OpEd: Alexis C. Livanos


Few of us have been able to escape the recent talk about change.
For presidential hopefuls Barack Obama,
Hillary Clinton and
John McCain, change is the buzz word of the day and certainly the theme of this lively campaign season. But for those of us in the Earth science and observations community, change is what we study day in and day out. It is not a catch phrase. It is what we do.


As the United States
comes together to elect a new president, it
also is imperative that we come together as a community at this time to give serious consideration to developing a blueprint
to address change, specifically the solutions needed to understand and better respond to global environmental change.


Our community plays a unique role in this critical enterprise. We are the scientists, technologists
and solution providers who study and forecast the impact of volatile weather on our communities, on citizens’ lives, on our military and on our economy. Environmental impacts can be devastating. We know that if we don’t address the issue head on, we stand ready to repeat history – and shame on us if we let that happen.


The pace of global change on planet Earth is constantly increasing; this we know as fact. And, independent of debate over the exact causes of global and climate changes, there is consensus that this is a matter of significant urgency worldwide. What happens globally affects us here at home.


With the added impact of a rapidly growing population, current and accurate knowledge about our planet is more critical than ever for making policy decisions that will affect our lives here in the United States
. The Earth’s ability to adequately provide food, clothing
and water for its inhabitants is an increasingly urgent issue of U.S. national security. Climate change also poses challenges for the military. Leaders must address doctrine, strategy and tactics for dealing with this non-traditional threat.


What is needed now is a vision, leadership
and a blueprint for action, including a national policy to deploy critical Earth monitoring systems. U.S. operational Earth observation missions can deliver climate measurements and continuously monitor our complex environment to enable an unprecedented capacity to understand and predict changes for our world.


Internationally, measurable progress has been made. The Group on Earth Observations, consisting of 72 worldwide members and more than 50 participating organizations, is leading an effort to evolve a “system of systems” approach for global Earth observation. The international scientific community has identified 26 climate variables – essential vital signs of Earth – that need to be monitored from space. A coordinated and sustained system of systems is required to effectively and reliably monitor all key observables.


The United States – and our aerospace community specifically – has the opportunity to lead and mobilize government and industry to develop this coherent Earth observation system of systems to provide our decision-makers and international leaders with critical, global change-related information. We can effect change. We can build on the success of space satellite systems like Aqua, Aura
and Terra, which have been instrumental in forecasting change. We can ensure that systems like the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System
, being built now by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
, NASA, and the Air Force, can be the cornerstone of the system of systems’ architecture. As we go forward to effect change, we need a clearly defined architecture and associated blueprints to guide our investments and develop global environmental information systems in a timely manner.


We all know that the only constant in the world is change. The legacy of our generation will be how we monitor and manage that change.


Alexis Livanos is corporate vice president of Northrop Grumman and president of the company’s Space Technology sector.