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Town Hall Meeting: Impending Earth Observations Network Gap

Conference Program
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Tuesday, 24 January 12:15–1:15 p.m.; Room 243

A perilous gap in Earth observations, from all sources of remotely or directly sensed data including satellite, aerial, radar, and numerous terrestrial, oceanic and Great Lakes in-situ instruments, is imminent. In a 2007 report, the National Research Council (NRC) warned that “the nation’s Earth observation satellite programs, once the envy of the world, are in disarray.” Since that NRC report, multiple national organizations and institutions have reported directly to the U.S. Congress in written and oral testimony that the country has experienced an unprecedented series of setbacks and budget cuts in all of our Earth observations systems.  The last two Earth-observation research satellites launched by NASA to join our global scale data-collection network failed upon launch, and the next two in the launch queue (the DESDynI mission scheduled for launch in 2016 and the CLARREO mission scheduled 2017) have been delayed or cancelled due to budget constraints.  The Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) that NOAA and the nation depend on for weather forecasts and emergency response has been flat-funded by Congress with a consequent impending data gap of 18 months to two years beginning in the year 2016.  The U.S. Geological Survey has eliminated its much anticipated Climate Effects Network and has no formal plan to replace this critical observational tool for managing a significant part of the nation’s natural resource inventory.  In addition, many states are closing their in-situ observational networks due to severe budget constraints.  One after another, critical and historic long-term observational networks are failing due to age and/or have been eliminated due to budget constraints and unfortunate mechanical mishaps.

The 2007 NRC report went on to recommend 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.”  Now more than ever, the leaders of our Earth science and applications agencies, companies, and academic partners must reinvigorate our collective efforts to restore this critical data generation network.  The consequences of not addressing this real, active threat to our Earth-observations network are potentially severe and undoubtedly will impact the safety and economic well-being of our nation’s citizens and communities.

The following provides but one example of an impact from the expected gap of observations from the future JPSS. The forecast of the major snow storm that hit Washington, D.C., in February 2010 was remarkably accurate.  After the storm, an analysis was performed to identify the impact on the forecast skill of removing the satellite afternoon-orbit observations. The model analysis indicated that the forecast of this storm would have been degraded without the afternoon-orbit observations. A less accurate forecast would likely have meant increased congestion of air and surface transportation, property damage, and financial loss, centered about our Nation’s Capital. However, because the afternoon satellite observations are still available and used in the National Weather Service’s (NWS’s) forecasts, the prediction of this snow storm was notably much more accurate.  Therefore businesses and individuals were able to modify plans to avoid risks and expenses that the storm introduced. In the not-to-distant future, e.g., 2016, there will not to be an afternoon-orbit to provide Earth observations necessary to ensure that today’s weather forecasts remain as accurate as possible.

This Town Hall meeting will feature leaders from government, academia, and the private sector discussing the observational network gaps the nation faces and the impacts we are now experiencing and are likely to face in the future.  Each panelist will give their agency or company perspective on observational network gaps and impacts. Then the floor will be open for comments, suggestions, and detailed discussion of the need for observational networks and the utility of the data they provide.  It is anticipated that members of the AMS and affiliated communities will formulate a systematic strategic path forward for addressing these critical Earth science basic data gathering observational networks and help to begin to address the challenges we face.

This town hall meeting is organized by the AMS Commission on the Weather & Climate Enterprise. For additional information, please contact DeWayne Cecil (e-mail:  DeWayne.Cecil@noaa.gov).