Discussion Paper

Ascribing Societal Benefit to Environmental Observations of the Earth from Space: The Multi-angle Imaging Spectroradiometer (MISR)

Mar 8, 2006 | Molly K. Macauley

Abstract

At the request of managers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, this paper describes frameworks for and illustrates societal benefits associated with Earth observations from an experimental satellite known as the Multiangle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR). MISR is a unique camera that images Earth’s atmosphere and other characteristics simultaneously from nine angles. This multiangle perspective enhances our ability to measure and monitor dimensions of climate, weather, air quality, natural hazards, and the biosphere. “Societal benefit” in this paper generally refers to practical applications of data and data products beyond their intrinsic science merit. The paper has two objectives: to demonstrate how several societal benefit frameworks work, and to highlight some of these benefits in the case of MISR. Such consideration of practical benefits is timely, as their realization is becoming a prominent objective of future space remote sensing activities. At least four groups of experts recommend that societal benefit serve as a heavily weighted criterion for prioritizing Earth science research opportunities. The National Academy of Sciences’ forthcoming decadal survey for U.S. Earth science applications from space, the U.S. Climate Change Research Program, the framework for the international Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS), and the new world water program of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) all argue that societal benefit should be a determining factor in selecting the next Earth-observing spacecraft missions and instruments. If these recommendations are implemented, the frameworks and illustrations below may prove useful in guiding benefit descriptions in future space-derived Earth observation programs.