Seeing No Evil–Nor Any Global Warming

It’s one solution to global warming: let our environmental satellites "collapse." From a CNN story:

Scientists warn that the consequences of neglecting Earth-observing satellites could have more than academic consequences. It is possible that when a big volcano starts rumbling in the Pacific Northwest, a swarm of tornadoes sweeps through Oklahoma or a massive hurricane bears down on New Orleans, the people in harm’s way — and those responsible for their safety — will have a lot less information than they’d like about the impending threat.

To be fair, this is not a new issue in observational science. In his autobiography ("Rewards and Penalties of Monitoring the Earth") the man credited with discovering global warming, Charles Keeling, repeatedly describes scrambling desperately for funding. Had the funding been interrupted,  the famous Mauna Kea observatory he helped launch would have had to shut down, with serious, perhaps catastrophic consequences for our understanding of atmospheric chemistry.

But that’s exactly what we’re facing right now:

Landsat, a series of satellites that have provided detailed images of the ground surface for more than 30 years, is in danger of experiencing a gap in service. Landsat 7, launched in April 1999, is scheduled to be replaced by a next-generation satellite in 2011. But if the existing satellite fails before that date and NASA has not developed a contingency plan, scientists, land managers and others who depend on Landsat images could be out of luck.

(Hat Tip to my hometown friend Brad, a metereologist…)

[Correction: Tim Flannery reminds me that it’s Mauna Loa, not Mauna Kea.]

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

5 thoughts on “Seeing No Evil–Nor Any Global Warming

  1. I can’t remember the specific nomenclature, and this was a long time ago, but one of the GOES fleet burned out a lamp.

    This was when I was a weatherman, so it was a big deal (1980s, early 90s). NOAA moved the sat from the central US over the west coast, and IIRC, they launched another one that had the same bulb problems and we had to wait ~18 months for a replacement to have full fleet again. Now, there are beaucoup satellites up, but back then we were just getting used to having full, good coverage and this happened.

    There was some dust-up over funding, as NOAA was also funding (defunding, e.g. me) resources and moving to a more automated weather station (RAWS), as Congress was penny-pinching.

    Sorry the details are so muddled, I hadn’t thought about that in years and this jogged my memory.




  2. Yes, now that you explain it, I do recall that story.

    So because a satellite burned out, they laid off meterologists? I can’t see much logic in that. But it’s not as misleading as NASA was this past year…although apparently that’s changing.


  3. The budget started getting slashed in the mid-late 80s. The sat problems likely were a bug, not a feature.

    They went hi-tech with the Doppler radar and RAWS and cut some staffing (ahem) because computers did a lot of the work. The downside was that you had fewer people in the office, making it boring and fewer people to bounce ideas off of – e.g. we used to do things like bet sodas on the forecast, dinner for verifying % for the week, etc. – that makes you look harder if you know you are going to be buying a Coke every day.

    The pay isn’t great either, and, say, San Fran. or LA or Seattle is tough to live in on a GS-14. So the folks rotate around, don’t work in the same place for years to know the patterns, and your forecasts s*ck. I’m in Pacific NW and these guys don’t get warmed up until Feb-Mar and by then the winter’s about over. Sad.

    Lots of other things, too, but I’ll save your bandwidth, Kit. keep up the good work, sir.



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