NASA to Focus on Space Science: Senate Passes the NASA Transition Act

Guest essay by Eric Worrallnasa_logo

The NASA Transition Act 2017 has just been passed by the Federal Senate.

In the words of Congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Science Committee, this act refocusses NASA away from climate, towards space science.

Lawmakers eye shifting climate research from NASA
Scott Waldman, E&E News reporter
Climatewire: Friday, February 17, 2017

Lawmakers are remaking NASA in order to leave parts of the agency’s earth science program untouched but remove its climate change research.

It’s still unclear exactly how lawmakers plan to transform NASA’s mission, but Republicans and Trump administration officials have said they want the agency to focus on deep-space missions and away from climate change research, which is a part of its Earth Sciences Division. That has created uncertainty about the fate of the Earth Sciences Division, which accounts for about $2 billion of NASA’s $20 billion budget.

At a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing yesterday, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said he wants a “rebalancing” of NASA’s mission. The lawmaker told E&E News he wants the agency to reprioritize its mission because the Obama administration cut space exploration funds.

Specifically, that could mean NASA’s work on climate change would go to another agency, with or without funding, or possibly would get cut. Smith and other Republicans avoided laying out specifics but acknowledged that earth science at NASA would likely face some significant changes in the near future.

“By rebalancing, I’d like for more funds to go into space exploration; we’re not going to zero out earth sciences,” he said. “Our weather satellites have been an immense help, for example, and that’s from NASA, but I’d like for us to remember what our priorities are, and there are another dozen agencies that study earth science and climate change, and they can continue to do that. Meanwhile, we only have one agency that engages in space exploration, and they need every dollar they can muster for space exploration.”

Read more: http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060050245

The text of the bill passed by the Senate is below. The bill is very long, and I haven’t read it all in detail. But one point which stood out in my mind is the need for America to have its own space transport capability, rather than having to rely on foreign space services to transport crew to and from the International Space Station.

What does this new bill mean for climate science?

House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith is clear that he expects NASA to continue to support other agencies with space based Earth Science services, but he doesn’t expect NASA to conduct climate science.

I suspect maintenance of the NASA GISS temperature series, NASA’s best known climate product, will be transferred to NOAA.

The NASA GISS series has long been a favourite of climate alarmists, because the way it handles temperature measurements produces the most exaggerated official warming trend.

The issue is the way the GISS series handles geographically sparse temperature readings.

Some areas of the world are not well covered by temperature monitoring stations. There are two ways of handling this, either you ignore those regions when computing the whole, or you use infilling – you attempt to infer the temperature in regions which aren’t covered by using readings from the nearest stations (nearest being defined sometimes as 100s of kilometres away).

Neither approach is a good solution – both have their disadvantages.

NASA GISS uses infilling, but this likely produces some serious temperature artefacts. Poor quality readings from a handful of badly sited temperature stations in a geographically sparse region, such as airport or urban temperature monitoring stations in the Arctic, can be amplified through infilling to have a grossly disproportionate impact on estimated global average temperature.

The WUWT post GISS Swiss Cheese is an excellent discussion of some of the problems with the GISS approach. There is strong evidence of a substantial difference between temperature readings from urban Arctic stations, and isolated Arctic stations.

Despite the problems, I hope the GISS series is maintained in its current form, though possibly by a new agency. The GISS temperature series is of historical interest, and deleting it would simply feed hysterical accusations of climate coverups.

But to provide some balance, I would like to see more effort to reconcile GISS with other series, maybe new series published alongside GISS, based on better data or methodology. I would like to know why GISS and the satellite measurements have diverged so badly. Satellite measurements theoretically address the problem of sparse coverage by sampling atmospheric temperature readings from most of the Earth, so the divergence between satellite measurements and GISS is a serious problem which should be investigated.

If the main culprit turns out to be a few rogue urbanised temperature stations running too hot in the Arctic, skewing GISS temperatures upwards, it would be fascinating to see an open discussion by government agencies of how to handle this, and the production of better quality global temperature estimates.

 

Ref.: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2017/02/19/nasa-to-focus-on-space-science-senate-passes-the-nasa-transition-act/

 

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