Earth is a dynamic planet. During the last century we came to understand that the changes occurring on Earth result from natural processes affected by human activities. The new challenge in Earth Science is to better understand the physical and biological systems supporting life on Earth, how these systems change through natural variation and human impact, and how to use this understanding to mitigate change while planning for its consequences.
NASA’s goal in Earth science, “.... to study the Earth from space to advance scientific understanding and meet social needs” determines how NASA employs its unique capabilities to address the fundamental challenges of Earth science.
The Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters is the organization assigned responsibility to meet the Agency’s Earth science goals. The Division accomplishes its task through programs in research and applied science that develop and test new tools and techniques for observing the Earth from space; applying these observations to better understand fundamental Earth processes at global and regional scales; and using these observations and their research conclusions to benefit society by enhancing decision making in a world of rapid and unanticipated change.
Six focus areas comprise NASA’s Earth science research program: climate change and variability, carbon cycle and ecosystems, Earth surface and interior, atmospheric composition, weather, and water and energy cycle. In support of these research areas, the Earth Science Division develops, launches and operates research instruments on spaceborne and airborne platforms; maintains data systems and archives to generate data products from the observations that are available to the research community and the public; and develops and applies models combining NASA observations with other data for greater insight on fundamental Earth processes and better prediction of future change.
The data from this robust Earth science research directly informs the Division’s Applied Sciences Program. This program, in partnership with other federal agencies and user organizations, uses NASA’s unique Earth science capabilities to enhance decision making processes related to agriculture, ecosystems, air quality, climate, disaster management, water resources, public health and weather.
The organizational structure for Earth science at NASA Headquarters is mirrored at Ames Research Center where the Ames Earth Science Division is part of the Center’s Science Directorate. The Earth Science Division at Ames supports the Agency’s Earth science goals and objectives through a vigorous program in atmospheric and biospheric studies, extending a long Ames heritage in Earth observations and analysis in research and applied science.
The Division’s areas of expertise include the merging of airborne and satellite based observations, numerical modeling, laboratory studies related to the physics, chemistry and biology of remote sensing, and development of remote sensing instrumentation and information systems. This expertise is used in projects supported primarily through proposals awarded in competitive solicitations. Earth science research topics at Ames include the physical and chemical processes of biogeochemical cycling; the dynamics of terrestrial ecosystems; the chemical and transport processes that determine atmospheric composition, dynamics and climate; and the physical processes that determine the behavior of the atmosphere on Earth and other bodies in the solar system. The Division applies the knowledge from Earth science research and supporting technology to applications used by partner organizations.
The Division is NASA’s lead organization, through the Ames Earth Science Project Office, for managing Earth science field campaigns: multi-agency and multi-center efforts that often involve international partners at sites across the globe. Finally, Earth science at Ames is committed to educational outreach.
Motivated, talented and experienced professional staffs are the basis for the success of the NASA Earth science program. At Ames, Earth scientists and technical personnel design, develop and perform remote sensing and in situ experimental measurements, conduct computer simulations of atmospheric and ecosystem processes to understand exchanges between the biosphere and the atmosphere using data from airborne and satellite platforms, and conceive and develop advanced instrumentation to satisfy NASA Earth science measurement requirements. Project managers and project scientists provide science mission management and science leadership for major Earth science programs at NASA and partner agencies. Staff scientists enhance applications utilizing proven and new technology, and work within NASA programs and policies to transfer NASA Earth science capabilities to commercial enterprises, national and international government agencies and ministries, and educational institutions.
NASA encourages a competitive environment in Earth science research to stimulate innovation in the NASA community and the broader research community. In response to this encouragement, the Earth Science Division in 2007 adopted an approach to Earth science research and applied science emphasizing three elements: maintaining broad involvement of Division staff in the research and applied science solicitations from NASA Headquarters, increasing emphasis on reimbursable projects at Ames (i.e., projects sponsored by other U.S. agencies and commercial interests), and collaborating with the Ames small satellite initiative to assure that Earth science has opportunities for new observations on such platforms. The Division believes these three elements will assure a healthy and competitive Earth science program at Ames, will contribute to the Agency’s national and international goals, and will make federal capabilities available to beneficiaries at local and regional levels.
This report summarizes the accomplishments of the NASA Ames Research Center Earth Science Division during calendar year 2007. The Division achieved significant progress, with some projects making news at national and international levels. Included are the results of projects from all elements of the Division: the Atmospheric Science and Biospheric Science Branches, the Atmospheric Science and Technology Lab, and the Earth Science Project Office. Projects and tasks are described separately and linked to the elements of NASA’s overall Earth science program. A point of contact is listed for each project or task. Readers are invited to contact the appropriate personnel within the Division for more information.