updated 4/20/2005 9:03:58 AM ET 2005-04-20T13:03:58

Imagine the planet wired for a nearly continuous readout on its vital signs, shared by all.  That's the essence of a White House plan announced Monday.

The new "Strategic Plan for the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System" envisions linking nearly 60 nations within a decade to gather and share information from satellites, ocean buoys, weather stations and other surface and airborne instruments.

"Whether it's agriculture, or land use, or water planning, or transportation, or energy, there's a lot of data about the environment that has to be collected," said John Marburger III, President Bush's top science adviser.

Marburger said "a surprisingly successful enterprise" at collecting and sharing data already is under way as the result of a United Nations summit on sustainable development in South Africa in 2002.

Many of the measurements already are being gathered.  The new effort will focus on linking them in what Marburger called a planetary "system of systems."  He released a 150-page plan that cites benefits such as improved weather forecasting and climate modeling, better estimates of crop yields and energy resources, and more knowledge about air and water quality.

As an examples of benefits, officials said better and shared data could save the United States as much as $1 billion in electricity costs each year if winter forecasts prove to be just 1 degree more accurate.  As much as $1.7 billion of the annual $4 billion cost of weather-related aviation delays could be saved with better information, they added.

Data tracking disease outbreaks such as malaria or West Nile virus would enable officials to minimize their impact as they spread.

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, a Commerce Department undersecretary who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said a key step is getting more businesses involved in the project.  "This depends on a lot more people than just the government," he said.

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