensive measurement technologies are critically important if NASA ESD is to innovate to obtain the most critical measurements within its expected budget. In a balanced program, new technology is continuously introduced into space-based measurements, and innovation to improve existing measurements and measure new variables of importance is implemented. New technologies do require investment, however, and their successful adoption requires demonstrated capabilities to achieve measurement objectives. In the meantime, heritage technologies are essential for the achievement of observation objectives until such time as reliable transition to new capabilities can be accomplished.
Balance Between Extended Operations and New Missions
Valuable data can be collected from missions that remain functional beyond their designed lifetime, but this data collection requires resources that might be used for other purposes. Extending the operational phase of successful space missions beyond their design lifetime generally provides valuable data at a low cost, relative to new instruments and launches. The recent NASEM (2016a) report (Extending Science—NASA’s Space Science Mission Extensions and the Senior Review Process) states that the present method of “senior review” to evaluate mission extensions is working well.
Balance Between Continuity of Existing and Novel Measurements
Some satellite data records have been established for which continuation (continuity) of the record in time carries significant scientific and practical benefits (Box 4.7). Achieving the appropriate balance between investments to maintain continuity versus the development of new measurement capabilities is a longstanding challenge,11 one that is complicated further when the line between a continuity measurement and a novel measurement is blurred. For example, this survey’s recommended Surface Deformation Targeted Observable could be justified on the basis of continuity, extending the record to be initiated by NISAR. However, this Targeted Observable’s new emphasis on temporal versus spatial resolution implies some novelty to address needs for both continuity and new measurements, so it is hard to make a clear distinction.
The committee emphasizes that many continuity measurements are provided by the national and international Program of Record (POR), especially the European Copernicus, perhaps making the proposed set of measurements appear skewed toward new measurements. However, if those POR measurement continuity capabilities did not exist, the proposed measurements recommended by the committee would have involved a different mix.
Execution of the national and international POR and the recommendations of this decadal survey, taken together, will provide for the continuation of many key satellite records through most of the next decade. The planning and preparation to continue such measurements beyond the next decade is urgently needed. International collaboration is required to ensure continuity, given individual agency resource constraints. The recent agreement between NASA, NOAA, ESA, EUMETSAT, and the European Union (via its Copernicus
11 A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM, 2015) sought to establish a more quantitative understanding of the need for measurement continuity and the consequences of measurement gaps.
program) to continue high-precision ocean altimetry measurements via the Sentinel-6 program provides an example of international collaboration. As noted in Recommendation 2.2, NASA should continue to work with international partners to develop an international strategy for maintaining key satellite measurements and establish data-sharing agreements among the nations making the measurements.
Finding 4.5: Maximizing the success of NASA’s Earth science program requires balanced investments across its program elements, each critically important to the overall program. The flight program provides observations that the research and analysis program draws on to perform scientific exploration, the applied sciences program transforms the science into real-world benefits, and the technology program accelerates the inclusion of technology advances in flight programs. The current balance across these four program elements is largely appropriate, enabling a robust and resilient Earth science program, and can be effectively maintained using decision rules such as recommended in this report. Some adjustment of balance within each program element is warranted, as recommended in this report.
Recommendation 4.6: NASA ESD should employ the following guidelines for maintaining programmatic balance:
- Decision Rules. Needed adjustments to balance should be made using the decision rules included in this report.
- Flight versus Nonflight. Flight programs should be approximately 50-60 percent of the budget.
- R&A Program. Maintain at its current level of the ESD budget.
- Technology Program. Increase from its current level of 3 percent to 5 percent of the ESD budget.
- Applications Program. Maintain at its current level of the ESD budget.
- Program Elements. Ensure that no flight program element is compromised by overruns in any other element.
- New versus Extended Missions. Continue to use the present method of “senior review,” consistent with guidance from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM, 2016a).
- New Measurements versus Data Continuity. Lead development of a more formal continuity decision process (as in NASEM, 2015) to determine which satellite measurements have the highest priority for continuation, then work with U.S. and international partners to develop an international strategy for obtaining and sharing those measurements.
- Mission-Enabling Investments versus Focused Missions. Other than additional investments in the Technology program and the new Incubation program element, no change in balance is recommended.
Scope Within Nonflight Program
As noted throughout this section, NASA’s nonflight programs are essential to its overall mission. These programs are performing well and are all in approximately correct balance at the current time. Two small scope adjustments are recommended:
Recommendation 4.7: NASA should make the following scope changes to its program elements:
- Technology Program. Establish a mechanism for maturation of key technologies that reduce the cost of continuity measurements.
- Applications Program. Redirect a small portion to new funding opportunities that focus specifically on taking early-stage ideas and exploring how to move them into applications, including co-sponsorship with NOAA and USGS.
Balance and Scope Within the Venture Program
The Earth Venture Program was established to “create space-based observing opportunities aimed at fostering new science leaders and revolutionary ideas” (NRC, 2007). To achieve this, NASA implemented three strands of Earth Venture elements. The first is the Earth Venture Mission (EV-M) opportunity, which solicits stand-alone space missions with a cap of $150 million. The second is the Earth Venture-Instrument (EV-I) opportunity, which solicits instrumentation for which NASA assumes the responsibility of identifying a launch opportunity. EV-I is solicited at approximately 18 month intervals. Last, the Earth Venture Suborbital (EV-S) opportunity solicits suborbital studies with an approximately 4-year cadence, selecting approximately five investigations per cycle, cost-capped at $30 million each, lasting 5 years each. Through the implementation of this program, NASA has provided two opportunities in the past decade for missions, six for instrumentation, and two for suborbital proposals.12 The result has been that the program has succeeded in fostering innovation and stimulating a vibrant Earth science community through the provision of multiple opportunities for large-scale observation capabilities.
Even though the Earth Venture program was initiated nearly a decade ago, only one EV-M has been launched (CYGNSS), none of the EV-I missions has been flown yet, and one cycle of the EV-S has been completed. As a result, the relative benefits of these programs are still not fully understood. The committee fully supports the continuation of the Earth Venture program in its present form, but after several of the EV-I missions and the contributions from Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System—Earth Venture Mission (CYGNSS) are better understood, a cost-benefit analysis of the EV investments would help inform the amount and distribution of future investments in the program.
Finding 4.6: The Earth Venture program has provided increased opportunities for innovation in scientific Earth observations. However, it is too early in the program, with too little history, to assess the benefits of modifying the present three-strand Venture structure or adjusting cost caps beyond the recommended addition of a Venture-Continuity strand.
Recommendation 4.8: The Midterm Assessment, with a longer program history than is available to ESAS 2017, should examine the value of each Venture strand and determine whether the cadence or number of selections of any strand should be modified. In particular, the Venture-Suborbital strand should be compared to the approach of executing comparable campaigns through the research and analysis program to assess which approach serves the community better.
Budget Guidance and Decision Rules for Maintaining Balance
The committee’s suggested decision rules have two components. First are guidelines for how to allocate funding that becomes available as current flight missions are completed (referred to as the “funding wedge”). Second are guidelines for ensuring various aspects of balance in the program’s overall budget. The assumption, used throughout this report, is that future budgets correspond to the FY 2016 budget adjusted for inflation. Computation of the funding wedge is described in detail in Chapter 3. The conclu-
sion was that the cost to complete the POR (the NASA-baseline missions already “in implementation”) was estimated to be $3.6 billion and the “funding wedge” for new missions advocated in this report was estimated to be $3.4 billion.
Overall Program Balance
To maintain program balance, the committee recommends (Recommendation 4.6) that ESD budget components should be approximately consistent with historical budgets. For the entire ESD budget, the following guidelines are recommended.
- Earth Science research should be maintained at approximately 24 percent of the budget (within the range 22-26 percent). (This value of 24 percent includes 18 percent for openly competed research and analysis, and approximately 3 percent each for computing and administration.)
- The Applications program should be maintained at 2-3 percent of the budget.
- The Technology program should be increased from its current 3 percent to about 5 percent.
- Flight programs, including Venture, should be 50-60 percent of the budget.
- Mission operations should be 8-12 percent of the budget.
Allocation of the Funding Wedge Within Flight
As general guidance for allocating the funding wedge within flight programs, an appropriate distribution of the ESD investment is 35-45 percent in large missions, 40-50 percent in medium and small missions, and 10-15 percent in technology-related aspects of flight development. No single mission should consume more than 25 percent of the funding wedge.
Decision rules are most effective when budgets are managed carefully across ESD. Mission development, with its large costs and uncertainties, traditionally results in significant budget management challenges. Recommendation 3.3 provides specific guidance concerning the cost-aware management of missions in development.
Decision Rules for Budget Changes
The committee expects that budgets will be different from the nominal assumptions made in accordance with the committee’s statement of task. A critical purpose of decision rules is to maintain the scientific and technical capacity for a robust space-based Earth science program when budgets change. Maintaining capacity is important, since that capacity takes a long time to build (in some cases, longer than the mission development time scale) and is easily disrupted.
The committee places the highest priority on continuity of critical missions, followed by competitive opportunities in the Earth System Explorer and Earth Venture lines, followed by the large missions. However, because the highest overarching priority is a balanced portfolio, it is important that no one aspect of the portfolio be reduced excessively, to keep others intact.
As a result, in managing potential budget reductions that impact the scope or cadence of the new measurements of this decadal survey:
- Reductions should first be accommodated by delaying the large missions.
- If additional reductions are required, the medium-size Designated missions should be delayed, unless these delays threaten the continuity of data sets that require continuous measurement.
- Should continuity be threatened, the cadence of medium-size competitive missions should be reduced but not to fewer than two competitions in the decade. The budgets for Venture and research and applications should not be reduced by more than 5 percent from their historical averages.
These decision rules are intended to apply to the new missions recommended in this decadal survey. Because of the fraction of the budget consumed by the POR in the first half of the decade, there is very little flexibility to absorb budget reductions with the missions recommended in this survey until the second half of the decade. Should cuts to the POR be required to address budgetary challenges in the first half of the decade, then the science priorities identified in the Science and Applications Priorities table (Table 3.2), in conjunction with the preceding decision rules—which prioritize continuity and seek to absorb cuts first by reducing large missions, then medium missions, then competitive missions—should be used as guidance to inform such reductions.
Large changes to the Decadal program (those that exceed the capacity of the preceding decision rules to address, in particular decisions that must balance continuity and the cadence of competition) should be made only subsequent to additional review by the National Academies Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space (CESAS). In particular, NASA ESD should consult its standing scientific advisory committees if (1) the projected cost of the POR grows to consume more than $3.6 billion in the coming decade, (2) more than one mission in this decadal survey is delayed more than 3 years, or (3) a mission in the POR or required to meet the new measurements of this decadal survey is lost prematurely. In such cases the preceding decision rules provide guidance to CESAS, but need not be strictly adhered to, as more flexibility may be needed to manage unforeseen events.
In managing situations where additional budget becomes available, the additional funds should be used to increase the cadence of the new measurements and associated missions recommended in this survey. In particular, expanding the breadth of observational objectives should be prioritized, potentially by increasing the number of Earth System Explorer competition opportunities. The ESAS 2017 Science and Applications Traceability Matrix (SATM) should be consulted for guidance on the scientific priorities when augmentations are possible.
NOAA PROGRAMMATIC CONTEXT
This section provides guidance for NOAA’s observing system priorities, in accordance with the committee’s statement of task, which specified primary tasks to include “(1) how new technology may enhance current operations, and (2) what new science is needed to expand current operations, either to enable new opportunities or to include new areas of interest.”
NOAA’s Role in Civil Observing System
NOAA’s role with regard to space-based observations is specified in the 2014 National Plan for Civil Earth Observations (NSTC, 2014). NOAA’s primary responsibilities fall within “Sustained Satellite Observations for Public Services,” in contrast to NASA’s responsibilities, which fall largely within the categories “Sustained Satellite Observations for Earth System Research” and “Experimental Satellite Observations.” Within the category, specific NOAA responsibilities are called out.
These distinctions have been further clarified through additional policy directives, such as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance accompanying the 2016 Federal Budget, as well as the Appropriations Committee Reports for the 2016 and 2017 Federal Budgets, which direct NOAA to prioritize satellite programs directly related to weather forecasting (as described in the “Toward a National Strategy” section
of Chapter 2). This focus reflects a new budget reality for NOAA. Issues regarding the role of observations in support of NOAA’s non-NWS mission are discussed separately in this section.
NOAA’s observing system role is thus distinct and different from NASA or USGS. Key distinctions, for the purpose of this discussion, include the following:
- Operational responsibility for high-reliability observations. As noted in the statement of task, NOAA has “a critical requirement for continuity of observations and delivery of services and information to the public and commercial sectors.” This strong requirement has corresponding implications for observing system design, programmatic implementation methodologies, and new capabilities development.
- Multidecade development cycle. NOAA’s stringent availability requirements have led to observing system architectures with very long life cycles. The current development paradigm involves multidecadal cycles and impacts any development approaches or partnerships. It has also constrained NOAA’s agility for introducing new capabilities.
- International operational obligations, and mandated international data sharing. NOAA has formal obligations for data sharing through agreements such as WMO-40 and the Joint Polar System (JPS) with EUMETSAT. This has implications for its use of commercial and alternate data sources, since their acquisition may imply obligations for sharing beyond NOAA.
For these reasons and others, ESAS 2017 is not intended as a primary planning activity for NOAA space-based observations. Instead, ESAS 2017 was requested to provide guidance largely associated with opportunities for improving NOAA’s system beyond its baseline plan.
Needs and Challenges
The report of the NOAA NESDIS Independent Review Team (IRT, 2017) provides an important perspective on the needs and challenges of NOAA’s space-based observations. The report’s objective is “independent assessment of NESDIS path forward and the capability of the enterprise to embark on that path.” Key conclusions relevant to ESAS 2017 include the following:
- The IRT concluded that NESDIS has a positive path forward and is “capable of embarking on that path.”
- NESDIS has a critical mission to protect lives and property, with high-reliability space-based observations an essential element.
- NASA plays an important role in weather science, with relevance to NOAA. NASA (in particular, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) also plays a complex and evolving role in NOAA system development, recently including both JPSS and GOES-R, which face ongoing challenges such as potential coverage gaps. Better definition and strengthening of the NOAA-NASA relationship is needed. The NESDIS strategic plan (NOAA, 2016) provides a framework for improving the partnership.
- NESDIS has developed a strong strategic plan, which recognizes the value of use-inspired science for advancing the NESDIS mission. However, the strategic plan suffers from being an “internally focused document, which limits its utility.”
Science and Applications
NOAA’s primary planning activity at this time is an internal study called the NOAA Satellite Observing System Architecture (NSOSA) performed within the Office of Systems Architecture and Advanced Planning (OSAAP), supported by a NOAA-chartered community study performed by the Space Platform Requirements Working Group (SPRWG). Both studies were ongoing at the time of ESAS 2017 and briefed to the committee on several occasions. Several ESAS 2017 members were also SPRWG members. Although NOAA’s mission includes space weather, it was not a part of the ESAS 2017 study.
NSOSA, in consultation with SPRWG, developed a formalized quantitative evaluation methodology to assess the cost and benefit of individual observations within the overall NOAA architecture (including the benefits/costs of relative improvements among observations), driven primarily by operational (rather than scientific) needs. The process is intended to inform NOAA management, which will make final decisions on observing system requirements.
The current NOAA satellite system is expected to be replenished through the late 2020s or early 2030s without substantial changes. This POR system is referred to as POR 2025. The charter of NSOSA/SPRWG is to plan for changes to that system that could be implemented during the 2030s and persist into the 2050s. To accomplish that, NSOSA/SPRWG prioritized possible changes to the system and identified those achieving the best cost-benefit performance as candidates for inclusion in the post-2030 system. In doing this, NSOSA/SPRWG also identified a set of “unsatisfied priorities” that reflect high-priority NOAA requirements involving observations not selected for inclusion due to cost or technology readiness issues. Assessing these unmet needs is somewhat subjective, as it depends highly on unknown budget availability 10-30 years in the future.
Recognizing this reservation, NOAA provided the committee with a preliminary summary of expected unsatisfied priorities, as identified by the NSOSA/SPRWG advisory process (which was ongoing at the time this report is being written). These are listed in Table 4.3, along with corresponding priorities identified by ESAS 2017. From this table, it is clear that there are well-defined unmet needs that correspond closely to ESAS 2017 priorities. There are notable exceptions, as well, such as the low-medium priority for regional IR and microwave sounding; the Weather and Air Quality Panel felt that diurnal sounding capability is a high priority, and GEO-based sounding is one way to accomplish that. The table thus presents opportunities for NASA development activities that match NOAA’s “unsatisfied” priorities.
Finding 4.7: The NOAA observations system plan for 2035-2050 currently is anticipated to have unsatisfied priorities for global 3D fields of winds, global precipitation, and other observables, along with a general need for observing system cost reduction. With some exceptions, these unsatisfied NOAA priorities generally align well with the ESAS 2017 recommendations to NASA.
Providing guidance for advancing NOAA’s observing system requires starting with an understanding of how this has been accomplished historically. Appendix D of Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Midterm Assessment of NASA’s Implementation of the Decadal Survey (NRC, 2012) has an abbreviated history. Its general features include an initial strong interaction with NASA in terms of instrument and satellite development that has become less strongly linked over time.
Today, NOAA faces challenges to an effective process for advancing their observing systems. These include the following:
TABLE 4.3 Opportunities for Improving the NOAA Operational Observing System
|Expected NOAA “Unsatisfied Priorities”||Expected NOAA Priority and Rationale||Related ESAS 2017 Programs or Targeted Observables|
|Instrument Cost Reduction||High—Reducing cost of any system element enables greater system capability. NOAA has limited capacity to invest in development activities that eventually reduce production cost.||Incubation program element NASA ESTO|
|3D Winds in Troposphere and Lower Stratosphere||High—High cost and low technology readiness impede inclusion in NOAA operational system.||Atmospheric Winds|
|Global Precipitation Rate||High—High cost and low technology readiness impede inclusion in NOAA operational system.||Clouds, Convection, and Precipitation|
|Subseasonal to Seasonal (S2S) Forecasting||Medium—Multiple new and often difficult observations needed, notably upper ocean and ocean-atmosphere coupling, along with assurance of continuity and ongoing cost reduction for existing observations.||Many ESAS 2017 Targeted Observables|
|Ocean Surface Vector Winds||Medium—Coverage is likely to be less than desired, with high-volume coverage presently costly.||Ocean Surface Winds and Currents|
|Global Atmospheric Soundings||Medium—Expect future systems to have more soundings of at least moderate precision/accuracy levels as compared to today, but high-precision/accuracy IR and microwave soundings may be lacking.||Planetary Boundary Layer|
|GEO-based Regional IR and Microwave Sounding||Low to Medium—Useful for forecaster nowcasting, but generally considered less valuable than global sounding.||Planetary Boundary Layer|
NOTE: Based on a preliminary assessment of unsatisfied observing system priorities identified within the NSOSA/SPRWG process (intended to inform NOAA management, which will determine final observing system requirements). Related ESAS 2017 priorities are included for comparison.
- Balancing Reliability Against Advancement. How should the need to advance be weighed against NOAA’s requirements for “continuity of observations and delivery of services,” given that advance is necessary to provide expected new observations and services in the future?
- Determining Acceptable Risk. How much risk is acceptable to accommodate needed advances across observing system generation (block) changes? How much risk is acceptable to accommodate advance within observing system generations? How can on-ramps be integrated to accomplish this?
- Selecting Prioritization Methodologies. How should development advances be selected and prioritized? Some options include community-based input (e.g., SPRWG and National Academies’ studies), and NASA/NOAA-provided Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSEs) and Observing System Experiments (OSEs).
- Accelerating Adoption of New Capabilities. How can NOAA make more rapid use of observing system advances, avoiding internal bottlenecks in adoption, assimilation, and algorithms?13
- Leveraging External Sources. How can external advances in observing systems and data sources be integrated more rapidly?
- Deciding Between Make or Buy. Should observing system advances be accomplished within NOAA, implemented by commercial partners through the procurement process, or pursued through partnerships?
13 NOAA has recently introduced a policy referred to as NAO 216-105B: Policy on Research and Development Transitions to better address this issue. It more clearly defines NOAA’s research-to-operations transition, including applications and commercialization. The text of this policy is available at http://www.corporateservices.noaa.gov/ames/administrative_orders/chapter_216/216-105B.html.
NOAA has internal policies that comprehensively address these issues, but they are in many cases insufficient to address the growing challenges NOAA faces. The result is an ineffective strategy for how to rapidly advance its observing systems so as to meet the nation’s evolving needs. Most fundamental is the first of these, by which NOAA’s appropriate commitment to reliability eventually becomes an impediment to needed advances. All of these issues could be directly addressed by a NOAA policy that formally defines a coherent strategy and prioritization for advancing the observing system, in addition to the critical mission assurance requirements.
Observations for NOAA’s Non-NWS Capabilities
NOAA NESDIS has a broad range of real and potential users that extends well beyond its traditional (and most important) customer, the National Weather Service (NWS) and its provision of atmospheric weather forecasts, warnings, and services. These users include the remaining NOAA line offices, other agencies, international partners, commercial users (Box 4.8), academia, and private citizens. As examples, their needs include detecting and forecasting harmful algal blooms, understanding fish stock variability, forecasting high-seas wind and wave conditions, estimating rainfall for the Pacific Islands, planning responses to coastal inundation, detecting coral bleaching, and sea-ice forecasting, along with performing reanalyses of various physical phenomena.
At the same time, many (both real and potential) users across the agency have expressed frustration with using data from satellites. Many see large weather satellite costs coming at the expense of their modest-by-comparison budgets. A common complaint is that a user has to be a satellite expert to understand and use the data. In general, users need help accessing satellite data and turning them into useful
information, combining them with in situ observations, and applying a combined product to meet a particular need—whether answering a societally relevant research question or feeding into an operational environmental forecast.
The origin of this issue is an institutional framework within NOAA that systematically acquires, processes, and distributes satellite data from its own and foreign-partner satellites in support of NWS operational weather forecasting needs, which provides a degree of vertical integration. A corresponding institutional framework is lacking for the most part in support of other (non-NWS) NOAA needs; data must be acquired from various satellites (some NOAA, but mostly NASA and international), appropriate products derived, and then distributed to a diverse user community spread across the agency.
Meeting diverse NOAA needs—beyond the NWS—for satellite data involves acquiring satellite data from various NASA and foreign sources, generating suitable products, distributing them to users, and then
working with those users to meet their needs and demonstrate benefits. Some user needs require timely access to near-real-time products, others require higher-level retrospective products at later times. There are costs associated with this process. And if funds are not available to demonstrate the utility of the satellite data, it is difficult to justify a budget increase to provide a corresponding new operational service to society. Since much of the satellite data come from outside NOAA, this results in lost opportunities, being unable to take advantage of other agencies’ and nations’ substantial investments in satellites in order to exploit their resulting data.
Forecasting harmful algal blooms (HABs) is an example of one of those needs. HAB forecasts in the western end of Lake Erie—which serves as the water supply for Toledo and a dozen surrounding communities in Ohio and Michigan—determine those times when the water must either have a significant level of additional treatment or, in extreme situations, not be used at all for drinking. Similar forecasts in the eastern (around Tampa, Florida) and western (north of Brownsville, Texas) Gulf of Mexico determine those times when shellfish beds must be closed. Both of these HAB events typically are annual events and may last for one to several months in duration.
Within NESDIS, the Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR) is responsible for accessing various satellite sources and generating and distributing near-real-time products, while the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI, the former national data centers) are responsible for generating and distributing retrospective products. These two organizations can be part of the solution by recognizing, engaging, and partnering with the broad user base across NOAA. This could take the form of an internal Users’ Working Group, such as is employed at the NASA DAACs. Such a group would help interested users understand the variety of sources of satellite data products potentially available—both near-real-time and retrospective, and then empower those users to provide feedback to STAR and NCEI to help prioritize which sources to access, what products to generate, and how to access those products. This would show users that STAR and NCEI are committed to helping those users meet their needs, thereby demonstrating a responsive service attitude. This is a step that can be taken today.
Finding 4.8: NOAA has diverse communities of real and potential users with needs for satellite data that extend well beyond those associated with the provision of weather forecasts and warnings. These users would benefit by having more timely and easier access to user-friendly derived products that incorporate data from multiple sources. Such access would enable each user to work with those satellite products of interest and combine them with data from selected in situ sources to meet specific operational and use-inspired research needs.
Recommendation 4.9: NESDIS, working through its Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR) and National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) should establish an internal Users’ Working Group (including cooperative institutes and other NOAA partners) to (1) recognize the breadth of the potential user base beyond the National Weather Service that would benefit from improved access to satellite data products; and (2) work in partnership with those users to prioritize requirements and how they might best be met.
Leveraging Non-NOAA Observations
NOAA has a long and successful history of sharing its observations with international partners and likewise benefiting from access to their data. Yet more is possible.
Other Governmental and International Sources
Data sources from other governmental and international sources offer an opportunity for increased information and value for a minimal investment; however realizing those benefits requires that such data actually be incorporated into the operational and research framework, which for a variety of reasons, often does not happen. One impediment is the long and tedious process of understanding alternate data sources, ensuring their quality, and establishing that using them to improve forecasts or meet other needs. NOAA has established processes for doing this with new systems of its own. For example, both JPSS and GOES-R each include a budget line (labeled “Proving Ground for Risk Reduction”) to demonstrate product utility in a user setting; this enables the development of new and refinement of existing products for these two operational NOAA satellite programs. The associated funding for each is in the range of ~$10 million+ in the early years of a program to a few million dollars in later years.
These budget lines are critical for the NWS to be able to successfully exploit the data coming from their new systems. But there is no analogous funding opportunity for similar work on data from non-NOAA sources such as NASA and foreign satellites (especially Copernicus), particularly to serve non-NWS needs. For example, while the United States has access to observations of ocean-surface vector winds from SCATSAT, the Indian scatterometer satellite, funds are not available for the Ocean Prediction Center to actually utilize this data, or the wind data that will be available from its successor—Oceansat-3—when it is launched in 2018.
Making the transition from NASA research (or foreign) missions to NOAA operations also requires management support. Both sides must recognize the importance of transitioning. It is important that NOAA leadership has a fundamental understanding and appreciation of what NASA has to offer, as well as the potential offered by non-NOAA satellite sources.
Recommendation 4.10: NOAA should further leverage use of NASA, USGS, and international satellite observations to meet diverse needs of its line organizations, including those unrelated to weather—and thus not lose the opportunity to capitalize on substantial investments made by other organizations. As one step to accomplish this, NOAA should establish a budget line (similar to what is done for JPSS and GOES-R) in order to (1) facilitate access to and use of data from these non-NOAA sources and (2) demonstrate resulting benefits through broadened collaboration with the NASA Applications and similar programs.
Commercial and Other Nongovernmental Sources
NOAA, to its credit, has recognized the potential benefit of commercial satellite data and is proceeding with projects to explore the opportunities. Indeed, NOAA/NESDIS’s 2016 Strategic Plan suggests that, as an integral part of providing a comprehensive and trusted set of products to serve users’ needs, NOAA will “Continue to diversify our portfolio by ingesting, validating and certifying data and information from within NOAA, our interagency and international partners and potential commercial sources based on established priorities and requirement needs.14
The recent NOAA Commercial Weather Data Pilot awards are demonstration projects to evaluate and demonstrate the quality of commercial data and its impact to weather forecast models. The awards to Spire Global and GeoOptics suggest the potential for small satellite launches to provide radio occultation data into NOAA’s operational weather prediction models. MISTiC Winds (Maschoff et al., 2016) is a proposed
14 See NOAA, Strategic Plan: NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/asset/document/the_nesdis_strategic_plan_2016.pdf.
27U CubeSat mission designed to improve short-term weather forecasting based on a miniature high-resolution, wide-field, thermal emission spectrometry instrument that will provide global tropospheric vertical profiles of atmospheric temperature and humidity at high (3-4 km) horizontal and vertical (1 km) spatial resolution. Formations of three sequential spacecraft in one or multiple orbit planes could provide global 3D horizontal vector wind retrievals. Key remaining technical risks are being reduced through laboratory and airborne testing under NASA’s Instrument Incubator program.
With time, both the potential benefits and the risks are coming to be better understood. To be viable within NOAA’s operational system, NOAA insight is generally needed into data generation processes, calibration, validation, and other data quality characteristics. In some cases this need conflicts with the needs of commercial providers to keep information proprietary for competitive purposes. This need also requires the commercial providers to have done substantial calibration and validation on their own, sometimes beyond what is needed for other customers. Commercial providers are similarly challenged by some of NOAA’s use-rights expectations, including sharing of data with all international partners. All of these issues, and more like them, reflect impediments to NOAA use of commercial data, something not surprising given that the availability of commercial space-based data sources is still in its infancy. With efforts on both sides, impediments can often be overcome.
Given the critical operational role of NOAA, robustness of data sources is essential. To be viable within NOAA’s operational system, commercial and alternative data sources must be robust against loss of any single source/provider, if essential to NOAA core functions. To ensure recoverability in the event of lost sources/providers, NOAA can either engage multiple providers or develop protocols for managing such losses.
A full review of the potential benefits and risks of commercial data sources was beyond the scope of this committee, but we recognized the potential opportunity presented by this emerging data source for NOAA.
Recommendation 4.11: NOAA should establish itself among the leading government agencies that exploit potential value of commercial data sources, assessing both their benefits and risks in its observational data portfolio. It should innovate new government/commercial partnerships as needed to accomplish that goal, pioneer new business models when required, and seek acceptable solutions to present barriers such as international partner use rights. NOAA’s commercial data partnerships should ensure access to needed information on data characteristics and quality as necessary and appropriate, and be robust against loss of any single source/provider if the data are essential to NOAA core functions.
NASA Development Partnership
NOAA’s partnership with NASA has been long and often productive. Several decades ago, NASA provided extensive development and flight prototyping support for advancing NOAA’s operational satellite systems (see Appendix D of NRC, 2012, for a more detailed description). Today, NOAA’s needs and NASA’s capabilities are well matched. A strong partnership can be very productive for both organizations (Box 4.9). This holds for both technology and scientific advancement.
Technology is advancing at a rapid pace in the space community, driven in large part by commercial and academic innovation. NOAA can benefit from these advances. The upcoming decade will likely enjoy an exponential growth in microSat, nanoSat, and CubeSat instrumentation, flights, and observations, with a commensurate explosive surge in collective contribution to Earth system science, application, and operations—from space weather to hydrology, spanning the atmosphere, ocean, and land surface.
The mainstream emergence of “U-class” miniaturized satellites will significantly transform how we plan and conduct future Earth and space science research and operations, but only if the agencies are poised to take advantage of them. These spacecraft have masses no more than 1.33 kg per unit (“U”) and are composed of multiple of 10 × 10 × 10 cm cubic units (e.g., 1U, 3U, 27U). They typically feature commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components and are deployed on-orbit via previously planned—for example, through International Space Station resupply missions or accommodated as secondary (auxiliary) payloads on other launch vehicles such as NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) and CubeSat Launch initiative (CSLI).
One option is to exploit the proven capabilities offered by the NASA Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO), through a multiagency funding and coordination mechanism. The intent would be to resurrect an interagency technology maturation process to provide atmospheric observing technology “on-ramps” that would account for the strengths of the two agencies: NOAA’s low-risk and sustainable measurement set evolving as NASA matures new observing technologies to a high-technology readiness level. Today, ESTO’s limited budget only allows for limited technology maturation. Through the addition of NOAA’s future observing system needs, suitably supported, it would become possible for ESTO to oversee a technology maturation process that would deliver high Technology Readiness Level (TRL) instruments that
would surpass a significant barrier to an operational agency: beyond prototype demonstration in a relevant environment (TRL6) to a system prototype demonstration in an operational environment (TRL7).
The ESTO In-Space Validation of Earth Science Technologies (InVEST) program element, intended to reduce the risk of new technologies in future Earth science missions, is incubating many of these satellites—for example, CubeSat Radiometer Radio Frequency Interference Technology Validation (CubeRRT); Compact Infrared Radiometer in Space (CIRiS); CubeSat Infrared Atmospheric Sounder (CIRAS); and a precipitation profiling radar in a CubeSat (RainCube). Initiatives from academia and industry are also breaking ground. The Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission comprises 12 3U CubeSats in three low-Earth orbital planes. These capabilities demonstrate the potential efficacy of NASA and other organizations maturing new and innovative technologies to meet some of NOAA’s observational needs.
The programmatic history of NASA support for NOAA’s operational system is described in Appendix D of NRC, 2012, with a particular example illustrated in Box 4.9. An often-cited element of this partnership is
the Operational Satellite Improvement Program (OSIP).15 While OSIP was a successful model for its time, it is not likely the right model for today. NASA and NOAA budgets are not matched to the OSIP roles, and the need for NOAA pathfinder development has been reduced. There is a need, however, to replicate much of the benefit that NOAA achieved through OSIP.
The 2017 NESDIS Independent Review Team (IRT, 2017) noted that NOAA and NASA “could together define an R&D program specifically designed to develop and transfer technology to NOAA programs.” This committee concurs, as long as the resource contributions of each agency are matched to the benefits derived by each.
However, the committee believes that no single programmatic approach like OSIP is sufficient in today’s environment. The needs are more diverse, the opportunities are broader, and the expectations are higher. Instead, NOAA can benefit from pursuing multiple programmatic approaches to both direct advances to its observing system and access advances that occur external to NOAA. NASA is clearly a central partner for pursuing system advances. As summarized in Recommendation 4.12, NOAA and NASA should establish a framework within which opportunities for advance are readily identified and pursued on an individual basis, as each opportunity has unique programmatic needs. This framework should enable implementation of specific project collaborations, each of which may have its own unique requirements, ensuring the following:
- Clear roles, with both agencies contributing their expertise.
- Mutual interests, in which NOAA’s benefits are complemented by NASA benefits.
- Life-cycle interaction, from the earliest program phases for identifying opportunities, to the latest phases for ensuring successful transition of lessons and knowledge.
- Multidisciplinary methodologies, which may include contributions from requirements assessments, modeling, algorithm development, and even flight system alterations, and so on.
- Multielement expertise, which may involve several elements of NOAA (e.g., NESDIS and NWS) and NASA (e.g., ESTO and ASP) as well as established joint mechanisms such as Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation (JCSDA).
- Appropriate budget mechanisms, including transfers that provide full support for any share of collaborations, thus aligning resources with responsibility for execution.
Finding 4.9: In order for NOAA to continue meeting user needs, advances in observing system capability should receive priority comparable to the core objective of mission reliability.
Recommendation 4.12: NOAA should establish, with NASA, a flexible framework for joint activities that advance the capability and cost-effectiveness of NOAA’s observation capabilities. This framework should enable implementation of specific project collaborations, each of which may have its own unique requirements, and should ensure (1) clear roles, (2) mutual interests, (3) life-cycle interaction, (4) multidisciplinary methodologies, (5) multielement expertise, and (6) appropriate budget mechanisms.
USGS PROGRAMMATIC CONTEXT
This section provides guidance for USGS’s observing system priorities, in accordance with the committee’s statement of task, which specified primary tasks to include “(1) how new technology may enhance
current operations, and (2) what new science is needed to expand current operations, either to enable new opportunities or to include new areas of interest.”
USGS Role in Civil Observing System
The USGS is a research agency, embedded in a large and complex Interior Department. USGS advances scientific understanding and provides basic monitoring of natural hazards, water, energy and minerals, status of ecosystems and the environment, and the effects of climate and landuse change (Box 4.10).
In addition to their scientific programs, therefore, the USGS also has had extensive experience in archiving and managing remote sensing data, distributing data to a wide variety of research, management, and private users, and providing information on land-cover and land-use change for many different policy clients across the U.S. government. USGS has a long history with NASA and other U.S. government agencies in providing the main archive for Land Surface Imaging. Landsat, however, augmented by MODIS imagery in the Land Processes DAAC, has been the main concern for decades.
USGS responsibility for managing the Landsat archive has taken many forms over the years of the Landsat missions. Early technological limitations on downloads from the satellites, augmented by a failure of a recorder on a later mission, meant that in practice, much of the global archive of Landsat data was
held in foreign archives. USGS was responsible for managing the relationships among the global data archives, but the unavoidable outcome was that the United States did not hold a complete global archive throughout most of the history of the measurements. With the return of Landsat to the public sector with Landsat 7, and with the rapid development of information technology, however, USGS began the herculean task of coming up to date with both technological advancements and the changing goals of the Landsat mission. These included a complete revision of the processing system, reacquiring data for the U.S. archive that previously existed only overseas, and revamping the cost of data to the users from both current acquisitions and the archive.
With the advent of the U.S. government’s commitment to a Sustainable Land Imaging (SLI) capability, USGS’s responsibilities for Landsat data evolved as well. USGS is now responsible for the entire operational and ground segments of the Landsat mission; NASA is responsible for the planning, design, procurement, and launch of the satellite—which also gives it a primary responsibility for technological evolution of the measurements. In addition, USGS supports a Landsat Science Team, which considers technological design issues and evolution, changes to algorithms for data processing and distribution, and the design of standard data products to enable easier use of the data.
NASA, USGS, and the European Space Agency (ESA) are now producing “harmonized” 30 m global multispectral imagery with an equatorial revisit frequency of 3.7 days, from the union of Landsat-8, Sentinel-2a, and Sentinel-2b multispectral data. This revisit frequency will drop to 3.0 days when Landsat-9 joins the team in 2020. These “harmonized” data will move land surface research and applications to 30-60 m from the current 500-1000 m spatial resolution of the Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). ESA had a “block buy” of four Sentinel-2 imagers and has two imagers in reserve ready to be launched when needed. NASA may want to consider Landsat-10 and Landsat-11 to follow the example of Sentinel-2 for a block buy of two imagers with a wider-swath (300 km) and multispectral visible, near-infrared, shortwave infrared, and thermal data, which would increase the equatorial revisit frequency to 2.0 days for the harmonized data. Time series 30 m data will be invaluable for many research and application purposes (Fisher et al., 2017; Li and Roy, 2017).
In addition, the excellent Landsat-8 and Landsat-9 multispectral imagers are and will be the inter-calibration means for the commercial company Planet (formerly Planet Labs) to produce 5 m daily global
data time series from constellations of cubesats. This “Landsat-based” inter-calibration service will be a major contribution of NASA and USGS to the development of the commercial remote sensing sector at the few meter spatial scale.
Through this combined capability, involving international and commercial partnerships, for the first time since the space age started we have the ability to follow individual agricultural fields through time and not deal with mixed pixels. This capability will greatly advance food security and famine early warning.
Value to Users
USGS has done a substantial amount of both in-house and extramural analysis of how the Landsat data are used—by both the public and private sector— in many different applications areas (Miller, 2016). Data access, which was historically a problem because of costs, was essentially solved in 2008 by making orders from the Landsat archive free to users. Data usage has skyrocketed since then, and is still increasing, as shown in Figures 4.3 and 4.4.
The utility of Landsat was determined by the U.S. government to be the second-most valuable satellite data source, behind only GPS. Much of this usage is in the public sector, so direct economic estimates of utility are difficult. More than 30 federal agencies and departments use the Landsat data, all 50 states, and a large number of companies. USGS has estimated that the economic value to users exceeds $1.8 billion per year, and there are at least $400 million in savings in 16 government applications.
Finding 4.10: Extension of Landsat capability through synergy with other space-based observations opens new opportunities for Landsat data usage, as has been demonstrated with the ESA through cross-calibra-
tion and data sharing for Sentinel-2. These successes serve as a model for future partnerships and further synergies with other space-based observations.
Because of the broad importance and direct economic benefits of the Landsat program, USGS has initiated a process by which it continues to determine the uses, potential uses, and both direct and indirect economic value of the program. This process surveys user communities and government and private programs to determine how the data are used, and supports the federal effort to evaluate how all remote sensing products are used. It is essential for understanding how data should be processed, enhanced, archived, and distributed, and how the observing system should evolve to meet user needs.
Recommendation 4.13: USGS should ensure that its process for understanding user needs is continued and enhanced throughout the life of the Sustainable Land Imaging (SLI) program. The studies and surveys that USGS has done to document the scientific and operational uses of Landsat should be repeated at appropriate intervals, so that progress can be tracked, and these studies should be broadened to incorporate the other components of the SLI program.
The relationship of USGS and NASA is thus of critical importance to the performance and maintenance of the SLI program, of which Landsat is the primary set of measurements. Indications from both agencies are that their partnership is productive, and in fact, plans for the next mission are well under way. There are four challenges that each agency will have to remain alert to, however, to ensure a successful longterm partnership.
Although the operating and science team costs of the Landsat mission are small compared to the capital costs of developing, building, and launching instruments and satellites, they are substantial compared to the base costs of the USGS budget, the vast majority of which are salaries. As such, USGS must argue for their inclusion each year in a much broader Department of Interior budget, and at the same time not allow the operational costs to subsume too large a fraction of its overall agency budget.
Challenge 2—Technological Evolution of the Main Imager(s)
NASA has typically been the agency that sponsors technology demonstrations as the measurement technologies evolve over time. Consistency and continuity have been evaluated because there have been periods of overlap of different instruments orbiting at the same time, which allows intercomparisons. Evolution of the measurement technologies will continue to be necessary, both to satisfy data continuity and to manage costs on the NASA side of the ledger. While this challenge has been met so far, continuing to meet it will require specific steps to be taken to explore new technologies in a way that is cautious enough to satisfy scientific and applications users, but visionary enough that important advances and potential efficiencies are not overlooked.
Finding 4.11: With the establishment of the long-term SLI program, budgetary stability is now a priority while maintaining standards. The major costs will remain the NASA development and launch costs. The USGS component (the ground operations, data archiving and distribution, and support of science team investigations) represents a proportionally large fraction of the total USGS budget.
Recommendation 4.14: NASA should constrain cost growth in the development portion of the Sustainable Land Imaging (SLI) partnership, and ideally reduce cost from one generation to the next. USGS should ensure budget growth is minimal, to avoid strain on the overall USGS budget.
Challenge 3—Technological Evolution and Relationships with the Private Sector
The advent of cloud computing, and the ability of companies like Google or Amazon to ingest the entire Landsat archive and make data quickly available for free, has created valuable new opportunities for the use of large satellite data sets. But this evolution also means that USGS needs to evaluate its relationship with such companies, in analogous fashion to NOAA and NASA in order to continue to provide essential governmental services in cost-effective ways. Similarly, the advent of new imagers with higher spatial resolution than Landsat, but that still retain the capability to do global surveys creates opportunities for USGS and NASA to consider how those capabilities might be incorporated in a broader SLI mission. There are many unanswered questions, especially with respect to calibration of instruments, reliability and cost of data access, and long-term access, but those need to be understood as soon as possible.
Challenge 4—International Interactions
NASA has done excellent work with ESA in comparing and calibrating Landsat and Sentinel data, but this is only the first step. USGS needs to continue to play an important role in this collaboration, as it provides critical guidance regarding the needs of both scientific and applications users.
Recommendation 4.15: Partnerships and user communities associated with Sustainable Land Imaging (SLI) program should be protected and continue to expand. USGS should:
- Ensure and continue to expand the benefits of SLI for its scientific and operational user communities.
- In partnership with NASA, further evaluate ways to more effectively cooperate with or use emerging commercial capabilities for data archiving and dissemination and for imagery acquisition.
- Work with NASA and international partners, continue to expand the use of international observation programs that complement and enhance SLI.
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