Surface Biology and Geology (SBG)

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NASA has initiated a new study for the Surface Biology and Geology (SBG) Designated Observable, identified in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) 2017 Decadal Survey, “Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observations from Space.”

The Decadal Survey document presented a clear vision for the combined roles of visible to shortwave infrared imaging spectroscopy and multispectral or hyperspectral thermal infrared imagery in addressing terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and other elements of biodiversity, geology, volcanoes, the water cycle and applied sciences topics relevant to many societal benefit areas. 

The SBG Study is currently in the first phase of identifying as many feasible observing architectures as possible that achieve the Decadal Survey science objectives, including system concepts from the Hyperspectral Infrared Imager (HyspIRI) precursor study from the 2007 Decadal Survey, as well as new ideas and advances with instrument technologies. Candidate architectures will include SmallSat and medium class concepts, and industry and foreign partnerships.

A Research and Applications (R&A) team has been developed to include four working groups: algorithms, calibration and validation, applications, and modeling. A parallel team is envisioning candidate architectures for implementing observing system concepts, exploring capabilities from program of records and recent opportunities, and working from the input of the R&A team or their Science and Applications Traceability Matrix (SATM). 

The objective of this study is to engage a broad science community and a variety of stakeholders to explore potential partnerships with commercial and international organizations. 

The study team has developed an SATM that responds to the Most and Very Important Science and Applications priorities for Targeted Observable 18 of the Decadal Survey report:

Designated Observable



Surface Biology and

Earth surface geology and biology, ground/water temperature, snow reflectivity, active geologic processes, vegetation traits, and algal biomass

Hyperspectral imagery in the visible and shortwave infrared; multi- or hyperspectral imagery in the thermal IR

Read more about NASA’s SBG Designated Observable objectives in “Watching Earth’s Interconnected Systems at Work” in the Oct. 31 EOS online.

The Most and Very Important priorities are


Most Important

  • E1a: Quantify the distribution of the functional traits, functional types, and composition of vegetation and marine biomass, spatially and over time.
  • E1c: Quantify the physiological dynamics of terrestrial and aquatic primary producers.
  • E2a: Quantify the fluxes of CO2 and CH4 globally at spatial scales of 100 to 500 km and monthly temporal resolution with uncertainty <25% between land ecosystems and atmosphere and between ocean ecosystems and atmosphere.
  • H1c: Quantify rates of snow accumulation, snowmelt, ice melt, and sublimation from snow and ice worldwide at scales driven by topographic variability.
Solid Earth
  • S1a: Measure the pre-, syn-, and posteruption surface deformation and products of Earth’s entire active land volcano inventory at a time scale of days to weeks.


Very Important

  • E1a: Quantify the distribution of the functional traits, functional types, and composition of vegetation and marine biomass, spatially and over time.
  • H2a: Quantify how changes in land use, water use, and water storage affect evapotranspiration rates, and how these in turn affect local and regional precipitation systems, groundwater recharge, temperature extremes, and carbon cycling.
  • H4a: Monitor and understand hazard response in rugged terrain and land margins to heavy rainfall, temperature and evaporation extremes, and strong winds at multiple temporal and spatial scales. This socioeconomic priority depends on success of addressing H-1b and H-1c, H-2a, and H-2c.
Solid Earth
  • S1c: Forecast and monitor landslides, especially those near population centers.
  • S2b: Assess surface deformation (<10 mm), extent of surface change (<100 m spatial resolution) and atmospheric contamination, and the composition and temperature of volcanic products following a volcanic eruption (hourly to daily temporal sampling).
  • C3a: Quantify CO2 fluxes at spatial scales of 100-500 km and monthly temporal resolution with uncertainty <25% to enable regional-scale process attribution explaining year-to-year variability by net uptake of carbon by terrestrial ecosystems (i.e., determine how much carbon uptake results from processes such as CO2 and nitrogen fertilization, forest regrowth, and changing ecosystem demography.)
  • W3a: Determine how spatial variability in surface characteristics modifies regional cycles of energy, water and momentum (stress) to an accuracy of 10 W/m2 in the enthalpy flux, and 0.1 N/m2 in stress, and observe total precipitation to an average accuracy of 15% over oceans and/or 25% over land and ice surfaces averaged over a 100 × 100 km region and 2- to 3-day time period.

In addition to the Most and Very important priorities, there are a number of important observational priorities that are also being tracked in the SATM and the extent to which they are met while meeting all or most of the Most and Very important priorities is being assessed. The driving objectives for the study are based on the above, and a key aspect of the architecture study is to determine the extent to which any given architecture meets all, most or some of the objectives derived from the priorities above. These priorities were used to develop the SATM included in the Decadal Survey report, and which has been elaborated in more detail as part of the study.

Current Science and Applications Traceability Matrix (SATM)

Solid Earth
Weather and Climate

How to join the SBG Working Group

Send email to

Upcoming events

AGU Fall 2020 Meeting
Dec. 1-17, 2020

AGU Fall 2020 registration is required to open links.


Advertised opportunities (RFIs)

A Request for Information (RFI) regarding study participation was released on June 5, 2019 with responses due on Sept. 6, 2019. The RFI is available through JPL acquisitions

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Schedule for studies underway


Jamie Nastal

Ryan Pavlick

For more information