Policy Committee Meeting Summary:

22-23 September 2005

NSF Headquarters, Arlington, Virginia



UPC Staff

Melanie Wetzel (Chair)

Ben Domenico
Steve Ackerman

Joanne Graham

Michael Biggerstaff Jo Hansen
Philip Bogden Linda Miller
Steve Businger Russ Rew
Jim Koermer  
David Maidment (present for portion of day one)

UCAR, UOP and Unidata Representatives

Paul Ruscher

Mohan Ramamurthy, UOP/Unidata

Gene Takle

Tim Spangler, UOP/COMET, Observer
  Roger Wakimoto, NCAR/EOL, Observer

Agency Representatives

Michael Goodman (NASA)

Not Attending

Bernard Grant (NSF/ATM) Jack Fellows, UOP Observer

Clifford Jacobs (NSF/ATM)

Steve Worley, SCD Observer

Leroy Spayd (NOAA/NWS)

  Present via phone conference for Item One, Friday

Committee Representatives

Sara Graves, U of Alabama-Huntsville,

Jim Steenburgh (Users Committee Chair)

Sharon LeDuc, David McGuirk, and Glenn Rutledge, NOAA/NCDC
  David Maidment, committee member

Thursday, 22 September 2005

Administrative Matters (Wetzel)

Director's Report (Ramamurthy)

Unidata's overall health is strong, and the months since the May meeting have been busy ones. Of most recent note is activity that demonstrated the robustness of Unidata products by their use prior to, during, and following hurricane Katrina. The IDD proved to be invaluable to forecasters and emergency managers during the period.

Software development during the period has included the 2005 McIDAS release, improvements to GEMPAK, and an LDM release (6.4.1) that eliminates the need for manual failovers. IDV use has accelerated during the period to a total of 617 unique downloads since March 18 2005. Two-dimensional charting capabilities have been added to the package to enhance support for field project data.

A new effort, the THREDDS Data Server (TDS) extends the Common Data Model and THREDDS catalog service into a single remote access data server. The TDS has an integrated OPeNDAP server for subsetted file access, an HTTP server for bulk file access, and an experimental WCS server for gridded data, along with THREDDS catalog services. The TDS is being tested on Unidata's motherlode and UPC-LEAD testbed servers, as well as several servers outside of Unidata. Discussions are also underway between the THREDDS development team at Unidata and OPenDAP developers to make OPeNDAP the remote access protocol for netCDF-4 and netCDF-4 the persistence format for OPeNDAP. If realized, this will be an important development for the community, for it will simplify the installation of THREDDS and OPeNDAP technologies.

The LEAD project successfully completed the two-year NSF site review, and the Unidata LEAD testbed completed its second implementation phase. The new storage subsystem of the Unidata LEAD testbed, which currently has a capacity of 10TB, will soon be expanded to 60TB. This facility will be a significant resource for the community with regard to near realtime data access.

The total support load at the UPC remains high but steady. The plan to introduce e-support is a little behind schedule but will be introduced to the community in test mode in October.

NCAR/EOL is leading the effort to prepare a Virtual Operations Center (VOC) proposal for field projects. Collaborators are Unidata and NCAR/SCD and NCAR/RAL (check with Don). Unidata's involvement would be primarily in IDV development, although THREDDS technologies will also be leveraged by the proposed project. If successful, it would yield funding for a .5 FTE to be shared with EOL.

In other activity, the annual training workshop sessions were fully subscribed, with organizers receiving positive feedback from attendees. Unidata hosted two SOARS students during the summer months who completed projects under the direction of two staff. A revised and aesthetically more pleasing web site was introduced in September. Additional details of the seven Equipment Awards, which were announced last summer, were provided to the committee. Ways to manage community expectations with more targeted solicitations will be included in the next solicitation.


Budget Report (Graham)

Unidata will end FY05 in the black with expenditures just slightly below total funding for the year. This was good news. The bad news is that FY06 appears to be on the same track as previously reported. Specifically, it seems clear that unless new funding streams are realized, or core funding significantly increased, we will, for the first time in many years, make a significant dent in our reserves. While this funding deficit has been anticipated for some time, the fact remains that this year, without further remedy, we will go from a positive cash-flow situation to a negative one for the first time in the known history of Unidata. The bigger fear is that this situation will continue through FY07, in which case our reserves would be completely depleted, leaving us in the red for FY07. Unidata has already taken steps to cut non-salary expenses in FY06. The projected gap between funding and expenditures in FY06 is up to $400,000.


Users Committee Report (Steenburgh)

Agency Reports

NSF (Jacobs)

From the Lax report published in 1982 to the Atkins report published in 2003 calls for government spending to develop computing systems have been strong. At present the NSF's cyberinfrastructure planning group has met a series of milestones: that included establishing the Office of Cyberinfrastructure, naming an acting director, implementing the search for the office Director, and articulating the vision that states that "NSF will lead the development and support of a comprehensive cyberinfrastructure essential to 21st century advances in science and engineering."

The NAS group tasked with providing guidance to ATM on its strategy for achieving its goals in the atmospheric sciences into the future has made its interim report. The report addressed the following: activities and modes of support for achieving NSF’s range of goals in the atmospheric sciences; effectiveness of those modes of support, balance among modes of support, and the effectiveness of the interdisciplinary, foundation-wide, interagency, and international activities. The committee's findings indicated values that Policy Committee members have heard articulated from time to time in NSF reports that include value for cross-disciplinary research, for international collaboration, and for high-risk but potentially transforming research. Other findings included value of diverse modes of support, strategic planning, interagency coordination, and partnerships between university/private sector scientists and national centers.

With the expiration of all DLESE awards at the end of FY2006, GEO is considering how to re-balance its directorate-wide educational programs. GEO divisional activities will remain responsive to community needs and opportunities.


NASA (Goodman)

In the recent NASA reorganization, the Earth Science group split into an Earth-Sun Systems group and an Applied Science Research Group. The U.S. Group on Earth Observations (USGEO) has been further defined into six groups each one of which is developing implementation reports on how the federal government can foster development of integrated systems that will provide societal benefits.

The EOSDIS is tasked with identifying the components that can /must evolve, identifying those that need to be replaced because they're outdated, and identifying components that need to be phased out. An independent study team composed of University Community members, NASA scientists, and IT experts external to EOSDIS is considering recommendations that are consistent with the goals and objectives.

The EOSDIS data set has value that is commensurate with the presidential initiatives of climate change research, global earth observation and vision for space exploration. NASA will continue its stewardship of the data set, but the operational management and long-term archival have transitioned to the USGS and NOAA agencies. All NASA research communities have access to all EOS data. NPESS, MEOP, GPM use EOS data interoperably. The archived data is reviewed regularly.

The NASA ACCESS research announcement to improve data systems and existing technologies received 51 proposals in the initial call for proposals. Award announcements will be made in October 2005.

NWS (Spayd)

The Weather Service's prediction tools and the NDFD performed exceptionally well before, during, and following the Kartrina event. NWS had nailed the prediction Friday night before landfall Monday.

There are still some issues at the boundaries for NDFD, but improvements are being made. Several steering committees are being created to work through the changes in the NOAA’s Environmental Real-Time Observing Network and related activities. The FAA is making 45 TDWR data sites available. Leroy will work with Unidata on collecting requirements for the data access/distribution. Funding shortfalls are inhibiting several key activities at the NWS.

Generally, there is a need for improved and cost-effective observations of Earth system (GEOSS) is motivating plans for NOAA’s Integrated Observing System (IOS). NWS is a big part of the effort to get all of NOAA’s observing platforms speaking the same language and providing data we all can use to the fullest.

Unidata's International Activities and Development (Ramamurthy)

There are indications that Unidata's international community is growing. Some reasons for this include the widespread use of the IDD, MeteoForum's success. Other indications of the growth are participation in training workshops by growing numbers of international participants, a growing number of proposals to the Equipment Awards RFPs from international universities.

MeteoForum was a pilot program funded by UOP Director's office that was tasked with developing an international network of Regional Meteorological Traning Centers (RMTCs) to enable access to data resources, software, and training, and reference materials. Providing the tools, supporting faculty, and building a global community are results of the activity.

LDM is being used by met services in Spain, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan. SuomiNet, an international network of 75 GPS receivers is using the LDM to collect and disseminate GPS observations from and to all of its sites. Almost all other Unidata software products are being used by the international community. NetCDF, for example, is being used in nearly 70 countries. The IDV is also experiencing broad international use.

Participation in THORPEX is expected to increase Unidata's international exposure. THORPEX is a multi-year highly complex research program. NCAR will be a global repository for TIGGE (THORPEX Interactive Grand Global Ensemble) data products, and Unidata likely will distribute these data in real time.

Global collaborations are imperative to advance science. This is a great time to take more steps.


UCAR 2005 Survey Results (Ramamurthy, Miller)

UCAR's recently completed web-based survey yielded a greater response level than that of one that was conducted in 2000. UCAR members comprised by far the greatest percentage of respondents to the survey. Unidata's recognition level was high, and there were generally positive comments throughout on community and community building and software support. One weakness pointed out in the results seemed to be in software documentation .Although not dreadful, there was an indication that documentation (across the board) could be improved

In the data provision related questions responses indicated general satisfaction. Archival and more satellite data were the most frequently mentioned in requests for more data sets.

Responses to specific questions about Unidata support were mostly positive as were free text comments about it. Although Unidata looked strong in the survey, it would be unwise to dismiss the negative comments.


Unidata Metrics and Evaluation (Ramamurthy, Miller)

(Representatives from NSF's SRS group, Rachel Hollander and Robert Bell (both from NSF's (Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences), visited briefly with a subset of the committee prior to this discussion. They recommended names of possible consultants as well as some information about desired consultant backgrounds.)

Discussion surrounding Unidata's metrics development focused on the importance first of creating goals, and then identifying a consultant to develop the process for creating. the metric.

The point of departure for developing the metric should be the Strategic Plan developed about three years ago and adopted by this committee at its February 2002 meeting. Input received from the users surveys being conducted by Users Committee members prior to each of its meetings might also be important. Two critical questions to be considered include

  1. How responsive is the UPC to its community?
  2. Does a core of shared values exist?

Two key core values from the strategic plan that need to be considered in the revision are adaptability to change and integration of education and research. A new overarching statement is also needed.

From the foundation's point of view, the evaluation should begin with Unidata's origins and cover the entire life of the program. NSF's initial funding of Unidata was a strategic decision.


Friday, 23 September

Unidata-CUAHSI-SURA/SCOOP Collaborative Proposal Ideas (Domenico)

To develop an infrastructure that will facilitate innovative interdisciplinary research and education among atmospheric sciences, hydrology, and ocean sciences is the goal of a developing collaboration called RHOAPS or Real-time Hydrology Ocean Atmosphere Prediction System. A plan to submit a joint (collaborative) proposal to include Unidata, CUAHSI, and SURA/SCOOP is underway. The focus is integrating realtime data systems, developing coupled forecast systems, and examining analysis and display alternatives.

Among Unidata's roles will be to develop event-driven data delivery, integration of appropriate decoders for visualization packages, and standards-based web services technology. To the endeavor, Unidata brings its expertise with real-time data and a growing community. The hydrology community will focus on streamflow data, hydrological observatory datasets, and GIS analysis and display systems while the ocean community's focus will be on storm surge models and GIS and oceanographic analysis and display systems.

To bridge interoperability issues, analysis and display capabilities for both communities will be needed. The web services path may be the one to take.


SCOOP Presentation (Bogden)

The SURA Coastal Ocean Observing and Prediction aka SCOOP is a participant in this proposed endeavor. It is a community initiative, a broadly accessible, open-access, distributed facility, supported by university researchers in partnership with government agencies and the private sector, and a virtual laboratory.

SCOOP seeks to revolutionize the science of coastal environmental & hazard prediction with the right blend of information technology and computer science.

Website Update (Graham)

The revamped web site was deployed September 18. In general the site will be the point of entry to the program center and to the broader community. More specifically, the new framework features a redesigned database, more easily executed downloads, a site that can support support, a start at personalization. In addition it gives the program center the ability to gather useful information about the nature of the community as well as some specific information.

Better integration of the mailing list with the site and providing better on-line support are two high priority items.


UCAR/NCAR/UOP Strategic Planning (Ramamurthy)

A revision of Unidata's strategic plan must take place prior to initiating the next five-year proposal process.

In addition to Unidata, UOP, UCAR and NCAR will be revising their strategic plans, and a UOP Director's Retreat is scheduled near the end of October to initiate the process for UOP. The initiation of Unidata's revisions will begin following that retreat.


Wrap-up Discussion

The meeting adjourned at 11:45 AM.

Action Items:

1. Review the IDV's current development status including its long-range plans and how they affect the long-term plans for GEMPAK and McIDAS. Those plans will be presented at the spring Policy Committee meeting.
2. Review the process for adding new data to Unidata's datastreams (e.g., U.S. Precision Lightning Network data), giving consideration to issues concerning their quality and possibly cost.
3. Reserve a block of time at the next Policy Committee meeting to begin an in-depth discussion toward revising Unidata's Strategic Plan.
4. Develop a more detailed timeline and schedule for the Unidata metrics and evaluation activity and select a consultant by the end of October.
5. Continue to seek input as well as additional partners for developing the multi-disciplinary Oceans-Hydrology-Atmospheric Science cyberinfrastructure proposal.

Jo Hansen