EARTH SCIENCE AND
APPLICATIONS FROM SPACE
A Midterm Assessment of NASA’s Implementation of the Decadal Survey
Committee on the Assessment of NASA’s Earth Science Program
Space Studies Board
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
Support for this project was provided by Contract NNH06CE15B between the National Academy of Sciences and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-25702-2
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-25702-6
Cover: “Blue Marble” images of the Western Hemisphere (front cover) and Eastern Hemisphere (back cover) of Earth taken from the Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument aboard NASA’s recently launched Earth-observing satellite, the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP). These composite images use a number of swaths of the Earth’s surface taken on January 4, 2012. VIIRS is the primary imaging instrument onboard NPP, and it acquires data in 22 spectral bands covering visible, near-infrared, and thermal infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Images courtesy of NASA/NOAA.
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Copyright 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
OTHER RECENT REPORTS OF THE SPACE STUDIES BOARD
Assessment of a Plan for U.S. Participation in Euclid (Board on Physics and Astronomy [BPA] and Space Studies Board [SSB], 2012)
Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Spacecraft Missions to Icy Solar System Bodies (SSB, 2012)
Report of the Panel on Implementing Recommendations from the New Worlds, New Horizons Decadal Survey (BPA and SSB, 2012; prepublication released in 2010)
Technical Evaluation of the NASA Model for Cancer Risk to Astronauts Due to Space Radiation (SSB, 2012)
Assessment of Impediments to Interagency Collaboration on Space and Earth Science Missions (SSB, 2011)
Panel Reports—New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (BPA and SSB, 2011)
Recapturing a Future for Space Exploration: Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era (SSB, 2011)
Sharing the Adventure with the Public—The Value and Excitement of “Grand Questions” of Space Science and Exploration: Summary of a Workshop (SSB, 2011)
Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022 (SSB, 2011)
Capabilities for the Future: An Assessment of NASA Laboratories for Basic Research (Laboratory Assessments Board with SSB and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board [ASEB], 2010)
Controlling Cost Growth of NASA Earth and Space Science Missions (SSB, 2010)
Defending Planet Earth: Near-Earth-Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies: Final Report (SSB with ASEB, 2010)
An Enabling Foundation for NASA’s Space and Earth Science Missions (SSB, 2010)
Forging the Future of Space Science: The Next 50 Years (SSB, 2010)
Life and Physical Sciences Research for a New Era of Space Exploration: An Interim Report (SSB with ASEB, 2010)
New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics (BPA and SSB, 2010)
Revitalizing NASA’s Suborbital Program: Advancing Science, Driving Innovation, and Developing a Workforce (SSB, 2010)
America’s Future in Space: Aligning the Civil Space Program with National Needs (SSB with ASEB, 2009)
Approaches to Future Space Cooperation and Competition in a Globalizing World: Summary of a Workshop (SSB with ASEB, 2009)
Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions (SSB, 2009)
Near-Earth Object Surveys and Hazard Mitigation Strategies: Interim Report (SSB with ASEB, 2009)
A Performance Assessment of NASA’s Heliophysics Program (SSB, 2009)
Radioisotope Power Systems: An Imperative for Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Space Exploration (SSB with ASEB, 2009)
Ensuring the Climate Record from the NPOESS and GOES-R Spacecraft: Elements of a Strategy to Recover Measurement Capabilities Lost in Program Restructuring (SSB, 2008)
Launching Science: Science Opportunities Provided by NASA’s Constellation System (SSB with ASEB, 2008)
Opening New Frontiers in Space: Choices for the Next New Frontiers Announcement of Opportunity (SSB, 2008)
Science Opportunities Enabled by NASA’s Constellation System: Interim Report (SSB with ASEB, 2008)
Severe Space Weather Events—Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report (SSB, 2008)
Space Science and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations: Summary of a Workshop (SSB, 2008)
Limited copies of SSB reports are available free of charge from
Space Studies Board
National Research Council
The Keck Center of the National Academies
500 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001
COMMITTEE ON THE ASSESSMENT OF NASA’S EARTH SCIENCE PROGRAM
DENNIS L. HARTMANN, University of Washington, Chair
MARK R. ABBOTT, Oregon State University
RICHARD A. ANTHES, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
PHILIP E. ARDANUY, Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems
STACEY W. BOLAND, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
ANTONIO J. BUSALACCHI, JR., University of Maryland
ANNY CAZENAVE, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, France
RUTH DeFRIES, Columbia University
LEE-LUENG FU, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
BRADFORD H. HAGER, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
ALLEN HUANG, University of Wisconsin, Madison
ANTHONY C. JANETOS, University of Maryland and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
DENNIS P. LETTENMAIER, University of Washington
JENNIFER A. LOGAN, Harvard University
MOLLY K. MACAULEY, Resources for the Future
ANNE. W. NOLIN, Oregon State University
JOYCE E. PENNER, University of Michigan
MICHAEL J. PRATHER, University of California, Irvine
DAVID S. SCHIMEL, National Ecological Observatory Network, Inc.
WILLIAM F. TOWNSEND, Independent Consultant, Annapolis, Maryland
THOMAS H. VONDER HAAR, Colorado State University
ARTHUR A. CHARO, Senior Program Officer, Study Director
CATHERINE A. GRUBER, Editor
LEWIS B. GROSWALD, Research Associate
LINDA M. WALKER, Senior Project Assistant
DANIELLE PISKORZ, Lloyd V. Berkner Space Policy Intern
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director, Space Studies Board
SPACE STUDIES BOARD
CHARLES F. KENNEL, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, Chair
JOHN KLINEBERG, Space Systems/Loral (retired), Vice Chair
MARK R. ABBOTT, Oregon State University
STEVEN J. BATTEL, Battel Engineering
YVONNE C. BRILL, Aerospace Consultant
ELIZABETH R. CANTWELL, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
ANDREW B. CHRISTENSEN, Dixie State College and Aerospace Corporation
ALAN DRESSLER, Observatories of the Carnegie Institution
JACK D. FELLOWS, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
HEIDI B. HAMMEL, Space Science Institute
FIONA A. HARRISON, California Institute of Technology
ANTHONY C. JANETOS, University of Maryland
JOAN JOHNSON-FREESE, Naval War College
ROBERT P. LIN, University of California, Berkeley
MOLLY K. MACAULEY, Resources for the Future
JOHN F. MUSTARD, Brown University
ROBERT T. PAPPALARDO, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology
JAMES PAWELCZYK, Pennsylvania State University
MARCIA J. RIEKE, University of Arizona
DAVID N. SPERGEL, Princeton University
WARREN M. WASHINGTON, National Center for Atmospheric Research
CLIFFORD M. WILL, Washington University
THOMAS H. ZURBUCHEN, University of Michigan
MICHAEL H. MOLONEY, Director
CARMELA J. CHAMBERLAIN, Administrative Coordinator
TANJA PILZAK, Manager, Program Operations
CELESTE A. NAYLOR, Information Management Associate
CHRISTINA O. SHIPMAN, Financial Officer
SANDRA WILSON, Financial Assistant
Natural and human-induced changes in Earth’s interior, land surface, biosphere, atmosphere, and oceans affect all aspects of life. Understanding these changes and their implications requires a foundation of integrated observations—taken from land-, sea-, air-, and space-based platforms—on which to build credible information products, forecast models, and other tools for making informed decisions.
In 2004, the National Research Council (NRC) received requests from NASA’s Earth Science Division, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Geography Division to conduct a first in its field “decadal survey” that would generate consensus recommendations from the Earth and environmental science and applications communities regarding a systems approach to the space-based and ancillary observations comprised by the research programs of NASA; the related operational programs of NOAA; and associated programs such as Landsat, a joint initiative of the USGS and NASA.
In carrying out the 2007 Earth science and applications from space decadal survey, participants endeavored to set a new agenda for Earth observations from space in which ensuring practical benefits for humankind plays a role equal to that of acquiring new knowledge about Earth. Those benefits range from information for short-term needs, such as weather forecasts and warnings for protection of life and property, to the longer-term scientific understanding necessary for future applications that will benefit society in ways still to be realized. Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation1 and Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond2 were the interim and final reports, respectively, that resulted from this effort.
The 2007 decadal survey called for a set of missions and supporting activities that would advance
1National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2005.
2National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2007.
scientific understanding of key processes in the Earth system and provide information to enhance the management of natural resources, including, for example, improvement in early warnings and other responses to threats posed by natural hazards. Recommendations were directed to NASA, NOAA, and the USGS.
In late 2010, NASA requested that the NRC create an ad hoc committee to review the alignment of NASA’s Earth Science Division’s program with previous NRC advice, primarily that offered in the decadal survey’s 2007 final report, Earth Science and Applications from Space.3 The agency was responding to a provision in Section 301(a) of the 2005 NASA Authorization Act requiring that “the performance of each division in the Science directorate of NASA shall be reviewed and assessed by the National Academy of Sciences at 5-year intervals.” The resulting ad hoc Committee on the Assessment of NASA’s Earth Science Program was asked to assess the following (see Appendix A for the statement of task):
1. How well NASA’s current program addresses the strategies, goals, and priorities outlined in the 2007 decadal survey and other relevant NRC reports;
2. Progress toward realizing these strategies, goals, and priorities; and
3. In the context of current and forecast resources, any actions that could be taken to optimize the science value of the program.
The committee was asked not to revisit or alter the science priorities or mission recommendations in the 2007 decadal survey and related NRC reports. However, the committee was invited to provide guidance about implementing the recommended mission portfolio in preparation for the next decadal survey.
The committee met in Washington, D.C., on April 27-29, 2011; in Seattle, Washington, on July 6-8, 2011; and in Irvine, California, on September 21-23, 2011, to gather information and to develop its response to the study charge. Over the course of its meetings, the committee received briefings from Mary Kicza (NOAA), Bruce Quirk (USGS), Michael Freilich (NASA Headquarters), Waleed Abdalati (NASA Headquarters), Rod Heelis and Stephen Fuselier (former co-chairs of the NRC committee for a midterm assessment of NASA’s heliophysics program), Byron Tapley (University of Texas, Austin; chair, NASA Advisory Committee Earth Science Subcommittee), Graeme Stephens (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and Bruce Wielicki (NASA Langley Research Center). The committee also received background documents from other agency officials, including Lawrence Friedl (NASA Headquarters). During the intervals between meetings, the committee had regular teleconferences and extensive electronic communications.
Chapter 1 provides background on the 2007 Earth science and applications from space decadal survey, NASA’s Earth science program, and the types of Earth science conducted by NASA, as well as an overview of the benefits society reaps from NASA’s Earth science program. Chapter 2 provides an assessment of the major program elements in NASA’s Earth science program. Chapter 3 summarizes the primary challenges facing NASA’s Earth science program, and it suggests remedies. Chapter 4 provides findings and recommendations to optimize the science value of the program. Chapter 5 identifies lessons learned from the 2007 decadal survey and from the present committee’s assessment of NASA’s current Earth science program, and it describes how these lessons can be applied to future reviews akin to the decadal survey.
3National Research Council, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, 2007.
Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the National Research Council (NRC). The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Susan K. Avery, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
Inez Y. Fung, University of California, Berkeley,
Charles F. Kennel, University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
Michael D. King, University of Colorado, Boulder,
Steven R. Nerem, University of Colorado, Boulder,
David T. Sandwell, University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
David L. Skole, Michigan State University,
Kevin E. Trenberth, National Center for Atmospheric Research, and
Carl Wunsch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Elisabeth M. Drake, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Appointed by the NRC, she was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
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