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Why do we need observations?

Physical, chemical, biological, and societal observations are essential for improving our understanding of the components and processes of the Earth system and the causes and consequences of global change. Long-term, high-quality observations help us to:

  • Define the current state of the Earth's system over multiple space and time scales
  • Monitor the magnitude and sources of past trends
  • Provide the scientific basis for future predictions and variability

Observations also serve as important inputs to improved decision making about effective and sustainable responses to global change.

Earth system observations for example, are necessary to track, understand, and predict changes in areas such as agricultural productivity, energy production and use, water availability and quality, coastal hazards, biodiversity, and human health.

Socioeconomic observations about the human population, including economic productivity and consumption, health and disease patterns, insurance coverage, hazards exposure, and public perceptions and preferences, help improve our understanding of risk, vulnerability, resilience, and adaptive capacity.

How does USGCRP make observations?

USGCRP currently relies on satellite, airborne, ground-based, and ocean-based missions, platforms, and networks that provide measurements of the Earth system variables important for understanding global change.

Observing the Earth system and its changes requires remotely sensed and in situ observations of atmosphere, ocean, land, and ice. These observations are then transformed into products, information, and knowledge through analysis and integration in both time and space.

An integrated mix of satellite and non-satellite systems are used, and complement each other in a variety of ways. Satellites for example, provide the global coverage frequently inaccessible to surface-based measurements. Surface measurements however, can achieve greater spatial and/or temporal resolution, as well as measure parameters inaccessible to satellites and provide information on earlier periods in Earth system history.

Why do observations need to to be integrated?

The observational system requires coordination across platforms and instruments because no single approach can provide all the needed observations of sufficient quantity and quality.

Integrating observational networks and systems is what improves our understanding of the linkages across components, processes, and scales that create the complex behaviors of global change.

Integrating new socioeconomic, health, and ecological observations with integrated observations of the climate system for example, helps us to address the vulnerability of ecosystems and human systems to global change, and also helps inform national adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Why do observations need to be studied across multiple scales?

The complexity of the global integrated Earth system is due to the interconnections between its components and processes, and to interactions across an extremely broad range of space and time scales. Understanding this complexity requires simultaneous recording of diverse observations, maintained over long time periods.

Observations should be sustained in a well-calibrated state for decades (over multiple generations of observing systems) to separate long-term trends from short-term variability. This also ensures global coverage at sufficient spatial resolution to account for variability across a wide range of scales.

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