Geospatial technology is transforming the way we deliver information, says Joseph F. Klimavicz, Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Director, High Performance Computing and Communications, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
What is the vision of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in terms of creating resilient ecosystem for communities and economies?
For over 40 years, NOAA has delivered science and services that greatly impact the lives of Americans every day. Through our strategic planning processes, we develop the long-term vision, goals, and objectives for the organisation. This forms the basis of our corporate planning, performance management and stakeholder engagement. For example, one of NOAA’s long-term goals is climate adaptation and mitigation, creating an informed society which anticipates and responds to climate and its impacts. To achieve this objective, NOAA will continue its world-class observation, monitoring, research, and modelling efforts, and increase efforts to close gaps in understanding the climate system and the role of humans within the system.
While data and information are wealth, there is a greater need for value added data or information. Is NOAA offering such services?
NOAA collects and produces at least 20 terabytes of data every day. Our weather forecasters rely on model outputs from supercomputers which are fed massive volumes of data from satellites, radar systems, ships, aircraft, weather balloons, and ocean buoys. We are working closely with the Federal geospatial community to build a National Geospatial Platform. This platform will provide a central location for all the shared geospatial data, maps, services and applications of the US Federal community. We are ensuring that the information is easy to find and use by various end users. We have many other GIS-based applications like Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA) which was used in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The ERMA application created a common operating picture with all GIS information during the response and recovery phase. To this day, the application is being used in the environmental restoration work in the Gulf of Mexico. We also maintain the National Spatial Reference System for the United States, which is comprised of over 2000 stations. This system is critical for having accurate survey coordinates and we work with the community to gather the best information possible to keep the system updated. At NOAA, we focus on providing access to high-quality data and ensuring that these datasets are useful to all users. We try to make all our data, whether it is on climate, nautical charts or weather, easily available in as many different formats as is practical to meet the user needs. For value-added product development, we partner broadly with all sectors, including all levels of government, academia, and the private sector. All of these information is provided to the public, including our international partners, free of cost. But only a small percentage of NOAA’s extremely valuable data, about two terabytes a day, is efficiently and effectively made available to the public due to limited resources. To realise the full potential of this data and information, our partners and citizens need access to capabilities that will distill the massive volumes of data into tailored, usable decision- or investment- support products.
NOAA nowCOAST mapping application gives real time coastal observations, forecasts and warnings
We are interested in establishing a public-private partnership where NOAA’s vast data is intelligently positioned in the cloud and co-located with easy and affordable access to computing, storage, and advanced analytical capabilities. The expectation is that all NOAA data moved to the cloud would remain free to the public in its native, unaltered form. This model will allow the private sector to establish a set of services and charge for value-added services.
We are trying to take the advantage of the cloud because it allows us to rapidly adopt a solution and access it from anywhere. Even the National Geospatial Platform is hosted on the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere.
NOAA’s information is hosted on national geospatial platform. Is it a sort of geospatial information infrastructure where variety of datasets can be accessed from one single point of address?
The National Geospatial Platform is built on Esri’s ArcGIS technology and fully complies with all the standards of Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). It also takes the advantage of the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) metadata standards and ISO standards. The catalogue for the application, as well as data.gov, is built using the CKAN technology. As a result, its foundation and components are open and transparent which are well understood by the geospatial committee. In terms of backend and catalogue, it might be of interest to users seeking comprehensive information that CKAN has been deployed in England, India and a couple of other countries. The Geospatial Platform is striving to meet requirements from the US government and all sectors of the US geospatial community. The data which is available spans from raw kind of machine data to the final products, and in compliance with applicable international standards for documentation, data access and services.
NOAA collects information through its fleet of satellites and sensors. Is there a mechanism through which it shares this data with other countries as well?
We have hundreds of NOAA-managed websites where we make our information accessible to public internationally. There is also the National Geospatial Information Platform. We participate in a large number of international data sharing arrangements. NOAA is active in a number of international data sharing arrangements for example GEOSS, WMO — a meteorological association, IPCC, FGDC etc. These arrangements ensure that our climate data is discoverable and shareable. Some of our archives and data centres have to change the format of their data to create new products. They basically have a way to recover the cost but not make profit.
NOAA is moving towards shared enterprise and information services, according to the strategic plan 2013-18. Can you elaborate on this?
We are trying to be as efficient as we can in delivering our IT services. We are moving away from the old model of a closed system. The old system was very effective but it was not efficient in scaling for bandwidth and storage. We want to move towards this new operating model, founded on the delivery of enterprise shared services. Our goal is to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of IT to advance our mission and providing cost-effective solutions.
NOAA claims that its products and services affect a third of the US GDP. Can you elaborate?
Weather and climate industry in the US accounts for one-third of the nation’s domestic product. Aviation and many other services rely on information from the National Weather Service. Weather and climate information are essential to ensure public safety and protection of life and property. Weather forecasts support decision making at all levels, for example, what kind of crops should be planted, when to plant and what to plant, should one invest in corn, future prices of crops etc. We also assist in long-term decision making, for example, looking at climate simulations and yearly forecasts of climate, if summer will be dry etc. these products are particularly in demand.
NOAA is facing consecutive budget cuts. How are you innovating to optimise resources so that there is no compromise vis-a-vis your services and ongoing research?
I have been working with US government for the past 30 years. I have learned how to work in difficult budget environments, and utilise existing resources to meet the needs and expectations of a changing workforce. At NOAA, we are working to deliver the most cost-effective and efficient enterprise information services. This challenge also presents us with new opportunities to work across NOAA and leverage new technologies that help spur innovation.