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Implementing Web Services for NASA's Terrestrial Observation and Prediction System

The Terrestrial Observation and Prediction System (TOPS) at NASA Ames Research Center’s ecological monitoring and forecasting lab generates a suite of gridded data products in near real-time that are designed to enhance management decisions related to floods, droughts, forest fires, human health, as well as crop, range, and forest production. Derived from the synthesis of satellite imagery, ground observations, and specialized ecosystem models, our data products hold great potential for benefiting valuable research spanning a wide range of disciplines. However, its use has been hindered by challenges related to data access and visualization. Access to TOPS data has historically been confined to distribution via FTP and subsequent visualization using specialized, proprietary software, ultimately restricting analysis to a few GIS experts. However, in the current age of Web 2.0 these barriers are quickly falling and now virtually anyone with the ability to browse the internet can access interactive maps and examine spatial information. Recent advances in geospatial information technology have enabled the development of web services that allow us to address these challenges and greatly improve the usefulness of TOPS products. We have implemented an OGC-standard Web Map Service, based entirely on an open source software stack, that provides dynamic access to our large archive of gridded spatio-temporal data. When these web services are coupled with an Ajax-enabled web client the traditional obstacles obscuring geographic analysis are greatly reduced and users from many diverse specialties can begin to make use of the information. Protected area resource managers can now focus on monitoring ecological conditions and assessing significant trends and anomalies, instead of wasting time requesting, downloading, importing, and reprojecting the data. We are currently working with our partners in the Inventory and Monitoring program of the US National Park[s] Service to provide them with daily estimates of critical parameters indicative of ecosystem health. These parameters include outputs of [specialized] ecosystem models such as Net Primary Productivity, as well as common remote sensing metrics like vegetation and leaf area indices. We have built a customized web client interface to present interactive maps, allowing park scientists and managers to quickly visualize current and historic conditions, giving advanced notice of anomalous conditions and trends. Additionally, users are able to execute queries that generate time-series plots that illustrate how the parameters are changing over time. This combination of spatial and temporal visualization capabilities gives park managers the information they need in order to have a better understanding of the ecosystem dynamics and to identify trends in park ecosystem conditions. By implementing web services using readily available open source tools we were able to expose our data to a wider audience, empowering resource managers with advanced awareness of their park’s condition. We will present the TOPS data gateway and its components, highlighting the benefits of developing such a system on an open software stack and examining the various obstacles we encountered in the process. We will discuss the particular demands that the earth science community makes of such a system, sharing the lessons we learned along the way.
Photo of Sam Hiatt

Sam Hiatt

NASA Ecological Forecasting Lab

Sam Hiatt graduated from Utah State University in 2007 with a BS in Geography and minors in Geographical Information Science, Computer Science, and Mathematics. While at USU he worked with Dr. Michael White to develop a new method for monitoring plant phenology using MODIS Direct Broadcast satellite imagery. He currently works with Dr. Rama Nemani at NASA Ames Research Center’s ecological monitoring and forecasting lab leveraging open source software to enhance data access and usability.

Sam is very interested in open source and collaborative geospatial technology and participated in the Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial conference in Victoria, Canada in 2007.

Sam lives in Mountain View, California, and away from work he enjoys paragliding, SCUBA diving, and snowboarding (in sequence rather than in parallel).