PREPping Access to Climate Data

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Through the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP), a collaboration between public, private, and government sectors, open-source data may change the way the world approaches climate change.

IBM weather and forecasting supercomputers. Image Credit: NOAA

Climate change did not introduce itself to the world in a grand gesture; rather, it changed the environment subtly and, at times, dramatically. Climate change manifests itself in many ways, such as sea level rise, drought, flooding, and melting glaciers. Due to these unique challenges, it takes a team of diverse specialists to address the issue. In 2016, the Obama administration released the beta version of the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP) to address climate through platforms that ‰ÛÏreduce the barriers to accessing, contributing, and using data for climate resilience.‰Û

PREP is an international climate change consortium of public, private, and government sectors. Partners include NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). Each entity has a unique niche‰ÛÓbringing terabytes worth of data into the climate resilience group. åÊThe goal is to create an open-source platform to share climate data.

The three channels of PREP are engagement, data, and platforms. Each collectively allows users to easily integrate climate resilience into decision-making by increasing usability and accessibility to climate data. åÊThe purpose of PREP is to empower ‰ÛÏcollective action to manage climate risks.‰Û This is achieved through public-private partnerships and data-driven approaches to climate resiliency by reducing barriers to data.

Woody Turner is a program scientist for biological diversity and program manager for ecological forecasting in the NASA Headquarters Science Mission Directorate. Turner explained, ‰ÛÏIf we are to promote the widest use of the data and thus gain the best understanding of how climate is changing through time, we need to lower all barriers to data access and use.‰Û

PREP can increase accessibility to climate data and improve decision-making for diverse groups and individuals interested in Earth observations. Turner said, ‰ÛÏThere are many bright people out there‰ÛÓnot all in the traditional climate research community by any means. One way to get them working on climate issues is to expose them to climate data and see what they can do with it.‰Û

By creating an open-source platform, PREP also allows innovation to take the forefront of climate change discourse. Although PREP is in beta, there is a list of resources and tools that are accessible to understand the impacts of climate change. åÊFor example, NOAA and its respective partners currently have four tools aimed at climate resiliency: U.S. Resilience Initiatives, Sea Grant Community Resilience, Improving Coastal Community Resilience in the Great Lakes, and Climate Explorer. åÊThese products are a user-friendly integration of NOAA climate data.

Amy Gaskins, former NOAA Big Data Project director, says, ‰ÛÏ(NOAA) wanted to work with some cloud providers to make environmental data more accessible, and we really found out that the usability of scientific data was an issue. If you weren‰Ûªt a meteorologist or you weren‰Ûªt an oceanographer, NOAA data was really hard to understand.‰Û

NOAA‰Ûªs data archive is expected to increase by more than 160,000 terabytes over the next 15 years. Image Credit: NOAA

The Big Data Project partners with private companies, such as Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform, to transform NOAA data into new or improved end-products. For example, Gaskins described how corporations that use climate data-produced weather forecasting models for agricultural insurance much faster with the use of the Big Data Project. Agricultural insurance is important for reducing the financial losses farmers would face in the event of natural disasters, many of which can be predicted and modeled using Earth observing technology. Transformation of open-source climate data into reliable, innovative products is an important contribution to PREP.

Another PREP partner is GEO, an international organization with more than 100 member countries as well as more than 100 participating organizations. GEO is dedicated to creating an open space for international data collaboration and ensuring data accessibility to improve decision-making in a variety of areas of interest to society. To this end, the GEO community is building a network called GEOSS as a contribution to PREP.

GEOSS is designed to collect, organize, and share data and information from all the data systems of groups that participate in GEO. By connecting planned and current Earth observing systems, GEOSS is fostering new systems to amend the gaps in Earth observing technology. GEOSS coordinates observation and information systems so that gaps can be filled and information and tools can be shared and used to make better decisions. More than 200 million data resources are accessible from a single source, user-friendly GEOSS Portal to spark innovation, discourse, and availability in climate data for the PREP platform. åÊ

These, however, are only a few organizations and ideas within PREP. The list of collaborators currently includes 19 federal and non-federal contributors. Each offers a new perspective on open-source data and a spirit of advocacy for climate resilience. By creating a user-friendly platform that allows engagement in data analysis for diverse groups, communities can become more prepared in mitigation plans against the various forms of climate change by integrating PREP tools in communal decision-making. åÊIn 2017, PREP will partner with selected communities to test the interoperability of the platform.

Timmera Whaley is an IEEE Earthzine volunteer writer and graduate student in the environmental science program at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.