After four years of planning, building, and refining, NASA’s Airborne Data Management Group (ADMG) achieved a major milestone with the full release of the Catalog of Archived Suborbital Earth Science Investigations (CASEI). CASEI enables users to rapidly access information and data products acquired by NASA’s airborne and field investigations. As a web-based, openly accessible user resource, CASEI is the most extensive search and discovery interface for learning more about NASA suborbital research.
ADMG, which is a project of NASA’s Interagency Implementation and Advanced Concepts Team (IMPACT) and operates under the direction of NASA's Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program, launched the beta version of CASEI in the summer of 2021. The catalog now contains extensive, searchable metadata for more than 100 campaigns (65% of all currently known airborne and field campaigns), more than 500 instruments, and more than 120 platforms. Achieving this level of content curation means that ADMG can transition CASEI from beta status to full release.
Meeting Airborne Research Needs
The motivation to create CASEI emerged from the 2016 Satellite Needs Working Group (SNWG) biennial assessment survey in which data users from federal agencies expressed the need for easier discovery and access to airborne and field data. From its inception, user feedback informed CASEI’s design. This input ensured that CASEI became an effective search tool by consolidating pathways to historical and ongoing campaign and field investigation information and data products.
With CASEI, users can submit a single query to locate specific information—from the types of instruments flown on a particular aircraft to the variety of measurements collected during a campaign. Search results also include direct links to data product landing pages managed by NASA’s Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs).
Meticulously curated metadata form the backbone of the CASEI inventory. The trove of information compiled in CASEI concerning campaign events, observations, and characteristics provides necessary context for accurately interpreting and using data products. A dedicated curation team compiled details about the science objectives, temporal and spatial measurement characteristics, sensor configurations and platform placement, funding mechanisms, personnel, and many other aspects of non-satellite investigations.
Dr. Stephanie Wingo, a research scientist at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, serves as the ADMG team lead. She is proud of her team’s comprehensive curation efforts and points to how team diversity and the use of information management tools support their work. “We have a great team of curators—folks from a variety of backgrounds that, upon joining the team, undergo an extensive, actively-involved training,” Wingo says. “The team makes use of a variety of tools to ensure consistent determinations throughout the curation process; these include objective decision trees, a subject matter expert-reviewed set of terminology definitions, and a fully mapped data model.”
While training and tools go a long way in helping curators, combing through documents and repositories simply takes a lot of time. Ashlyn Shirey, an ADMG curator, notes how the metadata curation process to add a single new airborne campaign to the CASEI interface often takes two to three days. However, gathering information about older or more extensive campaigns requires more intensive efforts. “Campaigns that have multiple deployments over several years can take up to a week or more to complete. Also, campaigns that happened decades ago can take additional time due to information being limited for those campaigns,” she explains.
The ADMG team has taken care to not only focus on recent campaigns but also to curate information about historical campaigns from up to 50 years ago. For example, the NASA-led First International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP) Regional Experiment (FIRE) conducted five deployments with more than 240 flights from 1986 to 1998. The FIRE campaign focused primarily on gathering measurements of marine stratocumulus and cirrus cloud systems to help determine their role in global climate events. Airborne remote and in situ sensor data combined with ground-based, balloon, shipborne, and satellite cloud observations produced a robust collection of more than 120 data products. By entering search parameters in CASEI, researchers today can quickly gain access to historical data and information from campaigns such as FIRE to explore long-term variability in atmospheric phenomena. The data products from FIRE are archived at NASA’s Atmospheric Science Data Center (ASDC), the DAAC focused on atmospheric science data products and services.
Opening Science Access
It’s fitting that the full release of CASEI is occurring in 2023, as it highlights one of NASA’s top priorities. NASA, along with the White House and other federal agencies, declared 2023 A Year of Open Science as part of a broad effort to shift the paradigm for science data access and use. The ADMG team’s efforts directly support NASA’s goal to foster more “inclusive, transparent, and collaborative scientific processes.”
Wingo observes that CASEI plays a major role in NASA’s Open-Source Science Initiative (OSSI). “ADMG and CASEI are supporting open science by providing an efficient, intuitive means for the discovery of, contextualization for, and access to suborbital Earth science data,” she says. “This further supports the appropriate reuse of data, increasing the return on investments made for data collection and stewardship.”
Deborah Smith, a principal research scientist at The University of Alabama in Huntsville and the original project leader of ADMG, agrees that CASEI is adding considerable value to airborne data management and research practices. “CASEI helps to open the history of airborne and field activities and details of each activity to all users,” she says. “Paired with the data rescue efforts of ADMG, the data are slowly becoming open to all. I am always happy when I hear a scientist say that what we are doing is highly valuable and much appreciated.”
While the ADMG team is celebrating the full release milestone, they won’t be stepping away from their keyboards any time soon. They still have dozens of campaigns to curate and add to the CASEI interface as well as a long wish list of user interface enhancements to implement to create an even more efficient and intuitive user experience.
Several updates are in development that will be added to CASEI later this year and beyond:
- Maps of platform tracks and locations (flight paths, ship voyages, field sites) for all campaigns in the CASEI inventory
- Increased transparency in curation status: posts on what campaigns, instruments, and platforms are currently being curated and coming soon to the CASEI database
- Support for determining coincident satellite overpasses
- Additional links to resources on campaign- or data-specific tools and software as well as historical perspectives on the origin of individual platforms and their use in NASA Earth science
Looking to the Future
As CASEI continues to improve, ADMG and NASA’s ESDS Program are exploring long-term solutions to support these unique metadata and discovery capabilities. Currently, a collaborative team consisting of ADMG, DAAC, and NASA Earth Science Data and Information System (ESDIS) Project personnel are planning what will become the Airborne and Field Data Resource Center—a virtually operating resource that centralizes essential information and access to tools, software, and data. Once the Center is operational, CASEI will be a cornerstone of its offerings.
For now, CASEI will continue to be administered by ADMG, and the team will continue their mission to support airborne and field science research through effective data stewardship.