The National Strategy for Earth Observation – Data management and societal benefits

White House OSTP

Office of Science and Technology Policy

Earlier this month the U.S. National Science and Technology Council released its report on the National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations. This is the first step towards building a National roadmap for the more efficient utilization and management of U.S. Earth observing resources.

Current U.S. capabilities in Earth observation, as summarized in the report, are distributed across more than 100 different programs, including those at both Federal agencies and various non-Federal organizations (e.g., state and local governments, academic institutions, and commercial companies). This extends far beyond just the well-known satellite programs operated by NASA and NOAA, encompassing a variety of other satellite and airborne missions being conducted around the country, as well as a host of other land- and water-based observing systems. From a National perspective this represents not just a complex array of programs and organizations to manage, but also an increasingly voluminous collection of data products and information to store and make available for use.

With an objective towards improving the overall management and utilization of the various Earth observing resources, the National Strategy outlines two primary organizational elements. The first element addresses a “policy framework” for prioritizing investments in observing systems that support specified “societal benefit areas,” and the second element speaks to the need for improved methods and policies for data management and information dissemination.

The National Strategy also lays the foundation for ultimately developing a National Plan for Civil Earth Observations, with initial publication targeted for fiscal year 2014 and subsequent versions to be repeated every three years thereafter. As indicated by its title, the National Plan will provide the practical details and fundamental information needed to implement the various Earth observing objectives. Additionally, by periodically revisiting and reassessing technologic capabilities and societal needs, the “approach of routine assessment, improved data management, and coordinated planning is designed to enable stable, continuous, and coordinated Earth-observation capabilities for the benefit of society.”

The overall motivation behind the National Strategy and National Plan is the recognized societal importance of Earth observation. Specifically, “Earth observations provide the indispensable foundation for meeting the Federal Government’s long-term sustainability objectives and advancing U.S. social, environmental, and economic well-being.” With that in mind, the National Strategy specifies twelve key “societal benefit areas”: agriculture and forestry, biodiversity, climate, disasters, ecosystems, energy and mineral resources, human health, ocean and coastal resources and ecosystems, space weather, transportation, water resources, weather, and reference measurements. Also deemed relevant are the various technology developments that span across all focus areas, such as advances in sensor systems, data processing, algorithm development, data discovery tools, and information portals.

The National Strategy additionally presents a comprehensive outline for a unified data management framework, which sets the fundamental “expectations and requirements for Federal agencies involved in the collection, processing, stewardship, and dissemination of Earth-observation data.” The framework addresses needs across the entire data life cycle, beginning with the planning stages of data collection, progressing through data organization and formatting standards, and extending to data accessibility and long-term data stewardship. Also included is the need to provide full and open data access to all interested users, as well as optimize interoperability, thereby facilitating the more efficient exchange of data and information products across the entire community.

With this National Strategy, the U.S. is defining a unified vision for integrating existing resources and directing future investments in Earth observation. We are looking forward to reading the upcoming National Plan, which is targeted for release later this year.

To access a copy of the National Strategy report, visit the Office of Science and Technology Policy: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp

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