Global Earth Observations (5-24-05)

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In July 2003, thirty-three nations plus the European Commission declared their committment to building a comprehensive and coordinated earth observation system. According to a ten year plan, satellites, ocean buoys, and terrestrial measurement stations will be coordinated alongside a new generation of monitoring systems such as unmanned drones. The goal of the project is to vastly improve the quality of information and knowledge about dynamic earth, ocean, and atmospheric processes for a number of societal and ecological benefits. The project values integration of observed information because of a shared understanding about the interconnected systematic nature of earth processes.

Recent Action

On April 27, 2005 the National Research Council (NRC) released an interim report on Earth Observations and Applications From Space, which finds that federal Earth science programs may be threatened by recent changes in executive policy and federal budget support, particularly at NASA. With the approaching FY 2006 and FY 2007 budgets, House Science Committee staff requested the release of the NRC's initial findings to "provide an early indication of urgent, near-term issues that may require attention" before publication of the committee's final decadal survey, which will be completed by the end of 2006.

The Council's report states that, "at NASA, the vitality of Earth science and application programs has been placed at substantial risk by a rapidly shrinking budget that no longer supports already-approved missions and programs of high scientific and societal relevance." Driven by the President's Vision for Space Exploration, NASA may be jeopardizing other Presidential obligations, such as the Climate Change Research Initiative and leadership in a Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS).

The NRC makes several recommendations in the report to address several delayed, descoped or canceled Earth observing satellite missions. The NRC primarily recommends that the Global Precipitation Measurements (GPM) mission be launched without delay and that the Atmospheric Sounding from Geostationary Orbit (GIFTS) mission be launched by 2008. The GPM mission is an international collaborative effort to improve climate, weather, and hydrological predictions by taking more accurate and frequent precipitation measurements. Intended to be the successor to the successful Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), GPM has been delayed several times by NASA. GIFTS will provide high-temporal-resolution measurements of atmospheric temperatures and water vapor. These measurements will help with the detection of rapid atmospheric changes associated with destructive weather events. Built at a cost of about $100 million, GIFTS has been canceled for a variety of reasons.

The report also urges that the Ocean Vector Winds, Landsat Data Continuity and Glory missions be reconsidered. The Ocean Vector Winds mission will monitor global ocean surface vector winds, which have implications for enhanced severe storm warning and El Nino predictions. Landsat has successfully collected data on Earth's continental surfaces for over 30 years, supporting science research, state and local governments with the longest continuous record of the changing Earth's surface as seen from space. The Glory mission was developed to measure aerosol properties and quantify their effect on climate. Aerosols are a significant source of uncertainty in climate predictions. Glory would also monitor the total solar irradiance or how the Sun's energy output varies to help estimate the effects of solar variations on climate change.

On May 28, 2005, the House Science Committee held a hearing to address the shortfalls in federal Earth Science programs as set forth by the NRC. Click here to read the Committee's hearing charter. (5/24/05)

Previous Action

At the third Earth Observation Summit in Brussels on February 16, 2005 sixty nations agreed to expand and integrate their own earth observing capabilities into a single, global data-sharing network and all-hazards warning system. This Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) was also endorsed by forty international organizations at the summit. (2/21/05)


At a Washington, D.C. summit on July 31, 2003, thirty-three nations plus the European Commission adopted a declaration that signifies political commitment to move toward development of a comprehensive, coordinated, and sustained Earth observation system(s). According to the Group on Earth Observations, "The participants affirmed the need for timely, quality, long-term, global information as a basis for sound decision making. In order to monitor continuously the state of the Earth, to increase understanding of dynamic Earth processes, to enhance prediction of the Earth system, and to further implement environmental treaty obligations, participants recognized the need to support the creation of a comprehensive, coordinated, and sustained Earth observing system or systems." Another summit took place in Tokyo, Japan, in April 2004, where the Framework Document for a 10-Year Implementation Plan for hatched. The project was officially named the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).

In September of 2004, the Bush administration gave the green light to the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System (IEOS), the U.S. component of GEOSS. On September 8, 2004, the National Science and Technology Council's Interagency Working Group on Earth Observations (IWGEO), comprising representatives from 16 U.S. federal agencies, released its Draft Strategic Plan, a preliminary blueprint for the construction and integration of global observational technology over the next 10 years.

The U.S. co-chairs GEOSS along with the European Commission, Japan, and South Africa. Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher Jr., the head administrator of NOAA, and Chip Groat, Director of USGS, lead the U.S. delegation. They and the delegations from the participating countries will meet in February 2005 in Brussels to further coordinate the international effort.

Scott Rayder, the Chief of Staff for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Greenwire on September 9, "While not strictly a climate change program, expanding climate observations is a key driver of EOS…we need more data, and we need better data on how the systems on the planet work". In addition to climate observation, the report outlines nine principle benefits to society including improved monitoring and managing of natural disasters, ecosystem health and diversity, ocean and fresh water resources, and disease control. Rayder told Greenwire that U.S. investment in the IEOS will probably range in the billions of dollars as it envisions a significant leap forward in observational technology in the next decade.

Sources: Interagency Working Group on Earth Observations, Group on Earth Observations, Greenwire

Contributed by David R. Millar 2004 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern, Katie Ackerly, 2005 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern, and Amanda Schneck, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on May 24, 2005.