Recommendation: The United States should continue to participate in and support the activities of the international geodetic services (IGS, ILRS, IVS, IDS, IGFS and IERS) by providing long-term support for the operation of geodetic stations around the world and by supporting the participation of U.S. investigators in the activities of these services.

From the beginning of the field of geodesy, U.S. scientists have recognized the benefits of a global infrastructure and the need for international collaboration. Indeed, the spectacular progress in geodesy over the past half century has benefited greatly from the initial and continued U.S. leadership. Scientists and engineers from many nations now contribute to geodesy to the extent that no individual national contribution—including that of the United States—can be withdrawn without a visible impact. U.S. participation in international coordinating organizations has served the national geodetic community well by creating opportunities for leadership and global collaborations.

The United States’ utilization of a robust global geodetic infrastructure directly benefits numerous commercial, military, and scientific applications. Sustaining U.S. participation in international coordinating organizations is therefore important, even from a narrowly national point of view, because the infrastructure supported by these organizations supports a wide range of domestic uses and applications. Much of the success of international collaborations relies on the commitment of volunteer participants, typically scientists and engineers, with support from governments. Although this system has served the scientific community and the general public well, there remains a persistent danger that competing priorities could pose a risk to the continued global operation of the geodetic infrastructure.

Specifically, a long-term national commitment to the primary global geodetic product—the ITRF—would by de facto imply a long-term commitment to the geodetic infrastructure, which is needed to ensure the continuity and stability of the ITRF and the many geodetic observing systems that depend on it.

Recommendation: The United States, through the relevant federal agencies, should make a long-term commitment to maintain the International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF) to ensure its continuity and stability. This commitment would provide a foundation for Earth system science, studies of global change, and a variety of societal and commercial applications.

The committee also endorses the Global Geodetic Observing System (GGOS), a component of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), being built under the aegis of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), a voluntary partnership of governments and international organizations of which the United States is a leading member. GGOS links together existing and planned observing systems around the world and promotes common technical standards so that data from all these systems can be combined into coherent data sets. GGOS was conceived and introduced by the International Association of Geodesy as the new paradigm for sustained international cooperation toward integrating space-based geodetic techniques. The maintenance and development of the global precision geodetic infrastructure is recognized by GEO as a cross-cutting activity that affects many aspects of Earth science and the lives of most inhabitants of the planet.


The committee found that one of the “weakest links” in the implementation of a precision geodetic infrastructure was a lack of trained workforce to develop and maintain the infrastructure in the coming decades. Skilled workers are needed to obtain the highest level of accuracy from the

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement