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NASA's Earth Observing System: The Transition from Climate Monitoring to Climate Change PredictionEarth's 4.5 billion year history is a study in change. Natural geological forces have been rearranging the surface features and climatic conditions of our planet since its beginning. There is scientific evidence that some of these natural changes have not only led to mass extinctions of species (e.g., dinosaurs), but have also severely impacted human civilizations. For instance, there is evidence that a relatively sudden climate change caused a 300-year drought that contributed to the downfall of Akkadia, one of the most powerful empires in the Middle-East region around 2200 BC. More recently, the "little ice age" from 1200-1400 AD forced the Vikings to abandon Greenland when temperatures there dropped by about 1.5 C, rendering it too difficult to grow enough crops to sustain the population. Today, there is compelling scientific evidence that human activities have attained the magnitude of a geological force and are speeding up the rate of global change. For example, carbon dioxide levels have risen 30 percent since the industrial revolution and about 40 percent of the world's land surface has been transformed by humans. We don't understand the cause-and-effect relationships among Earth's land, ocean, and atmosphere well enough to predict what, if any, impacts these rapid changes will have on future climate conditions. We need to make many measurements all over the world, over a long period of time, in order to assemble the information needed to construct accurate computer models that will enable us to forecast climate change. In 1988, the Earth System Sciences Committee, sponsored by NASA, issued a report calling for an integrated, long-term strategy for measuring the vital signs of Earth's climate system. The report urged that the measurements must all be intimately coupled with focused process studies, they must facilitate development of Earth system models, and they must be stored in an information system that ensures open access to consistent, long-term data. This committee emphasized that the only feasible way to collect these consistent, long-term data is through the use of space-based Earth "remote sensors" (instruments that can measure from a distance things like temperature).
Document ID
Document Type
Preprint (Draft being sent to journal)
King, Michael D.
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD United States)
Herring, David D.
(Science Systems and Applications, Inc. Greenbelt, MD United States)
Date Acquired
August 19, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1998
Subject Category
Environment Pollution
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