Earth Observation Scientists Taking Pulse of the Planet

TOKYO, Japan, April 27, 2004 (ENS) - Ministers of 47 nations and the European Commission have adopted a 10 year plan to develop a global climate observation system that will provide an overview of the Earth's atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial ecosystems. The decision, taken at the Earth Observation Summit II in Tokyo, is the culmination of a year of international scientific meetings and planning sessions.

Since the first Earth Observation Summit in Washington, DC last July, an intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations has drawn up a System of Systems plan to pool data from thousands of land, sea and space based observation facilities in hopes of better predicting environmental changes and coping with natural disasters.

"The international community has to accurately evaluate what is happening around the globe before we can take appropriate steps," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in his address to the summit participants.

"Through the power of science and technology, we will be able to achieve both environmental protection and economic development," Koizumi said.


Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at the 2003 G8 Summit in Evian, France where the Earth Observation system was launched (Photo courtesy G8)
The Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology announced that it will start work on a system of buoys to measure the volume of carbon dioxide absorbed through oceans, data which will allow scientists to predict the rate of global warming more accurately. The data would be transmitted via satellite to a land observation center for analysis.

Once the buoys are developed, they can be distributed throughout the oceans as part of the new Earth observation system, Japanese officials said.

Starting with individual scientific efforts such as the buoys and other technologies now in place in participating countries, the Earth observation system will allow the exchange of information on oceans, forests, atmosphere and climate patterns to gain a more complete picture of global climate change.

The participating nations seek to save billions of dollars and lives lost from drought and diseases such as SARS, West Nile virus, or malaria by pinpointing where the next outbreak is likely to hit.

“Collectively we’re pioneering the framework of a comprehensive global Earth observation system of systems that will be as interrelated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects,“ said Retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, U.S. undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

“The result will be sound science on which sound policy must be built," Lautenbacher said. "For the first time we’ll able to take the pulse of the planet.”


NASA satellite data of Earth's temperature readings right at the land surface show a warming trend. (Image by Robert Simmon, based on data provided by Menglin Jin, University of Maryland)
Lautenbacher said the system will allow real time monitoring and forecasting of the water quality in every watershed and accompanying coastal areas, and in addition forecasting severe winter weather will be more accurate.

Lautenbacher is one of four co-chairs of the Group on Earth Observations. Other co-chairs are Achilleas Mitsos, director general for research, European Commission; Akio Yuki, deputy minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, Japan; and Rob Adam, director-general of the department of science and technology, South Africa.

Other groups of scientists are already working on developing parts of the system. More than 100 European and Chinese scientists met today on the island city of Xiamen to commence the Dragon Programme - a wide ranging research initiative employing European Space Agency's Earth Observation data to focus on China.

China's size makes satellites particularly useful for its study. The 9.6 million square kilometers of Chinese territory range from Himalayan peaks to tropical lowlands and are inhabited by one in every five humans alive today.

The Dragon Programme is a joint undertaking between the European Space Agency, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and the National Remote Sensing Centre of China (NRSCC). It is intended to stimulate increased scientific cooperation in the field of Earth observation science and technology between China and Europe.

Today is the start of a three day symposium in Xiamen formally launching the initiative. Zhang Guocheng, deputy director-general of NRSCC said, "Remote sensing technology has a wide amount of potential applications, including the evaluation and monitoring of resources and responding to natural disasters."

Around the globe scientists have been gathering data that will now be shared through the Earth observation system of systems. The New Zealand research vessel Tangaroa spent the month from March 18 to April 14 out on the Southern Ocean engaged in one of the largest oceanographic research surveys ever undertaken. The 30 scientists on board, from 17 organizations in six countries, studied how the ocean controls climate through the uptake and release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.


The dark blue patch is the Arctic ozone hole. (Photo courtesy NASA)
Another international cooperative study, this one involving scientists from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) quantifies, for the first time, the relationship between Arctic ozone loss and changes in the temperature of Earth’s stratosphere.

The results indicate the loss of Arctic ozone due to the presence of industrial chlorine and bromine in Earth’s atmosphere may be sensitive to subtle changes in stratospheric climate. Such ozone depletion leads to increased exposure to harmful, ultraviolet solar radiation at Earth’s surface, NASA said Monday.

Dr. Markus Rex of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Potsdam, Germany, led the study which included scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The researchers analyzed more than 2,000 balloon measurements collected over the past 12 years. They found the amount of ozone loss occurring in any given Arctic winter is closely related to the amount of air exposed to temperatures low enough to support the formation of polar stratospheric clouds. Reactions occurring on the surface of these clouds convert chlorine from unreactive forms to other forms that quickly deplete ozone.

According to the study, the sensitivity of Arctic ozone to temperature is three times greater than predicted by atmospheric chemistry models. This leads to the possibility decreases in stratospheric temperatures may have larger impacts on future Arctic ozone concentrations than have been expected in the past.

The Earth Observation Summit in Tokyo fulfills a commitment made last year by the G8 and the 10 year plan will be considered at this year's G8 meeting in June in Georgia.