Report on "National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations"

Each year, Federal agencies invest billions of dollars in Civil Earth Observations. Through these investments, the U.S. government ensures that the Nation’s decision-makers have the information they need about climate and weather, disaster events, land-use change, ecosystem health, natural resources, and many other characteristics of the planet.

Section 702 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, Instructs the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to establish a mechanism to ensure greater coordination of civilian Earth observations, including the development of a strategic implementation plan that will be updated at least every three years. 

The  National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations was recently released to the public. According to the report, this represents an important milestone on the path to ensuring the Nation’s Earth-observing capabilities to efficiently address society’s most pressing needs.

The section of the report on Health observations and issues includes societal benefits from the observation of air quality, aero-allergens, and infectious diseases, among many other factors. During natural and human-induced disasters, both existing observational data and real-time monitoring are needed to develop effective response measures that mitigate loss of life and property.

The National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations pertains primarily to observations and data for civilian-use purposes.  It strives toward openness and integration of data from Federal and non-Federal sources, including unclassified products derived from classified sources, while explicitly recognizing that certain sources of data may require greater oversight, protection, and potential restriction due to national security, privacy, and confidentiality considerations.

“Earth observations” refers to data and products derived from Earth-observing systems and surveys.
•  “Observing systems” refers to one or more sensing elements that directly or indirectly collect observations of the Earth, measure environmental parameters, or survey biological or other Earth resources (land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans).
"Sensing elements" may be deployed as individual sensors or in constellations or networks, and may include instrumentation or human elements.
"Observing-system platforms" may be mobile, fixed, space-based, airborne, terrestrial, freshwater, or marine-based.
Observing systems increasingly consist of integrated platforms that support remotely sensed, in-situ, and human observations.

Without routine and comprehensive Earth observations, the Nation risks not having adequate information to respond to crises and to evaluate potentially harmful long-term trends.  Nevertheless, citizens need to keep a sharp eye on the government to ensure it doesn't expand it Earth-observations in such a way that it intrudes on the privacy of individuals. As recent unfortunate revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) activities have shown, this has a tendency to occur.