U.S. satellites help us predict and prepare for powerful storms, even before they arrive at our door. The data let us to monitor climate change and map the effects on coastlines, glaciers, oceans and land. With satellite systems, we can tell when it’s safe to fly a plane, steer a ship or drive a car.
This research — and far more — all falls largely under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the top U.S. climate science agencies.
Yet NOAA may soon be forced to dial back or pause some of this work if the Trump administration succeeds in slashing the agency’s budget.
The White House aims to cut NOAA’s funding by 17 percent from current levels, according to a four-page budget memo obtained by the Washington Post last week.
That includes eliminating $513 million, or 22 percent, of the current funding for NOAA’s satellite division, and slashing another $216 million, or 26 percent, from NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.
Scientists said the deep cuts at NOAA would not only jeopardize academic research but also our ability to withstand storms and adapt to the effects of human-caused global warming.
“Any weakening of our technological, scientific and human capabilities related to weather and climate places American lives and property at risk,” Marshall Shepherd, a leading climate expert and meteorologist at the University of Georgia, said in a Forbes column.
For those unfamiliar with NOAA — and for all the weather and climate geeks — here’s a quick tour of the agency’s latest satellite-driven research.
Charting climate change
Tracking coastal threats
Interestingly, the budget memo shows only a tiny proposed cut to NOAA’s National Weather Service. But without reliable, advanced weather satellites, the Weather Service will find it more difficult to do its job, meteorologists say. Satellites supply about 90 percent of the information that goes into weather forecasting models and are key tools for predicting severe storms like hurricanes and tornadoes.
Conrad Lautenbacher, a retired vice admiral who was the NOAA administrator under President George W. Bush, told the Washington Post that Trump’s budget proposal is “ill-timed, given the needs of society, [the] economy and the military.”
With the proposed cuts, “It will be very hard for NOAA to manage and maintain the kind of services the country requires,” he told the newspaper.
The cuts would hit the agency just as it prepares to put its first of several next-generation, multibillion dollar satellites into service, with GOES-16 slated to go live later this year. If the budget cuts are realized and cause delays in satellite production and deployment, they could cause gaps when current satellites reach the end of their service life, which would make weather forecasts less reliable.
The budget blueprint is just the first word on government funding for Fiscal Year 2018, and Congress will have the final say over how deep President Trump’s requested cuts actually will go.
Additional reporting by Mashable Science Editor Andrew Freedman.