Internal report to White House on implications of NPOESS climate observations crisis


On June 4 the Associated Press reported on the looming crisis in the U.S. satellite-based global climate observing system. An internal “pre-decisional” report to the White House by NASA and NOAA, which Climate Science Watch provided to AP, explains how the decision by the Pentagon and NOAA to drop key climate-monitoring sensors from the National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)—the core of the next generation of Earth-orbiting climate-monitoring instruments—places in grave jeopardy scientists’ future ability to monitor key variables necessary for understanding climate change and its consequences. We are making the report available here NPOESS-OSTPdec-06.pdf, to encourage wider attention to this problem and to increase pressure on the President and Congress to deal with it.

The Bush administration has not directed DoD and NOAA to avert this crisis by restoring the climate sensors to the system and providing the needed funding. This dilatory response appears to be yet another example of the administration’s characteristic management approach on matters of national preparedness. But we believe it is also specifically part of a strategy of budget-cutting and downgrading of climate science research and observations—one more way of impeding climate science and public understanding of the global warming problem.

In addition to the NPOESS crisis, devastating cuts to Earth Science observations and research have been set in motion at NASA that will have harmful consequences for years to come. Jim Hansen, Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been ringing the alarm bells on this for some time [WorldWatch article] [NPR interview].

We believe the current situation borders on criminal negligence. Unless strong corrective action is taken without delay, we will be living with the harmful consequences of this blinding of the nation’s climate change observing capability for long after Bush leaves office.

The House Science and Technology Committee has scheduled a hearing for June 7 on NPOESS.

We talked about the climate change research budget cuts and the NPOESS crisis in our testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, hearing on Climate Change Research and Scientific Integrity, February 7, 2007.

See also:
Testimony at the same hearing by Richard Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and Co-Chair of National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space.  Dr. Anthes said:

As detailed in the committee’s final report, and as we were profoundly reminded by reading the front page of nearly every newspaper this past week describing the powerful findings of the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world faces significant and profound environmental challenges: shortages of clean and accessible freshwater, degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, increases in soil erosion, changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere, declines in fisheries, and above all the rapid pace of substantial changes in climate.  These changes are not isolated; they interact with each other and with natural variability in complex ways that cascade through the environment across local, regional, and global scales.  Addressing these societal challenges requires that we confront key scientific questions related to ice sheets and sea level change, large-scale and persistent shifts in precipitation and water availability, transcontinental air pollution, shifts in ecosystem structure and function in response to climate change, impacts of climate change on human health, and occurrence of extreme events, such as hurricanes, floods and droughts, heat waves, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. 

Yet at a time when the need has never been greater, we are faced with an Earth observation program that will dramatically diminish in capability over the 10-15 years. 
To address societal and research needs, both the quality and the continuity of the measurement record must be assured through the transition of short-term, exploratory capabilities, into sustained observing systems. The elimination of the requirements for climate research-related measurements on NPOESS is only the most recent example of the nations failure to sustain critical measurements.

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
April 28 board statement on The Crisis in Earth Observation From Space

U.S. Earth-Observing Satellites in Jeopardy, AAAS Board Cautions
AAAS press release April 30

See our May 18, 2006, post, “NPOESS weather and climate satellite crisis: Should heads roll at NOAA?”—

An investigative report by the Commerce Department Inspector General is sharply critical of high-level federal management for failing to deal effectively with long delays and major cost overruns in the development and deployment of an essential satellite remote-sensing system under development by NOAA, the Defense Department, and NASA.  The National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) is intended as an operational system to provide state-of-the art data for weather forecasting and climate system monitoring.  Some members of Congress are calling for the ouster of NOAA Administrator Lautenbacher in response to the IGs report….

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