— Northrop Grumman Space Technology President Alexis Livanos called for the
United States
to take the lead in developing a comprehensive climate-monitoring system akin to the National Weather Service, which is responsible for day-to-day forecasting.

While ground-based sensors, ocean buoys, airplanes, balloons and unmanned aerial vehicles all would play important roles in monitoring the Earth’s environment, Livanos said, “truly global climate information can only be delivered from space-based satellites.”

Speaking at a House Aerospace Caucus luncheon here June 12 sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association, Livanos praised the 73-nation Group on Earth Observations for laying out a vision for a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS. But if GEOSS is to become a reality, he said, the
United States
must take the lead in making the necessary investment in a network of sensors to keep a constant eye on the Earth’s environment.

Northrop Grumman Space Technology of Redondo Beach, Calif., is the prime contractor for the U.S. civil-military National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), a series of satellites due to begin launching in 2013 to monitor weather and make limited climate measurements.

said that of the 26 key climate variables scientists say must be monitored continuously to get an accurate picture of long- term trends, NPOESS and a new generation of geostationary-orbiting weather satellites planned by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are designed to cover more than half. NOAA also is funding NPOESS, along with the U.S. Air Force.

“We need to commit to comprehensive and sustained monitoring with a full complement of science instruments,” Livanos said. “On the space shuttle, NASA deploys over 200 sensors to monitor the health and safety of our seven astronauts and their spaceship. Given the importance of the information, shouldn’t we monitor all the essential variables for the safety of our country’s 300 million people? Our planet’s 7 billion people?”

said the aerospace industry is uniquely qualified to build a truly global climate-monitoring system.

“We’ve already designed, built and coordinated elements of this system at every level,” he said.

“We are not starting from scratch,” Livanos said. “The foundation of GEOSS, the efforts of NOAA in general, and the efforts of NASA are invaluable. But we still have work to do.”

For example, Livanos said, sensor systems already in place need to be more fully coordinated and integrated. Likewise, climate scientists have said they need more computing power, he said.

‘ call for a comprehensive climate-monitoring system was in sync with NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher’s message about the need for continual observation.

“Climate has to be observed all the time,” Lautenbacher said.

opened the lunch event with a talk about the importance of transitioning climate measurements of the sort pioneered by NASA into the operational world once their worth has been demonstrated. He cited as an example NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory due to launch later this year.

said the time has come to stop viewing climate observation as a research topic and start treating it as something more like weather forecasting.

“It is time to turn it into something more continuous … something more like the weather service,” he said.

said there is support for such a system at the White House and in the Senate, where Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has introduced two pieces of legislation that talk about continuous climate monitoring. Those two bills, according to a Northrop Grumman official in attendance, are the Global Change Research Improvement Act of 2007 (S. 2307) and the Climate Change Adaptation Act (S. 2355).

said his agency is the right one to lead such undertaking since it already has operational responsibility for the nation’s weather satellites. He estimated that a true climate- change monitoring system is still 10-15 years in the future.

In the meantime, NOAA and its Air Force and NASA partners, still must successfully deploy the NPOESS system, which thanks to $74 million included in the White House’s 2009 NOAA budget request will include some climate sensors that were dropped in a program restructuring in 2006.

Livanos acknowledged the technical challenges and budget troubles the NPOESS program has encountered, suggesting the experience has provided lessons learned for future ambitious undertakings.

“The importance of planning can’t be overstated,” he said. “We have to be realistic and rational when it comes to what can be delivered and when. A conspiracy of hope, where government and industry become partners in a process with impossible expectations, must be avoided.”