August 01, 2011

Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security

By Christine Parthemore and Will Rogers

The United States depends on satellite systems for managing the unconventional challenges of the 21st century in ways that are rarely acknowledged. This is particularly true for satellites that monitor climate change and other environmental trends, which, in the words of the Department of Defense’s (DOD’s) 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, “will shape the operating environment, roles, and missions” of DOD.  According to Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security, "By 2016, only seven of NASA’s current 13 earth monitoring satellites are expected to be operational, leaving a crucial information gap that will hinder national security planning."

Losing satellite-based earth monitoring capabilities will affect U.S. national security. The Department of Defense relies on earth monitoring satellites for up-to-date weather conditions and forecasting.  The U.S. Agency for International Development requires remote sensing technologies to efficiently allocate U.S. food assistance and to provide data for its Famine Early Warning System. The State Department addresses environment-focused foreign policy priorities such as Arctic issues, climate change, ocean policy and resource scarcity using earth monitoring systems.  

Authors Christine Parthemore and Will Rogers acknowledge that while the U.S. government should replace the earth monitoring systems now in decline, the current political and fiscal environments make it less likely for Congress to appropriate funds to do so.  Given this reality, Parthemore and Rogers recommend that policymakers should use existing systems more efficiently, improve information sharing among interagency partners and leverage international partners' investments in their own systems in order to boost U.S. climate and environmental data collection capabilities. 

  • Christine Parthemore

  • Will Rogers

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