NOAA Releases Draft Strategies in Four Emerging Science and Tech Spaces

Published: February 06, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisArtificial Intelligence/Machine LearningCloud ComputingNOAAResearch and DevelopmentUnmanned Systems

NOAA simultaneously issued four draft strategies to reveal the agency’s goals and plans in AI, cloud, ‘omics and unmanned systems.

As one of the nation’s scientific agencies, residing under the Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration performs scientific research and prediction in climate, weather, oceans and waterways. To achieve such a mission, NOAA relies heavily on emerging technologies for efficient and effective delivery of services.  

In November, the agency released draft strategies to expand its focus in four science and technology areas; cloud, Artificial Intelligence (AI), unmanned systems and ‘omics. According to NOAA, the primary purpose for the strategies is to “ensure robust agency-wide coordination and strong institutional support from NOAA senior leadership for these emerging science and technology focus areas to guide transformational advances in the quality and efficiency of NOAA's science, products, and services.”

Below is a synopsis of each strategy, as well as applicable goals for contractors to help achieve NOAA’s success in these tech spaces:

 Modernizing the Value of NOAA’s Cloud Services

NOAA has long experienced the benefits of the cloud within satellite data products and services as well as big data analysis and storage. Its recent cloud acquisition to host and compute large sets of weather data shows promise in the accessibility of data and enhanced R&D throughout the agency. The draft strategy seeks a unified cloud approach to leverage additional benefits, ranging from increased security posture to scalable infrastructure to support high performance computing. The agency’s end goal is to have all NOAA IT services hosted on a multi-platform commercial cloud environment.

Analytics for Next Generation Earth Science

The draft strategy for AI describes the technology’s potential for the agency is “to make transformative improvements in NOAA mission performance and cost effectiveness.” Specifically, AI will help NOAA’s science mission in a number of settings, including aerial and underwater surveys from ships to assess marine mammal and fish populations, robotics in deep-sea exploration, analyzation of satellite imagery for severe weather detection and prediction and quality control in weather observations. To this last point, NOAA is already experimenting with using AI in its Multi-Instrument Inversion and Data Assimilation Preprocessing System – Artificial Intelligence (MIIDAPS-AI) program. The program aims to help reveal errors in the data assimilation from numerical weather prediction applications for ideal weather predictions. Additionally, the draft calls for:

  • Establishing the NOAA Center for AI to coordinate AI research, development, acquisition, establish new partnerships, etc. for the agency
  • Prioritizing AI-based approaches in NOAA budget formulation guidance
  • Prioritizing AI-based approaches in NOAA research federal funding opportunities (FFO), requests for proposals (RFPs), and research grants to promote collaborative AI research
  • Establish an annual research and development prize competition series for AI applications in environmental science
  • Accelerating the transition of AI research to operational capabilities
  • Prioritizing AI-based environmental research in National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP) project proposals and selection
  • Formalizing new public private partnerships through established mechanisms such as Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and Small Businesses Innovative Research (SBIR) grants
  • Providing increased online and on-scene AI training through the National Centers for Environmental Information and line office training centers

Strategic Application of Transformational Tools

When it comes to using ‘omics, defined by NOAA as “a suite of advanced methods used to analyze material such as DNA, RNA, proteins, or metabolites,” investment is necessary by the agency to boost ecosystem assessments and predications. In particular, ‘omics depends on sound computational and analytical capacities. To that end, the strategy calls for advanced infrastructure to keep up with the large quantities of data produced by ‘omics. In particular, the strategy calls for:

  • Acquiring computational and analytical solutions to generate, analyze and manage massive ‘omics data sets
  • Leveraging commercial cloud for computation and data storage
  • Expanding databases that identify genetic sequences
  • Leveraging AI and Machine Learning (ML) to interpret genetic variation and relationship recognition in environmental data

Maximizing Value for Science-based Mission Support

The goal of the Unmanned Systems (UxS) draft strategy is to expand the capability of unmanned aircraft and marine systems in all mission areas of NOAA. Use of UxS at the agency includes habitat mapping, ocean exploration, emergency response and improved forecasting of extreme events. Implementation of the systems results in easily augmented data collection at the agency, calling into effect the use in other technology areas such as big data, cloud and AI. The strategy seeks to establish a new UxS operations program within the Office of Marine and Aviation Operation to expand the systems throughout the agency. Moreover, the strategy calls for:

  • Identifying and deploying cybersecurity, training and acquisition to ensure safe and compliant operations for UxS
  • Implementing an encompassing UxS data enterprise to move large volumes of UxS data to processing and storage centers to increase the throughput of data, leveraging close partnerships with current NOAA data users
  • Conducting performance testing and evaluation against traditional data collection methodologies to ensure UxS operations

Next Steps

Overall, NOAA is seeking to expand its footprint in these four emerging science and technology subjects. The draft strategies were open for public comment through December 16, 2019. Once NOAA finalizes the strategies, the agency promises corresponding Strategic Implementation Plans (i.e. Roadmaps) with detailed action items to achieve the strategies’ goals.