Leveraging Environmental Observation Infrastructure for the Benefit of Society


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Presented at an annual Congressional exhibition organized by the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF) in May 2013.

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Leveraging Environmental Observation Infrastructure for the Benefit of Society

  1. 1. Leveraging Environmental Observation Infrastructure for the Benefit of Society 1 1,2 3 Authors: Brian Wee , Hank Loescher , Mark Walbridge (1) NEON, Inc.; (2) Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder; (3) USDA ARS, Beltsville, MD Challenges Living systems are experiencing some of the greatest rates of change caused by multiple changes in the environment, both human-driven and natural. These changes affect ecosystems, air quality, water resources, agriculture, and other goods and services. Natural, managed, and socioeconomic systems are subjected to complex interacting stresses that play out over extended periods of time and space (USGCRP 2013, NRC 2007). Some of the most pressing challenges are highlighted below: · Ecosystems and the biodiversity they embody constitute “environmental capital” on which society depends in many ways. · The degradation of environmental capital result in impacts that include: loss of agronomic capacity; damaging floods arising from deforested watersheds and heavier precipitation events; increasing costs of fresh water supply; disappearance or diminution of economically valuable freshwater and saltwater fisheries; loss of biodiversity and ecosystem resiliency (PCAST 2011). · By 2050, agriculture will need to supply enough food, feed, fiber, & fuel to support a global population of 9 billion people. More than ¾ of the 70% increase in global food production needed by 2050 will have to come from the ‘sustainable intensification’ of existing agricultural lands (FAO 2011). National Investments in Environmental Observation The observation of such changes (impacts), and the processes that cause those impacts (stressors), has to date been largely accomplished through ad-hoc integration of data from existing observation programs that were designed for other purposes. Leveraging Federal Investments At the request of NSF, the National Research Council (NRC) established a scientific committee to assess the major nationallevel knowledge gaps in the ecological and environmental sciences (NRC 2001, 2003). It called for the creation NEON using NSF’s Major Research and Equipment Facilities Construction (MREFC) account. This ad-hoc approach is not adequate for measuring stressors, their impacts, and how they interact at large spatial scales over decades. Scientific infrastructure to enable understanding of continental-scale processes must be commensurate with the scale of the phenomena. The MREFC mechanism was established in 1995 with Congressional approval to fund transformational research infrastructure at the frontiers of science and engineering. Research, Education, and Economics In light of the challenges facing agriculture over the next few decades, USDA and NEON leaders have been exchanging information on strategies for leveraging existing investments. Discussions have focused on the establishment of partnerships and the sharing of techniques, protocols, best practices, and physical infrastructure. In late 2012, the USDA launched its Long-Term Agro-Ecosystem Research (LTAR) network with an initial configuration of ten sites, three of which are co-located with NEON. The objectives of the LTAR are to enable the better understanding of: · How key agricultural system components interact at larger scales (e.g., watershed; landscape); NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) NEON is a NSF MREFC scientific infrastructure. The Observatory provides free and openly available data and a variety of other resources for use by the public. The Observatory’s goal is to enable understanding and forecasting of the impacts of climate change, land use change and invasive species on continental-scale ecology by providing physical and information infrastructure to support research, education and environmental management. · How to forecast the environmental effects of shifting agricultural practices; · How to improve the efficacy and information management of conservation programs; · How to identify the broader societal benefits of modern agriculture (e.g., bio-energy production; carbon sequestration; improved water quality & water-use efficiency; wildlife habitat). NEON measures critical ecosystem processes at 60 locations across the nation and scales those data to larger regions, and to the continent, to enable ecological forecasting. NEON and NOAA have been exchanging ideas on approaches to integrate terrestrial and coastal observations. · In 2010, more than 39% of Americans live in coastal shoreline counties. These counties represent less than 10% of the US Land area, but are responsible for over half of the 2011 US GDP (State of the Coast, NOAA). · This will result in new emergent challenges on how best manage US food security and safety, bioenergy, and natural resources at a time of limited support for public sector R&D (NRC 2010). NEON provides a national baseline for critical environmental data. We anticipate NEON scientific data and information to be re-purposable for operational needs, including resource management and policy. Understanding how these changes impact the ecosystems that support human life requires a fully integrated, multi-scale systems to detect, understand, and forecast changes. These changes affect all aspects of society, depicted in the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) conceptual architecture as Societal Benefit Areas (SBAs). · Multiple stressors are already being experienced by coastal and nearshore ecosystems that will be exacerbated by climate change and ocean acidification (PCAST 2011, Burkett and Davidson 2012). The connectivity between terrestrial and near-coastal systems is poorly understood and affect ecosystem services, transportation of nutrients, biodiversity, and ecosystem resilience. These ultimately impact the economic vitality of coastal communities. Integrating Across National Environmental Observatories for the Benefit of Society To leverage existing observation infrastructure and to guide the development of emerging infrastructure, NEON is developing an interoperability framework – a “fabric” that is used to stitch together partner observatories so that data and information can be seamlessly integrated across systems to serve societal needs. Elements of the framework include: well documented and traceable requirements, well documented and fully transparent algorithms for models and data products, measurements calibrated using traceable global standards, and informatics. Observation Systems / Data Sources Spaceborne Observatory Airborne Observatory Social Observatory The Interoperability “Fabric” Applications Scientific Visualization Education Science Requirements Forecasting Terrestrial Observatory Data Products Algorithms Ocean Observatory Virtual Observatory Measurements Traceability Data Source #1 Data Source #2 …. Data Source n Informatics Repurposed Data and Information Public Engagement Data Mining Risk Management Resource Management Decision Support Vulnerability Assessment © 2012 National Ecological Observatory Network, Inc. All rights reserved. The National Ecological Observatory Network is a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation and managed under cooperative agreement by NEON, Inc. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under the following grants: EF-1029808, EF-1138160, EF-1150319 and DBI-0752017. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.