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3. Sustain ocean, atmosphere, and space resources

The geoscience community provides the knowledge, experience and ingenuity to meet society's demands for natural resources, environmental quality and resilience from hazards. Here we outline the critical ocean, atmosphere, and space needs of the nation and the world and provide policy guidance to grow the economy while sustaining the Earth system.

What Is The Need?
What Are The Policy Recommendations?
Additional Resources

 
What Is The Need?

Earth is the “blue planet” in the Solar System because of the size of the oceans. About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by these saline water bodies. Oceans provide food, desalinated drinking water, and habitats for plants and animals. Oceans are coupled with the atmosphere and the solid Earth in driving weather, climate, ecosystems, and land processes. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 230,000 people in fourteen countries. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami caused a nuclear power plant meltdown and according to the World Bank is the most expensive disaster with an economic cost of $235 billion. Both events attest to the power of the ocean as driven by large magnitude earthquakes.

The atmosphere couples with the solid Earth, oceans, and space. It affects water resources through precipitation, evaporation, and other parts of the water cycle, affects air quality as part of the carbon and nitrogen cycles, and moderates temperatures near the surface. The atmosphere shields us from harmful solar radiation and affects weather. Society relies on the atmosphere for aviation, wind energy, and other uses. The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano on April 14, 2010 shut down aviation over Europe for more than six days, affecting about 10 million passengers, costing airlines about $1.7 billion in revenue, and causing significant indirect costs and disruptions throughout the world.

Space is vast and mostly unknown, yet Earth orbit and the Sun to Earth interaction regions of space (Figure 3A) have been explored and monitored at a level that rivals oceanic and atmospheric exploration.

Figure 3A: The Sun-Earth connection: The Sun is a magnetic variable star whose size and mass affect the orbit of the Earth. Radiation from the Sun moderates the temperature of the Earth and ejections of massive amounts of solar radiation can interact with Earth and the Earth’s magnetosphere and affect radio, television, and telephone signals, satellites, and electrical power grids.

According to NASA, there are about 3,000 active Earth orbiting satellites out of more than 8,000 human-made objects that have been launched into space (Figure 3B). Society relies on these satellites for navigation, communications, and other purposes. The United States Space Surveillance Network tracks more than 26,000 objects, in part to mitigate damage from space debris. Space weather, caused primarily by solar activity, can disable one or more satellites, threaten human space exploration, damage part of our electrical grid, or potentially harm life on Earth.

Figure 3B: Each white dot represents an object in orbit around the Earth. The ring represents objects in geostationary orbit such as many communications satellites. Due to their large distance from Earth, they are more susceptible to damage from solar particles. The swarm of objects around Earth includes objects such as the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope. They are much better protected due to their proximity to the Earth's magnetic field. Figures and caption courtesy of NASA http://hesperia.gsfc.nasa.gov/rhessi2/home/mission/science/the-impact-of-flares/.

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What Are The Policy Recommendations?

Given the increased use and dependence of society on oceans, atmosphere, and space, the geosciences community suggests the following policy directions.

  • Support land and space-based observations and monitoring networks, mapping and analysis across agencies.
    • Support the recommendations of the National Research Council’s 2007 decadal survey, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, to conduct and support geoscience R&D, assessments, and monitoring.
    • Support the recommendations of the National Research Council’s 2012 decadal survey, Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society, to better understand the Sun-Earth connection and reduce risks from space weather.
    • Support computer modeling, computational infrastructure, and data archiving related to geoscience R&D, assessments, and monitoring.
  • Support ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention to enhance global cooperation related to the oceans, seafloor, and Polar Regions.
  • Implement the U.S. National Ocean Policy of 2010 to ensure that the resources and health of the Great Lakes and oceans are sustained.
  • Ensure that ocean policies are integrated with the nation’s energy and climate change initiatives.
  • Develop strategies and plans based on sound geoscience to protect infrastructure, aviation, navigation, and communications in the oceans, atmosphere, and space.
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    Additional Resources

    Links to references, supplementary, and/or updated information.

    Full Report (PDF)

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    With a burgeoning human population, rising demand for natural resources and a changing climate, it is critical to more fully integrate Earth observations and Earth system understanding into actions for a sustainable world.

    Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Geoscience Policy.

    Posted on October 17, 2012; Last Updated on October 17, 2012


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