Appendix C
A Complementary National Research Council Study on Earth Science and Applications from Space

As noted in the Preface, a separate National Research Council study titled “Earth Science and Applications from Space” and commonly known as the “decadal survey” (NRC, 2007; http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11820.html), was conceived at about the same time that the present study was funded and begun. The decadal survey was much broader and encompassed the totality of the geosciences, including not only water resources and the global hydrologic cycle but also land-use change, ecosystem dynamics, biodiversity, weather, climate, human health, and the solid Earth sciences. The decadal survey recommended that “the nation should execute… an integrated in situ and space-based observing system” and noted specifically that “[t]he scientific challenge posed by the need to observe the global water cycle is to integrate in situ and space-borne observations to quantify the key water cycle state variables and fluxes.” In practice, however, it focused on space-based observations with little attention to the details of in-situ measurements. At its heart was a list of 17 recommended satellite missions to support national needs for research and monitoring of the Earth system during the decade 2005-2015.

The four highest ranked water cycle-related missions of the decadal survey, all of which were incorporated into the 17 recommended missions, were

  1. The approved, but delayed, Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Mission, which would provide diurnal estimates of precipitation at a spatial resolution sufficient to resolve major spatial variations over land and sea;

  2. A soil moisture mission that would provide estimates of soil moisture over most of the Earth;

  3. A surface-water mission that would provide observations of the variability of water stored in lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, and river channels, and would support estimates of river discharge; and



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Appendix C A Complementary National Research Council Study on Earth Science and Applications from Space As noted in the Preface, a separate National Research Council study titled “Earth Science and Applications from Space” and commonly known as the “de- cadal survey” (NRC, 2007; http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11820.html), was con- ceived at about the same time that the present study was funded and begun. The decadal survey was much broader and encompassed the totality of the geo- sciences, including not only water resources and the global hydrologic cycle but also land-use change, ecosystem dynamics, biodiversity, weather, climate, human health, and the solid Earth sciences. The decadal survey recommended that “the nation should execute. . . an integrated in situ and space-based observing system” and noted specifically that “[t]he scientific challenge posed by the need to observe the global water cycle is to integrate in situ and space-borne observations to quan- tify the key water cycle state variables and fluxes.” In practice, however, it fo- cused on space-based observations with little attention to the details of in-situ measurements. At its heart was a list of 17 recommended satellite missions to support national needs for research and monitoring of the Earth system during the decade 2005-2015. The four highest ranked water cycle-related missions of the decadal survey, all of which were incorporated into the 17 recommended missions, were 1. The approved, but delayed, Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Mission, which would provide diurnal estimates of precipitation at a spatial resolu- tion sufficient to resolve major spatial variations over land and sea; 2. A soil moisture mission that would provide estimates of soil moisture over most of the Earth; 3. A surface-water mission that would provide observations of the variabil- ity of water stored in lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, and river channels, and would support estimates of river discharge; and 191

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192 Appendix C 4. A cold season mission that would estimate the water storage of snow packs, especially in spatially heterogeneous mountainous regions that are the source areas for many of the world’s most important rivers. Taken together, these four missions would form the basis for a coordinated effort to observe most components of the surface-water cycle globally. In addition to these four, other missions recommended in NRC (2007) pri- marily for other areas of geoscience, but with direct application to water science and applications, included missions that would estimate water vapor transport, sea ice and glacier mass balance, groundwater and ocean mass, and inland and coastal water quality. Details of these missions are given in NRC (2007). These recommended missions would clearly contribute greatly to the kinds of scientific investigations illustrated by the case studies in Chapter 4 and pro- posed for hydrologic, environmental engineering, and ecological observatories. For example, the improved estimates of light rain and snow would benefit virtu- ally all of the case studies and proposed observatories. Since soil moisture (and its freeze/thaw state) is the key variable that links the water, energy, and biogeo- chemical cycles, and is a key determinant of evapotranspiration (NRC, 2007), the same could be said for the soil moisture mission. The cold season mission would be directly applicable to snowy regions of highly variable topography, such as that illustrated in “Mountain Hydrology in the Western United States.” The surface-water mission, based on a radar altimeter, would be able to capture the spatial dynamics of many periodically flooded areas, thus assisting in studies of water-related disease, for example, “Water and Malaria in Sub-Saharan Af- rica.” It might also help capture the slight variations in water elevations that drive the ecology and nutrient cycling described in “Monitoring the Hydrology of the Everglades in South Florida.” The other four missions cited in the water cycle chapter of the decadal report would also have obvious impacts on studies that attempt to integrate observations at different scales. For example, the groundwater and ocean mass mission, known as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) follow-on mission, could lead toward better evapotranspiration estimates by improving the terrestrial water storage change, as suggested in the Southern High Plains case study. And the inland and coastal water quality mission would have a steerable 250 m resolu- tion spectrometer designed to quantify the response of marine ecosystems to short- term physical events—one of the primary topics of the Neuse River Basin and Estuary Study. Details of these missions are given in NRC (2007). The water-related satellite missions recommended by the decadal study are consistent with the vision, findings, and recommendations of this study. The measurements and retrievals from these missions should contribute to the vision offered in this report of ground-to-space integrated observations systems feeding into decision-support systems, if they are strategically combined with a multi- agency, ground-based measurement strategy.