ORNL DAAC MODIS Team recipient of NSDI Champion of the Year Award

Sep 29, 2016

The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) has just announced that the ORNL Distributed Active Archive Center for Biogeochemical Dynamics (DAAC) MODIS Team is the recipient of the first Doug D. Nebert NSDI Champion of the Year Award. The ORNL DAAC won this award for developing an innovative tool suite to allow users to access and use complex MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) satellite data sets easily. The visionary leadership shown by the ORNL DAAC MODIS Team and its members and their emphasis on service and dedication to National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) principles uniquely fit the team for this honor.

The ORNL DAAC is one of 12 NASA Earth Observing System Data and Information System data centers, each archiving data from different NASA programs. These DAACs are custodians of Earth Observing System mission data, ensuring that data from NASA’s past and current Earth-observing satellites and field measurement programs will be easily accessible to users.

MODIS instruments, which measure spectral radiance or irradiance remotely, are on two NASA satellites, Aqua and Terra, that provide views of the entire surface of the Earth every 1–2 days. The many data products derived from MODIS observations can be used for studies of processes and trends on local to global scales, including dust storms, fires (see image), hurricanes, land and sea ice cover, algal blooms, and sea surface temperatures. MODIS data play a vital role in the development of accurate Earth system models.

But there is, or was, a hitch. Without intervention, the large, complex MODIS data sets, structures, and products archived by the ORNL DAAC for the MODIS program are beyond the resources of most users—including many scientists around the world—rendering the investment in the data somewhat ineffective, depriving scientists of access to the data, and depriving everyone of the benefits of potentially missed scientific discoveries.


Results using the ORNL DAAC MODIS tool showing the reduction in vegetation greenness because of a forest fire event in Los Angeles California in August 2009 (indicated by the red “hotspots” where the thermal sensors on the instrument detected temperatures higher than background). The ORNL DAAC MODIS suite of tools can generate such visualization plots by quickly “subsetting” data from hundreds of terabytes of MODIS imagery.

The ORNL DAAC MODIS Team recognized this almost immediately and set about developing a suite of tools with which users could access multiple years of data over small ecosystems or small portions of the globe. With a simple interface and simple data structures, this service has been, in the words of one ORNL DAAC user “crucial in encouraging ecosystem scientists, conservation managers, school teachers, and the general public to look at daily MODIS data to see how small regions are changing over time.”

This dedication to easy access and commitment to user support has continued throughout the ORNL DAAC’s involvement with the MODIS project, with consistently improved access and ready online support for individual users. According to another of the ORNL DAAC’s many supporters, the tool has impacted tens of thousands of users, and while other tools and services have been developed since the first edition of the ORNL DAAC MODIS tool suite, its simplicity, elegance, and utility have made it the “gold standard.”

The Nebert NSDI Champion Award is named in honor of Doug D. Nebert, a technical visionary and recognized national and international leader in the establishment of spatial data infrastructures. The award recognizes an individual or a team representing a federal, state, tribal, regional, and/or local government; an academic institution; or a nonprofit, professional organization that has developed an outstanding, innovative, and operational tool; application; or service capability used by multiple organizations that furthers the vision of NSDI to ensure that spatial data from multiple sources are available and easily integrated to enhance the understanding of the physical world.

The Climate Change Science Institute’s Suresh Vannan, ORNL DAAC manager; Makhan Virdi, ORNL DAAC MODIS tool lead; and Bob Cook, ORNL DAAC chief scientist (retired), will be accepting the award for the team at a ceremony at the US Department of the Interior in Washington, DC, September 29, 2016.

For more information on the ORNL DAAC, contact Suresh Vannan; for more information on MODIS and MODIS tools, contact Makhan Virdi.

By VJ Ewing.