of the data and information, (2) limited knowledge of how managers, policy and decision makers, and the public obtain and use data and information, and (3) the capacity of institutions and organizations to apply new types of data and information to traditional and ongoing processes and ways of doing business.
Earth science can contribute to societal benefits and more effective decision making in multiple ways. It provides information that can be used to identify emerging problems, trends, and changes. In addition, research and observations permit managers, analysts, and decision makers to monitor ongoing phenomena. These resources can also be used to forecast and project future trends, and by so doing, permit managers, policy makers, and decision makers to anticipate problems so that they can be addressed at an early stage. Scientific data and observations also permit those who inform decision makers to test and evaluate scenarios of possible future outcomes. The challenge is to make the scientific information relevant, available, adaptable, and easy to use so that informed and knowledgeable choices can be made.
If Earth scientists are to foster applications and extend the societal benefits of their work, they must understand the research-to-applications chain, which includes understanding societal information needs, conducting research on the uses of information, generating relevant scientific observations, transforming the results into useful information, and distributing that information in a form that is understandable and meets the needs of both public- and private-sector managers, decision makers, and policy makers (NRC, 2001, 2003).
Earth science information can confer tangible and measurable benefits in myriad applications in addition to those identified in Chapters 1 and 2. For instance, some highly detailed studies of the value of Earth science information seek to characterize how it is used and then quantify its benefits in various industrial sectors of the economy. These studies typically (although not exclusively) conduct empirical estimations in which benefits are defined and measured in terms of increases in output or productivity in the relevant economic sector (a detailed review of these studies is in Macauley, 2006). Examples include studies of the value of Earth science information for forecasting crop size and health (Bradford and Kelejian, 1977), geomagnetic storms and their impact on the electric power industry (Teisberg and Weiher, 2000), the markets for agricultural commodities (Roll, 1984) and raisins (Lave, 1963), the economic damage from deforestation (Pfaff, 1999), and means of reducing the social risks and costs of natural disasters (Williamson et al., 2002).
At a more fundamental level, in the application of Earth science information, it is essential to know more about patterns of information seeking and information use both inside and outside the scientific community. This will involve research on where the primary information consumers in an organization are located and how they relate to those who have the power to set agendas and make policy decisions. It will also involve identifying both routine management information needs and policy-making information needs. Finally, it will require that scientists understand the functions and patterns of agenda setting in both organizations and society. A multidisciplinary research approach, linking natural and social scientists in studies of organizations and of the interactions among scientists, data, and decision makers, will provide needed insights. Both NOAA and NASA have periodically supported research of this type, focused on communication and the utility of scientific information for nontraditional users of Earth science observations.
The successful involvement of scientific and operational agencies in this process can be examined through research that focuses on how applications have been developed most usefully in the past and transmitted into operational domains. As earlier chapters in this report emphasize, weather and climate prediction offers several examples of success in transitioning from research to operations. The satellite era began in the late 1950s with the launch of Sputnik and recognition of the potential for observation of Earth.