NASA’s ARSET Training Program: From the Classroom to Real-World Satellite Applications

Photograph showing folks at NASA ARSET Air Quality Training at the Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada, held on June 11-12, 2011. This workshop featured attendees from state health and air quality agencies, Tribal Nations, and students. Image credit: NASA/ARSET.

NASA ARSET Air Quality Training at the Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada, held on June 11-12, 2012. This workshop featured attendees from state health and air quality agencies, Tribal Nations, and students. Image credit: NASA/ARSET.

The NASA Applied Remote Sensing Training Program (ARSET) provides technical capacity building activities to help integrate NASA Earth Science into environmental management. ARSET works directly with agencies in the public and private sector to 1) identify environmental management activities that could benefit from NASA Earth Science and 2) develop online and hands-on courses that teach the NASA imagery, data, and web tools best suited to the identified application area and their use for decision-support.

Since 2009, ARSET has reached more than 500 end-users and conducted more than 25 in-person and online remote sensing courses nationally and internationally. End-users range from county, state, and tribal level agencies engaged in activities such as air pollution forecasting or water resources management to multi-state organizations and federal agencies in the U.S. and abroad. In total, the program has worked with state and federal agencies in nearly two dozen states within the U.S. and traveled to Australia, Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Italy, Singapore, and Vietnam. ARSET provides a bridge between NASA data, tools, models and applied research and their application to real-world problems such as flood, drought, or air quality monitoring, to name a few.

The air quality component of the program has developed case studies on the use of NASA aerosols and trace gases for monitoring air pollution at ground level due to natural and man-made fires, dust storms, and industrial sources, and also for the validation of predictive air pollution models, tailored to each geographical area of interest.

In 2011, ARSET launched the first of a successful series of basic online courses that have allowed the program to nearly triple the number of end-users reached per year. The series culminated with the first advanced online course in August 2012, developed in response to popular demand for more topical courses. The case study for this course featured NASA aerosol and trace gases in Colorado and Utah during the fierce fire season in the summer of 2012, amid health concerns from lingering smoke particles that stretched across various states during the hottest and driest summer in recent history. The course had 50 attendees from 29 agencies and universities in the U.S. and abroad.

Attendees received live, follow-along instructions on how to find Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) smoke plume images, aerosol maps, and fire locations for specific dates and regions in the central U.S., overlay and customize the images with Google Earth, and overlay key meteorological information for understanding smoke source regions.

The course also featured access to carbon monoxide data from NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) and vertical aerosol information from CALIPSO. In the spirit of sharing, and environmental stewardship, ARSET makes course materials publicly available at and actively encourages their use by environmental managers or others interested in developing their own applied remote sensing courses. Although the focus of ARSET is not research, many researchers and students have also benefited from the program.

Some ARSET course participants are attending trainings a second time, not as students but as instructors. Scott Beaver works at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), where he develops models that are used for air quality planning in the Bay area. After attending an ARSET course in 2009, Scott returned to an ARSET course held at U.C. Davis the following year, to teach course attendees from California and other states how BAAQMD is now using data from NASA’s Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) to assess his air quality model’s ability to accurately simulate the regional distribution of air pollutants. For his work, Scott also uses MODIS true color imagery, and CALIPSO time-altitude aerosol data. The purpose of Scott’s presentation, and those provided by other end-users who have attended ARSET trainings, is to encourage other agencies to also adopt remote sensing to aide with their air quality management needs.

At left, MODIS imagery of a smoke plume on July 4, 2012, over the central U.S. Image Credit: NASA Rapid Response. At right, carbon monoxide over the U.S. and Canada on June 30, 2012. The regions in red were experienced the highest concentration. Image Credit: NASA GES DISC, NASA/ARSET.

Images used during an ARSET online course in August 2012. Decision-makers learned how to access aerosol and trace gas data for analyzing the impacts from fire. At left, MODIS imagery of a smoke plume on July 4, 2012, over the central U.S. Image Credit: NASA Rapid Response. At right, carbon monoxide over the U.S. and Canada on June 30, 2012. The red color indicates the regions with the highest pollutant concentrations. Image Credit: NASA GES DISC, NASA/ARSET.

Building on ARSET’s expertise teaching air quality remote sensing applications to dozens of end-user organizations, in 2011 the program expanded its focus to water resources and disaster management courses. Climate change has dramatically increased demand for observational and predictive data in support of decision-making activities related to water supply and demand. To this end, the program develops training modules on NASA precipitation and land products and case studies on access and application of these products in the field.

ARSET has worked with agencies and communities impacted by flooding and drought in the central and southern U.S, and in Latin America. In the fall of 2011, the ARSET water team traveled to Cartagena, Colombia, to build capacity for monitoring precipitation across Latin America. The workshop featured case studies for assessing the impacts of floods in Colombia, which in May 2011 experienced some of its worst flooding in history. NASA data can be particularly useful in regions where in-situ monitor data and/or flooding forecasts are currently absent. The course also featured the NASA Giovanni online tool, one of the most popular tools for easy access and visualization on NASA data, as well as the TRMM heavy rain, flood, and landslide potential near real time maps.

In 2012 and 2013, ARSET plans to provide online and hands-on courses for end-users in California and Colorado River stakeholders in the southwestern U.S. Online courses for water resources managers will be similar to the air quality courses, providing ‘live’ information on the products, as well as guided instructions for how to access the data. The courses will teach snow products for assessing the impact of decreasing water availability due to climate change. Online courses on evapotranspiration, which is key to understanding drought processes and surface water availability will also be offered in early 2013.

The ARSET water resources and disaster management website provides freely available course materials, some of which has been translated into Spanish. ARSET plans to expand its repertoire of Spanish training modules for air quality and water resources topics in the recent future.

ARSET is sponsored by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Applied Sciences Program. The ARSET team consists of nine scientists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Ames Research Center, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one scientist at a university, in addition to several students. The program also works closely with NASA-funded scientists, algorithm developers, and NASA science team members, who have generously participated in ARSET courses and provided presentations on their products and applied research so that ARSET can fulfill its mission to expand the benefit of NASA Earth science worldwide.

Dr. Ana Prados manages the Applied Remote Sensing Training Program (ARSET) for NASA Applied Sciences. Other areas of interest include the application NASA imagery for air pollution monitoring, environmental policy making in the context of water resources management and climate change, program/project evaluation, and communicating scientific information to the public.

Topic: ,