2
Earth Observations and Presidential Initiatives

One of my main concerns … is ensuring that the full range of science, including Earth Science, remains a priority at NASA even as we move ahead to return to the moon by 2020. There simply is no planet more important to human beings than our own, and we’re remarkably ignorant about it. NASA’s Earth Science mission is essential.

—House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert speaking to the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education on March 9, 20051

Three presidential initiatives concern Earth science and applications. Two of the initiatives—the 2001 U.S. Climate Change Research initiative2 and the 2003 Global Earth Observation initiative3—underscore both the traditional U.S. value of pushing back the frontiers of knowledge and the practical importance of obtaining Earth science information to meet national and international objectives. They directly support the need to protect life and property though improved forecasting and to promote economic vitality, while increasing knowledge and understanding about the complex planet on which we live. A third presidential initiative, the 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, looks beyond Earth and establishes new priorities for NASA.4

The Climate Change Research initiative led to the establishment of the national Climate Change Science Program (CCSP).5 The CCSP encompasses the programs of the U.S. Global Change Research

1  

The full text of Rep. Boehlert’s speech is available at <http://www.house.gov/science/press/109/109-33.htm>.

2  

See <http://www.climatevision.gov/statements.html>.

3  

See <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/02/20020214-5.html> and <http://www.earthobservationsummit.gov/press_release_whfs.html>.

4  

See <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040114-1.html>.

5  

Thirteen federal agencies participate in the program, which is managed by a subcommittee chaired by James Mahoney, NOAA.



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Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation 2 Earth Observations and Presidential Initiatives One of my main concerns … is ensuring that the full range of science, including Earth Science, remains a priority at NASA even as we move ahead to return to the moon by 2020. There simply is no planet more important to human beings than our own, and we’re remarkably ignorant about it. NASA’s Earth Science mission is essential. —House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert speaking to the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education on March 9, 20051 Three presidential initiatives concern Earth science and applications. Two of the initiatives—the 2001 U.S. Climate Change Research initiative2 and the 2003 Global Earth Observation initiative3—underscore both the traditional U.S. value of pushing back the frontiers of knowledge and the practical importance of obtaining Earth science information to meet national and international objectives. They directly support the need to protect life and property though improved forecasting and to promote economic vitality, while increasing knowledge and understanding about the complex planet on which we live. A third presidential initiative, the 2004 Vision for Space Exploration, looks beyond Earth and establishes new priorities for NASA.4 The Climate Change Research initiative led to the establishment of the national Climate Change Science Program (CCSP).5 The CCSP encompasses the programs of the U.S. Global Change Research 1   The full text of Rep. Boehlert’s speech is available at <http://www.house.gov/science/press/109/109-33.htm>. 2   See <http://www.climatevision.gov/statements.html>. 3   See <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/02/20020214-5.html> and <http://www.earthobservationsummit.gov/press_release_whfs.html>. 4   See <http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/01/20040114-1.html>. 5   Thirteen federal agencies participate in the program, which is managed by a subcommittee chaired by James Mahoney, NOAA.

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Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation Program, which was itself a presidential initiative of a previous administration. In addition to advancing understanding of the climate system, the CCSP has established three goals to improve the ability to predict and cope with the effects of climate change: (1) reduce uncertainty in projections of how Earth’s climate and related systems may change in the future; (2) understand the sensitivity and adaptability of different natural and managed ecosystems and human systems to climate and related global changes; and (3) explore the uses and identify the limits of evolving knowledge to manage risks and opportunities related to climate variability and change.6 The Global Earth Observation initiative led to the Earth Observation Summit, hosted by the United States, in July 2003 in Washington, D.C. Thirty-three nations and the European Commission participated in the summit and affirmed “the need for timely, quality, long-term, global information as a basis for sound decision making.”7 They noted, “In order to monitor continuously the state of the Earth, to increase understanding of dynamic Earth processes, to enhance prediction of the Earth system, and to further implement our environmental treaty obligations, we recognize the need to support improved coordination of strategies and systems for observations of the Earth and identification of measures to minimize data gaps, with a view to moving toward a comprehensive, coordinated, and sustained Earth observation system or systems….” At the second Earth Observation Summit, held in Tokyo in April 2004, the concept of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS) was accepted. Participating governments accepted the draft 10-year plan to implement GEOSS at the third summit, held in Brussels in February 2005. Finally, the president’s vision for space exploration initiative8 led to a reorganization of NASA and established a new focus on exploration of the Moon, Mars, and solar system. The planning document that accompanied NASA’s FY 2006 budget proposal lists five guiding national objectives for NASA, including “study the Earth system from space and develop new space-based and related capabilities for this purpose.”9 However, the priority for Earth observations, which have direct and immediate relevance to society, appears greatly diminished in terms of the projected declining budgets that are proposed for FY 2006. The committee strongly believes that NASA must retain Earth science as a central priority, to support critical improvements in understanding our planet and developing useful applications. Prior to setting a decadal agenda, which is the task of the Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space and its panels during the next year, it is important to recognize emerging threats to the execution of Earth science research and applications programs. The reallocation of resources within NASA has emerged as a dominant consideration in addressing the decadal agenda. Resources available to Earth observation programs are declining, making it difficult for NASA to fulfill its obligations to the CCSP and GEOSS. A comparison of NASA’s proposed FY 2006 budget with previous budgets indicates that plans for at least six Earth observing missions have been canceled, descoped, or delayed. Explorer-class missions—conducted under NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program and intended to provide a continuous 6   The other CCSP goals are to (1) improve knowledge of Earth’s past and present climate and environment, including its natural variability, and improve understanding of the causes of observed variability and change and (2) improve quantification of the forces bringing about changes in Earth’s climate and related systems. See Climate Change Science Program and Subcommittee on Global Change Research, Strategic Plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, Washington, D.C., 202 pp., 2003. 7   See <http://earthobservations.org/default.asp>. The summit also affirmed the need for (1) a coordinated effort to involve and assist developing countries in improving and sustaining their contributions to observing systems, (2) the timely exchange of observations, and (3) a process for the preparing a 10-year implementation plan. To this end, the summit established the ad hoc Group on Earth Observations. 8   A Renewed Spirit of Discovery, the President’s Vision for U.S. Space Exploration, The White House, January 2004. 9   National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The New Age of Exploration: NASA’s Direction for 2005 and Beyond, NP-2005-01-397-HQ, Washington, D.C., 2005, <http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/107490main_FY06_Direction.pdf>.

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Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation infusion of new technology and ideas into Earth science programs and to build human capacity for future scientific and technological advances—have been repeatedly delayed. In addition, the committee is concerned that significant resources for the research and analysis (R&A)10 programs that sustain the interpretation of Earth science data have been reallocated either as a result of the removal of the “firewall” that previously existed between flight and science programs or as an unintended consequence of NASA’s shift to full-cost accounting. Because the R&A programs are carried out largely through the nation’s universities, there will be an immediate and deleterious impact on graduate student, postdoctoral, and faculty research support. The long-term consequence will be a diminished ability to attract and retain students interested in using and developing Earth observations. Taken together, these developments jeopardize U.S. leadership in both Earth science and Earth observations, and they undermine the vitality of the government-university-private sector partnership that has made so many contributions to society. In Chapter 3 the committee makes a number of recommendations to restore the health of the Earth observations and related research and operational effort in the United States and to set the stage for steady advances in Earth science and applications over the next decade. 10   R&A has customarily supplied funds for enhancing fundamental understanding in a discipline and stimulating the questions from which new scientific investigations flow. R&A studies also enable conversion of raw instrument data into fields of geophysical variables and are an essential component in support of the research required to convert data analyses to trends, processes, and improvements in simulation models. They are likewise necessary for improving calibrations and evaluating the limits of both remote and in situ data. Without adequate R&A, the large and complex task of acquiring, processing, and archiving geophysical data would go for naught. Finally, the next generation of Earth scientists—the graduate students in universities—are often educated by performing research that has originated in R&A efforts. See National Research Council, Earth Observations from Space: History, Promise, and Reality (Executive Summary), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 26 pp., 1995.