Apr 21, 2013

Taking the Pulse of Our Planet: New Strategy for Earth Observations

Estimated Article Reading Time: 2 min.

Ever wonder where the Weather Channel gets its data? Where the satellite images for Google Earth come from? These data and much more come from a complex array of satellites, ocean buoys, stream gauges, human surveys, and other platforms for collecting what the scientific community calls Earth observations. These data are used every day to protect life and property and answer key questions about our planet.

Today, the Obama Administration’s National Science and Technology Council released a “National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations”:http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/nstc_2013_earthobsstrategy.pdf—a framework for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the Nation’s Earth-observation enterprise. Currently, 11 Federal departments and agencies engage in Earth observation activities, collecting volumes of important data about the Earth on an ongoing basis, using an array of sophisticated tools and systems. The new Strategy outlines a process for evaluating and prioritizing Earth-observation investments according to their value to society in critical areas such as agriculture, global change, disasters, water resources, and weather.

Each year, the U.S. Government invests significant resources in Earth-observations systems to collect data about Earth’s land, oceans, ecosystems, and atmosphere. Together, these systems take the pulse of our planet, providing critical Earth-system data that scientists and analysts can then turn into usable information about climate and weather, disaster events, land-use changes, ecosystem health, natural resources, and more. Ultimately, information and services derived from Earth-observation data—including some as ubiquitous as weather forecasts and GPS-navigation—are used by policy makers, resource managers, business leaders, first-responders, and citizens to make important day-to-day decisions.

But as the Nation’s Earth-observation capacity has grown, so has the complexity of the Earth-observation endeavor. The demand for data, the complexity of the tools required to collect those data, and the sheer amount of data being collected, all are increasing. The National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations aims to help Federal agencies face these challenges by better-organizing existing Earth-observation systems and information, and coordinating plans for future projects. In support of the Obama Administration’s Open Data Initiatives, this Strategy also provides specific guidance on how agencies can make these Earth observations more open and accessible to the public.

Going forward, the Strategy will be used as a basis to inform a broad National Plan for Civil Earth Observations—a blueprint for future investments in US Earth-observing systems, including agency roles and responsibilities, and creative solutions to challenges related to maintaining the Nation’s Earth-observing systems. It will also reinforce the United States’ ongoing commitment to work with international partners through the multi-national Group on Earth Observations (GEO).

The Strategy released today provides an evidence-based framework for routine assessment and planning across the entire family of Federal agencies engaged in Earth observations. It will help agencies compare notes, prioritize activities, and improve the quality of data about the planet—with the ultimate goal of meeting society’s most pressing data and information needs.

Read the Strategy here

Learn more about global Earth-observation efforts here

Peter Colohan is a Senior Policy Analyst at OSTP