print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation

Ask the White House
Privacy Policy  

Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
July 30, 2003

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
It's a real thrill to be able to talk with all of you today on "Ask the White House," particularly on my favorite topics of global observing and the Earth Observation Summit. Tomorrow, the United States will host over 30 nations and 20 international organizations at the U.S. State Department for the first ever Earth Observation Summit. I look forward to answering your questions.

William, from Washington DC writes:
Good day, Mr. Secretary: What are the goals of the upcoming Earth Observation Summit? What are some expected outcomes? Thanks!

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
We expect to have a declaration of the 30 nations involved to support the development of a comprehensive, coordinated and sustained Earth observing system. We also will initiate the beginning of an intergovernmental working group to plan the system. We need an Earth observing system for two main reasons: first, to fill in the many gaps in the knowledge about Earth systems -- oceanic, atmospheric and terrestrial; second, we need the information on a 24x7 basis for policy makers around the world to make wise decisions on the use of resources and managing the environment.

Rick, from Michigan writes:
How much money will something like this cost and are any other nations going to pitch in? It may be a good idea, but there are a lot of good ideas that shouldn't be funded in a time of war and with the economy in a slump.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
The large majority of developed nations already spend considerable sums of money engaged in Earth observation today. The first issue is to make the most efficient and effective use of what each nation does today individually. Next is to determine the gaps in the current systems that we have today and develop a plan to fill those gaps. We don't have an accurate accounting for every dollar that is spent on observation at this point, but the cost of a comprehensive Earth observing system will be estimated at several billions of dollars. This is inconsequential compared to the returns of managing a $33 trillion global GDP. In the United States alone, our observing systems affect the daily economic efficiency of $3 trillion of U.S. GDP. In agriculture alone, the return on investment is 15 to 1.

The value will be enormous to developing nations that have little or no access to this type of information. Globally, weather, water and climate services contribute about $20 - 40 billion yearly to national economies.

Cheryl, from West Virginia writes:
With the proven experiments in space which can help medical technology through data obtained in zero gravity atmosphere, will additional funding be available for continued space experiments, space exploration, and space observation? Thank you.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
Remote sensing is an extremely important part of Earth observation and will continue to be important in the future. We also expect to develop improved systems for monitoring human health in predicting societal and public health issues from space, as well as on land.

Lynn, from England writes:
How involved is the UK involved in this summit? Our climate is so different unfortunately! to the United States, but because of that we have forecasting that is possibly better suited for other parts of the world.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
The U.K. is coming to the Summit. The U.K. has been a very strong and reliable partner in every one of the international organizations that are involved with and support Earth observing. The climates in various regions of the world may be different, but they are all connected globally. The U.K. and all other individual nations will benefit by understanding that connection and how it affects their particular climates.

Michael, from Green Bay, WI writes:
You are the head of the National Weather Service. Does the NWS provide weather information to airports around the country? How do these two organizations interact?

Will this be discussed in the upcoming Earth Observation Summit?

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
Certainly we provide aviation weather and forecasts to airports around the country. It is a very important service because it is the largest single economic factor for the aviation industry. In addition, we have a cooperative voluntary program with the airline industry where they provide data and information and collect air samples which in turn improves the accuracy of aviation weather forecasts.

Dan, from St. Thomas writes:
Are third-world countries participating in this? Certainly, they don't have the resources to cut down on emissions if they are struggling with their respective economies. So, let's say a 2nd or 3rd world country is identified with causing great environmental damage, but they don't have the capacity to change because of their economic situation. Who foots the bill? And who forces them to comply?

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
First of all, several developing nations are attending the Summit. The Summit is designed to look very closely at the issues of capacity building and technological transfer and support for the needs of developing nations. Remember that President Bush has already offered $25 million in matching grants to developing nations to assist in the building of observation systems. Developing nations are eager to improve their economic development and to do it in an environmentally responsible manner. We stand ready to help them. I should note, this Summit is not about compliance but rather to build a coalition of the willing to establish a comprehensive Earth observing system that will provide internal value for each country of the world.

Ralph, from Milwaukee writes:
As a student in meterology, I was fascinated by your recent quote in the Financial Times: We already receive an excellent return on our weather services. Could you expand on this? Thanks

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
Weather services in the United States are a good example of return on investment of observing systems. The marvelous pictures you see on television from space and from our radar system allows you access to the latest information on storms and precipitation. The improvement in observing systems has increased the accuracy of forecasting measurably over the past 10-20 years.

For example, in saving lives, tornadoes warning times have doubled due to improved observing systems. In this year's major tornado outbreak in May, tragically 40 lives were lost. But five years ago, in a similar outbreak, more than 300 lives were lost.

In other examples, today we can predict the onset of El Nino conditions. The difference in storm damage losses from prior to the emplacement of an observing system up to today, is approximately a storm damage savings of $1.1 billion. That is because we were able to predict several months in advance, so emergency managers were able to plan, as were economic managers -- those working in transportation, agriculture, construction and utilities. They were able to develop comprehensive plans well ahead of any emerging weather disaster.

Good luck in your studies -- we need you!

Isaiah, from New Jersey writes:
I could not find your bio on NOAA's website. How did you get involved in this field?

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
Try the Web site again -- there is a link on the home page at

I spent 40 years in the United States Navy and have spent my life on the ocean worrying about the atmosphere above it. My PhD thesis was on tsunamis, an oceanographic subject.

Roland, from Western USA writes:
What will be the end results inpact of this summit on our everyday lives?

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
You are already benefiting from the current observing systems we have in place, in economic terms. We expect those benefits to increase for us in developing nations and to dramatically increase for developing nations.

For example, a farmer in Iowa, a long way from the ocean. He should care about the temperature of the ocean in the middle of the Pacific on the equator, because that will determine the temperature and rainfall during the coming growing season. The climate condition in Oklahoma is inextricably connected to the temperature in the oceans on the equator.

Soon we will be able to work on climate predictions that will tell you whether it will rain three months from now vs. just tomorrow morning.

Tammy, from Ohio writes:
In your atmospheric observations, have you seen King Bloop Zod of Mars?

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
We've seen him several times, but he's always in disguise. We're trying to get a positive i.d. We also see Santa Claus in the late December time-frame -- the National Weather Service tracks his movements.

Kristina, from Connecticut writes:
How and why do they name Hurricanes?

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
Hurricanes are named by a panel of the World Meteorological Organization, WMO. There are a number of cycles that are pre-named and repeat themselves every few years. Great storms have been voted to be retired, such as Andrew in 1992, and new names have been voted on by the panel. It goes by alphabetical order, alternating by gender.

For more information, please see the national hurricane Web site,

Oliver, from NYC writes:
Aren't the United States helping to destroy the Ozon layer, by ignoring the Kyoto agreement?

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
The good news is that the ozone hole is healing thanks to the Montreal Protocol, signed by President George H.W. Bush. The Kyoto Protocol does not address ozone, rather it focuses on greenhouse gas emissions. To find out about President Bush's comprehensive climate change initiatives, please click here.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher
It's been a pleasure answering your questions. The Earth Observation Summit is a historical first, and I hope you will look for more information at This is the beginning of what we hope will be a fruitful partnership with the nations of the world to improve the quality of life and the economic future of all peoples of the world. Thank you!