Thursday, March 30, 2023

Joe Biden has the opportunity to strengthen our view of Earth from space

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But every year Congress has stepped in to save these missions. OCO-3 was launched on time in 2019. PACE and CLARREO have suffered budget cuts but are still expected to launch in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

“I’m happy to say it hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be,” says Andrew Kruczkiewicz, a researcher at Columbia University who uses Earth observation data to assess disaster risk. “Maybe it’s just because the expectations were [that things were] is going to be much worse.

The administration has tried other tactics to weaken the impact of climate research. Scientists were forced to stop using phrases such as “climate change” and “global warming” in any grant proposal or project description. And some institutions, like NOAA, were filled with climate critics who minimization of climate change.

So the most immediate steps the Biden administration could take from day one would be to free scientists from any language restrictions and assure Earth observation mission teams that they have management support for them. plan long-term investigations in order to get the most out of these missions. .

The short steps

Increased funding would help broaden the reach of these types of programs to gather more valuable information. More money could also be used to plan and launch new missions. Georgia Tech’s space policy expert Mariel Borowitz thinks it might be worth taking inspiration from the European Space Agency and starting an Earth observation program similar to Copernicus, which is responsible for studying global climate trends over a very long period. This could be a nice contrast to NASA’s current approach of using stealth missions to investigate specific research questions in just a few years.

Other trends under Trump’s watch cannot and probably should not be reversed, but they will require a response. For example, all of the programs run by private companies like Planet Labs (which operates hundreds of EO satellites) have found more room for growth than ever in the past four years. New companies are not only building their own in-orbit flight sensors and hardware, but also process data and broadcast images. NASA still has the largest Earth observation system in the world and its data is free to everyone. But there may be communities or regions of the world whose only access to relevant data may come from private parties who charge for it.

The Biden administration could take steps to ensure free and open access to what NASA collects at all times, and it could also consider engaging directly with private companies. “There is already a pilot program launched whereby NASA purchases data from commercial entities under a license that allows them to share that data with researchers or a wider audience,” Borowitz says. This can be a good model that Biden can constantly rely on to help a private sector grow while giving less wealthy parties access to critical data.

“EO data is different from other types of data,” says Kruczkiewicz. “In some ways, this is one of the most preferred types of data.” Maintaining its status as something closer to a public good can ensure that people continue to treat it as privileged.

But there are other big questions about the future of Earth observation research that the scientific community is ready to answer. These have less to do with correcting the impact of the Trump years and more to do with understanding how we can best apply the results of climate science in the real world.

“I think we have the opportunity to rethink things,” says Kruczkiewicz. “The last four years have forced us to think about not only how data is produced, but also who has access to it, how it is disseminated, what are some of the unintended consequences for these programs and how far we should be. responsible as scientists. “

Beyond the missions

It is not enough, however, to spend more money on Earth Science and EO programs. First, “these satellite programs take an incredibly long time to develop, fund, and implement, so their timing is usually outside of the duration of individual administrations,” says Curtis Woodcock, an Earth scientist at the University. from Boston. The effects of the earth science cuts at NASA during the administration of George W. Bush are still being felt, Woodcock points out: “In many ways, NASA’s earth science has not fully developed. since restored. To restore Earth science to rigorous levels, we need a long-term plan that will go beyond Biden’s first (and possibly only) term.

Second, there is already a lot Earth observation data that we can already use – we just need better processing tools. “I’m concerned that the gap between the availability of data and the use of that data is growing because we have so much data now,” says Kruczkiewicz. “We don’t necessarily need to develop a new technology to have new sensors or a new spatial resolution to solve flooding problems.”

Rather, the types of technologies that federal officials may want to start investing in are data processing and task systems that can analyze and make sense of the huge amount of images and measurements taken. These tools could, for example, illustrate which communities might need more resources and attention in the event of a flood or drought.

Third, we need to start thinking about how climatology is applied in the field. For example, Kruczkiewicz’s work is to use NASA satellite data to understand the risks that vulnerable populations and communities face as a result of disasters such as floods and forest fires, as well as issues related to preparation and response to such events. “I think we need to rethink the stories we tell about the people on Earth benefiting from EO data,” he says. “It’s not just about throwing flood cards over the fence and hoping people will use them.” The Biden administration could start taking steps to empower humanitarian organizations able to communicate what OE results mean, how they can be turned into practical strategies, and how data could help resolve social inequalities exacerbated by climate impacts.

Other institutions outside of the United States have done a better job of familiarizing themselves with this type of perspective. Dan Osgood, an economist at Columbia University, uses satellite data for insurance programs that pay benefits to African farmers facing the threat of crop losses due to climate change. He and his team are already learning how farmers are using these payments to invest in higher yield farming approaches. This is an example of how OT data not only tells us something new about the climate, but can be used to create societal change.

“The US government used to invest in us to try to do this kind of validation,” he says. “And now, for over four years, it’s mainly European governments. ESA data is much more freely available, and they’ve invested in us to be able to use it. European products are often easier to use and in many cases less problematic. (Osgood notes that much of the change he describes came from its late beginnings in Barack Obama’s administration.)

Many of the things Biden can take on Earth observation could be most helpful just by setting the tone for how the United States wants to treat climate data. Encouraging open access, so that information can be shared with the world, could go a long way in reorienting the United States as a leader against climate change.


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