Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The satellite gap

In case you missed it, check out this scary report about the deterioration and likely failure of the weather satellites that have helped warn coastal areas about when and where hurricanes were likely to strike. Marty Merzer and The Miami Herald are doing us a real service by drawing attention to the concerns at the National Academy of Sciences -- that valuable forecast tools such as the QuikSCAT shown here may not be repaired or replaced before they wear out. Here's Merzer's article, and here is the document at the core of his reporting.

Otis Brown, dean of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, underlined the gravity of the situation with his own opinion piece in the Herald's oped page. He wrote, in part:
Nearly half of the country's environmental satellites -- most past their estimated life expectancy -- may stop working by 2010, which could lead to a loss of data used to study climate change, predict natural disasters and monitor land use. And, while the potential risk to residents in an area prone to natural disasters and in great need of this information is readily apparent, this is clearly not a budgetary priority for the agencies that maintain the current satellites and plan for new, equally (if not more) effective ones.

The two-year study contained in this report delineates how NASA's Earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000, with more funding reductions planned as its priority missions of manned trips to Mars and a station on the moon take further hold. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration likewise faces funding challenges with its National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System that is now three years behind schedule and $3 billion over budget.

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