The Earth sciences are being transformed by immediate access to real-time data from new observing systems, including a growing array of satellites, cabled observatories, and autonomous airborne and underwater vehicles. This huge flood of digital data has the potential to lead to major breakthroughs in nearly all of Lamont’s disciplines, including seafloor earthquakes and eruptions, crustal fluid flow, global ocean overturning, ocean turbulence and mixing, air-sea exchange, seasonal and decadal climate prediction, and phytoplankton ecosystems. But technical challenges surrounding the acquisition and analysis of these data are major obstacles to scientific progress.
Lamont intends to lead the way forward in this new landscape by expanding our capability to develop new observation systems that take advantage of increased device connectivity, and to collect, manage, and analyze the resulting geoscience data. The Real-Time Earth initiative aims to grow the technical capabilities of the Observatory by combining engineering with “big data” informatics to enrich our understanding of the planet. Enhanced mechanical and electrical engineering capacity will allow our scientists to develop the observing technologies, such as autonomous robots, needed to answer pressing scientific questions, such as “what triggers undersea eruptions?” Enhanced computational capacity will provide a foundation for tackling the challenges associated with very large datasets, enabling machine learning, forecasting, and data visualization to be applied at scale to pressing environmental problems.
To realize these ambitious goals, the Real-Time Earth initiative requires a stable base of engineering support staff who are available to work with scientists from across the Observatory. Targeted hires of faculty focused on instrument development will drive development of technological expertise, and the renovation of existing engineering facilities will improve available resources. On the informatics side, support is needed to design and construct a new high-performance-computing facility tailored to Lamont’s unique data science needs. A Lamont Research Professor will be recruited to serve as the Observatory’s chief data scientist, with a mandate to develop collaborations across the research divisions aimed at solving big data challenges in different disciplines. This office will maintain a support staff of programmers and analysts available to contribute to software and data engineering projects.
From its founding, the Observatory has a rich history of innovation in novel instrumentation and global exploration, from the development of now-standard seismometers and the first global maps of the ocean floor to today’s IcePod sensor suite to characterize polar ice sheets and the autonomous vehicles that enable our scientists to make measurements where none have yet been made. Lamont is also at the forefront of the development of novel methods to manage and interrogate large data sets, from geochemical samples to marine geophysical observations, deep-sea sediment cores, and airborne and satellite images and remote sensing measurements.