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Trump advisor: NASA to lose climate research – ‘A loss of our observational capabilities would be like closing our eyes’

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 10:09
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Desdemona Despair

A large pool of melt water over sea ice, as seen from an Operation IceBridge flight over the Beaufort Sea on 14 July 2016. Photo: NASA / Operation IceBridge

BY Lee Billings
23 November 2016

(Scientific American) – Emerging victorious from a campaign in which he called climate change a hoax, promised to reinvigorate coal mining and vowed to overturn major international agreements and domestic regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, President-elect Donald Trump’s next target in his political denial of human-driven global warming might be NASA’s $2-billion annual budget for Earth science.

Trump himself has been relatively mum about his plans for NASA. But in an op–ed published weeks before the election, two Trump space policy advisors—the former congressman Robert Walker and the economist Peter Navarro—wrote that the agency is too focused on “politically correct environmental monitoring” of climate change.

Under a Trump administration, they wrote, NASA would prioritize “deep-space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies,” such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“Budgets would have to be realigned to handle that transfer,” Walker tells Scientific American. “We would also anticipate that any new [Earth science] programs would be funded by those agencies.”

With a budget about a quarter of NASA’s, NOAA spends the bulk of its funds on weather forecasting and environmental monitoring. It contracts with NASA to use the space agency’s Earth-observing satellites, and relies on NASA’s help in building and launching satellites of its own. The NSF has a budget roughly three times smaller than NASA’s, and has essentially no involvement in building, launching or operating satellites. In recent years Republican lawmakers have sought budget cuts to climate change–related Earth science programs at all three agencies.

Now set to hold majorities in both the House and Senate, Republicans appear likely to support forthcoming Trump administration proposals to pare back NASA’s Earth science budget, which grew by some 50 percent under the Obama administration. That boost, which gave Earth science the lion’s share of NASA’s science funding, has sustained a growing fleet of satellites that collect data demonstrating climate change’s reality: rising surface temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions, retreating glaciers and ice sheets, and shifting patterns of rainfall and vegetation growth, to name a few. […]

Waleed Abdalati, a geographer at the University of Colorado and former NASA chief scientist, cites the agency’s monitoring of declining Arctic sea ice as an example of the complex interplay between climate, weather and commerce.

“We are on our way to a seasonally ice-free Arctic, and [NASA’s] observations of the rate at which this is occurring have implications beyond climate,” Abdalati says. As the sea ice wanes, it won’t just affect local ecosystems, global precipitation patterns, ocean circulation and weather—it will also create new shipping routes and unlock new seafloor oil and gas fields, altering the global economy.

“A loss of our observational capabilities would be like closing our eyes,” Abdalati says, “handicapping our ability to know what tomorrow, next week or next decade will bring.” [more]

Trump advisor: NASA to lose climate research

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