EARTH SCIENCE AND APPLICATIONS FROM SPACE:
National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond
By William H. Hooke
AMS Summer Policy Colloquium Case Study
This case study examines the rationale for, the process underlying, and the outcomes and impact of an NAS/NRC Space Studies Board decadal survey: EARTH SCIENCE AND APPLICATIONS FROM SPACE: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond. The survey goal was to develop consensus recommendations from the Earth and environmental science and applications communities regarding space-based and ancillary observing systems. Some 100 scientists, organized into seven panels, participated in the survey over a two-year period. (In fact, a much larger number of scientists contributed in varied informal ways to the process.) Since the report was issued in 2007, based on anecdotal evidence, federal agencies have frequently referenced the recommendations when making program plans and budget allocations.
In 1863, the Congress granted a charter to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), mandating the Academy to provide advice to the federal government on science and technology. Subsequently, the NAS established the National Academy of Engineering (NAE, 1964), and the Institutes of Medicine (IOM, 1970). Together these three entities make up the National Academies. In 1916, The National Academy of Sciences established a National Research Council (NRC), as a means of engaging a wider number of scientists and engineers to further scientific knowledge and provide advice to the government. Today, the NRC is, in effect, the operational arm of the Academies.
For the most part, NRC studies are conducted by committees and panels under the purview of parent Boards, e.g., the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC), the Space Studies Board (SSB), the Board on Physics and Astronomy (BPA), etc.
Discussion question: Broadly speaking, what do you see as the strengths and limitations of NRC studies as a source of scientific and technical advice to the U.S. government? Defend your answer.
In addition to the more usual NRC studies that are issue-focused, the NRC also undertakes “decadal surveys” in a number of fields. Perhaps the best known of these is the series of Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Surveys that have been carried out every ten years since the 1960’s: in 1964, 1972, 1982, 1991, and 2001. A 2010 study is underway. Astronomers and astrophysicists have typically put together teams comprising a 100 or so scientists, organized in perhaps ten panels, to thresh out over a two-year period their community research priorities for the coming decade. These studies are acknowledged to be difficult and costly in terms of time and effort, but are credited with periodically forcing (encouraging? allowing?) the astronomical community to “speak with one voice” about what it sees as opportunities and priorities for major federal investments.
Discussion question: In general, what do you see as the advantages and disadvantages to efforts to have a given scientific community speak with one voice? More specifically, what do you see as the advantages and disadvantages to developing a community view with respect to research and related funding priorities? Give reasons.
Decadal Surveys in the Atmospheric Sciences
As mentioned, the astronomy community is not the only community to carry out such studies under the aegis of the NAS/NRC. The atmospheric community, for example, put out “decadal surveys” – in 1961: The Atmospheric Sciences 1961-1971; in 1971: The Atmospheric Sciences and Man’s Needs: Priorities for the Future; and in 1980: The Atmospheric Sciences: National Objectives for the 1980’s. Efforts to develop and publish a similar document for the 1990’s encountered a series of missteps and delays. As a result, the most recent in this series was not published until 1998: The Atmospheric Sciences: Entering the 21st Century. As of this writing, there are no plans underway for any kind of atmospheric sciences and climate decadal study for the second decade of the 21st century.
Discussion question: How would you rate our Earth science community in terms of our ability to speak with one voice? Why? Is this at all a matter for concern? Why or why not? If you think this is a concern, what steps might we take to improve our ability to develop consensus? Should we support a study looking ahead to 2010-2020? Why or why not?
Earth Science and Applications from Space: Rationale/Statement of Task
In 2004, NASA’s Office of Earth Science, NOAA/NESDIS, and the USGS Geography Division asked that
The Space Studies Board will organize a study, “Earth Observations from Space: A Community Assessment and Strategy for the Future.” The study will generate consensus recommendations from the Earth and environmental science and applications community regarding science priorities, opportunities afforded by new measurement types and new vantage points, and a systems approach to space-based and ancillary observations that encompasses the research programs of NASA and the related operational programs of NOAA.
During this study, the committee will conduct the following tasks.
Review the status of the field to assess recent progress in resolving major scientific questions outlined in relevant prior NRC, NASA, and other relevant studies and in realizing desired predictive and applications capabilities via space-based Earth observations.
Develop a consensus of the top-level scientific questions that should provide the focus for Earth and environmental observations in the period 2005–2015.
Take into account the principal federal- and state-level users of these observations and identify opportunities and challenges to the exploitation of the data generated by Earth observations from space.
Recommend a prioritized list of measurements, and identify potential new space-based capabilities and supporting activities within NASA [Earth Science Enterprise] and NOAA [National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service] to support national needs for research and monitoring of the dynamic Earth system during the decade 2005–2015. In addition to elucidating the fundamental physical processes that underlie the interconnected issues of climate and global change, these needs include: weather forecasting, seasonal climate prediction, aviation safety, natural resources management, agricultural assessment, homeland security, and infrastructure planning.
Identify important directions that should influence planning for the decade beyond 2015. For example, the committee will consider what ground-based and in-situ capabilities are anticipated over the next 10–20 years and how future space-based observing systems might leverage these capabilities. The committee will also give particular attention to strategies for NOAA to evolve current capabilities while meeting operational needs to collect, archive, and disseminate high quality data products related to weather, atmosphere, oceans, land, and the near-space environment.
The committee will address critical technology development requirements and opportunities; needs and opportunities for establishing and capitalizing on partnerships between NASA and NOAA and other public and private entities; and the human resource aspects of the field involving education, career opportunities, and public outreach. A minor but important part of the study will be the review of complementary initiatives of other nations in order to identify potential cooperative programs.
Discussion questions. What do you think of the framing of this statement? Would you have framed it differently? In what way(s)? Why?
In addition to the formal statement, the sponsoring agencies also requested that the recommendations be developed to fit within an expected resource profile over the coming decade.
Discussion questions. Do you see this last constraint as a serious or a minor constraint to the survey? Why?
Earth Science and Applications from Space: Process
The NAS/NRC first approached Richard A. Anthes, UCAR President, and Berrien Moore III of the University of New Hampshire to co-chair the survey. With their help, the NAS/NRC then established and populated a Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Community Assessment and Strategy for the Future, comprising leading experts in the field, drawn from academia and the private sector. Although no government researchers were named to the committee, several members had extensive previous government experience.
The NAS/NRC and the Committee in turn then set up seven panels, on:
- Earth science applications and societal benefits
- land-use change, ecosystem dynamics, and biodiversity
- weather science and applications
- climate variability and change
- water resources and the global hydrologic cycle
- human health and security
- solid-Earth hazards, natural resources, and dynamics
with membership totaling some one hundred scientists and engineers.
Participants attempted to articulate a new agenda for Earth observations from space, in which acquiring new knowledge was not the sole goal, but was balanced by other forms (e.g., warnings, economic information) of societal benefit. They focused their attention on tasks 2-4 above. Along the way, in April of 2005, they issued an interim report to address urgent needs, describing the national system of satellites as “at risk of collapse.” The House Committee on Science and Technology, chaired by Sherwood Boehlert at the time, held hearings on this report on April 28, 2005. House members went on record linking declining NOAA budgets for Earth sciences to exploration initiatives, and stating that Earth continued to be the planet most important to mankind. The hearings, though providing a measure of visibility to the problem, did not reverse the funding decline then underway.
The Committee listed several challenges in their final report. These included:
- The Earth sciences community lacked a tradition of periodically building a consensus with regard to broad, all-encompassing research priorities
- Inter-agency issues arising from the division of responsibilities across NOAA and NOAA-DoD
- Lack of any process for extending NASA Earth science missions that had either met research objectives or exceeded the mission design life
- Lack of any NOAA community-generated “roadmap” in this area, such as existed in astronomy and astrophysics, planetary exploration, and solar and space physics
- The rapidly-evolving budgetary environment for NOAA and NOAA environmental science programs. Surveys in other areas of science had built on more-or-less stable funding, but funding for these satellite missions eroded substantially during the course of the study. Delays, overruns, and the subsequent descoping of the NPOESS program had particular impact.
To sort through these challenges, and address the statement of task, each of the several panels met three times. The parent committee itself met ten times in part or in the whole, and along the way conducted a number of outreach activities, writing articles, convening town-hall meetings, etc., to communicate with the larger community along the way.
Panels identified an initial list of some 35 high-priority missions and observations, winnowed down from more than 100 potential candidates. The committee ultimately recommended an Earth observation strategy comprising seventeen missions – fourteen for NASA, two for NOAA, and one for joint implementation. Because the individual panels’ mission lists included much more activity than could be accommodated within realistic resource constraints, panelists and the committee focused on developing so-called mission “roll-ups” that took advantage of synergies to maximize the science and potential for application of the missions.
Earth Science and Applications from Space: Recommendations
- The U.S. government, working in concert with the private sector, academe, the public, and its international partners, should renew its investment in Earth-observing systems and restore its leadership in Earth science and applications.
- NOAA should restore several key climate, environmental, and weather observation capabilities to its planned NPOESS and GOES-R missions…
- NOAA [should] ensure the continuity of Earth’s radiation budget and total solar irradiance through the period NPOESS spacecraft will be in orbit…
- NOAA should ensure continuity of measurements of precipitation and land cover…
- [an identification of the seventeen specific missions that should be given priority]
- U.S. civil space agencies should aggressively pursue technology development that supports the missions recommended…;plan for transitions to continue demonstrably useful research observations on a sustained, or operational, basis; and foster innovative space-based concepts.
- [OSTP], in collaboration with the relevant agencies and in consultation with the scientific community, should develop and implement a plan for achieving and sustaining global Earth observations.
- Earth system observations should be accompanied by a complementary system of observations of human activities and their effects on Earth
- Socioeconomic factors should be considered in the planning and implementation of Earth observation missions and in developing an Earth knowledge and information system.
- Critical surface-based (land and ocean) and upper-air atmospheric sounding networks should be sustained and enhanced as necessary to satisfy climate and other Earth science needs in addition to weather forecasting and prediction.
- To facilitate the synthesis of scientific data and discovery into coherent and timely information for end users, NOAA should support Earth science research via suborbital platforms: airborne programs, which have suffered substantial diminution, should be restored, and unmanned aerial vehicle technology should be increasingly factored into the nation’s strategic plan for Earth science.
- [a series of recommendations addressing data assimilation; climate data and information; data processing, distribution, and archive; research and analysis; and modeling]
- A formal interagency planning and review process should be put into place that focuses on effectively implementing the recommendations made in the present decadal survey report and sustaining and building an Earth knowledge and information system for the next decade and beyond
- NOAA, NOAA, and USGS should pursue innovative approaches to educate and train scientists and users of Earth observations and applications. A particularly important role is to assist educators in inspiring and training students in the use of Earth observations and the information derived from them.
Earth Science and Applications from Space: Survey Impacts
The Survey was published and widely distributed. Its findings were the subject of Congressional hearings. Based on anecdotal accounts, the recommendations have been, and continue to be used in budget decisions and resource allocations within both NOAA and NOAA. However, significant challenges remain, with respect to the need to expand the funding envelope for such work, both generally, across the board, and specifically, with respect to the ramp-ups needed to accommodate the NOAA-DoD GOES-R satellite series.
Discussion questions. How do you think the federal agencies are using Survey recommendations? Do you think all the recommendations are being funded? What about emerging/new opportunities, perhaps not contemplated at the time of the survey?
Questions for the panelists, Richard A. Anthes, UCAR; and Berrien Moore III, University of New Hampshire, co-chairs, NRC Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Community Assessment and Strategy for the Future
How/when were you first asked to co-chair the NAS/NRC study? (Moderator follow-up questions, then group/participant follow-up questions; this follow-up cycle will be repeated after each of the questions below)
What were the stated goals for the study? What were your personal goals that led you to take this on?
You mention several challenges in executing the study:
The number of participants in your study was perhaps an order of magnitude larger than the number involved with the usual NAS/NRC study. What were the advantages and disadvantages of the large size? What were the associated management challenges? How did you handle these?
How did you choose to organize the report? What was the basis for this choice?
Putting aside particular missions, what were your general recommendations?
What steps did you take to disseminate the report following its completion?
Do you think the goals of the study have been achieved? In what respects? What remains to be done?
How satisfied is the Congress with both the study and its subsequent use by the agencies?
Would the nature of the survey and its impacts have been different if the timing had been different? For example, suppose the survey had been released following the IPCC Report and the Gore film instead of before?
Do you think that future NAS/NRC studies of this breadth and scope are likely? On what topics?
With that in mind, if you had it to do all over again (or had to chair some new study), what would you do differently?
What is your parting advice to those in this room who are going to be following in your footsteps?
From Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, National Academies Press, Washington DC, (2007) 428pp, appendix A. Statement of Task
NRC, Earth Science and Applications from Space: Urgent Needs and Opportunities to Serve the Nation, The National Academies Press, Washington, DC 2005
Extracted from Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, National Academies Press, Washington DC, (2007) 428pp. The list has been substantially truncated, and is included in this highly abbreviated form only to give a feel for the recommendations sufficient to the purposes of the present case study. For a fuller expression of the recommendations and the rationale behind each, the reader is referred to the original document
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