GEO Facilities Plan

4.0 Potential New Capabilities

GEO is constantly evaluating opportunities to develop new facilities, either in response to the changing needs of researchers, or to replace aging or obsolescent capabilities. Changing demands from the research community are driven by scientific breakthroughs or technological advances, and the need to provide investigators with state-of-the-art capabilities requires that outdated systems be replaced in a timely way. Many of these new facilities could be supported by multiple agencies. They would be engaged in highly interdisciplinary research activities and would provide new opportunities for public outreach and education. The following projects (listed in no priority order), would help provide the community with leading-edge capabilities for geosciences research. When identifying the resources required to develop new facilities, GEO will establish an appropriate balance between the support required for stable operation, maintenance, and upgrading of existing facilities.

  • A Relocatable Atmospheric Observatory (RAO),15 designed as a transportable system, would provide new capabilities for studying the properties of Earth's upper atmosphere and ionosphere. This collection of instruments, centered on a state-of-the-art phased array incoherent scatter radar with electronic steerability, would give this observatory unique capabilities in addressing problems in solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling and its effects on the global atmosphere. For example, locating the observatory near the north magnetic pole would allow observations critical to our understanding of the way Earth's atmosphere is magnetically and electrically coupled to the solar wind. Other possibilities include sites such as Hawaii and New Mexico near large existing lidar facilities, and Poker Flat, Alaska, near the NASA rocket launching facility. The Relocatable Atmospheric Observatory would contribute to several strategic areas of research, including the National Space Weather Program (NSWP) and the USGCRP. The new observations would complement others made by state-of-the-art facilities around the world, as well as those made by an international array of satellite-borne instrumentation.
  • Coastal Research Vessel5 Ensuring the availability of appropriate sea-going facilities and support services is crucial to investigators supported by NSF research programs. The research vessels that support studies of coastal oceanographic systems are aging, and several may need replacement in the near future if research demands for interdisciplinary studies are to be met. A next-generation coastal research vessel would maintain needed research support capabilities.
  • High Performance Research Aircraft16 The High-Performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER) would be a modern mid-sized jet aircraft with capabilities to reach 50,000 feet altitude and over 7,000 miles in range. The aircraft would be outfitted with new sensors, data systems, and scientist workstations to accommodate scientific investigations important to national and global priorities in climate, hazardous weather, and Earth system science supporting human needs. HIAPER is a much needed replacement for the aging, limited-capability Lockheed Electra turbo-prop aircraft, operated by the NCAR.
  • EarthScope25 EarthScope would be a distributed, multi-purpose geophysical instrument array that has the potential for making major advances in our knowledge and understanding of the structure and dynamics of the North American continent. The EarthScope concept consists of three projects that would be considered and implemented separately, but which taken together could contribute to an integrated research effort in this area of study. The projects are: (1) U.S. Array/San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth, (2) Plate Boundary Observatory, and (3) Interofero-metric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR). The U.S. Array would be a dense array of high-capability seismometers that would be deployed in a stepwise fashion throughout the U.S. to greatly improve our resolution of the subsurface rheology. The San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth would study fault parameters and the rupture processes of earthquakes. The physics of these processes is one of the most challenging problems in science today.

The Plate Boundary Observatory (PBO) would involve the construction of an array of permanent borehole installations of multiple instruments, including GPS receivers, strainmeters, tiltmeters, and seismometers that would be distributed across the western half of the U.S.

The Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) would involve a partnership with NASA and other agencies to orbit a synthetic aperture radar on a satellite. InSAR has produced spectacular images of crustal distortion of earthquakes, volcanoes, and land subsidence with high precision and spatial resolution.

  • Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC)17 Over the next decade, NSF intends to collaborate with other U.S. agencies and Taiwan to support COSMIC. The Global Positioning System applied to Meteorology (GPS/MET), along with its progeny COSMIC, are elegant solutions to the problem of obtaining global, high resolution observations of the three dimensional structure of atmospheric temperature and water vapor throughout the troposphere and lower stratosphere, and the electron densities of the charged upper atmosphere. The spatial and temporal gradients of these important variables strongly influence weather, climate, and upper atmospheric electrical phenomena, all of which have profound effects on human societies. The data from COSMIC would provide a valuable new resource for atmospheric science studies.
  • Sustained Time-Series Observations in the Oceans6 Evolving research themes in the geosciences focus on interactive processes that occur over a vast range of temporal and spatial scales, and exhibit numerous dynamic linkages between system components; e.g., the coupling of biological, geological, chemical, and physical systems in the oceans. New advances in understanding cannot be made by simply characterizing the ocean systems over limited regions or for short periods. Investigation of the Earth as a dynamic system requires new observational capabilities. Examples of systems to potentially be designed and implemented over the next five years are: long-term seafloor observatories for time-series observations in the deep ocean environment, with emphasis upon the expansion of the GSN into the oceans (the Ocean Seismic Network [OSN]); maintenance and expansion of long-term surface and water column observatories, such as the existing stations off Hawaii (Hawaii Ocean Time-series [HOT]) and Bermuda (Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study [BATS]); new sensor technologies and data recovery capabilities; and the development and application of controlled autonomous profiling floats to provide a near-real-time synoptic view of upper ocean dynamics on a basin scale. Providing open access to these new capabilities for the widest possible segment of the ocean sciences' community would be accomplished (in some cases) by instrument centers.

  • National Facility for Hydrological Sciences Traditionally, hydrologic data sets have been collected independently and sporadically by a wide range of public agencies. These data are not sufficient to advance our understanding of mass balances as water moves at multiple space-time scales within watersheds. Our environment and economy are increasingly exposed by our ignorance of nonlinear coupling among water, biota, and energy which involves multiple feedback, thresholds, and natural fluctuations that can change hydrologic regimes suddenly and dramatically. New observing capabilities (radar, satellite imagery, isotopic tracers) and mathematical tools (fractals, dynamic systems) need to be organized within a sustained, integrated observational system. A National Facility for the Hydrologic Sciences would, for the first time, coordinate the full range of emerging technologies and modern computational capabilities to bear on basic, and applied, research problems in the hydrologic sciences, and would incorporate facilities for community access to modern instrumentation and data archiving and distribution.
  • Ocean Data Assimilation and Modeling7 The critical environmental processes that control most Earth systems can best be understood if considered from a multidisciplinary perspective as dynamic, nonlinear systems. An important component of future global ocean sciences is the creation of an infrastructure and environment in which data assimilation, integration, modeling, and interpretation of large diverse data sets can take place. Computational capabilities must be adequate for global data sets from satellite research missions, e.g., radiometry, scatterometry, and altimetry available today; plus new types of measurements, e.g., ocean color, geode, or surface property characteristics. These synoptic data sets must be combined with interior ocean data being collected by major process studies, e.g., global change programs, in coherent ways such as via model data assimilation.

To address these needs, new infrastructure and partnerships would be required spanning the ocean community. A concept has been developed to address these needs (and evolve in a phased manner), involving a central 'hub' facility supporting a number of 'scientific nodes.' The hub facility would provide computational and data assimilation capabilities, high-level analyses, technical assistance, code and analysis software, benchmark solutions, documentation, and other services. Nodes are envisioned as small or large teams (5-15 scientists) collaborating on model/data synthesis projects requiring regional- to global-scale computational capability. The rationale is that such groups are needed to advance our capability in the simulation and understanding of the physical, chemical, biological, and biogeochemical behavior of the ocean, estimations of the state of the ocean, and the identification of essential new ocean observing capabilities. This effort would be planned as a multi-agency activity.

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