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Washington File

09 May 2003

NOAA Official Cites Need for Integrated Earth Observing System

(Earth Observation Summit to be held July 31 in Washington) (3830)
Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, says a comprehensive, integrated and
sustained earth observing system is now needed to provide a deeper
understanding of the complex systems of Planet Earth.
In a recent speech at the 2003 World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
Congress in Geneva, Lautenbacher said the forces of societal change
and global development present a number of serious issues for the
world's leaders and decisionmakers, and the future will require
"advancing our existing observing systems to the next level of earth
observation." He called for building "a system of systems" that will
provide the tools needed "to take the pulse of the planet."
Lautenbacher said most people today are aware of the benefits of
satellite, aircraft and ground-based measurements that document
environmental changes. But he said a truly integrated earth
observation system will be needed in the future to provide the sound
science necessary to make policy decisions in the global context of
social and economic change.
"Scientists ... require data and we simply have too many blind spots
such as in our oceans, the carbon cycle, the water cycle and numerous
biological processes," he said. "We need to know much more."
Lautenbacher said he does not underestimate the difficulty of
organizing and building the next level earth observing system, which
he called an enormous challenge that will require governments,
professional societies, international institutions, industry and
academia working together in new ways.
Lautenbacher said the U.S.-hosted Earth Observation Summit to be held
in Washington on July 31 will bring together government ministers of
the G-8 industrial countries plus Russia and other interested nations,
and international institutions such as WMO to discuss the kind of
political commitment that will be needed to build a comprehensive and
integrated observing system for the earth. A working group will also
be established to begin designing an international 10-year plan for
development of the observing system.
Following is the text of Lautenbacher's speech:
(begin text)
2003 WMO Congress
"Three Imperatives for an Integrated Earth Observation System"
Vice Admiral (Ret.) Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr.
U.S. Navy Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans & Atmosphere
NOAA Administrator
Geneva, Switzerland
May 2003
Welcome - Thank You
Good morning. It is a great pleasure and privilege to be with you. I
thank the WMO for inviting me to meet with you here at this most
important WMO Congress. I have been deeply impressed by the
achievements that have resulted from the long-standing partnerships
within the WMO and its member countries over many decades - with one
of the most notable being the WMO Global Observing System for weather
that has brought so many benefits to the nations of the world. In
short, the WMO is a model international organization demonstrating to
the entire world the enormous benefits that can be gained by serious
cooperative efforts.
I am indeed honored to have the opportunity to address an organization
like the WMO, which has a worldwide reputation for being both
productive and effective in meeting its mission. This reputation is
derived in no small part from the dedicated work of all of you - the
members, as well as those of you who have been willing both to serve
and to lead this great organization. I must pay special tribute to two
individuals in particular who have served so well and have provided
decades of service to this organization and the atmospheric science
community -- Dr. John Zillman and Professor Obasi. Dr. Zillman is
completing 8 years as the WMO President, and 30 years of major
contributions to WMO Programs from the Global Atmospheric Research
Program and World Weather Watch to the World Climate Program and the
IPCC. Professor Obasi is completing 20 years as the Secretary General
and tireless architect for weather, climate and water in the Halls of
the UN and with Governments around the world promoting the cause of
National Meteorological and Hydrometeorological Services. On behalf of
the United States and NOAA, I thank you both for your service and
extend to you my very best wishes in the future.
NOAA's Unique Perspective
I speak to you today from a somewhat unique perspective as head of
what might be described as the United States' "operational ecosystem
science agency." The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration is
the largest agency in the U.S. Department of Commerce, 65% in budget
terms, and carries out a daily mission of monitoring and understanding
our oceans, coasts, fisheries and weather, as well as developing
forecasts and disseminating that information for economic and public
benefit. We operate a complex network of observing systems. Our
geostationary and polar-orbiting satellites provide continuous
coverage of the Earth 24-hours a day, and these space assets are
complimented by an extensive surface network of towers, balloons,
buoys, and aircraft. During my tenure as the head of NOAA I have come
to be most impressed by the current and future potential of this
network. Having all of these technical capabilities as well as a
complete roster of first class earth scientists of all disciplines
under one roof offers enormous possibilities. This enables us to
concentrate expertise and technology to address the significant earth
environmental and resource management issues that are emerging on the
horizon of our collective future. I have also come to be most
impressed with NOAA's partnership with the WMO. This partnership has
extended the value of our internal skills to the international level
of collaboration where indeed we all must be to meet the challenges we
face in this century.
Observing Systems - Intro
My remarks today are focused on the importance, the benefits and the
way ahead for what I will refer to as a comprehensive, integrated and
sustained earth observing system. I strongly believe we have reached a
time for an "Earth Science Renaissance" - a new era where human
ingenuity must be applied to developing a deeper understanding of the
complex systems of Planet Earth. That understanding begins with
observations. All of us are aware that not a day passes that we do not
reap the benefits of satellite, aircraft, and ground-based
measurements that document environmental changes across the globe.
These measurements are essential to every nation to assist in such
essential tasks as monitoring crops, exploring the oceans, improving
weather forecasts, or assessing disasters among others. In terms of
weather information, much of the credit goes to the WMO; countries are
experiencing strong benefits thanks to the WMO work on observing
systems and free exchange of data.
However, collectively we can and we must do much more. The forces of
societal change and global development present a number of serious
issues for the world's leaders, decision-makers, and international
institutions such as the WMO. We are confronting a future that will
require advancing our existing observing systems to the next level of
Earth Observation - that is, to build a system of systems that will
give us the tools we need to "take the pulse of the planet."
As we do for weather today, so must we do for climate, for water, for
ecosystem definition and management, for wise use of all earth
resources, for sustainable development and for other newly arising
environmental challenges.
I.  Imperatives for an Integrated Earth Observation System
There are many ways in which we could present a case for a fully
integrated Earth information and data management system, but in the
short time I have today I will focus on a limited selection of these
imperatives organized in three broad categories - they are:
1) social
2) economic, and
3) scientific
Perhaps the most pressing set of social needs stems from a growing
population that will continue to demand access to crucial resources
like clean water and plentiful food. Projections of global population
growth show roughly a doubling, and perhaps more, beyond our current
number of 6 billion people over the next few decades. Trends show that
the concentration of populations is shifting from rural areas to the
urban centers, which will dramatically alter the distribution of
goods, services, and land use. And many of these cities are located in
coastal regions - the very regions we rely upon for healthy fisheries,
and reliable transport and navigation. In the United States, more than
half of the population lives within 50 miles of the coasts - and that
number continues to climb.
With this kind of increased crowding comes increased potential
vulnerability to natural disasters - and we have seen the considerable
damage that is caused by floods and hurricanes, especially those areas
in proximity to coastlines. Under these conditions, we must improve
our understanding of the complex working of earth systems in order to
manage our resources in a more efficient way. Much more can be said
about social imperatives but in the interest of time let us discuss
the second category - economic factors.
Sustainable development has become the popular term for addressing
many of the economic issues that arise from the pressing social
changes that I have described. With shifting concentrations and growth
of population, we see shifts in competition for resources that affect
our economies:
-- Twenty-Five percent of the Earth's biological productivity and an
estimated 80-90% of the global commercial fish catch is concentrated
in the coastal zones - where our populations are rising.
-- For the United States, weather and climate sensitive industries,
both directly and indirectly, account for nearly 1/3 of our nation's
GDP - $2.7 trillion - ranging from agriculture, energy, insurance,
construction, tourism, transportation, to retail and wholesale trade,
and manufacturing.
Statistics compiled from insurance companies from 1950-1999 show that
major natural catastrophes across the globe caused economic losses of
$960 billion. However, citing a statement from Professor Obasi: over
the same period, loss of life in countries with good observation
systems for warning and preparedness has fallen.
I must point out that the benefits from weather forecasting do not end
with early warnings for natural disasters. In pure economic terms,
studies show that national institutions that provide weather, climate,
and water services to their citizens contribute an estimated $20 - $40
billion dollars each year to their national economies.
Clearly, the return on our investments to date for Earth observation
has brought great benefits to the general public.
Imagine then, the return on our investment for a fully networked
observing system of Earth information for all nations ... . Just think
what that return might be ...
We can examine regional or industry specific statistics and uncover
many positive indicators of economic return on investments in
observing systems:
-- The annual economic return to the U.S. economy of the El Niño ocean
observing and forecast system - an international effort I might add --
is between 13 and 26 percent. Any business would be happy to operate
at a return of 5%!
-- Experts estimate that the agricultural sector benefits from weather
services at a cost ratio of about 15 to 1. That is, farmers get about
$15.00 of value out of every dollar spent on forecasting the weather.
-- One new industry - seasonal weather derivatives - in the United
States has seen exchanges between parties at a level of $2 billion per
year in 1998-2000 and $4 billion in 2001. This has resulted in a total
notional value of $11.8 billion in weather risk management contracts
over the past five years. (Weather derivatives are financial contracts
in which money changes hands based on seasonal average temperatures,
degree-days, or precipitation amounts).
It is clear that a comprehensive Earth observation system calibrated
by the relevant measurement standards is essential to the information
infrastructure necessary for sustainable development. It would indeed
be the basis for improving the management of natural resources and use
of the environment that underpin our economies.
However, improved management of resources cannot be achieved without a
much more comprehensive and detailed understanding of the earth's
physical, chemical and biological systems. A truly integrated Earth
observation system will be needed to provide the sound science
necessary to make policy decisions in the global context of social and
economic change. Scientists and the scientific method require data and
we simply have too many blind spots such as in our oceans, the carbon
cycle, the water cycle and numerous biological processes. We need to
know much more ...
With the difficult social and economic issues facing the world, the
time has come to move beyond considering the separate disciplines of
science as "stand alone" components of the big picture of life on
earth. Chemistry, physics, biology, geology, and the variety of new
disciplines that have arisen in academia and industry are all part of
an interrelated system for interpreting the world in which we live. We
understand now that boundaries between scientific disciplines will
always be present. Thus, we need a collaborative approach to bridge
understanding and management at the ecosystem level. Our collective
challenge now is to understand and describe the complexities of this
planet we inhabit - and we turn to science to help us do this.
We are faced with a number of pressing science questions. How are
earth's "life systems" interrelated? In terms of climate, a major need
is to distinguish the human influences from the natural variability.
This calls for an interdisciplinary Earth Science approach. In
addition to the pure science considerations, this is also an
organization and management challenge. We should look at organizing
"earth scientists" similar to the way many of our single discipline
scientific communities have organized so well in the past. It also
means a collective approach to preparing a plan and pressing for the
resources to achieve this giant step forward in advancing the
capability of Earth Science to support the difficult policy issues
facing world leaders. In many respects this is an organizational, not
a technical challenge.
The direction of science today supports this idea. Reductionism, the
approach of "describing the smallest bits possible one part at a time"
- was a rousing success for the double helix (celebrating its golden
anniversary). But now that the sciences are moving towards a systems
focus, this approach is shifting. For complex Earth systems, listing
the parts of a system or organism with its various functions is no
more adequate to understanding the complexity of a living thing than
listing the parts of a submarine, Boeing 777 or Airbus 340 to
understand how they function.
We need to ask how the parts fit together and function as a whole. A
well-connected global integrated information and data management
system is the first step.
I do not underestimate the difficulty of organizing and building the
next level earth observing system - it is an enormous challenge that
will require a profound change in the way we work. Governments,
professional societies, international institutions, industry, and
academia need to work together in new ways but paved by the successes
of the past most of which originated with the WMO.
II. Fitting the pieces together
Existing Pieces
The WMO's World Weather Watch and the nations that contribute to the
network have put in place a system for nations around the world to
receive daily weather analyses and forecasts. The WMO has played a
pioneering role in the global coordination of geophysical and
meteorological experiments, thus laying down the operational
foundations for the worldwide monitoring of the chemical composition
of the atmosphere and of climate variability.
The Global Observing System of the World Weather Watch is a good
example for what we can build from - over 10,000 surface stations
around the globe. This system is focused on weather, but it is also
enhanced by some relatively new initiatives which create the
opportunity for more comprehensive earth observing:
-- the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), which is focused on
oceans, but has a weather and climate component.
-- the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), with weather and
climate components.
-- the Global Atmosphere Watch, which has a climate component but NOT
a weather component, and
-- the Global Terrestrial Observing System
From these additional pieces we see plans already in place for
components like 3000 Argo floats for measuring ocean salinity and
temperature; and 1250 surface drifting buoys; 150 GCOS Upper Air
Network instruments; and 1000 GCOS Surface Network stations ...
And as we seek funding to fulfill these plans, we also have a great
need for funding to sustain and upgrade observing systems over time.
-- For example, preliminary estimates for replacing 333 GCOS Surface
Network sites, 50 radiosonde sites and 3 Global Atmosphere Watch sites
will require at least $42 million over a 10 year period. I am happy to
announce that NOAA's budget allocates $4 million this year to
strengthen the climate observing capabilities under GCOS.
One of the greatest accomplishments of the current systems, pioneered
and advanced by the WMO, is the widespread trust that the general
public has in weather forecasts. Yes, people always seem to have
something to criticize about the accuracy of forecasts, but they DO
rely on this information and use it to make important daily decisions
- as evidenced by the economic value that I cited before. That trust
will be an important element of a future comprehensive earth observing
Such an Integrated Earth Observing System will move us to
accomplishments that go far beyond the next day's weather. El Nino,
for example, provides an excellent preview of what future
environmental services can be:
El Nino
As you know, we have a combination of in situ and space observing
systems, computers and models that we use today to predict El Nino
cycles. This information has significantly increased our skill levels
associated with the forecast of general and seasonal winter and summer
conditions 3 - 6 months in advance. It took intense international
cooperation and 20 years to build, but the major investments in
predictive capability - and the observing platforms that provide the
data - have proven to be of immense economic and social benefit. It is
fairly clear from this demonstrated success that for climate
prediction we need to expand and build upon these pieces to diagnose
mid-term and long-term climate effects.
Because, as much as we know about the Earth's climate system - and we
have achieved a significant base of knowledge thanks to basic
research, critical uncertainties remain. And these uncertainties
derive from the incomplete nature of our Earth observation systems.
And climate is just one piece of the puzzle. We need to expand our
horizons to include the sensors necessary for unraveling the mysteries
of the wide variety of physical chemical, geological and biological
-- What are the missing pieces?
Recently NOAA has established an observing system architecture effort.
The first step was to inventory all of our observing networks. We
found that we have 99 separate observing systems measuring 521
different environmental parameters. We also found that we have room to
further optimize the system. We are now in the process of identifying
where duplication exists, and where critical gaps remain.
Understanding and cataloguing user requirements will be a major part
of this effort. If we can develop an integrated system, fully wired
and networked together without duplication, we then have the freedom
to install needed new observing stations as well as adding new sensors
to current platforms. In addition and most importantly, user data will
be easier to process, distribute, and archive in an accessible and
affordable manner.
NOAA applauds similar efforts underway at the WMO, such as the
"Redesign the Global Observing System" activity - and we are
participating in this important exercise. This is exactly the kind of
leadership that is needed internationally to move to next level of
observing system achievement.
-- I would be remiss if I did not mention that perhaps the most
important, but easily neglected components of an integrated
information system for Planet Earth are the areas of data management
and computing capacity. In order to realize the full benefits of an
integrated system, we need the capacity to exchange, store, and
disseminate data and information on a free and open basis. We also
need supercomputers that have the capability to model the complex
ecosystem-based processes that define our world. We certainly applaud
the latest developments in this field, such as Japan's Earth
Again, I am pleased to note that the WMO is out front in paving the
way through the "Future WMO Information System" initiative, and we at
NOAA are paying close attention to this activity.
III. The solution - a true integrated Earth observation and
information system
Earth Observation Summit
In furtherance of the objective of achieving an integrated and
sustained earth observing system, I am pleased to announce that the
U.S. will host an Earth Observation Summit on July 31 in Washington DC
to bring together Government Ministers of the G-8 and other interested
nations, as well as established international organizations including
the WMO to promote the concepts I have discussed with you today. The
summit will provide a chance to explore and discuss what is needed to
commit on the political level to building a comprehensive, integrated
and sustained observing system for the Earth. In addition to the
Ministerial level meeting, the plan is to establish an international
Working Group which will meet the next day. This group will begin
development of an international ten-year plan for fielding such a
system of systems.
The United States believes that the combined global observations of
terrestrial, ocean, and atmospheric phenomena around the world will
move us closer to providing "Sound Science for Sound Decisions" to our
national and international decision-makers.
The driving social, economic and scientific imperatives that I have
described put us in a race against time. We need to take effective
collective action. Across the ages, the human species has endeavored
to predict the future - and thanks to the WMO and the national
partnerships represented here today we have reached a great measure of
success with weather forecasts. It is time to take this model and move
forward into the full range of earth sciences data observation. The
task is difficult, but the stakes are high and the benefits will
accrue many-fold to all the nations of the world.
Just as medical doctors must understand the pulse, temperature and
blood pressure of their patient, as well as the interrelation of those
vital signs to make an accurate diagnosis - we must also look at the
Earth as a complex and interrelated system.
We have an historic opportunity before us to truly "take the pulse of
Planet Earth" - and address the significant challenges of the 21st
century. I look forward to the WMO playing a significant role in
meeting this challenge. With your experience and established record of
success in building observing systems, you have the ability and the
mandate to play a key role and serve as a catalyst for this next level
of achievement for the future of humankind. Success is essential.
Failure is not an option.
Thank you for your time and attention.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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