GEO Facilities Plan

2.0 An Integrated View of the Future

Several common themes will dominate the development of research capabilities over the next five years. To varying degrees, they are themes that can be recognized in today's research programs, and in the future will play an even stronger role in guiding directions and decisions.

  • The Access Revolution One of the most powerful and productive trends in modern-day basic research in the geosciences is the increasing access investigators have to both specialized research instrumentation and data.

Research vessels have been readily available to all NSF investigators, independent of whether they are affiliated with a major oceanographic center, and now extremely sophisticated seagoing instruments are available in an analogous fashion. State-of-the-art seismological instrumentation is now routinely provided for continental seismic experiments whereas in the past it was not as accessible. Research aircraft and specialized instruments are now broadly available to the geosciences community.

    A computer-based collaboratory system allows real-time, remote access to data from the chain of incoherent scatter radars. The Internet has revolutionized access to large data bases: U.S. investigators have near-real-time access to data recorded by the Global Seismographic Network (GSN) through the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) data center; high-resolution multibeam sonar images of the ocean floor can be accessed by any interested investigator on the Ridge Interdisciplinary Global Experiments (RIDGE) program multibeam data base; Unidata links universities to National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and other atmospheric databases. These are only a few examples of the expanding capabilities GEO funding brings to the academic community. Future emphasis will be placed on supporting those facilities that expand and improve access to the most sophisticated capabilities and data sets. Several examples of proposed initiatives are described in this document: the data assimilation activities in oceanography, the collaboratory concept, and the growing IRIS data management system.

    Investigators from the smallest of the nation's universities can compete for funds based on the quality of their ideas, not upon their ability to gain access to the required data or instrumentation. Increasingly, access to data sets in near-real-time is allowing investigators to respond to natural `events,' and design powerful experiments around natural perturbations occurring in the Earth's complex systems. Real-time access also provides unique opportunities for communicating the excitement and mysteries of the Earth's dynamic environment to students, educators, and the general public. Many are unaware of the magnitude of the continuous changes occurring in the Earth system so providing accurate and timely information to the broadest possible audience is an important goal. Many activities supported by GEO exemplify these objectives; e.g., seafloor observatories and the relocatable atmospheric observatory.

  • Integration Across Disciplines The boundaries between traditionally distinct disciplines are eroding to meet the intellectual challenge of understanding the Earth as an integrated system. The GEO facilities must follow this trend, and provide capabilities crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries. As the continental drilling program and the next generation of ocean drilling develop, their goals and objectives must be coordinated, and where appropriate, integrated. As new systems for ocean floor seismology are designed, they must be integrated with existing network capabilities on the continents. Atmospheric sciences facilities must extend measurement capabilities to better observe processes occurring at the boundaries between physical domains. Although individual GEO facilities are managed within atmospheric, earth, or ocean sciences, science trends demand they evolve to provide the overall geosciences community with the broadest possible spectrum of capabilities and serve communities beyond individual disciplines. For instance, several atmospheric sciences facilities at remote locations, such as the Sondrestrom Radar in Sondrestromfjord, Greenland may eventually serve as focal points for studies of Arctic seismology, glaciology, biology, and social science. Another example is the infrastructure provided by the stations of the GSN that can be used to measure other geophysical parameters at a globally distributed array of observation points.
  • Interagency Coordination The facilities that GEO funds are justified first by their utility to NSF investigators. However, in many cases these facilities are community-wide resources that receive support from multiple agencies. It is Directorate policy to actively seek out and maintain partnerships with other agencies in order to most effectively provide the research community with the highest quality facilities. Working cooperatively with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), along with industrial partnerships from Orbital Sciences Corporation and Allen Osborne Associates, the Division of Atmospheric Sciences led the effort to launch a satellite carrying a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver that demonstrated GPS radio signals can provide accurate measurements of tropospheric and ionospheric properties. In the earth sciences, the IRIS GSN receives roughly two thirds of the support required for the operation and maintenance of its 110 stations from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). In the ocean sciences, through an interagency partnership that has been in place for over 25 years, more than 10 federal agencies cooperate to support the Academic Research Vessel Fleet. These are only a few examples of the large number of interagency agreements currently in place that allow GEO to more effectively provide facilities to its community. This policy of actively seeking out new relationships with sister agencies to cooperate in the support of key facilities will continue to be a strong component of GEO's plans for the future.
  • Data Quality The need to maintain high standards of quality in data collection systems and databases is obvious. However, as the heart of all cutting-edge research, data quality management deserves emphasis. As the users of large complex data sets become more widely distributed than the investigators who collect and archive the data, it is increasingly important to develop practices and procedures ensuring the integrity and accuracy of the data. All GEO supported efforts will include management systems to guarantee that data characteristics and uncertainties are clearly defined.
  • Continuing Exploration As more structured and sophisticated (and therefore costly) data collection systems become available, appropriate priority of support must be established for research that extends beyond the boundaries of current understanding. Recent discoveries in dynamic time-dependent characteristics of many important phenomena underscore the need for sustained time-series measurements of parameters, the time-variability of which is not fully understood. This can be termed `exploring-in-time,' because often unexpected events or variations are revealed when consistent measurements are made for extended periods. The GEO facilities must provide data access to enable investigators to seize these ground-breaking exploratory opportunities.
  • Facilities and Research: Ever-Tightening Bonds It is crucial to maintain and strengthen links between facilities and the research they support. The GEO facility capabilities must be driven by research needs. Facility selection, operation, and management procedures must allow continuous evolution of capability to match community needs. This `matching' of facility capabilities to research needs must occur at every level - from the interaction of individual investigators with facility providers, to maintaining clear links between the goals enumerated here with those in the GEO Science Plan, FY 1998-2002.


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