U.S. Group on Earth Observations calls for coordination, private sector engagement

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SAN FRANCISCO – The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released an updated plan for U.S. Earth observation Dec. 9 calling for improved coordination, greater engagement with the private sector and efforts to assess the value of the data.

“We really want to emphasize this is a national Earth-observation plan, not a federal Earth-observation plan,” Lawrence Friedl, NASA Earth Science Division applied sciences program director and co-chair of the U.S. interagency Group on Earth Observations, said Dec. 9 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union here. The plan encompasses work in government agencies and private companies as well as nongovernmental organizations and academia, he added.

The U.S. Group on Earth Observations, a subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council, delivered the 2019 National Plan for Civil Earth Observations to Congress Dec. 9.

Through the plan, the U.S. Group on Earth Observations seeks to improve coordination of activities, including satellite missions and in-situ observations.

“This has been happening on an ad hoc basis but we’re looking to formalize it,” Friedl said. Coordination is particularly important when an agency plans to discontinue a mission or observing system because it offers other organizations a chance to weigh-in, he added.

The 2019 national plan reflects changes in the Earth observation landscape since the previous plan was released in 2014. (Both NASA and NOAA are evaluating the value of Earth observation data obtained by commercial firms.)

“It talks about different ways of using some of the technologies that are coming,” Friedl said. “What are the trends we’re seeing and how might we as an interagency community get ahead of that in working with the enterprise?”

In addition, the new plan seeks to encourage groups involved in Earth observation to increase the impact of their work by finding innovative applications and taking steps to quantify its value. “Increasing the use of Earth observation data, products and services will enhance their value and improve return on the billions of dollars that the United States invests in this area annually,” according to the report.