NASA & National Park Service partner on Earth research


Acadia National Park Spruce Forest: This is a photo of a spruce forest in Acadia National Park, Maine. Park managers hope to use NASA satellite data to help manage the forest resources of the park. Credit: NPS
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

NASA and the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Park Service (NPS) recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for collaboration on mutually beneficial Earth science programs for the preservation, enhancement and interpretation of U.S. natural resources. The new partnership also advances NASA's mission to understand and protect our home planet and inspire the next generation of explorers.

The MOA is a comprehensive, five-year agreement that will, "foster a collaborative effort between NASA and NPS to use Earth science research results and extend the benefits of NASA exploration and science for the preservation, enhancement and interpretation of the natural resources of the United States."

"I am confident that this agreement will provide the framework for a positive cooperative relationship for years to come as well as advance NASA's goal of improving our understanding of Earth's system," said Woody Turner, Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters.

NPS and NASA data managers have agreed to share information and collaborate on training, technical support, information and education. Both agencies bring unique science content, observations, and educational tools that benefit each other's goals. Whereas NASA has the unique vantage provided by space-based platforms, NPS has extensive ground-based data about natural and cultural resources. The MOA allows NPS and NASA personnel to explore the breadth of opportunities for utilizing Earth observations systems, including spacecraft data and models, in managing park resources and educating park visitors.

Snow in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks: On Oct. 6, 2003, NASA's Terra satellite MODIS instrument captured this blanket of snow over Montana, top right, and Wyoming, bottom right, and the mountains of Idaho, left. Credit: MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Both NPS and NASA share the commonality of educating and inspiring the public through exploration of natural environments. NASA science programs offer substantial benefits to NPS interpretation that inform and inspire park visitors about our place in the natural world and the universe. The two agencies have already begun to foster closer connections in education. For example, in October 2004, NPS collaborated with NASA to offer an 'Explorer Institute' aimed at enabling Park Rangers to incorporate NASA science content into public programs or written material for use in National Parks.

Currently, Landsat data is being combined with ground measurements to better understand the effects of land use patterns on large migratory wildlife in and around Yellowstone, and changes in glaciers at Glacier National Park, Alaska. The NPS Inventory and Monitoring Division is also beginning to use Landsat for vegetation mapping, in an ongoing program.

Close Up of the 2002 McNalley Fire: This is a photograph of the McNalley Fire in the Sequoia National Forest taken by the USDA Forest Service Region 5 Office, in July 2002. Credit: USFS, Denise Buske and Gloria Smith.
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

In Acadia and Shenandoah National Parks, park interpreters and education specialists are working with Landsat EPO to develop a web-based interpretive exhibit that will use Landsat and possibly other NASA data to convey concepts of historical and present day use patterns on the landscapes in and around the parks.

The mission of the NPS is to preserve and interpret natural and cultural resources on the federal lands it manages for this and future generations. To achieve this mission, NPS decision makers are asking for more remotely sensed observations, which NASA can and is providing. NASA scientists also benefit from the NPS measurements gathered on the ground, as it helps them check the accuracy of spacecraft research results.

The agreement stipulates that NASA will provide space-based observations, and the NPS will review innovative Earth system science results, scientific, educational and interpretation materials, information services, and related products. Some specific opportunities that will result from this MOA include coordinating teams on the ground to survey parks and compare the measurements to observations from NASA spacecraft instruments, compiling science image-products of parks, developing databases of key parameters of ecosystem indicators, and evaluating the use of research-quality results to make decisions on managing the parks' resources.

This collaboration provides opportunities at NPS Research Learning Centers, conferences, and training workshops for NASA experts to present papers, and to conduct hands-on and specialized tutorials. Universities will also benefit, as joint projects are coordinated and promoted with them through the NPS regional Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technical support centers.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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