Well, This is Freaking Wonderful

From the New Scientist apparently the network of satellites that monitor environmental health is detiorating badly.

The US network of satellites monitoring the environmental health of the Earth is on the verge of collapse, according to a highly critical report released on Wednesday by the country’s National Research Council.

Six recent NASA Earth-observing missions have been delayed, scaled back or completely cut. Several of the cancelled missions were follow-ups to successful satellite projects.

The US is probably responsible for about half of the Earth-science satellites currently in orbit, says Richard Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and co-chair of the committee that produced the report.

Most of the document focuses on research satellites, and Anthes warns that, for example, these map bulges in the Earth that may signal impending volcanic eruptions, track the depleted ozone layer, and analyse changes in soil moisture that may precede a famine. Furthermore, if observational satellites are not replaced weather and hurricane forecasting would suffer.

When current satellites retire, scientists fear there may be a serious data gap. “The planning for new missions should probably have been started five to 10 years ago,” says Anthes. “But the community is now waking up.”

As always, our president is on top of the situation:

President George W Bush’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2006 lists Earth studies as one of NASA’s five national objectives. But in that budget, NASA’s Earth science programmes would get $1.37 billion, about 8% less than they received the year before.

Apparently, he’s going to fix the problem by underfunding it – I guess if there is no data all those hard questions about global warming will go away. On the hand, he might be replacing the current program with faith based satellites!

I really don’t get it. One of the main reasons why we enjoy the standard of living that we do is because of the strength of our science and technology and it is vital that we continue to have a strong and vibrant research base. Yet in the last few months we have seen several key areas of research go by the wayside (see here for example). Now I don’t know about y’all but I really don’t want to live in a third world country. Nor do I want my children to live in a third world country. So could we PLEASE go back to doing science. I should also mention Santorum’s attempts to destroy the National Weather Service .

Do you want a seven-day weather forecast for your ZIP code? Or hour-by-hour predictions of the temperature, wind speed, humidity and chance of rain? Or weather data beamed to your cellphone?

That information is available for free from the National Weather Service.

But under a bill pending in the U.S. Senate, it might all disappear.

The bill, introduced last week by Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., would prohibit federal meteorologists from competing with companies such as AccuWeather and The Weather Channel, which offer their own forecasts through paid services and free ad-supported Web sites.
“I believe I’ve paid for that data once. … I don’t want to have to pay for it again,” said Scott Bradner, a technical consultant at Harvard University.

He says that as he reads the bill, a vast amount of federal weather data would be forced offline.

“The National Weather Service Web site would have to go away,” Bradner said. “What would be permitted under this bill is not clear — it doesn’t say. Even including hurricanes.”

And in a bit of hypocrisy:

“It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free,” Santorum said.

AccuWeather has been an especially vocal critic of the weather service and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The company has accused the federal agencies of withholding data on hurricanes and other hazards, and failing to ensure that employees don’t feed upcoming forecasts to favored investors in farming and energy markets.

Which is ironic considering these comapnies get the dat for their forcasts from the National Weather Service.

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