Making Ecological Forecasts Operational: Some Lessons Learned By NOAA

Post by Christopher Brown; Oceanographer – NOAA

Ideally, newly developed ecological forecasts deemed useful should be transitioned to operations, applications or commercialization to benefit society. More succinctly, if there is no transition, there is no outcome. NOAA develops and transitions ecological forecasts to fulfill its mandates and role in the protection of life, property, human health and well-being, and in stewardship of coastal, marine, and Great Lakes environments. A depiction of this general process (Figure 1), affectionately called “the R&D funnel”, illustrates how new technologies and products are identified from the multitude available from numerous sources and are culled and eventually transitioned to meet NOAA’s needs.  Unfortunately, while several ecological forecasting projects at NOAA have been successfully transitioned to operations, many projects remain primarily in a research mode. To better understand the reasons behind this, NOAA’s Ecological Forecasting Roadmap program conducted an unpublished study in 2014 that compared ecological forecasting projects that had been successfully transitioned to operations with those that languished or failed in order to identify common characteristics related to the success or failure of the transition. (NOAA defines operations as “sustained, systematic, reliable, and robust mission activities with an institutional commitment to deliver specified products and services”.) Based on the comparative analysis of nine projects, a list of “lessons learned” for transitioning ecological forecasts to operations, applications or commercialization (R2X) were compiled. The salient points are listed below:

  • Identify the “owner” or group responsible for operationally producing the product or service as early as possible in the process.  In baseball vernacular, find the catcher’s mitt;
  • Engage the users, stakeholders and decision makers, from researchers to management, as early as possible to establish user needs and obtain routine feedback for setting and updating product requirements;
  • Find and secure funding of the product or service to ensure its transition, verification, sustainment and improvement;
  • Plan and document, to the best of your ability, as many steps in the life of the product or service, from research to operations to termination, including the entities responsible, the major milestones, and the funding required. This activity will focus attention on the steps that need to be taken and provide information required in the formal R2X process; and
  • Include plans for the sustained collection, analysis and archive of relevant data necessary for product verification.
Figure 1. R&D Funnel

EFI Webinar: Dietze OneNOAA on Sept 12, 2018 12-1 ET

OneNOAA Science Seminar Series

Title: Solving the Challenge of Predicting Nature: How Close are We and How Do We Get There?

Speaker: Michael Dietze, Associate Professor, Department of Earth & Environment, Boston University

Sponsor: NOAA’s National Ocean Service Science Seminar; moderator is Tracy.Gill@noaa.gov

Webinar Access: Mymeeting webinar uses phone for and internet.
Audio is only available over the phone: dial toll-free from US or CAN:1-877-708-1667.
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click “Join an Event”, then add conf no: 744925156. No passcode is needed for the web.
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Abstract: Is nature predictable? If so, can we use that understanding to better manage and conserve ecosystems? Near-term ecological forecasting is an emerging interdisciplinary research area that aims to improve our ability to predict ecological processes on timescales that can be meaningfully validated and iteratively updated. In this talk I argue that near-term forecasting is a win-win for accelerating basic science and making it more relevant to society. I will focus on the challenges and opportunities in this field, spanning advances in environmental monitoring, statistics, and cyberinfrastructure. I will present a first-principles framework for understanding the predictability of ecological processes and synthesizing this understanding across different systems. Finally, I will highlight ongoing efforts to build an ecological forecasting community of practice.

About the Speaker: Michael Dietze leads the Ecological Forecasting Laboratory at Boston University, whose mission is to better understand and predict ecological systems, and is author of the book “Ecological Forecasting”. He is interested in the ways that iterative forecasts, which are continually confronted with new data, can improve and accelerate basic science in ecology, while at the same time making that science more directly relevant to society. Much of the current work in the lab is organized within the Near-term Ecological Forecasting Initiative (NEFI) and the PEcAn project. NEFI is focused on addressing overarching questions about ecological predictability, while developing forecasts for a wide range of ecological processes (vegetation phenology and land-surface fluxes; ticks, tick-borne disease and small mammal hosts; soil microbiome; aquatic productivity and algal blooms) and advancing statistical and informatic tools for ecological forecasting. PEcAn is focused on the terrestrial carbon cycle, improving our capacity for carbon MRV (monitoring, reporting, verification), forecasting, data assimilation, and multi-model benchmarking and calibration within the land component of Earth System models.

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