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Research Opportunities at Other Federal Agencies: NASA Earth Surface & Interior (ESI) Focus Area

September 15, 2017

By: Ben Phillips, Focus Area Lead; Craig Dobson, Program Manager; Gerald Bawden, Program Scientist; Amy P. Chen, STEM PMF on rotation from NSF EAR to NASA ESI

NISAR is a dual-frequency (L- and S-band) mission being developed by NASA in partnership with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). NISAR’s main objectives are to better understand cryospheric responses to climate change, terrestrial carbon dynamics, and Earth’s surface dynamics associated with hazards. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL

The NASA Earth Surface and Interior (ESI) Focus Area is probably no stranger to many EAR to the Ground readers. ESI supports the development and implementation of space and airborne missions targeting the solid Earth (including the ongoing GRACE, UAVSAR, Terra, and Swarm; and upcoming GRACE-FO, NISAR, SWOT, and HyspIRI) as well as related data products that are routinely used by researchers in the EAR community and beyond. Over the years ESI has also partnered with the NSF Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) to support facilities and communities around common interests, such as the development, construction, operation, and maintenance of geodetic infrastructure as a major contributor to UNAVCO and the Geodesy Advancing Geosciences and EarthScope (GAGE) facility. In concert with core GAGE activities such as the operation of the Plate Boundary Observatory, ESI’s support to UNAVCO enables the maintenance and upgrade of NASA’s Global GNSS Network, and contributes to NASA’s Space Geodesy Program buildout of a next generation Space Geodesy Network of integrated, multi-technique space geodetic observing stations. Recently, EAR and NASA jointly funded the recovery of vital GNSS data spanning the 2015 Nepal earthquake, thereby ensuring the availability of these data to the research community and advancing our understanding of major thrust earthquakes.

Just like EAR, NASA ESI provides basic research funding through its competitive grant solicitation process. The range of ESI supported research activities, however, transcend many EAR program boundaries and instead have in common their utilization of NASA’s unique observational resources and capabilities. The 2016 ESI program welcomed hypothesis-driven proposals from two broad themes:

  1. Deep-Earth Processes: research that advances the understanding of the Earth’s deep interior by leveraging remote-sensing observations, including but not limited to Earth orientation & rotation, plate motion & deformation, geomagnetism, and mantle rheology & dynamics.
  2. Lithospheric Processes: research utilizing time-dependent remote-sensing data sets that advances the understanding of lithospheric processes or properties at regional to global scales, including but not limited to earthquakes (induced & natural), tsunamis, landslides, volcanic eruptions, magma dynamics, and anthropogenic perturbations to the Earth system.

You may view the most recent ESI solicitation on-line, you may also view a list of recently funded project abstracts, and volunteer your time as an ESI reviewer/panelist (one of the best ways to learn more about the program; women, members of underrepresented minority groups, and persons with disabilities are especially encouraged to serve). Upcoming opportunities include a call for the next NASA Sea Level Change Science Team (notice of intent and proposals due Oct. 14 and Nov. 15, 2016, respectively), and the Interdisciplinary Science solicitation, which includes a call for Understanding the Linkages Among Fluvial and Solid Earth Hazards (proposals due Sept. 29, 2016).

Going forward, the topics for annual solicitations will be updated to best address scientific and programmatic priorities, as outlined in guiding documents such as the Solid Earth Science Working Group (SESWG) report Living on a Restless Planet (2002). Potential ESI PIs would be interested to know that ESI recently supported a process to engage the Earth-sciences community in updating SESWG. We are grateful to our EAR colleagues who participated in the NASA Challenges and Opportunities in ESI (CORE) Workshop held in November 2015 and we are pleased to announce that the workshop report will be published in September 2016. The report presents a holistic evaluation of ESI science impact since 2002, as well as an update to challenges and opportunities for the coming decade.

NASA has continued to pursue the ambition of an EarthScope InSAR through (1) provision of data from international spaceborne SARs (e.g., RADARSAT-1, ALOS PALSAR, Sentinel-1), (2) operation of the airborne UAVSAR, and (3) development of a next-generation spaceborne InSAR for systematic observation of surface dynamics. The NASA ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) is a dual-frequency (L- and S-band) mission being developed in partnership with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). NISAR mission requirements are drawn from across NASA Earth-science focus areas (ESI, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Climate). The main objectives of NISAR are to better understand the response of the cryosphere (ice sheets, sea ice, glaciers and permafrost) to climate change, the dynamics of terrestrial carbon storage in forested, agricultural, wetland and permafrost systems, and the dynamics of Earth’s surface associated with hazards (earthquakes, volcanoes, and landslides) and surface displacements associated with subsidence and the withdrawal/recharge of subsurface reservoirs. NISAR will transition from formulation to implementation in fall 2016 with an expected launch in 2021. The NISAR baseline acquisition plan calls for systematic observation of nearly all land and ice surfaces every 12 days from both ascending and descending orbit directions at L-band with more limited geographic coverage at S-band. This will be an unprecedented opportunity for geodetic imaging of dynamic processes with approximately 24 Tb/day downlinked to the NISAR project. Processed data will be made freely and openly available. Click on NISAR for more details.

NASA-supported spaceborne SAR data (such as SeaSAT, RADARSAT, PALSAR, ERS-1/2, and Sentinel-1) are available at the Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF), airborne SAR data (such as UAVSAR, GLISTIN-A, and AirMOSS) are available through ASF and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), multispectral volcano data are available at the ASTER Volcano Archive (AVA), and GNSS and other space-geodetic data are available through the Crustal Dynamics Data Information System (CDDIS). All NASA datasets are cataloged in the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSIDS) and available through the complete set of EOSDIS Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs).

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date. Originally published Oct. 3, 2016.

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, its budget is $8.1 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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