as Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth point to the fact that there are large and essentially untapped markets of private users for Earth observations, as well as users among the scientific and public institutions. The remote-sensing community is now seeing, for the first time, the private sector performing both essential data acquisition (e.g., hyperspatial-resolution imagery) and essential data applications (e.g., Google Earth and other mapping and geospatial information services) tasks, essentially without governmental intervention. Yet even these endeavors cannot hope to maintain the levels of investment in R&D necessary to sustain progress in overall understanding of the evolving dynamics of the Earth system.


The panel is certainly aware that it is raising new challenges for research and operations in the Earth sciences, and that existing models for how these might be implemented are scarce. The processes that would lead to a successful research program that emphasizes both scientific discovery and benefits to society need to be strengthened. In addition, agencies implementing missions will require a research and development system that can enable the large capital investment in space hardware and data management needed to fulfill stated intentions for applications with social benefit. Agencies will also have to ensure that the missions they sponsor and the associated research have the longevity to enable learning by their user communities; likewise, it is important that they learn to listen to the needs and desires of new user communities and ensure that both stakeholder and advisory processes are in place to enable sufficient feedback for the benefit of both users and data providers.

Because no one space agency or its partners can hope to encompass the full range of the measurements-to-applications chain, interagency coordination will certainly be required to enable a larger effort that can exceed the sum of its parts in fully realizing benefits. Interactions that are difficult to foresee now among staff with different backgrounds and training will demand new interdisciplinary relationships. Agencies will have to build new evaluation processes and incentives into their research programs to ensure that sufficient attention is paid to the importance of societal benefits (see Box 5.1). These issues are consistent with issues identified in many earlier NRC reports that emphasize the interdisciplinary challenges of developing Earth system science.

Systems of program review and evaluation will also need to be revamped to realize the vision of concurrently delivering societal benefits and scientific discovery. Numbers of published papers, entries in scientific citation indexes, or even the professional acclamation of scientific peers will not suffice to evaluate the success of the missions proposed for the decade ahead. The degree to which human welfare has been improved, the enhancement of public understanding of and appreciation for human interaction with and impacts on Earth processes, and the effectiveness of protecting property and saving lives will also become important criteria for a successful Earth science and observation program.


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