(Washington, DC)  Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology heard from the National Academies of Science and Engineering (NAS) on their report detailing the state of the nation’s Earth observation satellite monitoring systems – spacecraft and satellite-based instruments used in weather forecasting, collecting critical climate data, monitoring land use and resources, and much more. 

The National Academies report is entitled, “Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond”, also known as the Decadal Survey. 

“The nation is getting ready to spend a lot of money to deal with climate change in the coming years.  I’m worried that we are going to be ‘flying blind’ if we don’t ensure that America’s Earth observation satellite system is up to the task of continuing to collect critical climate science data needed to guide our policy decisions,” said Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).

The National Academies’ assessment pulled no punches, stating in its 2005 Interim Report that the U.S. system of environmental satellites was “at risk of collapse” and drawing an even starker conclusion in its final report:  “In the short period since the publication of the Interim Report [Spring 2005], budgetary constraints and programmatic difficulties at NASA have greatly exacerbated this concern.  At a time of unprecedented need, the nation’s Earth observation satellite programs, once the envy of the world, are in disarray.” 

NAS was asked by NASA, NOAA, and the USGS to undertake the task of defining what needs to be done in Earth and climate science research and applications over the next decade and beyond.  The study was overseen by an 18-member executive committee and carried out be seven-thematically organized panels with a total of more than 80 members.  The final report – which was issued in January – recommends a prioritized set of investments in new satellite-borne instruments and spacecraft to gather earth, atmospheric and climate data. 

These planned new satellites would replace our aging space-based Earth observing system to support national needs for research and monitoring of the dynamic Earth system during the next decade, as well as identifying important research and applications directions that should influence planning for the following decade. 

“I don’t think the National Academies could be any clearer in voicing its concern over the current state of affairs,” added Chairman Gordon.  “It’s not going to be easy to find the necessary money in the current fiscal environment, but given the consequences of inaction, we must try.”

Just last week, the Committee held Congress’ first hearing on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on the current scientific consensus regarding global warming.  That hearing highlighted the importance of space-based Earth observation data in helping to advance our understanding of global climate change. 

Dr. Richard A. Anthes, co-chair of the National Academies Committee authoring the report and a witness before the Committee today added, “As detailed in the committee’s final report, and as we were profoundly reminded by the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world faces significant and profound environmental challenges: shortages of clean and accessible freshwater, degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, increases in soil erosion, changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere, declines in fisheries, and above all the rapid pace of substantial changes in climate.  Yet at a time when the need has never been greater, we are faced with an Earth observation program that will dramatically diminish in capability over the next 5-10 years.” 

“If we are going to make real progress as a nation on climate change, weather prediction and the application of Earth observation data to meet societal needs, we are going to have to make a real and sustained commitment to Earth and climate science research and applications investments, and the National Academies Decadal Survey provides an important research and applications roadmap for the decade ahead,” said Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO).