Before we can understand global change, its causes, and its consequences, we must first be able to measure it. Scientists observe and measure the changing Earth system through satellite, airborne, ground-based, and ocean-based missions, platforms, and networks. Raw observations are collected remotely and in situ across Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land, and ice using a variety of high-tech instruments, and are transformed into value-added products through data analysis and integration across time and space.
By definition, observations expose processes and impacts that have already occurred, or are ongoing. But they also underpin our ability to predict future change. For example, observations are used to test and evaluate models that predict long-term global change, and to inform short-term weather forecasts.
As demand for deeper understanding of the complex and changing Earth system continues to grow, America will be faced with increasing pressure to maintain and improve upon existing capabilities, as well as to develop new, better integrated observing systems. Building such observational capacity is essential to advancing scientific progress, enhancing national resilience, and remaining globally competitive.
To learn more about observations of climate and global change, explore the resources in the sidebar.