systems are developed and sustained in a manner suitable for meeting the Program’s key science objectives.
A related issue that should be more clearly acknowledged in the Plan is the fact that an increasing array of global change observations are now coming from instruments being developed and operated by other countries. This includes remote sensing observations as well as in situ monitoring systems (e.g., the ARGO ocean profiling network, radiosonde networks to observe the upper atmosphere). As a result, the USGCRP’s efforts to foster international cooperation and data sharing may, in the coming years, become as important as its efforts to foster the growth of U.S.-led observations.
Social and Ecological Science Observations. The Committee applauds the USGCRP’s intent to broaden its scope beyond the physical sciences; but we do not see sufficient evidence that the Program is prepared to take concrete steps in meeting its stated goals to better integrate social and ecological sciences. In this regard, the Plan needs to broaden its discussion of observational and data management systems.
In the social sciences realm, there is a need for observations and data related to human activities that drive global environmental changes and that affect vulnerability and ability to respond to global change. This may encompass a wide array of factors such as population growth and distribution, economic development trends, technological innovation and adoption, institutions governing natural resource use, disaster response capacity of governments and nongovernmental organizations, and changes in the built environment (e.g. location of infrastructure and property in sensitive areas, infrastructure investments made for climate adaptation purposes). In the ecological sciences realm there are a wide array of observational needs, which are well-documented in earlier NRC reports (e.g., NRC, 2010a) and assessments (e.g., the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment).
One specific concern to highlight in this regard is the need to make data on social phenomena more interoperable with environmental data. For example, data on human populations, land tenure, economic activities, disaster losses, pollutant emissions, and so forth are often collected according to political jurisdictions or administrative geography. These data need to be put into a common geographic framework with geocoded biophysical environmental data, in order to allow the different types of datasets to be analyzed in an integrated fashion. There has been progress in advancing this sort of data integration in some social domains (e.g., land cover and population dynamics, see NRC, 1998), but this progress is uneven across types of social data, information is sparse for some geographic areas and time periods, and data comparability is sometimes in question across national boundaries. Moreover, issues of confidentiality and privacy sometimes stand in the way of making data public (in cases where it might make the data providers identifiable as individuals or firms). Such issues can be addressed, but until they are, they impede analysis of social changes and their relationships to environmental change.
Social and ecological monitoring can also be improved by collecting new kinds of data or using new data collection methods. This includes emerging opportunities to use non-traditional data sources (discussed below) as well as “citizen science” research programs. For instance, in the ecological sciences, citizen observer networks have revealed long-term, climate-driven trends in plant phenologies – e.g., from more than 50 years of data on lilac phenology from observer sites