OSTP today delivered a key report to Congress outlining a strategic approach to enhancing our capacity to observe our home planet and its interconnected atmospheric, geologic, and environmental systems. The report, Achieving and Sustaining Earth Observations: A Preliminary Plan Based on a Strategic Assessment by the U.S. Group on Earth Observations, was requested by Congress in the 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Public Law 111-117). It illustrates how the President’s FY 2011 budget enables a reversal of the decline of our Nation’s Earth observation infrastructure—an infrastructure that is critical to protecting life, property, natural resources and ecosystems, and national security.
Each day, the scientific community collects millions of individual Earth observations, allowing us to examine, monitor, and model atmospheric composition, seismic activity, ecosystem health, weather patterns, and hundreds of other characteristics of our planet. However, our Nation’s technical infrastructure for making these observations has been in decline over the last decade. To address this challenge, the report identifies 17 critical Earth system parameters, such as gravity, soil moisture, ocean color, and solar irradiance, that must be observed from space, in the air, on land, and at sea, as well as below the land and ocean surfaces, and articulates how the President’s FY 2011 budget funds the essential systems to carry out these observations.
As OSTP Director John P. Holdren and I have testified before Congress, there is a growing awareness of the value of integrated Earth observations for meeting a variety of environmental and other public policy objectives. In the coming year, the Administration will be working with Congress to develop a more comprehensive national strategy for Earth observations, designed to improve coordination and efficiency across the Federal government. The new report represents an important first step towards the development of that detailed strategy. In preparing it, OSTP worked closely with the Federal agencies assembled in the U.S. Group on Earth Observations (USGEO), a subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Sustainability (CENRS). We are also working internationally with China, the European Union, South Africa, and 79 other nations through the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) to implement a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS, by 2015. The end result of GEOSS will be access to an unprecedented amount of environmental information, integrated into new data products benefiting societies and economies worldwide.
Through these national and international strategies to advance Earth observations, the Obama Administration is working to ensure that our Nation’s decision makers, businesses, farmers, health care workers, and indeed all our citizens have the information they need to take actions to improve human well-being and the health of our environment.
Shere Abbott is Associate Director for Energy and Environment in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy