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Office of the Secretary
November 30, 2007
Chris Paolino, 202-208-6416
Madelyn Appelbaum, 202-482-4858
Tabatha Thompson 202-358-3895

Kempthorne-Led U.S. Group on Earth Observations Announces Scientific Initiatives

"Turning Earth into a New Frontier," Secretary says

As head of the U.S. delegation, Secretary Kempthorne announced a number of important scientific advances on behalf of the U.S. Group on Earth Observations, including the North American Drought Monitor program developed by the U.S, Canada and Mexico.
As head of the U.S. delegation, Secretary Kempthorne announced a number of important scientific advances on behalf of the U.S. Group on Earth Observations, including the North American Drought Monitor program developed by the U.S, Canada and Mexico.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today announced a number of important scientific advances on behalf of the U.S. Group on Earth Observations (USGEO), including the North American Drought Monitor program developed by the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Developed initially for use in North America, the monitor is a resource that can be of vital use to other continents as well, Kempthorne said at a press conference in Cape Town, South Africa. The announcement was made during a ministerial summit of the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO). The United States is one of four co-chairs of GEO, which is leading the worldwide effort to develop GEOSS, the Global Earth Observation System of Systems.

“Turning Earth into a new frontier, GEOSS is cutting across borders, sectors and disciplines to open a world of possibilities,” Kempthorne said. “This initiative is enabling scientists, policymakers and the public to envision a world where more people will be fed, more resources will be protected, more diseases will be mitigated or prevented, and more lives will be saved from environmental disasters.”

“Drought has become one of the world’s most costly and far-reaching disasters. Direct costs in the U.S. alone average $6-$8 billion yearly,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., GEO co-chair, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and NOAA administrator. Drought can devastate nations and food security. Less known is drought’s significant impact on disease and power generation. In the last 30 years, there is evidence that the impacts of drought are increasing worldwide.

Another major initiative announced today is SERVIR, which is leveraging satellite resources of the U.S. and other countries to put previously inaccessible Earth observation data and other tools into action in Central America.

Serving all seven Central American countries and southern Mexico, SERVIR is the first regional system of its kind in the world, enabling informed decision-making in areas of great significance, including weather forecasts, disaster management, air pollution, fire monitoring and red tides. SERVIR encourages the standardization of disparate data sets from multiple sources and data-sharing across international boundaries.

AIRNow-International has been developed to bring the immense experience gained in real-time data-sharing, processing and distribution of the U.S. AIRNow program to other parts of the world. With AIRNow, an Air Quality Index makes real-time data meaningful to the general public. As a color-coded scale that ties air quality concentrations to health effects, the Air Quality Index ranges from "good" and "moderate" to "unhealthy for sensitive groups," "unhealthy," "very unhealthy" and "hazardous."

AIRNow-International holds promise of becoming a catalyst for world-wide integration and standardization of real-time air quality data. With agreed upon standards for sharing data, the program can interface seamlessly with existing systems in different countries.

With the challenges of growing global population, urbanization and climate change affecting the development of sustainable agricultural and forestry practices, the U.S. is drawing on satellite data and aerial photography to complement field measurements and other data for the purpose of better evaluating societal needs and resources. Landsat and remotely sensed data, for instance, are being used to evaluate global land conditions and monitor changes that may need immediate intervention.

Cooperative science investigations range from monitoring desert locust activity to assessing crop conditions and estimating food security. By providing global coverage with spatial detail and accuracy not possible with lower-resolution meteorological satellites, Landsat data can be used to measure and monitor agricultural water use and evaluate climate change, among many other uses. The U.S. is committed to continuing the Landsat series of satellites with the Landsat Data Continuity Mission to be launched in July of 2011.

As a milestone in the emerging GEOSS, and complementing other components,
GEONETCAST AMERICAS will provide near-global coverage to more effectively manage a world of resources by helping to make a vast range of vital information more available around the globe. Transmitting information on climate, crops, water quality, air pollution and much more, GEONETCast is a low-cost global, environmental information delivery system by which satellite and in situ data, products and services from GEOSS are transmitted to users through communications satellites.

Using a multicast, access-controlled, broadband capability, GEONETCast provides information essential to protecting lives. It allows for faster decision-making and policy response. The user determines which data are to be received, managed and saved locally. No Internet connection is required. The receiving station is simply a standard personal computer, an off-the-shelf satellite television dish, and a few computer cards. The result is expanded, worldwide dissemination of urgently needed environmental data to users located just about anywhere on the planet – automatically -- 24 hours a day.

The communication satellite for each sector of the globe is provided by one or more GEONETCast partners. Current coverage is based on contributions from the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Chinese Meteorological Administration. As a
GEONETCast partner, the World Meteorological Organization contributes its experience in coordinating globally interoperable telecommunication systems for weather-related information.

More information is online at http://www.noaa.gov/eos.html

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