NOAA Maps the Future of Sensors that Gather Data from the 'Bottom of the Ocean to the Sun'

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, founded in 1970 as an agency in the Commerce Department, is at the forefront of the United States' environmental monitoring and research efforts. Key to the success of NOAA's mission is an infrastructure of observing systems and practices that spans the planet. NOAA's observing systems include satellite imagers, weather radar systems, and sensor-laden ocean buoys; fleets of aircraft, ships and submarines; and even an army of volunteers who have been manually recording observations and taking measurements every day for decades.

>Currently, NOAA's observing infrastructure comprises over 100 different systems encompassing 30,000 platforms. The observing systems use sensing technologies that take measurements of more than 200 environmental parameters such as air temperature and pressure, wind speed and direction, ocean salinity, solar radiation, total electron content of the upper ionosphere, etc. Data from the various sensors is processed and converted into observations, which are passed on to upwards of 80 information handling systems that perform data analysis, environmental prediction, data archiving, etc.

The resulting environmental information is distributed at no cost to the end users -- anyone who utilizes weather forecasts and climate prediction in their work, including farmers, sailors, fishermen, TV meteorologists, and military operations planners. Much of the information is accessible through NOAA's Web site at

In the summer of 2002, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, retired Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, ordered the creation of a functional architecture depicting the agency's myriad observing systems. Now in development, the NOAA Observing Systems Architecture will provide a comprehensive view of all of the observing systems and their interrelationships for the first time. This unprecedented 'As-Is' model will provide the foundation for the continuing evolution of the 'To-Be' architecture over the years. As such, it is an important part of NOAA's roadmap to the future.

Ensuring the Observing Systems Architecture's Usefulness in the Larger Enterprise Architecture

Development of the Observing Systems Architecture was assigned to NOAA Satellites and Information Service, the agency that acquires and manages the Nation's operational environmental satellites, provides data and information services, and conducts related research. Greg Withee, NOAA Satellites and Information Service Administrator, says, "The Observing Systems Architecture is crucial as NOAA develops a roadmap for combining satellite data with other types of observations. The resulting increases in effectiveness will improve the overall quality of data, information and services that can be made available to NOAA's customers to enhance our Nation's public safety and quality of life."

"The Observing Systems Architecture we are building really shines on the output end, with displays that are intuitively understandable and visually appealing," says team leader Mike Crison, Director of Requirements, Planning and Systems Integration at NOAA Satellites and Information Service. The modeling tool being used to create the architecture is the Metis® Enterprise visual modeling toolset from Computas NA, Inc., Sammamish, Wash. "It's a great graphical tool that's easily usable by anyone doing even complex tasks such as analyzing budgets and allocating manpower."

Early on, the architectural development team saw the need to link their model to the larger Enterprise Architecture of NOAA -- also being developed and modeled using the Metis software. "We saw that the Observing Systems Architecture had to be considered a component of the Enterprise Architecture because changes in the observing systems often reflect and impact policies, requirements, applications and infrastructure throughout the agency," Crison says.

An important part of ensuring that the Observing Systems Architecture is a useful element in the Enterprise Architecture was the adoption of a business requirements-driven approach to model development. Accordingly, development team members visited groups in every discipline -- e.g., IT, business management, strategy and planning, scientific applications -- that would be impacted by any restructuring of the observing systems. The team representatives explained how the Observing Systems Architecture could improve the line offices' work, and provided the stakeholders with online survey forms that, when completed, would provide essential information for building an architectural model.

Before beginning the modeling process itself, the team spent several weeks doing business analysis of the survey data. They tried to identify the questions that business managers would be asking of the model, in order to be able to design a model capable of answering those questions. "We felt that an up-front effort to figure out the conceptual framework of the model was critical," Crison says. "An important benefit is that we can know what is most essential to model, given that we don't have time to model everything."

The modeling effort, which is ongoing, is facilitated by the capability of the Metis software to automatically extract the survey information from the database and translate it into XML (Extensible Markup Language) script. A key benefit of using XML is that, as a standard being adopted by the federal government, it will simplify integration of the Observing Systems Architecture with NOAA's Enterprise Architecture and other Commerce Department architectures as needed.

Model Provides Intuitively Understandable and Visually Appealing Displays for Analysis

With the data captured in XML format, the Observing Systems Architecture model can be flexibly queried and analyzed by authorized users. Accessible on NOAA's intranet, the model presents users with customized graphical views of the precise data they need. Typical queries might be for displays of: observing systems owned by a particular line office; organizations that own buoys; observing systems that support the ability to measure ocean temperature; systems that address the requirements of a stakeholder (e.g., airline pilots); geographic coverage of a particular system; acquisition costs of all systems associated with a certain strategic goal, etc. The modeling software has been linked to a Geographical Information System (GIS) so that queries can produce maps showing the locations of systems. Relationships between multiple entities in the model (e.g., requirements, platforms, users, environmental parameters) can be displayed in graphical diagrams.

The baseline Observing Systems Architecture was completed in January 2003, six months after the project began. This model covers currently deployed systems and those to be deployed in the 2003-04 budget cycle. Since then, work has focused on the target architecture, which will reflect NOAA's expected requirements through 2015.

"With the Observing Systems Architecture, we have a powerful tool for use in optimizing our existing systems, building new ones, and staying within budgets because we can see how everything fits together and where the gaps and overlaps are," Crison says.

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