The U.S. satellite system that monitors Earth’s environment and climate needs an urgent upgrade or scientists will lose much of their ability to predict events like hurricanes, the National Research Council said in a report released Monday.
The report said maintaining current observation and predictive abilities will cost about $3 billion a year from 2010 to 2020 if its recommendations are carried out, but action needs to be taken soon.
“This is only about $10 for every American. But it will probably save more money than it costs in the long run,” said report co-chair Richard Anthes of the Colorado-based University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.
There are 29 Earth observation missions run by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Missions usually involve just one satellite but sometimes use more.
Stacey Boland of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said if little or nothing was done the number of missions would fall to 17 by 2010 and to five by 2020.
“With our proposals there will be 19 missions in 2010, and 17 by 2020,” she told Reuters.
Of pressing concern is QuikSCAT, a NASA mission that measures sea surface roughness, which enables scientists to measure sea surface winds. This is a crucial tool in forecasting weather events like hurricanes or the El Nino phenomenon.
“That mission could become inoperable at any time,” Anthes said.
Other missions that must be replaced include Landsat, which measures changes in vegetation. It is used to track rates of deforestation and to calculate crop estimates.
The report said it is vital to have continuous records and data with no gaps.
“Say your blood pressure has been gradually going up month to month, and then someone took away your monitor as you were approaching a dangerous level — that gap in your knowledge could be fatal,” Anthes said.
The report was unveiled at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in San Antonio.
This report includes information from Reuters and msnbc.com.