‘Critical’ NASA Climate Missions Targeted in Budget Cuts

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‘Critical’ NASA Climate Missions Targeted in Budget Cuts

Carbon dioxide concentrations across the globe as measured by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 in May 2016. (Credit: NASA)

In his most recent weekly address, President Trump praised NASA’s “mission of exploration and discovery” and its ability to allow mankind to “look to the heavens with wonder and curiosity.” But left out of his statements was the work NASA does to peer back at our home planet and unravel its many remaining mysteries — a mission targeted for cuts in his administration’s budget outline released earlier this monthn a budget otherwise scant on specifics, four climate-related NASA satellite missions were proposed for termination, including one already in orbit.

Those missions are aimed not only at helping scientists learn more about key parts of the climate system and how global warming is changing them, but also at practical matters such as monitoring the health of the nation’s coastal waters and providing earlier warnings of drought stress in crops.

While the budget outline is not the final say, as Congress ultimately controls the purse strings, the proposed cuts are indicative of an "undeclared war on climate"

The proposed cancellations mesh with statements made by Trump, administration officials and some members of Congress who have argued that NASA should be focused on outer space and leave the job of observing Earth to other agencies. But NASA’s unparalleled experience and expertise in developing new observational technologies and launching satellites makes it a crucial part of the Earth science enterprise, many experts say.

“I don’t see anybody else who could fill that gap,” Adam Sobel, a Columbia University climate scientist, said.

While the budget outline is not the final say, as Congress ultimately controls the purse strings, the proposed cuts are indicative of an “undeclared war on climate,” as David Titley, director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State and a retired rear admiral in the Navy, put it. Eliminating the proposed missions and other climate science funding to save even a few hundred million dollars is short-sighted, given the long tails of climate change’s expected impacts in the U.S. and around the world, several scientists said.

“I think that those are very, very short-term gains that ignore a coming threat” that will endanger American lives and the economy “and not in 20 years, but now,” Kim Cobb, a coral expert at Georgia Tech, said.

“It is shortsighted and not what made our nation great,” Gabe Vecchi, a climate scientist at Princeton University, said. “It is only through targeted research and sustained monitoring that we can expect to be leaders in weather and climate prediction and understanding.”

The Missions

While NASA’s overall budget of about $19 billion was cut by less than 1 percent, Earth sciences research was targeted for a larger share of the proposed cuts, losing about 5 percent of its roughly $2 billion budget. The proposed budget, the outline says, “focuses the Nation’s efforts on deep-space exploration rather than Earth-centric research.”

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The cuts weren’t as deep as some climate scientists and advocates had feared, but many were surprised that particular missions were singled out.

“I did not expect that the president would specifically point at missions that he would like to be eliminated,” Emmanuel Boss, the science team lead of the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud and ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission, said.

PACE and the other three missions singled out — the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3, the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory (CLARREO), and the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) — cover different aspects of the climate system and are in differing stages of planning and readiness. But all are missions that scientists have been trying to get off the ground for many years, to plug gaps in our understanding of Earth’s complex climate and how it is changing.

Read the full story at Climate Central.

Andrea Thompson

Andrea Thompson is a Senior Science Writer at Climate Central, focusing on extreme weather and climate change.

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