Cutbacks in US Earth programmes may impede climate studies, say experts

Cutbacks in US Earth programmes may impede climate studies, say experts

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USA, 16 January 2007 – A two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, determined that NASA’s Earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. It stands to fall further as funding shifts to plans for a manned mission to the moon and Mars. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, has experienced enormous cost overruns and schedule delays with its premier weather and climate mission.

As a result, a panel of experts said, the United States will not have the scientific information it needs in the years ahead to analyze severe storms and changes in Earth’s climate unless programmes are restored and funding made available.

The budget for Earth science programmes for NASA and NOAA increased substantially in the 1990s, and that resulted in an unprecedented number of weather- and climate-monitoring missions in the past five years. But the report found that, as the current satellites deteriorate, the number of space-based Earth-observation missions will decline steadily through 2010, as will the number of instruments in space to gather weather, climate and environmental data.

Officials from NASA and NOAA said yesterday that they had just received the report, which was jointly commissioned by the two agencies to prioritize their efforts over the next 10 years. “This first decadal report will be valuable in our strategic planning within our Science Mission Directorate,” NASA said in a statement. “NASA supports the Administration’s science policies and priorities, including the way forward on Earth observing systems.”

NOAA’s Administrator, retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., added: “We will be working closely with NASA to assess how our two agencies can best address recommendations. . . . Input from the scientific community is critical and this report will help us.”

According to the report, NASA has invested about $2 billion annually in Earth-monitoring missions from 1996 to 2001, but that figure, when adjusted for inflation, started a decline in 2002 and is projected to be $1.5 billion annually from 2006 through 2010. Since President Bush announced plans in 2004 to return astronauts to the moon and later send them to Mars, many involved with the NASA science program have warned that their efforts are being curtailed, and will be restricted further in the future.

Moore and Anthes said that about $500 million a year is needed to restore NASA’s Earth science program to health — essentially a return to the budgets during the Clinton administration.