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September 5, 2008 Vol. 1, Issue 8


A robust, comprehensive Earth observation system will provide the United States with monitoring capabilities that are vital to the nation’s economy and security, according to a recent report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The capacity for humans to grow and thrive is in part dependent upon our ability to monitor, assess, and forecast global changes in environment. Earth observation systems enable us to respond quickly to change, track and interpret the impact of past, present, and future policy choices, and to monitor and comprehend the development of instabilities within regions or nations.

“Earth Observations and Global Change,” a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), notes that while the current U.S. Earth monitoring system is effective, it has several limitations. The report’s authors recommend the following to maximize the efficiency of the US Earth observation system:

  • Long-term continuous data acquisition is required to provide needed information to better determine how and why the Earth is changing.
  • Annual funding should be doubled, from $2.5 billion to approximately $5 billion, to meet broader applications.
  • A unified governing structure is needed to manage responsibilities and budgets, as the current structure in which various Earth observation programs are scattered among multiple federal agencies does not support a dynamic and integrated system.

The authors call for the United States to work with the private sector, academia, the public, and international partners to bring this system to fruition. They note that although there have been successful public-private partnerships based on weather and land-imaging data purchased from government sources, the United States has not been particularly successful at commercializing Earth observation products in the past. To stimulate greater private sector involvement, the authors suggest that the U.S. should offer no- or low-cost Earth observations data — as it has in the past — to support development of private-sector products, thereby spurring corporate commitment to improved Earth observation systems.

Read the full CSIS report.

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