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Mon, May 07, 2012

NRC Reports Warns Of Weather Satellites’ Decline

Violent Weather And Climate Change Forecasting Ability To Diminish

A report sponsored by the National Research Council is warning that the USA’s ability to track tornadoes, forecast hurricanes and study climate change is about to diminish over time. This is due to the number and capability of weather satellites orbiting Earth is on the decline as tight budgets have delayed or eliminated missions to replace them.

The number of observation missions by NASA and NOAA is expected to drop significantly from 23 this year to 6 by 2020. This translates to 110 satellites monitoring Earth activity last year being reduced to less than 30 within 8 years.

USA Today reports that Stacy Boland from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said "Right now, when society is asking us the hardest questions and the most meaningful questions, we're going to be even more challenged to answer them. We'll slowly become data-starved here." Boland is a member of the committee that wrote the report.

The NRC’s report gives NASA credit for finding creative ways to prolong the life of existing satellites and work with international partners to fill in gaps in forecasting, but the effort only goes so far. A similar analysis from five years ago said eight satellites were expected to be in position by 2012; only three are in orbit. Of the five remaining, two failed, one was canceled and two others won’t launch until 2013 at the earliest. 18 missions were recommended in the 2007 analysis but only two are close enough to completion to register launch dates.

Dennis Hartmann, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington warned that the loss of capacity will have "profound consequences on science and society, from weather forecasting to responding to natural hazards."

FMI: www.nationalacademies.org/nrc

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