NASA's Climate Change Satellites - Drastic White House Cuts Leaked


Cross-posted on Huffington Post

Just after George Bush announced his
plans to address climate change, both NOAA and NASA experts revealed that the Bush Administration is "drastically scaling back efforts to measure global warming from space."

No word whether this issue will be raised at the climate change meeting Bush has called for September 27-28 (different from the UN meetings that will take place on September 24th to “promote discussion on possible ways to move the international community toward negotiations on new global agreement on climate change"), but it seems like it should be:
Bush Climate Meeting Draws Doubts about Action – August 08, 2007 – By Deborah Zabarenko (Reuters) -- A U.S. summit in September on climate change, one of at least four international meetings set for this year, is already raising doubts about any action being taken before President Bush leaves office.Link.

So, what happened to the Climate Change Satellites?

A confidential report to the White House, obtained by The Associated Press, warns that U.S. scientists will soon lose much of their ability to monitor warming from space using a costly and problem-plagued satellite initiative begun more than a decade ago. Because of technology glitches and a near-doubling in the original $6.5 billion cost, the Defense Department has decided to downsize and launch four satellites paired into two orbits, instead of six satellites and three orbits. Link

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which calls it a crisis, Atmospheric scientist Timothy L. Killeen, the president of the American Geophysical Union, says it [the loss of the satellites] "could harm our ability to protect our citizens." and "Unfortunately, the recent loss of climate sensors ... places the overall climate program in serious jeopardy," NOAA and NASA scientists told the White House in the Dec. 11 report obtained by the AP.

December 11th, 2006...

So, this means that George W. knew about this CONFIDENTIAL report that we weren't supposed to know about (which has now been leaked to the AP) before he announced his climate change initiative for September. But, it's not only the Bush Administration that needs to be taken to task for this debacle. According to the report, the White House requested $331 million for their scaled back version of the satellite system in their 2008 budget.

The AAAS [The American Association for the Advancement of Science] issued a Board Statement on April 27, 2007, regarding this pending Climate Satellite crisis asking for Congress to address the issue:

The network of satellites upon which the United States and the world have relied for indispensable observations of Earth from space is in jeopardy. These observations are essential for weather forecasting, hurricane warning, management of agriculture and forestry, documenting and anticipating the impacts of global climate change, and much more. Maintenance of an adequate constellation of Earth-observing satellites and the instruments they carry is now threatened by budget cuts and reallocations in the two federal agencies that share the primary responsibility for them, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The situation is already causing harm, and it will become rapidly worse unless the Congress and the Administration take prompt action to reverse the recent trends. Link

A major study has just been completed by the National Research Council, entitled Earth Science and Applications from Space: A Community Assessment and Strategy for the Future: The Space Studies Board, in consultation with other units of the NRC, will lead a study to generate consensus recommendations from the Earth and environmental science and applications community regarding a systems approach to space-based and ancillary observations that encompasses the research programs of NASA and the related operational programs of NOAA.

The NRC study offered detailed recommendations for restoring U.S. capabilities in Earth observations from space to acceptable levels, including:

  • Reconstituting specific key observation capabilities that have recently been deleted from scheduled NOAA satellite series
  • Accelerating NASA’s current launch schedule to shrink the data gaps implied by current plans
  • Committing to the 17 highest-priority new Earth-observation missions, out of more than 100 candidates evaluated for the 2010-2020 time period.

The study concluded that its recommendations could be funded until 2020 by returning the Earth-science budget at NASA to its FY 1998-2000 level and stabilizing the budget of NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite Data, and Information Service at only slightly above the FY2007 level, adjusted for inflation.

Jerry Mahlman, a former scientist at NOAA who is now at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said he and other colleagues warned of problems as far back as 1995. He compared the preparations for the satellites to a "planned train wreck."

The planned satellites Jerry Mahlman is referring to? The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, or NPOESS, which was first announced in 1994. This system was to combine the Defense Department's weather forecasting with NOAA's climate data gathering. There was also a provision for involving Europe and Japan's Meteorological Satellites. In 2005, however, the GAO found cost overruns to the tune of 9.7 billion (with a B) in an effort that was over a year behind schedule. The Pentagon weighed in last year, citing the program at 11.5 billion and even further behind schedule.

The White House's answer? Science Advisor Marburger: "We’re obviously very concerned about this," he told the AP. "It got in trouble and we couldn’t fit all those instruments on it ..."

The Pentagon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA have announced they will have to rely on European satellites for most of the climate data until they figure this out.

Until they do, all I can say is someones's doing a heckofajob...