Earth Observation: Monitoring and Understanding Our Changing Planet

From climate and weather to air and water quality, the Earth’s environment is constantly changing.  Understanding, and eventually forecasting, these changes requires an in-depth knowledge of our planet’s many interrelated systems.  Seasonal weather forecasts, energy use predictions, and drought forecasts all rely on sophisticated earth observations.

NOAA invests heavily in earth observation technologies that constantly monitor the planet from the reaches of outer space to the depths of the ocean.  NOAA then uses those observations to help us better understand our environment with the ultimate goal of forecasting both short and long-term environmental changes.

Earth observation can be as simple as looking out a window or as complex as multi-billion dollar satellite systems.  NOAA has hundreds of earth observation sensors ranging from satellites and planes to tide gauges and deep-ocean buoys.  Each of these individual sensors constantly collects a variety of data, monitoring changes in the Earth’s environment. 

When combined or integrated together, we are able to better understand these changes.  For example, when ocean sensor observations are combined with those in the atmosphere, scientists learn how changes in the ocean affect changes in the atmosphere.  Eventually, understanding these changes helps NOAA forecast the development and path of hurricanes. 

While earth observations have been collected for centuries, the idea of integrated earth observations is relatively new.  The dawn of the satellite era gave scientists a new perspective into how connected the Earth’s systems are.  Now scientists are building a wide variety of earth observation systems to help meet some of the world’s biggest challenges like climate change, energy resources, and the spread of infectious disease.

The U.S. is developing integrated ocean observing systems to provide continuous data on our open oceans, coastal waters, and Great Lakes to support research and inform decision-making.  On a larger scale, the international community is working together to develop a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, which will network observation technologies around the globe into a single system capable of providing the pulse of the planet everywhere it beats.

Our planet’s systems are highly interrelated and improving our understanding of them requires systems that are just as integrated.  NOAA maintains a constant watch over the planet and stands at the ready to help citizens be prepared for any environmental changes they may face.