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Fact Sheet: Earth Observation System Will Revolutionize Understanding Of How Earth Works

U.S. Spearheads Global Initiative

Over the next decade, a global Earth Observation System will revolutionize our understanding of the Earth and how it works. With benefits as broad as the planet itself, this U.S.-led initiative promises to make peoples and economies around the globe healthier, safer and better equipped to manage basic daily needs. The aim is to make 21st century technology as interrelated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects, providing the science on which sound policy and decision-making must be built.

Building an integrated, comprehensive and sustained global Earth Observation System opens a world of possibilities. Imagine a world in which we could:

Global architecture that reflects how our world actually works is key to making such visions operational.

The Challenge Is To Connect The Scientific Dots

Right now many thousands of individual pieces of technology are gathering earth observations around the globe. They are demonstrating their value in estimating crop yields, monitoring water and air quality, and improving airline safety. U.S. farmers gain about $15 of value for each $1 spent on weather forecasting. Benefits to U.S. agriculture from altering planting decisions are estimated at over $250 million. The annual economic return to the U.S. of NOAA's El Nino ocean observing and forecast system is between 13% and 26%.

But while there are thousands of moored and free floating data buoys in the world's oceans, thousands of land-based environmental stations, and over 50 environmental satellites orbiting the globe, all providing millions of data sets, most of these technologies do not yet talk to each other. Until they do - and all of the individual technology is connected as one comprehensive system of systems -- there will always be blind spots and scientific uncertainty. Just as a doctor can't diagnose health by taking just one measurement, neither can scientists really know what's happening on our planet without taking earth's pulse everywhere it beats -- which is all over the globe.

The challenge is to connect the scientific dots - to build a system of systems that will yield the science on which sound policy must be built.

U.S. and Global Plans

The U.S. is spearheading such a system, in our country and around the world. As a collaborative effort, over 15 federal agencies and several White House offices are developing a Draft Strategic Plan for the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System. After broad public review, the plan will be finalized in late 2004.

On a parallel track, the U.S. is also spearheading the development of a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, of which the U.S. plan will be a key component. Launched at the first-ever global Earth Observation Summit, held on July 31, 2003 in Washington, D.C., the pioneering Group on Earth Observations is now supported by 49 countries, the European Commission, and 29 international organizations. The framework of a 10-year implementation plan was agreed to at the second global Earth Observation Summit, held on April 25, in Tokyo. The plan will be presented to ministers at the third global Earth Observation System, to be held on February 16, 2005, in Brussels.

Mike Leavitt, EPA Administrator, led the U.S. delegation at the summit in Tokyo. With four co-chairs, the Group on Earth Observations is helping to advance the development of the emerging global system. The co-chairs are: Vice Admiral (Ret.) Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Mr. Akio Yuki, of Japan, Deputy Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology; Mr. Achilleas Mitsos, of the European Commission, Director General for Research; and Dr. Rob Adam, of South Africa, Director-General of Science and Technology. South Africa co-chairs on behalf of the developing world, reflecting the vital importance of developing nations to the success of the global system.

Nine Societal Benefits

In the U.S. and globally, the emerging system will focus on nine societal benefit areas:

The benefits of building global observing architecture are enormous.

Substantial Socio-Economic Payoffs


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