BOX 1.1

Statement of Task

This study documents specific scientific accomplishments resulting from the nation’s research and development of space-based Earth observational capabilities. The study committee sought broad community input to identify examples of important accomplishments, in part by drawing on the expertise of the various entities within the National Academies and also involving those scientific communities that develop and use remote sensing observations of the Earth.

The study’s main objective is to document, using examples and explanation, how satellite observations uniquely contributed to scientific understanding of the atmosphere, ocean, land, biosphere, and cryosphere. As secondary objectives, the study also addresses how satellite observations have contributed to the ability to predict variations in the Earth system (e.g., weather, climate variability, water availability, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis) and comments on opportunities to improve future Earth science research enabled by the vantage point of space.

To the extent possible, the committee organizes its comments to correspond to NASA’s seven Earth science foci: (1) atmospheric composition; (2) carbon cycle and ecosystems; (3) climate variability and change; (4) earth surface and interior structure; (5) weather; (6) water and energy cycles; and (7) Sun-Earth connection.

  • members of relevant boards within the National Academies,

  • recipients of the quarterly newsletter of the National Academies’ Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, and

  • members of relevant scientific e-mail distribution lists.

This report begins with a brief early history of the evolution of Earth observations from space (Chapter 2). In subsequent chapters the committee presents examples of major scientific accomplishments that have transformed and contributed to the Earth sciences. The committee considered as major accomplishments only scientific advances that resulted in a new discovery, transformative science, proving or disproving an important theory, opening new major research venues, or providing significant societal benefits. These accomplishments are described in Chapters 3 to 11. In the final chapter (Chapter 12), the committee summarizes conclusions drawn from these major accomplishments and highlights opportunities to improve future Earth science research enabled from the vantage point of space.

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