Earth Science Applications and Societal Benefits

Increasing the societal benefits of Earth science research is high on the priority list of federal science agencies and policy makers, who have long believed that the role of scientific research is not only to expand knowledge but also to improve people’s lives. Although promoting societal benefits and applications from basic research has been emphasized in national science policy discussions for decades, policy and decision makers at federal, state, and local levels also increasingly recognize the value of evidence-based policy making, which draws on scientific findings and understandings.

The theme of this chapter is the urgency of developing useful applications and enhancing benefits to society from the nation’s investment in Earth science research. Accomplishing this objective requires an understanding of the entire research-to-applications chain, which includes generating scientific observations, conducting research, transforming the results into useful information, and distributing the information in a form that meets the requirements of both public and private sector managers, decision makers, policy makers, and the public at large (NRC, 2001, 2003). There are a number of remarkable successes in reaping the benefits of Earth science research. For example, Chapter 11 documents that many nations of the developed world have created sophisticated flood forecast systems that use precipitation gauges and radars, river stage monitoring, and weather prediction models to create warnings of floods from hours to several days in advance. However, there is no global capacity to do this, and developing nations are largely without this capability.

In many cases these successes have evolved largely through serendipitous opportunities for research applications rather than through a systematic, coordinated process. As a response to this concern, the Panel on Earth Science Applications and Societal Benefits offers observations on how to move from discovery to design, balance mission portfolios to benefit both research and applications, and establish mechanisms for including the priorities of the applications community in space-based measurements.


Several factors limit how we can advance the application of Earth science research and observations in the public and private sectors, including (1) inexperience in identifying the requirements of applied users

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