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Extending the Use of NASA Research Results for Coastal Management Decision Support

Lawrence A. Friedl and Callie M. Hall

The Coastal Management Program is one of twelve elements in the Applied Sciences National Applications Program. The program collaborates with partner organizations to enable and enhance the application of NASA's Earth-Sun system science results to serve national-priority policy and management decision-support tools. The desired outcome is for partner organizations to use project results, such as prototypes and benchmark reports, to expand their use of Earth science products and enhance their decision-support capabilities.

The Coastal Management Program supports organizations on nationally-important issues related to coastal zones, near-shore environments, marine and open-ocean activities, wetlands, estuaries, reefs, oceanic islands, and coasts of large inland waters.

The program focuses on extending research results to partners' decision tools serving the following classes of coastal and marine issues: environmental resource management; economic management and trade; emergency management and response; mitigation and adaptation of sea level changes; and public and environmental health.

NASA partners with federal agencies and with regional and national organizations that have coastal management responsibilities and mandates to support coastal resource managers, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The program participates with international organizations on coastal activities, usually through a U.S. partner. Some Coastal Management activities relate to the other eleven applications within the Applied Sciences Directorate, especially the Water Management, Ecological Forecasting, and Disaster Management applications. Through its activities, the Coastal Management Program provides results for NASA support to Administration, interagency, and international activities, including the White House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), the Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP), the Coral Reef Taskforce, and the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS).

Figure 1: Integrated system solution configuration for the extension of NASA Earth science measurements, model products, and data fusion techniques to support partners of the Coastal Management program, their decision support tools, and the benefits of Earth science to society. Click on image to see enlarged.

Results from NASA Earth-Sun system science are typically observations, satellite data sets, climate data records, and algorithms and models utilizing the observations. For the Coastal Management Program, observations include measurements of sea surface temperature, sea surface height, wind speed and direction, ocean color, salinity, and coastal land-cover and use. Models use these parameters and other measurements to generate predictions of coastal and ocean conditions, such as chlorophyll transport, primary productivity, and surface currents. The Coastal Management Program works with partners on methods for their decision support tools to ingest Earth science observations and predictions and, in turn, improve the capabilities of their tools to support their decision processes (Figure 1). Examples of Earth science missions for the Coastal Management Program include Terra, Aqua, Jason 1, Jason 2, TOPEX/Poseidon, QuikSCAT, SeaWinds, the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP), and NPOESS. Examples of Earth science models include the Navy Coastal Ocean Model (NCOM), Princeton Ocean Model, and Advanced Circulation Model for oceanic, coastal and estuarine waters (ADCIRC).

The goal of the NASA Coastal Management Program Element is to enable partners' beneficial use of NASA Earth-Sun system science results, observations, models, and technology to enhance decision support capabilities serving their coastal management and policy responsibilities. Major tenets of the program's goal include:

  1. develop and nurture partnerships with appropriate coastal organizations;
  2. identify and assess partners' coastal management responsibilities, plans, and decision support tools and evaluate the capacity of Earth science results to support partners;
  3. validate and verify the application of Earth science results with partners, including development of products and prototypes to meet partners' requirements;
  4. document the value of Earth science results relative to partners' benchmarks and support the adoption into operational use; and
  5. communicate the results and partners' achievements to the appropriate coastal communities and stakeholders.

Figure 2: The Coastal Management application roadmap illustrates the evolving, progressive nature of links between the increasing capabilities of NASA-supported research, measurement systems, and technology and their extension to partnersŐ management and policy responsibilities. The yellow bars on the left are the expected research results and developments from Earth-Sun system science and technology; the blue bars to the right reflect the contributions of the research in terms of improved management capabilities. Each level shows a steady improvement in measurements and research along with enhanced management capabilities and public value. Click on image to see enlarged.

Currently, the Coastal Management program focuses on supporting activities related to the NOAA Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Forecast System, climate change issues of the coast, and coral reefs. The program is examining activities to extend Earth science products from current and future sensors and models to additional coastal issues, including sediment transport and fisheries. The Coastal Management application roadmap builds on the roadmaps of several Science Focus Areas, particularly the Water and Energy Cycle Theme, Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems Theme, and the Climate Variability and Change Theme (Figure 2).

Current Activities

HAB Forecast System

Congress originally passed the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act in 1998 (P.L.105-383). This Act called for the establishment of an interagency task force to study HABs and hypoxia and for an assessment of these problems both nationally and regionally. Concerns about HABs have increased over the last decade, largely because of the perceived increase in the number and duration of events. The toxins produced by these species cause finfish and shellfish poisoning and mortality of marine animals, including mammals and birds. Over the last two decades, HABs have caused an estimated $1 billion of damage worldwide.

The NOAA HAB Forecast System seeks to monitor identified HABs, detect and distinguish new blooms as harmful or non-harmful, forecast the transport and position of identified HABs, and predict conditions favorable for HAB initiation (see Harmful Algal Bloom Forecasting System). The NOAA HAB Forecast System was created in cooperation with state and county agencies, citizen groups, and tourist bureaus. The primary users of NOAA HAB information are fisheries (shellfish) managers, water quality managers, public health officials, and local governments. Additional users of HAB-related information include the tourist industry, the media, teachers, and the public.

The HAB Forecast System has two components: an Operational Bulletin for managers and a Conditions Report for the public. The Bulletin sends an email notification of changing conditions to subscribers approximately twice weekly during HAB events. The Bulletin contains technical information on the known location(s) of HAB events and estimates of and the progression of known HABs. Currently, the Bulletin has over 100 subscribers including 40 agency programs at the federal, state, and local levels. The Conditions Report is publicly available and provides information on confirmed blooms and public health impacts of HABs with minimal technical jargon.

Figure 3: System architecture for REASoN-funded coastal management decision support project. Image courtesy of E. Malaret (ACT) and R. Arnone (NRL). Click on image to see enlarged.

Through a competitively-selected cooperative agreement, NASA is working with NOAA, Naval Research Laboratory-Stennis Space Center, and the Applied Coherent Technology Corporation to validate the use of satellite observations, Earth science models, and data fusion techniques for coastal applications. The project goal is to validate the use of algorithms, data-fusion techniques, and coastal-ocean model products to produce routine products and transition project techniques to NOAA for operational support (Figure 3).

For HABs, the project is extending Earth science products (e.g., chlorophyll advection products) to enable the HAB forecast system to improve performance (accuracy, early detection, and tracking) and geographic coverage. The project team has initially used ocean color and sea surface temperature (SST) products from the MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) sensors on the Terra and Aqua satellites, wind fields from QuikSCAT, and the Navy Coastal Ocean Model (NCOM).

Figure 4: Prototype products from REASoN effort include satellite water mass classification for identification of waters associated with potential HAB initiation. Water masses are classified based on the types of dominant absorption and scattering coefficients and the concentrations of chlorophyll and inorganic sediment. Images and graphics courtesy of R. Gould and R. Arnone, Naval Research Laboratory, Stennis Space Center, MS. Click on image to see enlarged.

This project is demonstrating rapid access for monitoring coastal ocean conditions and an automated data delivery and architecture for routine monitoring of coastal environments in the Gulf of Mexico. Using observations from MODIS, Jason, and TOPEX/Poseidon and providing infrastructure for future NASA sensors such as NPP and NPOESS, NRL provides NOAA and its users with near real-time bio-optical (chlorophyll, inherent optical properties, and apparent optical properties), thermal (SST), and user-customized (chlorophyll advection and water mass classification) ocean products (see Figures 4 and 5). The Intra-America Seas NCOM is used for three-dimensional modeling of ocean properties with a resolution of 6 kilometers that is driven by wind fields and heat fluxes. NCOM provides 48-hour forecasts of SST, salinity, sea surface currents, and sea surface height. Drawing from the NRL Gulf of Mexico analyses database, the simplified user interface constructed by ACT enables automated online product generation and access to developmental information products created from partner feedback.

Figure 5: NCOM 12- and 24-hour forecasts are linked with temporal composites of bio-optical properties derived from satellite measurements. Satellite bio-optical properties are forecasted to determine the advection of chlorophyll for HAB applications. Images and graphics courtesy of R. Gould and R. Arnone, Naval Research Laboratory, Stennis Space Center, MS. Click on image to see enlarged.

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs offer many values to human society and to the health of the biosphere. Reefs support economically valuable fisheries and reef structures provide natural breakwaters that protect shorelines, other ecosystems, and human settlements from waves and storms. Accordingly, reefs have become prime tourist destinations and economic resources because of their novelty and pristine environments. However, coral reefs worldwide are experiencing with increasing frequency the phenomenon known as coral bleaching or whitening. This is caused by loss of pigmented algae that live in the coral host and on which the coral depend for survival.

NOAA operates the Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) to produce automated electronic mail and Internet-based alerts when conditions are conducive to or predictive of coral bleaching. Currently, CREWS focuses on activities within the Florida Keys, Bahamas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands; NOAA and its international partners plan to include additional stations at coral reefs worldwide. The CREWS system includes environmental monitoring stations that provide in situ data for validation of satellite-derived sea surface temperature. NOAA uses the SST global "hotspot" maps of coral bleaching. The expert system that produces the CREWS alerts also uses Earth science data such as wind speed and incident radiance to assess potential bleaching conditions.

The NASA Coastal Management Program works with the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Matrix Program, led by the National Ocean Service, to validate Earth science products for use in coral reef management activities. NASA has evaluated the potential of wind vectors from QuikSCAT and SST and photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) from MODIS to support NOAA's mandate of improved observations of coral reef health. The verification and validation of NASA satellite and model data for NOAA coral reef decision support is underway. The purpose of the project is to help marine sanctuary managers create more precise in situ monitoring strategies and provide for more synoptic coverage of coral reef environments. The improved observations can provide information products of immediate use to coral reef and coastal zone managers and planners, and to different resource user communities (e.g., fishing, tourism, and biodiversity protection).

Future Directions

The Coastal Management Program consults with federal agencies and examines issues facing the coastal management community to determine opportunities for NASA research results to support partners' decision- making responsibilities. The program is currently evaluating opportunities related to fisheries management and sediment management. In addition, NASA periodically requests proposals to extend NASA Earth science observations and models to national applications, including coastal management. The 2005 NASA Research Opportunities in Spaces and Earth Sciences (ROSES) announcement specifically solicits coastal management projects related to fisheries, sediment management, stormwater management, coastal pollution, nutrient enrichment, shipping, and sea level change.

The President's Ocean Action Plan, released in 2004, provides significant opportunities relevant to coastal management activities, including support of the Great Lakes Interagency Task Force and Great Lakes Regional Collaboration and a regional partnership in the Gulf of Mexico, involvement in the Ocean Research Priorities Plan and Implementation Strategy, EPA enhancement of its national stormwater management program, technological and scientific advancement of regional fisheries management, continued participation in the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) for coastal applications, and new legislation on oceans and human health, harmful algal blooms, and hypoxia.

About the Authors

Lawrence A. Friedl works for the Applied Sciences Program, Earth-Sun System Division, Science Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters. He can be reached at [email protected].

Callie Hall works for the Applications Research Division, Applied Sciences Directorate, at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center, in Mississippi. She can be reached at [email protected].


Arnone, R.A., Parsons, A.R., Ko, D.S., Casey, B., Ladner, S., Preller, R.H., and C.M. Hall. Physical and bio-optical processes in the Gulf of Mexico - Linking real-time circulation models and satellite bio-optical and SST properties. Proceedings of the 8th International Conference for Marine and Coastal Environments. 17-19 May, 2005. Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Arnone, R.A., Wood, M.A., and R.W. Gould, Jr. 2004. The evolution of optical water mass classification. Oceanography 17 (2): 14-15.

Buddemeier, R.W., Kleypas, J.A., and R.B. Aronson. 2004. Coral Reefs and Global Climate Change: Potential Contributions of Climate Change to Stresses on Coral Reef Ecosystems. Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

GEOHAB: Global Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms. 1998. Joint SCOR/IOC Workshop, Havreholm, Denmark, October 1998.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 2004. Evaluation of the Harmful Algal Bloom Mapping System and Bulletin.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 2004. Decision Support Tool Evaluation for the Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS).

National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 2005. Earth-Sun System Applied Sciences Program, Coastal Management Program Element FY2005-2009 Plan.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2004. New Priorities for the 21st Century: NOAA's Strategic Plan - Updated for FY 2005-FY2010. September, 2004. 28 pp.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2005. Research in NOAA: Toward Understanding and Predicting Earth's Environment: A Five Year Plan for Fiscal Years 2005-2009, Final Report. January 2005, 60 pp.

U.S. Ocean Action Plan. The Bush Administration's Response to the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. December 17, 2004.

NASA Article Series

The following articles were originally published in Earth Observation Magazine in the issues indicated below. The first article, "NASA Space Systems Enable Science for Society," introduces the series.

    Originally published in the May 2005 issue of Earth Observation Magazine

  1. NASA Space Systems Enable Science for Society
    Ronald J. Birk, Richard L. Miller, Carlos E. Del Castillo, Timothy L. Miller, James F. Spann
  2. Enterprise Architecture for NASA's Earth-Sun Science Activities
    Leonard Brownlow, James Martin
  3. Originally published in the June 2005 issue of Earth Observation Magazine

  4. NASA's Contributions to Carbon Management: Using Carbon Cycle Science to Inform Decisions
    Edwin Sheffner
  5. Extending The Results Of NASA Research For Homeland Security
    Stephen Ambrose, Dr. Bruce Davis
  6. Originally published in the July 2005 issue of Earth Observation Magazine

  7. Air Quality Management Through Earth Observations & Models
    Lawrence Friedl, Doreen Neil, R. Bradley Pierce & the NASA Air Quality Program Team
  8. Extending the Use of NASA Research Results for Coastal Management Decision Support
    Lawrence A. Friedl, Callie M. Hall
  9. Originally published in the August 2005 issue of Earth Observation Magazine

  10. Extending NASA Research Capabilities For Disaster Management
    Stephen Ambrose, Shahid Habib, Rodney McKellip
  11. NASA Space Systems Enhance Public Health Science for Society
    John A. Haynes, Robert Venezia

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