House appropriations for NASA and NOAA would begin to reverse damage to climate observing system

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On July 26 the House of Representatives approved a Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations bill with funding for NASA and NOAA. The bill, if enacted, would take a few steps toward rectifying the damage that has been done during the current administration to the future of global climate change space-based observations and to Earth science research and analysis at NASA. The Appropriations Committee report on the bill challenges administration priorities and underscores the need for a stronger national climate program.

H.R. 3093 is the appropriations bill for the the Departments of Commerce [includes NOAA] and Justice, Science [includes NASA], and Related Agencies for the Fiscal Year 2008 ending September 30, 2008. The Appropriations Committee Report (House Report 110-240) on the bill includes the following on NASA Earth Science research satellite missions, including support for one of the key climate sensors that was de-manifested from the NPOESS satellite system. Note that the report language is in accord with a view that we have expressed on various earlier occasions about how the administration’s cutbacks have jeopardized the future of space-based Earth observations: 

In its report, ‘‘Earth Science and Applications from Space: National
Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond,’’ the National
Academies National Research Council (NRC) set a new agenda for
Earth observations from space. The report provides a number of
recommendations for NASA and NOAA and establishes priorities
for Earth science by identifying 15 priority missions for NASA to
undertake.

The Committee recognizes the importance of NASA Earth
Science research missions to the Nation to advance our ability to
monitor climate, weather, and hazards, and is therefore recommending
an increase of $60,000,000 for NASA to initiate several
Phase A studies for the missions identified in the NRC report. To
the extent possible, the initial seven missions should begin in
FY08. The first four (CLARREO, SMAP, ICESat-II, and DESDynl)
should begin intensive Phase A activities and the next three
(HyspIRI, ASCENDS, and SWOT) should begin pre-Phase A studies
if monies are available. The Committee recommends that the
results from the studies be reviewed by the National Academies.

Also within the funds provided for implementation of the NRC’s
recommendations, NASA is directed to support the continued development
of a follow-on Total Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS) at a
level of $850,000. As mentioned in the NOAA section of this bill,
the decision to restructure the NPOESS program eliminated a
number of key sensors for monitoring earth’s climate and providing
continuity in essential climate measurements. The NRC report and
the report ‘‘Impacts of NPOESS Nunn-McCurdy Certification on
Climate Research’’ produced by NASA and NOAA at the request of
the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) both discussed
the importance of continuity in measurements of two key sensors
that enable climate researchers to calculate the heat balance of the
Earth—the TSIS and the Earth Radiation Budget Sensor (ERBS).
The TSIS instrument suite provides data related to long-term climate
change and enhanced climate prediction, natural variability,
as well as atmospheric ozone and UV–B radiation. Measurements
of total solar irradiance have been taken since 1979 and continuity
in this measurement is vital to understanding the potential impact
on climate change of the very small changes in solar radiation
input to Earth’s atmosphere over the course of a solar cycle. The
Administration is working on options to fly these instruments and
maintain the continuity of our climate data record. Until final decisions
are made about which missions will carry these instruments,
the Committee believes it is prudent to keep the development of
these instruments moving forward. The ERBS development is supported
through funds provided to NOAA.

The Earth Decadal survey notes that in 2005, NASA had 18
Earth observation satellites carrying 64 research sensors, yet in
2007, the capacity is down to 14 missions on-orbit, and by 2010
current plans indicate only a few are planned to still be delivering
data. Between now and 2010, NASA plans to deploy only five new
missions carrying 22 sensors. Currently, NASA’s future plans include
starting on the order of just two new missions every two
years. At that rate, NASA Earth observation research missions will
have decreased from 18 on-orbit in the first decade to four or five
on-orbit in the second decade in the 21st century. To better inform
the Committee on its plans for missions in the 2010–2016 timeframe,
NASA should include in its FY09 budget submission its plan
for meeting these unmet needs.

On the NASA Research and Analysis program, an essential budget item that supports scientists who use remote-sensing observations to advance understanding of changes in the Earth system:

The Committee has included an increase of $60,000,000 for the
Research and Analysis program. The program has suffered significant
cuts in recent years. This program is not only important to
maintaining the scientific vitality of the Agency, but also provides
real opportunities for young scientists and researchers to analyze
data collected from current NASA missions. The Committee expects
that the increase provided for Research and Analysis will be allocated
in an equitable fashion among all themes of the Science Mission
Directorate. As recommended in the NRC study, the Research
and Analysis funds should be used to support both in-house and
academic research.

The Appropriations Committee Report includes the following about NOAA and the de-scoping of climate sensors from the NPOESS satellites:

National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service
(NESDIS).—…

The Committee remains concerned about the impact of the
NPOESS cost overruns. The Committee understands that as a result
of the cost overruns a number of sensors were eliminated from
the NPOESS satellite. The removal of these sensors from the deployment
of the NPOESS satellite has a direct affect on both climate
and weather data and research. In order to reduce the impact
of the loss of these sensors, an additional $23,000,000 is provided
for climate sensors.

The decision to restructure the NPOESS program eliminated a
number of key sensors for monitoring earth’s climate and providing
continuity in essential climate measurements. The National Academies’
report: ‘‘Earth Science and Applications from Space: National
Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond’’ and the report
that NASA and NOAA produced at the request of the Office of
Science and Technology Policy: ‘‘Impacts of NPOESS Nunn-McCurdy
Certification on Climate Research’’ both discussed the importance
of continuity in measurements of two key sensors that enable
climate researchers to calculate the heat balance of the Earth—the
Total Solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS) and the Earth Radiation
Budget Sensor (ERBS).

The Earth’s radiation balance is determined by the difference between
incoming solar radiation and the amount of radiation reflected
from the Earth and its atmosphere back into space. Differences
in the radiation balance over time attributable to changes
in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere determine the ‘‘climate forcing’’
which is resulting in rising global average temperature. In addition
to providing continuity in the measurements of Earth’s reflected
radiation, the ERBS sensor is intended to provide data that
will reduce important uncertainties in climate sensitivity due to
cloud formation and the presence of aerosols in the atmosphere.
The Administration is working on options to fly these instruments
and maintain the continuity of our climate data record.
Until final decisions are made about which missions will carry
these instruments, the Committee believes it is prudent to keep the
development of these instruments moving forward. Therefore,
NOAA is directed to support the development of a follow-on ERBS
sensor at a level of $1,000,000 in FY 2008. The TSIS development
is supported through funds provided to NASA.

The report also expresses (in what we consider very moderate and diplomatic terms) a concern about the administration’s downgrading of the leadership of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.  Former Director James Mahoney of NOAA announced his impending retirement two years ago, in July 2005, and the administration has yet to replace him. Mahoney finally retired in the spring of 2006 and the program has been led since then by an Acting Director. With all due respect to the efforts of Acting Director Brennan, we would place a high priority on getting a much stronger, high-ranking leadership in place for the multiagency CCSP—one that could effectively represent the program to Congress, the science community, and the media, and that would have the strength to push back against inappropriate White House political interference when necessary.  The committee report simply says:

Climate Change Science Program.—The Committee is concerned
about the leadership of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program
(CCSP). The Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
serves as the Director of the CCSP, but for the past year
this position has remained vacant as the Administration has not
yet nominated a replacement. The Directorship of the CCSP is too
important a position to remain vacant or to having persons serving
on a temporary basis, and the current position of the Administration
reflects its lack of resolve in ensuring that the goals of the
CCSP are met. To ensure a coordinated effort in response to global
change, the Directorship must be filled to ensure that the proper
oversight and coordination occurs amongst the thirteen federal
agencies. The Committee urges the Administration to nominate an
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere so
that the Nation’s efforts in understanding global climate change do
not suffer.

Finally, the report mandates and funds the creation of a new Climate Change Study Committee at the National Academy of Sciences, “to study and investigate the serious and sweeping issues relating to global climate change and to make recommendations regarding what steps must be taken, and what strategies must be adopted, in response to global climate change.” We are big supporters of the Academy, but we note that, if the Climate Change Science Program had the appropriate mandate, resources, and freedom from political interference, it would already be doing this job: 

National Academy of Sciences’ Climate Change Study Committee.—
The Committee remains concerned about the affect global
climate change is having on our Nation. Within this appropriation,
the Committee has provided $6,000,000 for an agreement between
the Administrator of NOAA and the National Academy of Sciences
(NAS) to establish the Climate Change Study Committee to study
and investigate the serious and sweeping issues relating to global
climate change and to make recommendations regarding what
steps must be taken, and what strategies must be adopted, in response
to global climate change. The NAS is to issue a report not
later than two years following the first meeting of the Climate
Change Study Committee. Of the amounts provided, $1,000,000 is
to be used for a Global Climate Change Summit, not to exceed
three days, of experts, selected by the NAS, to define the parameters
of this study, and $5,000,000 is to be used by the NAS for
activities related to the global climate change study.

Senate floor action is pending on the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill.  See our June 29 post ((“Senate appropriators share our distrust of NOAA and the White House on essential climate satellites”).

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