Connecting USDA and NSF Terrestrial Observation Network to Science Policy

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Information about Connecting USDA and NSF Terrestrial Observation Network to Science Policy

Published on December 27, 2013

Author: brianwee



Large-scale environmental changes pose challenges that straddle environmental, economic, and social boundaries. As we design and implement climate adaptation strategies at the Federal, state, local, and tribal levels, accessible and usable data are essential for implementing actions that are informed by the best available information. Data-intensive science has been heralded as an enabler for scientific breakthroughs powered by advanced computing capabilities and interoperable data systems. Those same capabilities can be applied to data and information systems that facilitate the transformation of data into highly processed products.
At the interface of scientifically informed public policy and data intensive science lies the potential for producers of credible, integrated, multi-scalar environmental data like the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and its partners to capitalize on data and informatics interoperability initiatives that enable the integration of environmental data from across credible data sources. NEON is designed to provide high-quality, long-term environmental data for research. These data are also meant to be repurposed for operational needs that like risk management, vulnerability assessments, resource management, and others. The proposed USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS) Long Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR) network is another example of such an environmental observatory that will produce credible data for environmental / agricultural forecasting and informing policy.

To facilitate data fusion across observatories like NEON and LTAR, there is a growing call for observation systems to more closely coordinate and standardize how variables are measured. Together with observation standards, cyberinfrastructure standards enable the proliferation of an ecosystem of applications that utilize diverse, high-quality, credible data. Interoperability facilitates the integration of data from multiple credible sources of data, and enables the repurposing of data for use at different geographical scales. Metadata that captures the transformation of data into value-added products (“provenance”) lends reproducability and transparency to the entire process. This way, the datasets and model code used to create any product can be examined by other parties.

This poster outlines a pathway for transforming environmental data into value-added products by various stakeholders to better inform sustainable agriculture using data from environmental observatories including NEON and LTAR.

1 2 2,3 Authors: Justin P. Poinsatte , Brian Wee , Jeffrey Taylor (1) Washington State University; (2) NEON, Inc.; (3) Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder Agro-ecosystem Data and Information Challenge 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: 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). 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). Data for Policy In April 2013, the Group of Eight (G8) leaders convened a “Open Data for Agriculture” summit in Washington, DC. At the summit, the US Government unveiled a data community on Data.GOV to facilitate the discovery, access, and use of data held by the Federal government related to food, agriculture, and rural issues. USDA Secretary Vilsack stated that “Open access to data will help combat food insecurity today while laying the groundwork for a sustainable agricultural system to feed a population that is projected to be more than nine billion by 2050.” NEON is currently developing and testing an interoperability framework – a “fabric” that is used to stitch together partner observatories like the LTAR so that data and information can be seamlessly integrated across systems to serve policy and hence, societal needs. Cyberinfrastructure is an integral part of this framework. Airborne Observatory Applications R&D Programs Research Infrastructure Spaceborne Observatory Cyberinfrastructure enables the transformation of data into environmental indicators for informed decisionmaking. Indicators may be thought of as measurements or calculations that represent important features of the status, trend, or performance of a system of interest (e.g. the economy, agriculture, air quality) (Janetos et al 2013). Research Social Observatory Scientific Visualization Education In order for these data to be used to inform policy, data must be transformed into successively value-added products (“information”) using tools. Most of these tools are still currently stand-alone, but are gradually transitioning into collaborative, cloud-based, cyberinfrastructure. Such collaborative environments will facilitate data sharing and integration. Forecasting Terrestrial Observatory Experience Data Information Presentation Organization Indicator Development Public Engagement Data Mining Risk Management Data Source #2 …. Resource Management Decision Support Data Source n Vulnerability Assessments Integration Conversation Interoperability Framework FAO 2011 Context (Figure courtesy of Peter Fox, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) USDA LTAR Environmental Indicators NEON-LTAR National Configuration Indicators are designed to inform us quickly about something of importance. Monitoring them over time can help determine whether problems are developing and, if so, which interventions might effectively alleviate them (Orians G, oral presentation , SERDP Conference, Washington DC, 2010). 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. The US Global Change Research Program’s (USGCRP) third National Climate Assessment (NCA) will create a system of indicators to help inform policy-makers and citizens understand key impacts of the changing climate (USGCRP NCA website). USGCRP agricultural indicators may include workable field days during growing season, crop distribution maps, pest distribution maps, disaster and crop insurance payments (Janetos et al 2013). 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); Indicators may be derived directly from data or models, or they may be dimensionless combinations of many disparate observations (Janetos et al 2013) that ingest data from a complex ecosystem of credible data sources like NEON and the LTAR. NEON provides a national baseline for key environmental data that are key for forecasting plant productivity. Within the national constellation of 60 NEON sites, 11 observe agro-ecosystem processes. The complementary LTAR will provide critical data specifically designed to inform agricultural 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). Virtual Observatory Knowledge Data Source #1 Creation Gathering Ocean Observatory Tundra Taiga Hawaii Puerto Rico Interoperability between NEON and LTAR is likely to represent a substantial contribution to the timely and reliable generation of key agricultural indicators for policy purposes. © 2013 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.

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