Information overload may swamp climate computers

时间:2019-03-02 01:05:15166网络整理admin

By VINCENT KIERNAN in WASHINGTON DC When the 17 satellites that make up NASA’s giant Earth Observing System finally start beaming down data, the obsolete computer system at the receiving end might be overwhelmed, says an expert panel set up to assess the system. Chastened by the panel’s findings, NASA has promised to correct some – but not all – of the flaws it has highlighted. The panel, set up by the National Research Council, an arm of the US National Academy of Sciences, criticised NASA for not thinking ahead when it planned the $2.6 billion computer system. The equipment and software must process detailed measurements of Earth’s environment and climate gathered by the $8 billion satellite system, and must operate for decades. But NASA failed to give itself enough options to upgrade or expand the system, the NRC panel said. It warned that NASA was running ‘a high risk of failure’ with its design for the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). It also raised the spectre of a mountain of invaluable data lying in the EOSDIS computers, out of reach of scientists who need it. NASA officials responded swiftly. Even before the report became public, NASA had begun redesigning EOSDIS to make it easier to add to or upgrade. ‘The advice that they’ve given us is good advice,’ says Dixon Butler, manager of the EOSDIS programme. NASA plans to launch the satellites of the Earth Observing System between 1998 and 2012. They will monitor climatic and environmental factors including cloud cover, snow, sea ice, ocean circulation, and greenhouse gases. The satellites are expected to send as much as 1 trillion bytes of information to EOSDIS every day. But while NASA has accepted the NRC’s suggestion that EOSDIS must be designed so that it is not instantly obsolete, the space agency is less enthusi-astic about another of the committee’s recommendations – that the processing and distribution of the data should be more flexible. In particular, the report criticises NASA’s insistence that all raw data from the EOSDIS satellites must be processed into a single standardised format, or ‘standard product’. The NRC panel is worried that NASA might not be able to revise the standards fast enough to keep pace with changes in global-change research, and that the ‘standard product’ format might be unsuited to specialised users. The panel wants environmentalists on the EOSDIS team to tailor processing techniques to the needs of each field. But Butler defends the ‘standard product’, saying it will speed the release of data to scientists, and thus speed the delivery of scientific advice to government officials grappling with issues such as global warming. ‘The most valuable thing is having minds on the data,