Policy Committee Meeting Summary:

7-8 September 2006

University of Hawaii, Honolulu



UPC Staff

Melanie Wetzel (Chair)

Mohan Ramamurthy

Steven Businger

Ben Domenico

Rich Clark

Jo Hansen

Rudy Husar

Linda Miller

Jim Koermer

Terry Mitchell

Paul Ruscher

Russ Rew

Gene Takle

Tom Yoksas

David Tarboton


NCAR and UOP Representatives

Agency Representatives

Jack Fellows, Director, UOP

Bernard Grant, (NSF/ATM)

Roger Wakimoto, NCAR/EOL Director

David Herring, (NASA)

Steve Worley, NCAR/CISL/SCD

Clifford Jacobs (NSF/ATM)


Leroy Spayd (NOAA/NWS)

Not Attending


Steve Ackerman

Committee Representatives

Phil Bogden

Jim Steenburgh (Users Committee Chair)

Tim Spangler, UCAR COMET


David Maidment

Thursday, 7 September 2006

Brian Taylor, Dean of the School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology, welcomed the committee to the University of Hawaii. He briefly mentioned the use of Unidata systems in various programs in the school.

Administrative Matters (Wetzel)

See: Unidata Acronym/Glossary List

Director's Report (Ramamurthy)

Mohan welcomed new committee members and thanked those who are outgoing. In addition to the Policy Committee member changes, he announced the new Users Committee Chair, Gary Lackmann, and new members, Eugene Cordero, and Scott Rochette. Committee member Elen Cutrim has been reappointed. The outgoing Users Committee members are Jim Steenburgh who steps down both as chair and committee member. Michael Voss is the other departing member. There've been some changes within the Program Center as well. Effective early August we have a new Program Administrator, Terry Mitchell. Joanne Graham left after eight years in the position. Ed Hartnett returned to Unidata after a brief period in SCD. Back in the Program Center, Ed is working full time on netCDF.

Highlights include:


Budget Report (Mitchell, Ramamurthy)

First and foremost is the change in UCAR's cash management policy. Effective October 1, 2006 all overspending will be charged interest for amounts over $1000. Previously, divisions could over spend up to $50k without approval or penalty. This will force us to really monitor and manage our accounts more closely and stay on top of any outstanding funding.

Total new funding for FY06 was $4.323m with $3.297m of that being core funding, which is a 4.7% decrease from the base funding received in FY05. Despite being down this year as well, we expect an increase in non core funding for FY07. Total expenditures are projected at $4.195m through the rest of FY06, which puts us in a good position heading into FY07 with enough carryover to cover us until the first NSF increment is received sometime in early FY07.

There was some slight shifting around of staff in FY06, and we'll end the fiscal year with 26 FTE with THREDDS being the largest project for the year.

We anticipate a 4% increase in core funding for FY07, but expenses are expected to keep pace with that increase. If those projections come to fruition, then we should be in a good position heading into FY08 as well.


Users Committee Report (Steenburgh)

The most prominent activity for the Users Committee in the past several months has been the Users Workshop, which, as noted has been deemed a great success. Two suggestions came from the panel discussion that took place the last day of the workshop. One was, a suggestion that a student representative be included in Users Committee membership, and the other was providing funding for a faculty visitor in the summer to work directly with software developers.

Many universities have programs or groups to support graduate students who are interested in moving into faculty positions. A User Comm appointment could be seen as part of this kind of professional development.

The User Comn report to the Policy Committee underscored the importance of including both the THREDDS and the IDV discussions in the next Policy Committee agenda.

Agency Reports

NSF (Jacobs)

The President's American Competitiveness Initiative recommended doubling the NSF budget over the next ten years. NSF's budget request for FY07 includes a 7.9% increase over FY06 with the request Research and Related Activities up 7.7% over 06. Worth noting is that the requested MRE budget request for 07 is a relatively small percentage increase.

NSF is preparing its FY08 budget under positive guidance from OMB.

CI vision

NSF's plan for facilitating development of cyberinfrastructure gained visibility with the publication of the Report of the National Science Foundation Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure, frequently referred to as the "Atkins Report" in 2003. Now the Advisory Committee for CI has published NSF's Cyberinfrastructure Vision for the 21st Century, version 7.1 which was posted for public comment at the end of July 2006 and subsequently was sent to the NSB. NSF looks forward to further input from the NSB.

Dan Atkins, chair of the committee that created the original report, has assumed leadership of the Office of Cyber Infrastructure at NSF. NSF's focus is now on development of further implementation plans.

Because time was short, Cliff, in deference to the NASA and NOAA representatives to the committee, did not present the last several slides of his presentation.

NWS (Spayd)

Weather prediction has (obvious) effects on many segments of society. To improve the warning system the Weather Service plans to move from county-based warnings to storm-based warnings. New technology allows the NWS to now warn for sub-county areas which will greatly reduce the number of people warned and save millions of dollars in warning response costs.  The warning dissemination system needs to be modified from a county-based system to a digital location based system. The storm-based warnings will result in better service to the public. The switch seems to have gained wide acceptance.

NOAA is directing the NWS to plan to reduce the number of its redundant radiosonde weather observations as new aircraft water vapor sensors are deployed. The process will begin in 2008 and timed with the installation of water vapor sensors on commercial aircraft in the United States. The agency calculates this will reduce costs by $4M per year. The NWS plans on modeling simulations and field evaluations to assure no degradation to operational
weather services or the climate record.

Real-time Mesoscale Analysis (RTMA) is now available via NOAAPORT to forecasters and researchers 43 minutes after each hour, and the goal is to reduce this to 35 minutes. Among the data sources for RTMA are conventional observations and mesonets through MADIS at GSD.  RTMA is an affordable solution for NDFD-matching verification and its deployment on NOAAPORT, while still in experimental status, is an important step towards a complete Analysis of Record.

Budget shortfalls significantly impacted the NWS in FY 2006, but the President’s budget for FY 2007 restores some of those funds. A final 2007 appropriation from Congress is not expected until December.

NASA (Herring)

NASA's Earth Sciences Division, a part of the Goddard Space Flight Center, is involved in a number of undertakings. Using 16 satellites and operating in six interdisciplinary science areas ESD seeks to answer the question: "How is Earth changing and what are the consequences for life on Earth?"

In the NEO (NASA Earth Observatory, http://neo.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov) group, defined in the April NASA report to the committee as a resource for the "citizen science" community, user stats continue to climb as are subscriptions, though in both instances some leveling off of usage has been observed. NEO has been the recipient of numerous awards including being named one of the "50 Best of the Web" by Popular Science.

A natural hazards page provides links to near-real-time Earth events so that users can monitor them. In addition to frequent updates and a map linking natural hazards events to satellite images of these events, the site contains a link to archived hazard event images and information; but the site is more than links it also provides information about the hazardous events, e.g., wildfires and drought.

Teachers, students, scientists, are among the site's heaviest visitors/users.

Short Discussion Items

LEAD Project Outcomes

LEAD developers guided the July Users workshop participants through a series of hands-on activities designed to show them how LEAD is democratizing model and data use. Participants were able to select a region of interesting weather and submit WRF model prediction runs to the TeraGridgrid using two different approaches being developed by LEAD.

Investigators identified a group of participants who will work with them as they continue to refine the LEAD project. A beta test program is being defined at Millersville and the University of Oklahoma and will soon be launched.

Other outcomes:

USPLN Issue and Related Data Policy

The USPLN lightning network is a data source proposed by Users Committee member Chris Herbster in fall 2005 (Meeting Summary) and discussed further at the Users Committee meeting in April 2006 (Meeting Summary). The service would be a point-to-point distribution similar to the NLDN, ACARS, FNMOC, and CMC data. There were a number of questions concerning the data. Among them:

If successful, Unidata's role will be one of facilitation and information provision on availability of the service through Embry Riddle on a point-to-point basis using LDM technology.

Progress Report on Metrics and Assessment Study (Miller, Ramamurthy)

Important information gleaned from the survey responses has been that of community expansion. The community has grown well beyond anyone's expectations. And, it has occurred with little effort or cost, in other words, it's been organic. Oceanography and Hydrology were mentioned as natural fits with the core community, and expansion into these disciplines results in service to the atmospheric science community.

Note: this discussion evolved into one related to strategic planning and value definition.


An update on the competition for the management of NCAR (Jacobs)

The decision to compete the management of NCAR was made in April 2002. The competition will be full and open involving a rigorous process.

Some steps in the competition that have been completed in 2006 are:

Ongoing discussions with UCAR on some issues like policy continue, but do not include the competition. Discussions with staff, funders, and others also are ongoing. In addition, a statement of work, evaluation criteria, competition contents, and plan are and will continue to take place.

The full proposal is due August 2007. The current cooperative agreement expires at the end of FY08.

International Activities and Collaborations (Ramamurthy, Wetzel, and others)

A white paper developed by Unidata was included in the meeting notebook. Unfortunately, the second page was missing from the copy included in the notebook and while the information on the page was deemed to be critical to the discussion, it nonetheless, proceeded. The paper highlighted "push" delivery of data through the IDD and noted that "pull" technologies like those provided by THREDDS will be increasingly needed as dataset sizes balloon.

Unidata's most visible and highest profile international activity to date has been participation in MeteoForum,which was a natural extension into the international arena. Program Center participation in MeteoForum has included

Unidata's participation in the international arena is also evidenced by increasing downloads of its software by users in the international community. NetCDF is the most widely used Unidata software internationally (78 countries), but even the relatively new IDV application has been downloaded by users in 65.

Summary Comments of Committee Chair, Melanie Wetzel, underscored the importance of increasing team use of Unidata data access and software applications.


The Development of Unidata's Strategic Plan (Ramamurthy)

Some background on this discussion item: the existing strategic plan has not been modifed since 2002. The document developed over a many-month period that originated with a Policy Committee meeting at the University of Wisconsin. The document was the basis for the development of the 2003-2008 funding proposal. The present document (distributed at the meeting) is a new plan that resulted from a Unidata management retreat, and at this time, it is organic, i.e., it will be developed over the next several months.

The question of whether or not Unidata is fulfilling its stated mission is an important one to have answered. Unidata's mission statement, providing data, tools, and community leadership for enhanced Earth-system education and research. Revised mission statements were considered. One was: Unidata will be a premier provider of end-to-end data services and related tools to empower earth system scientists and educations so that they can advance and integrate research, education, and outreach in creative ways. No consensus was reached on this suggested revision.

The UPC Metrics Study and resulting documents will also inform the development of the new Strategic Plan and ultimately the 2013 proposal. To date, considerations raised by the study (there certainly will be others) include the following:

Strawman goals that resulted from the management retreat were discussed. Each elicited a fair amount of discussion, and below are condensed versions of those discussions.

Goal One: Community

Embrace and engage an active geosciences community (one that ignores international boundaries) in support of meaningful multidisciplinary research and education.


The most important comments on Goal 1 related to the Unidata process. Some of them were:

Many comments were made on the necessity for Unidata to maintain its agility and flexibility, characteristics that were deemed critical to its fulfilling its mission. Agile systems that empower users are imperative components of Unidata's success past, present, and future.

Risk-taking was another part of this discussion. IDV development was cited as a high-risk, high-yield endeavor that has been successful.

Finally, community building takes many forms, and while the committee acknowledged that while boundaries among some of the building blocks are necessary, it was also pointed out that the boundaries must be somewhat porous so that individual community members are able to contribute to the process.

Goal Two: Data

There was an early suggestion during the Data discussion that said that this goal might more accurately be called: Data Services. There was consensus that this change is desirable.

Discussion quickly turned to finding data. Some committee members analogized that the IDD is a big fire hose. It is not theme driven, and there is difficulty in finding event-relevant data in pressure situations, e.g., classroom demos. THREDDS is meant to alleviate this dilemma, but at this time is not fulfilling that goal. The community needs to be able to discover data collections more easily.

In several different comments the committee articulated the opinion that the future of data is going to be less about data delivery than about knowledge, i.e., knowledge about the data, where, what, how to find, and use.

Other discussion:

Goal Three: Tools (Human at the other end)

Some feeling that goals two and three could be rolled together was expressed. There was also a statement that bolder, more foward-looking goals need to be added.

From the first statement beneath this goal: "Provide tools that allow researchers and educators to discover, access, and use geoscience and geographic data easily and effectively" elicited a discussion the upshot of which was that "understand" should be included in it; i.e., "...discover, access, understand and use... ."

Other Discussion

Goal Four: Communication and Support

Entraining community involvement in communication and support is critical. A possible solution might be FAQs. Forums, Wikis, Blogs, mailing lists, the Access Grid, RSS, and VisitView are potential means for facilitating it.

Regional workshops are also seen as an effective means for achieving this goal. In one case, a department held an IDV workshop for another department which then took that knowledge and information back to its campus. This is a laudable effort. Yet another tool to achieve support goals is the facilitation of computer applications courses for meteorology students.

Other Discussion

Goal Five: Cyberinfrastructure Leadership

A renaming of this goal was suggested immediately; specifically: Leadership in the Application of Cyberinfrastructure.

Strategies for achieving the goals

Some of the strategies are actually tactics. The revised section heading will reflect this.

The web site should be more interactive. Greater use of the e-letter as a strategy was suggested. Development of a "Datapedia" a customized form of Wikipedia was suggested.

Point four under "Strategy," "Establish strategic partnerships and collaboration" is applicable to all the goals

Core Values

Ways to enhance community contributions were mentioned, although it was pointed out that there have been several important community contributions to the Unidata effort. A couple of examples:

In conclusion to the goals, values, and strategies discussion, the committee requested that the community be alerted that there will be an IDV class for JAVA developers in the 2007 Training workshops.

Finally, committee members are strongly encouraged to contribute to the Strategies and Core Values sections of the draft strategic plan.

Follow-on Discussion from the Users Workshop (Steenburgh)

The workshop was a resounding success as noted previously. Two important suggestions evolved from it:

Funding would be key to implementing the first suggestion; but the committee agreed that if resources are available, it's a great suggestion. While remote collaboration can be effective, face to face probably yields greater returns. The committee strongly endorsed the idea of including a graduate student on the Users Committee.

Discussion of the second item generated some ideas:

Appointment of a student rep, generated a related appointment option discussion, that of appointing an international user to the committee. After some discussion, committee members decided not to tinker with the wording used in the "Call for Nominations" to the committees. Verbiage specifically welcoming international applicants was deemed to be unnecessary, because in fact Unidata encourages broad participation and representation. The budget implications were also mentioned.

The meeting concluded with presentations by Jim Potemra, IPRC (International Pacific Research Center) and Steven Businger, Department of Meteorology.

Action Items:

1. The committee requests that the agenda for the spring meeting include a discussion of the IDV's organization/management structure and scope, addressing specifically the committee's response to the Users Committee spring 06 resolution:

RESOLUTION to Policy Committee:

The Users Committee supports the recommendation of the Report of the Task Force on the Future of Unidata Analysis and Visualization Applications to continue to maintain a suite of analysis and visualization packages to meet the needs of the community. To accelerate IDV development we recommend that the Unidata Program Center aggressively seek external funds and examine options to streamline IDV support and increase programmer development time.

2. The committee requests that the agenda for the spring meeting include a THREDDS presentation that includes strategies to assist users in locating and using THREDDS catalogues.

3. Committee members, while welcome to make suggested inclusions to any parts of the strategic plan draft document, are requested specifically to contribute their ideas to the Strategy and Core Values sections.

Direct Comments and questions to jhansen@unidata.ucar.edu