magine for a moment as I mention the following events: wildfires, tropical storms, climate change, floods, drought, solar flares, heat waves, coastal erosion, cold waves, global warming, polar ice caps, the Larsen B Ice Shelf, regional blackouts, urbanization, land use, evacuation routes, storm surge, deforestation, sub-tropical storm Andrea.
Each and every one of these events has something in common:
They can be detected and observed by satellites
most looking at the Earth and some looking at the sun —
Earth observatories, while
exciting to catch a glimpse of as they shoot across the night sky,
are essential stethoscopes that constantly monitor
Earth and every breath it takes. Like timelapse images of a flower opening up when the morning sun rises,
satellites help us see the changes that are occurring both over a short and
a long period of time that we might never notice living our busy lives day after day.
When we do notice a change, we can act before making big commitments. And when we have a consistent archive of images over a long period of time,
we can piece together a story of change,
a time lapse of weather and climate evolution.
Those satellites also are
information that is critical to getting forecast models off on the right foot. It is very important to start the weather and climate forecast models off with accurate information so we can have access to good guidance in order to make good decisions. If we do not have enough accurate observations of the
its atmosphere and the components that make up our climate,
we are denying ourselves a clear picture of where this planet is headed.
When I delivered the evening weather forecast to Washingtonians in the 1990s, I took very seriously my job as a broadcast meteorologist. If there were severe storms or even tornadoes around, I would make the call to break into programming to inform viewers of those storms in the area and give advice to stay inside until the threat had passed. Many people really appreciated that kind of service –
unless you interrupted their favorite show.
If you tell people that their lives may be in danger due to severe storms or a possible tornado in the area, you can be a hero. But if you interrupt the final shot at the Master’s, that is a different story.
Why? Because when people are engaged in a story or an event they want to know the ending. If you interrupt the ending, you have interrupted their lives and the last hour or two they just invested in the program. Those hours have been taken away from their lives in lieu of a TV meteorologist telling them about “some thunder.”
Just like everyone wants to watch their favorite shows to completion,
I believe we as a nation and a human race need to keep watching the changes that are occurring on this planet –
without interruption. If you watch a show and skip out on the middle –
or heaven forbid the local TV meteorologist wants to potentially save your life –
you never know what happens during the part you missed. Some people really want to know,
have to know, what happened so much that they
get so upset they call the television station and complain so strongly and sincerely that the station will replay the show later that night.
We do not have that ability with the Earth.
If we miss the “middle of the show” by not making the national investments necessary to keep the Earth observations coming, the changes that occur during that break might just signal the next major event or begin a new chapter of our changing climate that we fail to detect.
It’s like disconnecting the stethoscope from the planet’s heart. What happened to the beat?
We have a lot of talent in Maryland
and in California
. That talent delivers much of our
Earth observing capabilities. Many jobs depend on building the next-generation satellites:
the economy depends not only on building those systems but operating them and studying their output for future impacts on our planet.
We need to expand our partnerships. California and Maryland are like the biceps of a strong America. By working together we can lift this nation to new heights and tackle the challenges of tomorrow
by continuing to deliver nationally important “science from space.”
In Maryland, at my company StormCenter Communications, we are working to establish a Center of Excellence that will focus on monitoring the Earth for climate, hazard and environmental changes and developments. We will use advanced technologies to deliver to the media and to people visualizations and stories of our changing planet as well as environmental impacts to our neighborhoods.
If we do not maintain continuity of the observations that we are getting today,
we will not be able to tell complete and accura
of how our planet is changing.
Of course we would know the ending when we get there,
but we might not like it, and by then we may not be able to make the necessary changes in our lives to make that ending a happy one.
My youngest daughter, Heather, is
7 years old. If we look into the future just 19 years from now,
there will be no
operational or research satellites in orbit taking the pulse of the planet or monitoring constantly changing weather conditions because there is
no plan. None of the essential climate variables are slated for measurement when Heather is 26 years old. This is not good news and planning for those future systems needs to happen now. When Heather is 26, I would like her to be even more informed about our changing planet than we are today so she can make good decisions about her future and the future of her children.
Weather and climate sensitive industries account for one-third of the nation’s gross domestic product –
that is $4
(in 2005 dollars) from a nearly $13
economic engine. The nation must make the investment now in order to minimize those impacts and increase our understanding of our environment as our children grow older.
Earth observations are kind of like a television program:
interrupt “American Idol” on that last night and pay the consequences of some very angry viewers. But t
hat will pass.
Interrupt Earth observations,
and you are playing roulette with our future.
Dave Jones is founder, president and chief executive officer of StormCenter Communications, and a director on the board of the Foundation for Earth Science.
This Commentary was excerpted from remarks made May 11 at the Space Science Roundtable, hosted by the California Space Authority and the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.