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Engaged expressions. Body language. Animated speakers. After two years of virtual meetings, talking in person with some members of the User Working Group (UWG) for NASA’s Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center (LP DAAC) delighted LP DAAC Project Manager Chris Torbert.

The 2022 UWG annual meeting at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, offered members who were able and interested the chance to see each other face to face again, along with a virtual option, in their role of providing consultation and recommendations to the LP DAAC.

It’s an important role for the 15 UWG members, providing direction for the future of the LP DAAC. Its distributed data products are related to notable imaging instruments such as ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer), MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite), ECOSTRESS (ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station), and GEDI (Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation)—and soon the highly anticipated EMIT (Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation).

“The advice that we get from (UWG) is just critical. It might be some of the most important actionable advice that we get throughout the year,” Torbert said. Because of UWG recommendations, certain datasets have been added to the LP DAAC, along with functionality to systems like Application for Extracting and Exploring Analysis Ready Samples (AppEEARS), which simplifies data access.

About half of the group was physically present, and the other half attended virtually, Torbert said, which sufficed to “break the ice” for future face-to-face conferences. The EROS location, which typically has hosted the in-person conference about every three years, did provide the opportunity for EROS-based presenters and guests outside of the UWG to participate.

“The speakers seemed more animated than I’ve seen them in two years,” said Torbert. They appreciated the responsiveness of a live audience.

In brainstorming sessions, engagement was even more apparent, as well as confusion, which helped lead to follow-up clarifications, Torbert said. “The discussions we had were deeper.”

Cloud Computing, Open Science, Upcoming Missions

In addition to updates about aspects of the LP DAAC and various instruments, the UWG discussed key topics such as the ability to add datasets, including some from other NASA DAACs, to AppEEARS, which is now hosted in the cloud. “Our next challenge is finding ways to make sure our users are able to use those capabilities with the data that are in the cloud today,” Torbert said.

Also up for discussion was how to translate NASA’s declaration of 2023 as the “Year of Open Science” to the LP DAAC. “Part of it certainly is making data accessible, but it’s also making algorithms and software accessible and open—documentation,” Torbert said. “I think the software might be the area where we’ve got some work to do.”

The UWG assessments and recommendations help inform the LP DAAC’s project planning year for a five-year plan updated annually to reflect new missions and data, or changes to them. For example, this next planning year will include the addition of data from EMIT.

The LP DAAC also expects to host data from a proposed future NASA mission, Surface Biology and Geology (SBG), which would apply imaging spectroscopy and thermal infrared imagery to surface land and water, including ecosystems, volcanoes, geology, and more.

“The first 30 years of the LP DAAC, everybody identified us as sort of the MODIS/ASTER DAAC, MODIS being the big mission, the big data, that people wanted. And MODIS is at end of life,” Torbert said. “Going forward, the future of the DAAC is this SBG mission, so we’re really excited to be looking forward to what we can do with that data. It’s going to bring new challenges for sure.”

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