Press Release

RFF Scholar Suggests a Way Forward for Earth Science

Apr 6, 2007

RFF Scholar Suggests a Way Forward for Earth Science

Senior Fellow Molly Macauley Served on National Research Council Report Committee

WASHINGTON, DC -- Resources for the Future Senior Fellow Molly Macauley and other colleagues in the Earth sciences community have called for a National Earth-Information Initiative, to be implemented now and completed by 2010. The initiative would link scientific, community, and political vision to radically transform how we pursue and use Earth information for managing our natural resources and the environment.

Their recommendation follows their multi-year service on the National Research Council (NRC) committee that released the seminal report, Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond, in January, 2007.

Macauley and her coauthors - including Roberta Balstad, director of Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network and co-director of the university's Center for Research on Environmental Decisions; Anthony Janetos, director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute; William Gail, director of strategic development at Microsoft's Virtual Earth; and Neal Lane, former presidential science advisor and director of the National Science Foundation, now a professor and senior fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University - outlined their ideas in two opinion pieces recently published in Space News (A National Earth-Information Initiative, April 2, 2007; Changing Our Perspective, March 29, 2007).


Link to Report

Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond

Earth information includes the vast array of air, water, land use, agriculture, climate, and public health data collected by the Earth-observing satellites of the United States and other countries. The initiative, which could be a government interagency activity or a foundation-funded program, would use the next three years to further "the unparalleled visualization of Earth and human interaction with it, provided uniquely by observations from space."

Macauley gives examples ranging from monitoring the effectiveness of hundreds of international environmental agreements to depicting in 3D the effects of lawn fertilizer applied by households in Pennsylvania on the vast, six-state watershed of the Chesapeake Bay.

A particularly critical use of the data will be monitoring the response of climate to institutional and management changes proposed for dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, such as cap and trade or carbon taxes, should they become implemented in the United States. These kinds of uses of Earth-observations data are inhibited by a variety of institutional shortcomings in management and funding of data applications. The initiative would seek to build a public and private governance infrastructure to fully exploit the potential of space-derived Earth information.


Link to Oped
A National Earth-Information Initiative
Space News
April 2, 2007

In related work, Macauley has recently been chosen as a lead author and technical editor of a year-long climate science study on the uses and limitations of Earth science observations in supporting decisions in public health, air quality, agricultural efficiency, energy, and water. The report is part of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and is undertaken on behalf of NASA, NOAA, DoE, EPA, USAID, and USGS. Other lead authors with whom Macauley is working include David Renne of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Daewon Byun of the University of Houston, Holly Hartmann of the University of Arizona, and Greg Glass of Johns Hopkins University.


Resources for the Future, an independent and nonpartisan Washington, DC, think-tank, seeks to improve environmental and natural resource policymaking worldwide through objective social science research of the highest caliber.


Link to Oped
Changing Our Perspective
Space News
29 March, 2007


Founded in 1952, Resources for the Future is an independent and nonpartisan institution.