infrastructure, assess the capabilities of the infrastructure as it continues to evolve, and capitalize on advances in technology to improve the accuracy of (or decrease the cost of) the infrastructure. As highlighted in the informal analysis summarized in Box 6.1, representatives from every federal agency that spoke with the committee raised concerns about a growing deficit of well-trained space geodesists and engineers with this necessary knowledge. As a science, geodesy has long been a niche discipline, populated by a small group of experts. Agencies are finding it difficult to replace these highly skilled geodesists as they retire and instead are forced to hire young professionals from other disciplines, such as physicists, whom they must train on the job. Alternatively, U.S. agencies can tap into students educated abroad in countries with strong programs in geodesy.
Many American geodesists were trained and supported by the NASA Crustal Dynamics Project (CDP) and the Dynamics of the Solid Earth (DOSE) investigation of the 1980s and early 1990s. These projects focused on addressing important geophysical problems using the nascent geodetic techniques of VLBI, SLR, GPS, and radar altimetry. To achieve the goals of the CDP and DOSE, NASA supported fundamental geodetic research and the training of a generation of graduate students. Today, geodetic tools pioneered by NASA are routinely used in a wide range of Earth sciences. As NASA’s focus moved from technique development to science applications in the late 1990s, however, opportunities for graduate training in geodesy diminished. Although many NSF-supported efforts (for example, the EarthScope program) rely on these precise geodetic tools, NSF also does not at the moment have a program that specifically targets fundamental geodetic research.
One of the recommendations of the National Research Council report Rising above the Gathering Storm is particularly relevant to the need for a trained geodetic workforce: “Sustain and strengthen the nation’s traditional commitment to long-term basic research that has the potential to be transformational to maintain the flow of new ideas that fuel the economy, provide security, and enhance the quality of life” (NRC, 2007c). The past decade has seen the emergence of exciting new geodetic imaging techniques and rapid positioning methods. These advances have the potential to address a host of new scientific questions and applications. The development of these emerging technologies in the United States requires long-term support for fundamental research and training for the next generation of geodesists.
Although the committee did not collect quantitative demographic data about the geodesy workforce, the anecdotal evidence presented to the committee is sufficient to bring the issue to the fore.
Recommendation: A quantitative assessment of the workforce required to support precise geodesy in the United States and the research and education programs in place at U.S. universities should be undertaken as part of a follow-up study focused on the long-term prospects of geodesy and its applications.
Even a cursory examination of the scope of responsibilities assigned to the various agencies that contribute to the national geodetic infrastructure reveals a complex bureaucratic structure, which might be streamlined and clarified with considerable benefit to the nation. The U.S. geodetic infrastructure is dispersed and has not previously been considered holistically. It consists of: (1) interdependent precise geodetic techniques (mainly VLBI, GNSS/GPS, and SLR, but also gravity, altimetry, and geodetic imaging); (2) standards for data acquisition, archiving, and distribution; (3) a geodetic reference system (the North American Datum of 1983); (4) analysis that combines the data sets to create the ITRF; (5) other derived data products (including, but not limited to,