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Director's Statement | Facilities

Director's Statement

What a year it has been for Earth System Science. Al Gore has won an Oscar for his movie documentary "An Inconvenient Truth." The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a fourth assessment report providing a clear scientific appraisal that the Earth's climate is changing and it is highly likely that many of these changes can be attributed to humankind. This has created an awareness of the potential issues of global change throughout society. We, as scientists, are often asked, "Is it true?" by our neighbors, family and friends. This rising awareness has made it clear that we, as a nation and a member of the global society, need to increase our commitment to the sciences if we are to address and potentially mitigate the many challenges of climate and environmental change. This commitment to understanding the coupled Earth system on regional to global scales is the focus of the scientists and graduate students at ICESS. ICESS researchers work across the spectrum of the Earth System Sciences, from extreme events to biodiversity to economic impacts, increasing our understanding of global environmental changes and assessing their impacts on the Earth and society.

Unfortunately, commitment from the federal government has lagged behind society's awareness and for the past several years extramural funding in global environmental change has been diminishing. It is a testament to the quality of the researchers at ICESS that this year new awards to ICESS participants have reached an all time high. Research funding for this year has increased by 50% over the prior fiscal year which represents an increase of 21% above our ten-year average. I believe that this trend is going to continue. I noted in my last report that I was very concerned with the directions that NASA had been taking where no significant investments were being made to continue our ability to observe and understand the global system from satellite orbit (and with it the lack of commitment to support research using the satellite data sets we have). This lack of continuity in satellite coverage will have a large impact on our ability to assess and respond, as a society, to the global environmental changes that are taking place. This year, a National Research Council (NRC) committee completed the first Decadal Survey for Earth Science and Applications from Space which outlines planned satellite observations for the next twenty years. In the space sciences, decadal surveys have long been the blueprint for how national assets will be invested in scientific missions while planning for the Earth Sciences has historically been piecemeal (a mission at a time). I have been told that the NASA Earth Science Directorate will follow the exact recommendations made by the NRC's Earth Science Decadal Survey. This decision to build back the U.S. constellation of Earth observing satellites is one of the most positive announcements the Earth System Science community has heard in years.

This good news does not mean that there are not now data gaps in our ability to understand the Earth system from satellite orbit. One of the major data gaps currently is the lack of consistent, high spatial resolution imagery from Landsat, which has long been used to understand land surface processes. Researchers at UCSB and throughout the U.S. are faced with the challenge of how to answer pressing global change questions without the data sets to do so. To alleviate this data gap, ICESS has partnered with a local company, Terra Image, USA, to offer SPOT satellite imagery to U.S. educational researchers (see This new program, SPOT at UCSB, builds on our internal program that was launched in June, 2005, which provides UCSB researchers and students with nearly unlimited access to high spatial resolution commercial satellite imagery from the SPOT constellation of satellite sensors. These data are commercial products and have previously been inaccessible to academic researchers due to their high cost. Because of our efforts, U.S. researchers can now acquire high spatial resolution scenes comparable to aerial photography, allowing one to study agriculture, coastal, forestry, geology, hydrology, land use, urban, hazards, and the impacts people make on the Earth. To date, we have archived over 76,400 scenes, occupying 16 Terabytes, with a retail value of over $230-million. These scenes have benefited participants from ICESS, Geography, the Bren School, Chemistry, ECE, EEMB, Environmental Studies, Earth Sciences, the Institute for Crustal Studies, IQCD, MSI, NCEAS, and Physics. New science grants building on the internal SPOT program have been received by both ICESS and MSI. For their continued support of both the internal and SPOT at UCSB programs, I thank Business Services, Administrative Services, the Office of the Dean of Science, and the Office of Research.

Research at ICESS continues to make strong contributions to science as demonstrated by the scope of the publication records of our participants. Catherine Gautier, Professor of Geography and the former Director, has completed two major books this year that will be published by Cambridge Press. The first will be published in French and English under the title: "Facing climate change together." Her other book is an "Introduction to Oil, Water and Climate." My group has been very busy this past year. We have contributed to a paper in Science demonstrating that the amount of carbon that the ocean can export via sinking particles to depth and effectively sequester over long time scales depends on structure functioning of the biological communities that produce the organic carbon in the upper ocean. In a paper in Nature we showed that the productivity of much of the global ocean biosphere will respond directly to the warming of the world's oceans resulting in lower global ocean productivity due to global warming. Norm Nelson, an Associate Researcher, published a paper illustrating the distribution and geochemistry of the optically-active fraction of dissolved organic matter in the ocean - a significant but little-studied component of the global carbon cycle. In this paper, he has put to rest the controversy that colored dissolved organic matter is the result of runoff from land surfaces. Finally, Chris Costello, a faculty member at the Bren School, has recently published an economic analysis of optimal spatial management of a fishery. He and his colleague Steve Polasky of the University of Minnesota find that if there is spatial heterogeneity in fish production or recruitment success that closing regions, instituting no-take marine reserves, will optimize long-term net profits to the fishery. Theirs is the first economic results that show that marine reserves are part of an optimal fishery management solution.

As always, students are involved in research at ICESS at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Five of our graduate students are funded on fellowships managed at ICESS. Undergraduates participate in field campaigns both on and off-shore, assist in data analysis, and apply the lessons learned in the classroom to scientific problems. Graduate students actively participate in every area of research within ICESS from hydrology to looking at marine protected areas to evaluating our country's conservation priorities based on each state's views of social goals, biological status and trends, threats and opportunities. The breadth of student research is wide and their contribution is considerable.

In reviewing the ICESS Director's Statements and Advisory Committee reports for the past decade, each has addressed our budget shortfall and significant staffing issues. This is an on-going problem throughout campus that has yet to be corrected. As with prior reports, I continue to urge the UCSB administration to work with UCOP to mitigate the staffing issues faced by our campus. The expertise and dedication of the ICESS staff allows our researchers to focus on science with the knowledge that administrative and computing infrastructure functions will be managed by the team. I thank each of them again this year for their contribution to our success.

As an Organized Research Unit at the University of California at Santa Barbara, the ICESS mission continues to be "to provide a distributed, interdisciplinary computer environment for the promotion and support of research and research education in Earth system science, an interdisciplinary environment and computer-related service that enhances the excellence and competitive advantage of UCSB global change research, a center of excellence to provide visibility and aid in the attraction of top faculty and students to UCSB, and an efficiently-run business operations and administration that supports research."

This was an excellent year for ICESS - record extramural funding, notification by NASA that all four of our EOS renewal proposals will be funded, news that NASA intends to follow the NRC recommendations, and the launch of an external program that will bring SPOT satellite imagery to U.S. educational institutions. It was a busy and productive year that brought many advances toward ICESS goals. This next year brings our external review; a chance to focus on where we are in the Earth Science community and where we want to be in the coming years. Although the effort to complete the review will be significant, I look forward to the opportunity of holding these discussions with our participants and working to determine our future.


David A. Siegel, Director


The Institute for Computational Earth System Science (ICESS) is located on campus at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) on the 6th floor of Ellison Hall. ICESS is an organized research unit, a department-level entity dedicated to supporting extramurally-funded research. Professor David Siegel was appointed as the Director of ICESS in July, 2002. Thirty-three independent research groups conduct and administer their research using the facilities and resources of ICESS. ICESS partially supports four administrative employees and three computer system administrators, all from university resources. Several conference rooms are available for group meetings and a limited amount of laboratory facilities are available. Many ICESS investigators use laboratory facilities provided by their home academic departments.

The ICESS computational facility is in common with other features of the unit, a unique, shared, community resource, allowing interdisciplinary and collaborative research and training to flourish. The open nature of the shared computational resources is unprecedented in U.S. research groups. Most importantly, the community computer resource enables students and faculty researchers to share not only hardware and software resources but also the data sets and specialized computer programs that are the core of the individual research projects. This sharing of intellectual achievements enables ICESS researchers to make new and important Earth system science and integrated assessment discoveries, in turn to share their results quickly with the wider community, and provides a truly interdisciplinary environment to train students. ICESS supports:

     77 UNIX systems

     26 Macs

    127 PCs and four Windows Servers

    3 Linux Beowulf clusters totaling ~72 nodes

All computers are connected to a common wired and wireless high-speed switched data network. Ethernet, Fast-Ethernet, and Gigabit-Ethernet, and Wi-Fi are supported. ICESS has a 1000Mb/s connection to the UCSB campus backbone which provides shared access to a 622Mb/s CALREN-2 connection, which in turn provides access to Internet2. The computing environment is based on a network of HP Compaq Digital (Alpha), Sun Microsystems (SPARC and x86), and Linux-based (x86) servers and workstations.  The main ICESS Linux Cluster consists of 22 AMD 2800+ MP CPUs, 22GB of RAM and 2TB of dedicated, high-speed disk space.  The cluster is architected with the flexibility to add more resources quickly and easily should participants' needs change.

Wintel systems predominate on desktops. The total hard disk storage at ICESS is presently in excess of 125TB. High-performance Fiber Channel and SCSI disk arrays allow participants to add disk storage to the environment in disk-sized discrete increments. Nightly backups to off-site hard disk arrays archive minimize the risk of critical data loss.  There are eight networked printers including two color laser printers and a 36" color ink-jet plotter. Finally, a full compliment of computational, image processing, statistical, database, graphical, scientific visualization, and animation software are available for use in ICESS.

ICESS computing facilities benefit faculty and researchers housed in Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Computer Science, the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, Economics, Earth Science, Environmental Studies, Geography, and Marine Science, along with off-campus users located in Berkeley, Brazil, Canada, Chili, Colorado,  Maine, Mammoth, Merced, New Mexico, Oregon, Saco, Sacramento, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Scotland, Three Rivers, Utah, Washington, DC, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

In addition we offer the following services:

Resource Center for SPOT Imagery

In June of 2005, a program was launched to allow UCSB faculty, researchers, and students unlimited access to high spatial resolution commercial satellite imagery from the SPOT constellation of satellite sensors. These data are commercial products and have previously been inaccessible to academic researchers due to their high cost.  During the period of the program (lasting until May of 2008), UCSB was able to task the SPOT satellites in areas of scientific interest and impact, such as the LTER sites.  In all, we archived over 70,000 scenes, occupying over 16 Terabytes, with a retail value of over $241-million.  Faculty, researchers, and students in Geography, Earth Science, the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, Marine Science Institute, Crustal Studies, Environmental Studies, ICESS and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), have utilized the satellite images (both archive and newly tasked).  These data remain available to UCSB members.

AVHRR Receiver Facility

ICESS maintains a Terascan receiver and data archive at UCSB. Data is collected daily from overhead satellite passes, contains raw satellite pass data dating from September, 1993, to the present and is an important source of current and historical remote sensor observations of the west coast of the United States

Optical Calibration Facility

Optical signals--whether obtained at ocean depths, in glacier ice, on the Earth's surface, from the atmosphere, or in space--are a key component of our scientific observations. We have developed a number of unique optical instruments (e.g., in-water UV and visible spectroradiometers) for our various research efforts. Sensitive calibration of these optical sensors is essential to ensure high quality and reliable data and we have developed a state-of-the-art optical calibration facility.

Micro-Environmental Imaging & Analysis Facility

This state-of-the-art imaging facility for both academic and non-academic research features an environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) with X-ray microanalysis and a new cold stage that together enable high-resolution imaging of hydrated specimens, observation of dynamic experiments such as crystal formation and dehydration, freeze-fracturing, and ultra-low temperature imaging.  Applications range from microelectronics to forensic science.  This facility is housed in the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and managed by ICESS.

The Cooperative Snow Study Site at Mammoth Mountain, California

A complex system of sensors and automatic data logging devices monitor snow and energy budget conditions at a cooperative site midway up Mammoth Mountain (37 deg. 37 min. N, 119 deg. 2 min. W) at about 2940 meters (9645 feet) in the eastern Sierra Nevada of California. Researchers and research staff also make a variety of manual measurements at the site, which has operated at the current location in Mammoth Mountain Ski Area since 1987. The site lies well out of the way of ski area operation and recreational ski traffic so that the snow remains undisturbed from accumulation through melting. The site's position, on the east side of the Sierra crest near the headwaters of the San Joaquin River, makes environmental conditions sensitive to different types of storms, which typically result in an enormous amount of precipitation and severe winds. These weather conditions, along with ease of winter access via the ski area, make this an ideal spot for monitoring alpine snow. Measurements include meteorological variables that affect energy transfer over the snow and its mass balance, snow properties as the pack evolves during the snow season and conditions in the soil under the snow cover.