After years cutting of budgets for tracking global warming, President Bush on Monday proposed more than a $1 billion increase over the next five years for launching more and better Earth-observing satellites.
The president's 2009 budget provides money for six new NASA satellites to watch Earth's changes, costing at least $910 million over the next five years.
It also calls for an increase of more than $200 million for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's weather satellites and climate monitoring, including restoration of key instruments that had been cut from a troubled and delayed weather satellite.
NASA had not approved a new Earth sciences mission in four years, and the number of NASA Earth-observing satellites either in orbit or in the pipeline had dropped from 26 in 2004 to 21 last month.
A critical report last year by the National Academy of Sciences contended the government was unprepared for collecting vital information about global warming. It noted that NASA's Earth sciences research budget had been effectively cut by 30 percent since 2000, and the report prompted changes in the government's Earth observing plans, officials said.
"Think of NASA's blue logo as turning a little bit greener," NASA sciences chief Alan Stern told The Associated Press Monday. "We are amping up our emphasis on Earth sciences."
Two new satellites, listed as top priorities by the National Academy, were included in Bush's budget proposal. One, called SMAP, would map critical soil moisture around the world. The other satellite would be a next-generation ICESat probe, designed to replace an aging spacecraft that monitors shrinking ice worldwide. The NASA budget includes money for four other satellites, but the agency hasn't yet decided which ones to build, Stern said.
New satellites are crucial to see changes in water, soil, ice and air to act as early warnings for global warming changes yet to come, scientists said.
"This is the right time for Earth observations," said White House science adviser Jack Marburger. "Everyone's concerned about climate change."
Richard Anthes, a past president of the American Meteorological Society who co-chaired the National Academy report, called the new budget an improvement, but said it "does not go far enough." He said it is about $850 million short of what the academy recommended over the next three years.
On the energy emissions that cause global warming, the president's proposed budget would cut spending on energy efficiency and renewable energy by $500 million, but would increase spending on "clean coal" technologies for power plants and nuclear power.
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who chairs a special House global warming committee, called the budget an investment in "the dirty fuels of the past."