Dr. Erik Ebert works on the data provided by the multi-beam scan aboard the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration Ship Nancy Foster, Aug. 24, 2018. 

Dec 30 2019

NOAA Outlines Plans to Adopt AI and Cloud Solutions

The agency wants to use artificial intelligence to analyze data more efficiently and the cloud for data storage.

For several years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has put an emphasis on the so-called blue economy, which refers to the use of seas and coasts for economic activities. These include seafood production, tourism and recreation, ocean exploration, marine transportation and coastal resilience. 

Now NOAA wants to use artificial intelligence and the cloud to help it achieve its mission to support the blue economy, as well as more traditional missions such as weather prediction. Last month, the agency released draft strategies around AI and cloud

“NOAA is a pioneer with a strong track record of applying the latest science and technology and these new strategies will allow us to dramatically expand these applications across our mission areas,” Neil Jacobs, the acting NOAA administrator, said in a statement. “These detailed strategies will enable us to achieve our priorities of reclaiming and maintaining global leadership in numerical weather prediction and sustainably expanding the American Blue Economy.”

The goal of the AI strategy is to use the technology to advance NOAA’s requirements-driven mission priorities, help the agency “reduce the cost of data processing, and provide higher quality and more timely scientific products and services for societal benefits,” according to a statement. 

On cloud, the agency notes that its “robust experience with cloud applications is already beginning to demonstrate significant improvements in performance and skill in areas such as satellite data products and services, numerical weather prediction, ocean models, and big data analysis, storage and dissemination.” 

According to a statement, NOAA aims to use the cloud to speed acquisition of new computing resources; boost cybersecurity; provide more accessible and monetizable NOAA data to customers, such as academia and industry; cut down the amount of time from research to operations; provide scalable infrastructure to support scientific and high-performance computing requirements; and foster a more agile and innovative culture.

NOAA Aims to Expand Its Use of AI

NOAA’s draft AI strategy says the agency wants to accelerate its use of the technology across the entire agency to “make transformative improvements in NOAA mission performance and cost effectiveness.”

Currently, NOAA uses AI tools to improve compute performance in areas such as deep-sea exploration, habitat characterization and processing of earth observations. The agency aims to boost coordination, operational capabilities, workforce proficiency and multisector partnerships to expand its use of AI.

According to the strategy document, NOAA envisions using AI for a wide range of missions, including: aerial and underwater surveys from ships and autonomous platforms to assess the abundance of marine mammal and fish populations; robotics for deep-sea exploration; quality control for weather observations; improving physical parameters for weather, ocean and ice modeling; and improving computational performance of numerical models that automate weather warning generation and the operation of unmanned systems for mapping, habitat characterization, hydrologic, oceanographic, atmospheric, fishery, ecosystem and geographic surveys.

NOAA also wants to leverage machine learning capabilities to analyze satellite imagery for severe weather detection and prediction, oil spill and hazardous material trajectory, wildfire detection and movement, ecosystem health and detection of illegal fishing activity. Machine learning can also help with the reliable and efficient processing, interpretation and use of earth observations.

To achieve such goals, NOAA has several objectives, including setting up efficient organizational structures and processes to advance AI across the agency, advancing AI research and innovation, accelerating the transition of AI research into operational capabilities, strengthening and expanding AI partnerships, and promoting AI proficiency in its workforce. 

Notably, the document states that for successful transitions from research to operational capabilities, NOAA “will support the growth of a nascent commercial environmental AI sector that will increasingly serve as a source for solutions to our operational requirements.”

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NOAA Envisions Multicloud Future

Meanwhile, NOAA’s cloud strategy document says that it “starts with and presumes an end state architecture (specifically, a multi-vendor, multi-tenant commercial cloud environment), followed by a requirements and business case analysis to determine the suitability of cloud for the requirements, and if suitable then determine the best permutation of this architecture (e.g., private, hybrid, public) for the requirements.”

The goal, NOAA states, is to create “significant opportunities for collaboration and sharing of assets (both infrastructure and data).”

NOAA notes that the data it stores is vast, complex and distributed, reflecting the diversity and footprint of the agency’s mission. Consequently, the systems and infrastructure that process, store and disseminate NOAA’s data are complex, distributed and largely stovepiped. 

NOAA expects the volume and velocity of the data it collects “to increase exponentially with the advent of new observing system and data acquisition capabilities, placing a premium on our capacity and wherewithal to scale the IT infrastructure and services to support this growth.”

To handle that, NOAA needs to move more rapidly into cloud services, which represents both a significant investment and a change management challenge for the agency. 

“At the same time, cloud adoption is an opportunity, an inflection point, where NOAA can modernize data storage and dissemination instead of just shifting existing systems to the cloud,” the agency notes in its strategy document. “Applying the right architecture for the right situation is the imperative. While cloud services may not be the best solution for all requirements, all NOAA IT investment decisions should fully and credibly consider cloud as a potential alternative.” 

NOAA’s strategic goals for the cloud include enabling innovation through rapid adoption of cloud-based services; driving “smart” migration to the cloud based on mission requirements and a sound business case; ensuring secure and broad access to cloud services and providing effective governance for such services; and empowering a workforce that “has the skills, competencies, authority and information needed to apply cloud technologies that support” NOAA’s mission.

U.S. Coast Guard photo

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