By Jessica Borders
FAIRMONT — Following the launch of a new next-generation polar orbiting satellite, a team in Fairmont is stepping up its efforts on a project with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Don Mack is president of Diversified Global Partners, or DGP, which is a joint venture between Global Science & Technology and DB Consulting Group. DGP was specifically structured to win NOAA’s CLASS program, which stands for Comprehensive Large Array-data Stewardship System, and was awarded that nine-year project in 2008.
GDP focuses solely on running CLASS for the government, and Mack serves as the project manager for that contract. He explained that these efforts actually started in 2002 in Maryland, and under the support of former Congressman Alan Mollohan, half of it was moved to Fairmont. Then in 2008, the two projects combined as one.
“The purpose of it is to archive and disseminate high volumes of environmental data,” Mack said of CLASS.
He said the data that is received is satellite imagery from NOAA’s satellite fleet that monitors the atmosphere for weather and climate prediction and from satellites in Europe and Asia. It includes ocean, geophysical and other information describing the earth’s environment.
CLASS provides an enterprise approach to archiving and disseminating all that data in one system, rather than having every type of data maintained and stored in separate systems. This information is available for anyone around the world to access, Mack said.
“We’re an electronic library archiving years and years and years of environmental data and providing easy access over the Web,” he said.
On Oct. 28, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project, or NPP, was launched. Although it’s classified as a NASA program, this vehicle was paid for by NOAA and is going to be the first in the series of next-generation polar orbiting satellites that will replace aging satellites, he said.
Mack said the existing fleet is called the NOAA series, and some of that technology is as much as 30 years old. The new satellites are going to provide more observations of the earth and temperature, and data with higher resolution.
“It’s going to produce many more data products that will describe the Earth’s environment and better support forecasting for severe storms and provide a better set of data to support climate studies,” he said. “The more important thing is the support of the weather prediction, particularly with all the severe storms we have been having. It’s absolutely critical.”
Mack explained that because of NPP, CLASS is beginning to see an increase in traffic for both data coming into the system and data being ordered out of the system, which is called dissemination. This is a big increase and will be followed by many other increases, and puts CLASS in the position of being the largest environmental archive in the world in the next four years.
“There’s not many systems like us in the world, only a handful,” he said. “There just aren’t that many.”
The CLASS system is a step toward unifying a data center and having one archive and dissemination unit, which is cheaper and more beneficial than running many different data systems, Mack said.
When researchers first started observing the Earth’s environment, they focused more on receiving the data and getting information out of that data so weather forecasts could be made, he said. Over the years as all that data was coming in, it became evident that a history needed to be kept because this data is valuable and can be used for many purposes.
“So we’re keeping a history of our own environment,” Mack said. “It’s not enough to just produce a lot of data and analyze it.”
Forecasters can get data to see how they can improve their forecasts.
“We really need to understand our climate better both in the short term and the long term,” he said. “We’re getting more severe climate events that require further understanding.”
Companies use this information for everything from fishing forecasts to specialized food predictions and beyond. NOAA and its National Weather Service encourage the use of the CLASS data by commercial enterprises to do added-value type work, and this type of participation is encouraging, Mack said.
“Because we make the data open internationally, we have users in every time zone that are also making contributions to the atmospheric sciences and other types of environmental sciences,” he said.
The total CLASS staff, comprised of systems engineers, software developers, administration and management, adds up to about 115 people.
Mack said a good portion of the project’s software development is done in West Virginia, and people in the state have very key positions on the contract. These are all highly skilled jobs that represent salaries higher than the norm in the state.
“We have a team that has a great passion for this work, and the team is also tightly integrated,” he said. “I’m very proud of the team that we have in West Virginia. They’re doing world-class work.”
Christine Bradley, GST site manager and software development manager for CLASS, said she oversees the CLASS group in West Virginia and Maryland, but the bulk of the development team is from West Virginia. About 50 software developers and system engineers are working on this project in the state.
In terms of the NPP project, the team will be receiving the data from the satellite into the CLASS system to allow access and search capabilities. She said the excellent staff has stepped up to tackle difficult issues and create solutions.
“It’s definitely proposed a challenge to us for the amount of data that we are going to receive in our system,” Bradley said. “It was a good problem to have.”
She said the CLASS project will allow people to have access to data and use that information to do weather forecasts, predict major disasters in order to provide warnings, and discuss climate changes.
Bradley praised the dedicated group involved with CLASS for their hard work.
“It’s a very talented group, intelligent group,” she said. “CLASS provides them an opportunity to remain in West Virginia. Whatever is asked of them, they manage to pull it off every time.”
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