The Importance of Definition (or, “It Depends on the Application”): Revisiting the Meaning of “Successful ‘Transition' and ‘Improvement'” Through Different Lenses

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015
Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings
Michael Shaw, SAIC/NASA Goddard/USACE/ERDC/CRREL, Hanover, NH; and J. B. Eylander and J. M. Roningen

The importance of carefully framing scientific and engineering efforts is often underscored in early grade school science courses, and reinforced throughout the training of scientists and engineers, including those of us working in geophysical and meteorological contexts. At the same time, it often becomes clear to many of us that, while working collaboratively with those from different backgrounds and organizations, for instance, perspectives on what it means to have conducted a meaningful scientific or engineering effort can be divergent, sometimes to a surprising degree and to surprising detriment to meaningful delivery of new scientific understandings or capabilities. Meanwhile, in an environment of increased scrutiny on productivity and demands of optimized results with constrained resources, consideration of how we frame our scientific collaborative efforts in this context seems timely, to us. While this state of affairs might sometimes be dismissed as obvious or irrelevant, we wish to elucidate its continued importance while highlighting how differences in definition of a particular problem or performance metric, for example, can lead to significantly different concepts of technical efficacy, illustrated by a couple of efforts in the realm of land surface modeling. Specifically, we draw from examples involving

a) benchmarking, via the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Air Force Weather Agency (AFWA) -developed land verification toolkit (LVT), of a United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL) -developed land surface model (LSM) “FASST” and

b) ensemble Kalman filter based assimilation of space-based (remotely sensed) soil moisture retrievals within the framework of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center -developed Land Information System (LIS) towards informing of operational considerations and decisions.

We demonstrate how rather different interpretations of LSM and DA system development efficacy might be arrived at vis a vis differently posed objectives and differing metrics. We thus hope to inspire contemplation within the community of the importance of attention to how “better” is framed within the contexts of the examples presented as illustrations of a more general conception of technical improvement.