17 January 2007
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
Published: January 16, 2007
The nation’s ability to track retreating polar ice and shifting patterns of drought, rainfall and other environmental changes is being put “at great risk” by faltering efforts to replace aging satellite-borne sensors, a panel convened by the country’s leading scientific advisory group said.
By 2010, the number of operating Earth-observing instruments on NASA satellites, most of which are already past their planned lifetimes, is likely to drop by 40 percent, the National Research Council of the National Academies warned in a report posted on the Internet yesterday at www.nas.edu.
The weakening of these monitoring efforts comes even as many scientists and the Bush administration have been emphasizing their growing importance, both to clarify risks from global warming and natural hazards and to track the condition of forests, fisheries, water and other resources.
Several prominent scientists welcomed the report, saying that while the overall tightening of the federal budget played a role in threatening Earth-observing efforts, a significant contributor was also President Bush’s recent call for NASA to focus on manned space missions.
“NASA has a mission ordering that starts with the presidential goals — first of manned flight to Mars, and second, establishing a permanent base on the Moon, and then third to examine Earth, which puts Earth rather far down on the totem pole,” said F. Sherwood Rowland, an atmospheric chemist at the University of California, Irvine, who shared a Nobel Prize for identifying threats to the ozone layer.
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