The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on April 19 released the National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations. Its purpose is two-fold: Provide a policy framework for sharing data from federal agencies' various Earth-observing systems and establish guidelines for managing that data.
Eleven federal agencies are involved in Earth observations. The parameters being monitored and measured include land surface, the oceans and the biosphere and atmosphere. The systems used to generate observations include satellites, terrestrial sensors and instruments at sea and in lakes and rivers.
While the strategy identifies a list of guiding principles, one key element is establishing interoperable systems and providing timely, user-friendly access to the widest audience possible. The strategy is intended to reflect and support the White House's open government initiative.
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"Information and services derived from Earth-observation data, including some as ubiquitous as weather forecasts and GPS-navigation, are used by policy makers, resource managers, business leaders, first-responders and citizens to make important day-to-day decisions," wrote Peter Colohan, an OSTP senior policy analyst, in a blog post on the new strategy.
Twelve "societal benefit areas" are identified as targets for making use of the observation data: agriculture and forestry, biodiversity, climate, disasters, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, energy and mineral resources, human health, ocean and coastal resources and ecosystems, space weather, transportation, water resources, weather and reference measurements such as topography and geolocation.
The strategy calls for the U.S. to continue investing in research and development for measurement and monitoring technologies. Agencies must assess the existing and planned Earth-observing systems in their portfolios, make recommendations on what's required to continue and advance their measurement programs and determine ongoing costs associated with development, deployment, operations and maintenance.
The purpose of the data management framework is to establish open access to the data, preserve data and ensure its quality. To facilitate ease of use, agencies are to make data available using a Web-based, services-oriented architecture. The strategy calls for coordinating policies for inventory control and data sharing with private sector partners.
A related effort, called the National Plan for Civil Earth Observations, will be published as a supplement to the White House's proposed budget for fiscal year 2014. The plan, described as a blueprint for future investments, will take into account the fiscal and program constraints reflected in the budget. The National Plan for Civil Earth Observations also describes how the U.S. will work with international partners through the multinational Group on Earth Observations.