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From Orbit to Core: Scientific Synergy between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey

Posted April 16, 2017

Building on a 50-year-old partnership, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are expanding their cooperation with the relocation of one of the largest USGS science groups in the western United States to the NASA Ames Research Center campus in Silicon Valley.

Both agencies are looking forward to reinforcing their close partnerships to study our planet from orbit to core. The possibilities enabled by bringing together scientists and engineers from the nation’s top agencies for earth, space and aeronautic sciences are enormous.

Over the next five years, more than 300 USGS employees will make the move several miles south in Silicon Valley from their current Menlo Park campus to the nearby NASA Research Park.

The idea for NASA and the USGS to co-locate has been in the works for several years. On November 1, 2016, Ames Research Center Director Eugene Tu and USGS Pacific Regional Director Mark Sogge signed an agreement to pursue the move officially.

The proximity of the two research communities will enhance their collaboration, fueling research on natural hazards, water resources, atmospheric science, climate change, and more. The move also will allow the USGS to invest more funding in science that otherwise would have been spent on San Francisco Bay Area rent.

“The U.S. Geological Survey is pleased to be moving towards closer partnerships with NASA,” said Sogge. “The USGS leads our nation’s Earth science and NASA leads research outside of our home planet. We will work together to improve the scientific understanding of the world around us to the benefit of people today and into the future.”

Researchers from NASA Ames and the USGS created this flood map: a visualization showing the location of floodwaters in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, generated from a satellite image captured on September 7, 2005. A collaboration between NASA and the USGS Innovation Center developed methods for automatically mapping floods from multiple sources of satellite data, and publishing the generated maps through the USGS Hazards Data Distribution System. This work will aid in future disaster response.
Credits: NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group/USGS Innovation Center

“The Ames co-location of two federal agencies with a shared mandate to observe and understand planet Earth offers a unique opportunity to catalyze new and impactful research that might otherwise not be pursued,” said Michael Bicay, Ames’ Director of Science.

The two agencies working together is nothing new. The USGS helped NASA prepare astronauts for their geological exploration of the moon, and the pair continue to collaborate on USGS’s Landsat 8 and preparations for the launch of Landsat 9, cornerstones of our nation’s multi-satellite, multi-decadal, Sustainable Land Imaging (SLI) program. SLI is a NASA-USGS partnership to develop, launch, and operate a spaceborne system that will provide researchers and other users with high-quality, global, continuous land-imaging measurements.

Joint projects of NASA Ames and the USGS already under way include repurposing a space shuttle tile-inspection device for the study of soil density and landslide risk, and improving satellite tracking of wildlife. Observing the movements of animal populations can provide important information on the state of ecosystems and on public health threats, such as the avian flu. NASA designed the original USGS satellite-monitored wildlife tags in the 1950s. Currently, a team at NASA Ames has made them less cumbersome for the animals by building a lighter battery—technology that also will contribute to NASA’s development of small satellites.

Ian Brosnan, a marine scientist and special assistant to the Director of Science at Ames, said he also looks forward to the two groups joining forces on more ambitious projects, such as exploring ways to use small satellites and aircraft to study complex coastal areas with high resolution in space and time.

“If we can’t devote the big satellites to this, perhaps we could do it with many small ones, and for less cost,” Brosnan said.

Much like the potential of those multiple small devices—much greater than the sum of its parts—NASA and USGS researchers will team up to tackle some of the big challenges ahead.

Source: NASA


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