Findings and Recommendations

PROGRAM-WIDE FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The past decade of research within the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has produced remarkable improvements in our understanding of Earth system behavior and its interaction with human activities. We have gained valuable insights into the characteristics of a successful global change research program. These insights lead the Committee on Global Change Research to the following programmatic recommendations for the USGCRP.

Recommendations

The USGCRP must

The USGCRP is making an effort in each of these dimensions; however, the committee is concerned that the current efforts and their effectiveness may not be adequate to the task.

The USGCRP must encompass numerous scientific disciplines and areas of activity. Critical aspects of the program cross both discipline and agency boundaries. Thus, interdisciplinary and interagency linkages are central to successful implementation of the program. The needed programmatic integration is not currently being achieved adequately. Specifically, important elements of the USGCRP may be lost due to agency boundaries and individual agency funding difficulties.

To that end,

The scientific problems of global change are complex and often cross the boundaries between traditional scientific disciplines. Young scientists, whose training is still relatively narrow, may thus have difficulty obtaining support, and their contributions may consequently be limited. The multidisciplinary character of the research, coupled with the disciplinary structure of traditional funding mechanisms, may hinder the emergence and recognition of capable leaders in science and government.

SCIENTIFIC DOMAINS

The Committee on Global Change Research believes that four areas of Earth system science currently addressed by the USGCRP have reached a level of maturity at which enhanced, focused efforts promise tangible near-term benefits to society, including providing a sound, scientifically based assessment of the current state of the Earth's environment, while strengthening the scientific base for prediction of future global environmental conditions:

Seasonal to Interannual Climate Prediction

The concept of "end-to-end prediction" (i.e., the use of fundamental science to develop sound predictive schemes that yield products explicitly useful to human activities) motivates and guides all the components of this part of the program and sets its priorities and balance of elements, which include the following:

Recommendations

Atmospheric Chemistry

The chemical composition of the atmosphere has been changing rapidly over the last several decades. Global change research has been successful in developing a scientific understanding of several of these changes such as stratospheric ozone depletion. However, the assessment and understanding of other problems such as tropospheric ozone and aerosols and their roles in climate and chemical processes remain largely inadequate.

Recommendations

Ecosystems

Prediction of future global environmental changes requires a scientific assessment of the current condition of terrestrial and marine ecosystems and an understanding of large-scale terrestrial and marine ecological processes. Integrative Earth system models are important tools for assimilating and ordering this ecological information.

Recommendations

Decadal to Centennial Climate

Anthropogenic forcing of climate change is an important problem, and significant additional scientific progress can be achieved that will serve society well. The problem should be studied in the context of natural climate variability over time scales of decades, centuries, and even millennia, and the interrelated trends in economies, technology, and demography.

Recommendations

CROSSCUTTING ISSUES

The Committee on Global Change Research believes that a number of issues regarding the programmatic framework and supporting infrastructure for the USGCRP deserve special attention.

USGCRP Observational Strategy

The USGCRP requires an integrated observational strategy in which the choice of tools and approaches is driven by scientific needs and reflects an appropriate balance between in situ and remotely sensed observations to produce integrated information products for use by the research community and decisionmakers in the public and private sectors.

Recommendations

NASA's Earth Observing System

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth Observing System (EOS) should reflect the integrated observational strategy called for above. A series of previous reviews reshaped the program and guided it toward more responsiveness to scientific needs, greater resiliency, and increased opportunities for the introduction of new technology. In the plans presented to the present review, smaller spacecraft were scheduled to follow the AM- 1, PM-1, and Chemistry-1 (Chem-1) missions. Furthermore, there was a shift by NASA in 1994 and 1995 from a fixed series of 9 missions involving intermediate-class spacecraft to a mixed fleet of 21 missions exploiting small to medium-class spacecraft. Our review supports that trend.

The present review also has confirmed that continued evolution is essential for successful implementation of NASA's Earth Observing System; therefore, the capability for future evolution must be maintained. In keeping with the above recommendation that the USGCRP develop an integrated observational strategy, and in anticipation of the advancement in understanding that will be achieved during this first phase of the EOS program, NASA, in concert with the USGCRP community, should consider carefully the observational strategy appropriate for the post-2004 era. Specific consideration must be given to the balance between monitoring, which requires certain long-term, calibrated measurements, and focused process studies, which may be accomplished in shorter periods. NASA's plans for biennial assessments are consistent with this recommendation and should also help ensure that the near-term observational strategy remains technologically current and scientifically relevant.

The present review has concluded, however, that structural changes to the near-term EOS missions beyond the limits achieved in the 1995 reshaping exercise would cause severe program dislocations. Further budgetary reductions or imposed constraints on technical options could mean the elimination of key sensors, slips in schedule, loss of data continuity, and the elimination of advanced technology development that could enhance future research and lower costs. Our review has concluded that a shift to smaller platforms for the first group of instruments would be premature, since it could eliminate key measurements.

As a result of technological advances, new scientific insights, programmatic changes by NASA in 1994 and 1995, and the evolving needs of the USGCRP as a whole, it is now appropriate to rebalance the program across space assets, in situ measurements, modeling and process studies, and the data and information management system. This rebalancing must be done carefully and must fully recognize the importance of certain calibrated long-term measurements for the USGCRP. The basis for this rebalanced EOS observational strategy is the 1995 reshaping of NASA's Earth Observing System.

Recommendations

Coordination with Other Space Remote- Sensing Programs

Convergence of observing activities among the programs of U.S. agencies and those of other nations offers the potential for significant savings. However, the current convergence planning process does not have the charter or authority to consider the scientific requirements of USGCRP.

Recommendations

Small-Satellite and Advanced Technologies

Those small satellites that have relatively low costs and short development times may provide mission and programmatic flexibility that can stimulate innovation. They can also provide a means to introduce new technology and conduct focused observing missions. The reshaped 1995 MTPE/EOS program anticipates the application of such satellites where appropriate. In some cases, physics, economics, and engineering constraints may preclude the application of small satellites. A balanced architecture for MTPE employs satellites of various sizes as appropriate to scientific needs.

Recommendations

Again, however, any shift in observational strategy and its implementation must be done carefully and must fully recognize the importance of certain calibrated long-term measurements for the USGCRP.

Practical Applications of EOS

MTPE/EOS, including the TRMM, Landsat 7, AM-1, PM-1, Chem- 1, and the associated smaller missions, represents significant advances over previous space observation systems. The capabilities of these systems will contribute to practical applications such as natural hazards mitigation, water resources management, and food and fiber production, as well as advances in the Earth sciences.

Recommendation

EOS Data and Information System

The EOS Data and Information System (EOSDIS) is an essential component of the EOS program for linking space and ground observations and converting them into accessible geophysical information that will contribute to new scientific understanding. Originally designed by NASA as a centrally controlled and operated system to meet ambitious performance and reliability requirements, the system was redesigned after a National Research Council (NRC) review as a logically distributed system based on a client-server model in order to accommodate evolving computer system concepts and technologies.

Despite this improvement, current performance requirements, a centrally controlled system of stand-alone computer centers, and an extensive engineering and management superstructure are stressing the bounds of affordability. Moreover, the committee is concerned that the management structure may not be sufficiently flexible to meet rapidly evolving scientific needs and opportunities. The current system should therefore be reconsidered in light of technological opportunities and possible management efficiencies.

The present problems with EOSDIS are not related to engineering concepts. Instead, the concerns are much more fundamental and are related directly to the conceptual model of its operations and management. For EOSDIS to succeed in enabling new levels of achievement in the Earth sciences and applications in a wide range of activities in the public and private sectors, its management must be open and community based. Thats, the community of researchers and users must take the lead in making key decisions, and the assignment of responsibilities and evaluations of performance must be based on peer review. The system must encourage innovation and creativity through broad participation of the scientific, public, and private sectors.

Recent progress in redesigning the EOSDIS architecture, coupled with extraordinary new capabilities in computer telecommunications and recent experience by the scientific community in the management of large and diverse data sets, now permits a significant change in the conceptual model that governs the management and operation of the system. Thus, although the initial processing (e.g., through geo-located and calibrated radiances at the spacecraft) of the data flowing from spacecraft should remain with NASA and could be conducted largely at existing centers, the subsequent processing and creation of products useful in science and applications should be distributed widely and thereby take advantage of the concepts and technology involved in the rapid growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web.

Thus, the current distributed client-server design of EOSDIS is responsive to community needs, and its engineering development, and should continue. However, the Committee on Global Change Research believes that the EOSDIS management and operations concept should be redefined to involve the broad user community effectively.

Recommendations

Representative actions to respond to these recommendations are given in Appendix F with the aim of aiding NASA, the EOS investigators, and EOSDIS contractors in designing and conducting a collaborative study of the feasibility and cost of the proposed approach.

Clearly these recommendations imply a major change in EOSDIS management and operations. Under the proposed concept, the initial processing of observational data from EOS spacecraft would remain the responsibility of NASA. After a transition period, however, the responsibility for generating products and accounting for interdependencies among instruments would be distributed through a competitive process to a federation that might include government, academic, and private sector entities. Members of the federation would receive geophysically located, calibrated radiances over the Internet or via overnight express; process the data to higher levels, resolving any necessary interdependencies; create appropriate data products; and make them available to users over the Internet or by shipment of media. Among the higher-level data products that would be produced and distributed in this manner would be EOS Standard Data Products.

To be successful, this approach must incorporate community leadership and acceptance of responsibility in decisionmaking, and it must encourage innovation and creativity by providing users with ready access to scientifically meaningful data sets. The new approach must be based on powerful incentives, permissive standards that encourage wide participation and electronic publication of results, and meaningful criteria for assessing the performance of the partners responsible for data products and user assistance. In implementing this recommendation, there must be a clear recognition of the overriding importance of long-term maintenance and availability of the data, including the original Level-0 data, the geophysically located and calibrated radiances, and the higher-level products.

This intellectually inclusive approach will stimulate scientific creativity and innovation while providing increased return on the national investment. Moreover, it will create a strong foundation for the broader Global Change Data and Information System. It will generate a new approach to the interactive management and use of distributed data sets that, with an appropriate set of standards and protocols, will provide a new capability for collaborative and innovative exploitation of complex arrays of data and information in a wide range of public and private endeavors.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) recognizes the intellectual evolution of Earth system science and the magnitude of the scientific challenge of understanding and predicting global change. The scientific foundations, motivations, and goals of the USGCRP remain valid guides for the conduct of the program. Nevertheless, because of scientific advances, emerging technologies, and new concepts of effective management, the program can be refined in significant ways to become scientifically stronger, to be balanced better, and to produce greater return on the national investment. The Committee on Global Change Research, assisted by the workshop participants, assessed the USGCRP and NASA's MTPE/EOS program in the context of these new scientific and management insights and identified a recommended path for the future of the USGCRP. The proposed rebalancing of the program would offer the potential for significant economies (e.g., by simplifying the Chem-1 mission, by streamlining the data downlink and initial processing of EOSDIS, and by employing a federation of partners in EOSDIS for product generation). To ensure scientific success, it is necessary to direct resources toward (1) expanding in situ observations, process studies, and large-scale modeling; and (2) developing advanced technology to reduce the costs of second- and third-generation missions and to open new scientific opportunities.

The Committee on Global Change Research believes that this rebalancing of resources is central to the recommendations in this report.