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eNewsletter January 2007

Earth Observations Decadal Study Released

Within the United States, NASA, NOAA, and USGS have for many years provided the planning for all civil Earth observation activities from space. In 2004, these organizations decided to reach out to the community of Earth scientists and geospatial experts to share this leadership. They chartered the National Research Council to perform a “Decadal Survey” of Earth science and applications - a once per decade community plan for Earth observations, similar to what has been done for many years in astronomy.

The co-chairs of the committee are Rick Anthes, President of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) and Berrien Moore, Director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire. Well over one hundred leading scientists and engineers were involved in developing the plan.

The committee’s preliminary report, released in April 2005, expressed strong concern about the nation’s Earth observing satellite system, including the statement that “Today, this system of environmental satellites is at risk of collapse.” The final report, released on January 15, 2007, does three primary things...

  • It reaffirms the need to complete planned missions.
  • It establishes a priority list of 17 new missions for Earth observations during the coming decade.
  • It provides guidance for supporting programs and infrastructure.

With serious decline in NASA’s funding (nearly 30% since 2000) and with NOAA’s satellite system experiencing cost overruns and schedule delays that have resulted in curtailment of goals, the Earth observation effort is in danger of failing. If the observation system fails to provide information essential to understanding relationships among environmental effects, extreme weather events, and world climate change, the United States will lack the information needed to observe and analyze long-term trends. Recommendations offer means of restoring the efficacy of environmental satellites.

The committee focused on establishing a robust program of interlinked and complementary missions, reflecting the “system” nature of Earth science and the importance of transitioning science into societal applications. The release of this report creates a unique opportunity to bring the Earth science and applications communities together with a single voice.

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