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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.

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
February 23, 2005

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about the accomplishments of the Third Earth Observation Summit.

At the meeting held in Brussels last week, nearly 60 countries and the European Commission agreed to a plan that, over the next 10 years, will revolutionize our understanding of Earth and how it works. Participants at the Summit adopted a 10-year implementation plan for a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, known as GEOSS.

By adopting an implementation plan for the GEOSS, we have accomplished the first phase of realizing the goal of a comprehensive, integrated and sustained Earth Observation System that will improve our global ability to predict weather and climate, prepare for natural hazards and protect people and property.

The significance of this accomplishment is remarkable. In the short span of 19 months between the initial meeting in Washington and this milestone meeting in Brussels, we have assembled hundreds of the world's finest scientific and technical minds to accomplish the goal of developing the implementation plan.

This system of systems will address the need for timely, quality, long-term global information to serve as a basis for sound decision-making for our government leaders and citizens.

While we have accomplished a great deal with the plan's adoption, we all recognize that much work remains. Now, let me go ahead and answer your questions.

Jonathan, from Suffield, Connecticut writes:
So far, about how much money has the world donated to the Tsunami relief fund and is it enough for them to rebuild or is it too much?Thank you for taking my question.

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
While it is difficult to put a hard number on the global donations to the Tsunami relief effort, you may be interested to know that just last week, President Bush boosted the U.S. government’s initial commitment of $350 million, announcing that he is seeking another $600 million from Congress. Donations from private corporations are estimated at more than $700 million.

Richard, from Texas writes:
Did the idea for the Global Earth Observation System of Systems come about in the aftermath of the Tsunami tragedy, or has this initiative been in development longer?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher

Work on the Global Earth Observing System of Systems began some 19 months ago. The tragic Indian Ocean Tsunami points out the relevance and value of this system to the world and adds to the importance of developing an improved global observation network.

When discussing tsunami, the question is not if one will occur, but when. We know what causes them and we know a great deal about how to track them and forecast their path. While we may not be able to control when mother Earth decides to flex her incredible power, we can control our ability to warn citizens and keep them out of harms way and that is one of the brightest prospects of GEOSS.

Shehzad, from Saint Louis writes:
Sir, thanks for another opportunity of lifetime. Please, can you shed light on new policies and strategies of Bush Administration towards Europe Earth summit and tsunami relief efforts in simple words so that average Americans can comprehend it. How can we help and participate in the new initiatives?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
President Bush has made the Global Earth Observing System of Systems a strong priority of his administration with the U.S. helping to lead the way in this international effort. In fact, this initiative was kicked off by this President’s Administration in 2003, responding to calls from the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002, and the G-8 meeting in Evian, France in 2003 to expand our global capability to observe the Earth. I believe we will look back at this period, at the beginnings of GEOSS, and recognize what an enormous turning point it represents in the scientific understanding of our planet.

The goal of the United States, and every country participating in GEOSS, is to ensure that this understanding leads to improved operational capabilities that will be put to work for the benefit of people throughout the world and the economies they depend on.

Individuals can help by doing exactly what you are doing by asking the questions to improve their understand of this effort and to support it.

Susan, from Herndon Virginia writes:
How many countries did you meet with while you were at this summit? How long has this summit been taking place?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher

I am one of four international co-chairs of the Group on Earth Observations and, as such, work closely with Achilleas Mitsos, Director General for Research, European Commission, which hosted the Brussels summit; Tetuhisa Shirakawa, Deputy Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan; and Dr. Rob Adam, Director-General of Science and Technology, South Africa.

During the most recent three-day summit in Brussels, Belgium, and during the previous two summit and working sessions, I have met with representatives of dozens of nations and participating organizations like the World Meteorological Organization and Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. There were nearly 60 nations present at the summit in Brussels, almost double the original 33 member nations just 19 months ago.

Barry, from Athens GA writes:
How do countries become part of the summit? I read on your web site that the amount of countries participating has doubled since your first summit in 2003--so my question is what is the application process like for these countries?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
The processing for joining is really fairly easy. A nation’s leaders just have to indicate their interest and following that up with a willingness to participate in the discussion, work and meetings of the Global Earth Observing nations.

Jackson, from San Francisco writes:
Being that you discussed tsunami relief as well as the environment, did you also discuss being pro-active about tsunamis for those of us who live along coastlines?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
The situation along the U.S. coastline was not a specific topic of discussion at the Third Earth Observing Summit. But earlier this year President Bush committed to increasing the efforts that we already had underway at NOAA, the agency I lead.

The Tsunami Monitoring System we are working on calls for the deployment of new deep-sea DART (Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis) buoys and other sensors to provide coverage for the entire American coastline. It also calls for improved availability of seismic sensor data and a robust research component to improve forecasting. With new funding the President has provided, this system is ready to begin deployment since it relies on proven technologies that already provide a 24x7 watch over the Pacific.

Even without the Indian Ocean disaster, we were on track to improve and expand the existing system. Here’s a brief history. The NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory began prototype development in 1995. The First system test-deployment off the U.S. Washington-Oregon coast in the summer of 1995. A re-designed system deployed in deep water off Oahu, Hawaii in March 1997. A 6 buoy DART array was completed in 2001. Transition of DART network from research at begins in the summer of 2001 and was completed by the fall of 2003. The system had scheduled to increase by two buoys over the next couple of years with the final array of approximately two dozen buoys scheduled to be in place by 2012. The Indian Ocean disaster and the current initiative speeds up that process.

Deb, from Washington, DC writes:
Admiral Lautenbaucher: Over the weekend, yet another global warming report was discussed at a prestigious scientific conference - the findings clearly stated that the debate over global climate change is over. Our planet's atmosphere is warming due to human activity, and the Kyoto Protocol was brought into force last week without participation by the world's greatest greenhouse gas emitter - the United States of America. Our European allies, including Tony Blair, continue to encourage our nation to take serious steps to address this severe threat. How do you respond to those concerns, and is the President's view about this issue changing?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
The United States has a leadership role on climate change. We are showing leadership on practical approaches that will result in a sustainable climate change policy. We have an innovative and comprehensive set of policies designed to address climate change. We spend almost $3 billion a year on reaserach and development for new technologies and $2 billion on science and observations—much more than any other country. We have made great efforts to forge international partnerships to further technological innovation—thereby addressing a gap in the approach being taken under the framework convention on climate change.

Veronica, from Tallon High School writes:
Does your job completely have to do with the Oceans? or the environment as a whole? I am studying your organization for my geology class and would like to know. thank you.

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher

NOAA’s activities cover a great many areas in addition to the Oceans. NOAA conducts research and gathers data about the global oceans, atmosphere, space, and sun, and applies this knowledge to science and service that touch the lives of all Americans. Part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA includes the National Weather Service which is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the U.S.

Other parts of NOAA are the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service. NOAA Satellites manages the U.S. civil operational remote-sensing satellite systems, as well as global databases for meteorology, oceanography, solid-earth geophysics, and solar-terrestrial sciences.

It includes NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency responsible for the stewardship of the nation's living marine resources and their habitat. NOAA’s National Ocean Service is focused on study and protection of the coastal environment, one of our nation's most valuable assets and the essential habitat for thousands of species of marine animals and plants.

NOAA's research, conducted through the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research , is the driving force behind NOAA environmental products and services that protect life and property and promote sustainable economic growth.

Finally, the agency includes the NOAA Corps, the Nation’s seventh uniformed service, and the NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations Since NOAA's beginning, much of its oceanographic, atmospheric, hydrographic, fisheries and coastal data have been collected on NOAA ships and aircraft, commanded and piloted by NOAA Corps officers. These flexible, multipurpose platforms support a wide range of activities related to weather forecasting and prediction, public safety, navigation and trade, natural resource management and environmental protection.

I guess this answer is a bit long, but NOAA does so many things for the citizens of the Nation each and every day, it’s hard to sum it up in just a couple of sentences.

Benjamin, from Ithaca, WI writes:
What efforts are being made by U.S. government agencies to improve tsunami warning systems in the Indian Ocean?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
Both NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey are involved with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to build an effective tsunami detection and warning system for the Indian Ocean. The effort will require commitments and action from many countries, as well as long-term coordination and support. The IOC will function as the main coordination group as the effort moves forward.

Cliff, from Brimfield Ohio writes:
Admiral Lautenbaucher, Sir: During the EU Earth Summit I'm going to guess. The topic's pertain to enviroment and economies of the world. And how to control and better them as a whole. How does one talk to countries about using technologies to better things. When many of these countries have just the basic problem of feeding themselves?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
You are correct that the topics of the recent Earth Observation Summit III in Brussels pertained to our global economies and environment. However, what is distinctive about this particular initiative is that the Global Earth Observation System of Systems is user driven. By user driven, I mean that we are not just building and linking systems for the scientific and technological benefit. This system of systems focuses on nine societal benefit areas that will ensure all the nations of the world, developed and developing, have the tools they need to make good societal, economic and environmental decisions.

You mention the basic problem of some countries of feeding their populations. One of the many important benefits of a global system of systems is that we will be able to predict droughts with more accuracy, as well as to advise farmers in drought-vulnerable areas on when to plant. In addition, we are focusing on human health and well-being, water availability and quality, disaster mitigation and prediction, and other areas that will benefit all nations around the world.

We are working to develop an end-to-end system that will not just be about the observations, but about the information, products and services that will allow our decision-makers to plan based on the best available information about the planet.

Jon, from Birmingham, AL writes:
Will all of the countries in the EU have represention in the Earth Summit?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
As you may already know, the European Commission of the European Union has served as one of 4 co-chairs of the ad hoc Group on Earth Observations (GEO), along with the US, Japan and South Africa. GEO has been the working level body that was charged by the participants of the first Earth Observation Summit with developing the 10-Year Implementation plan for the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, which was adopted at the recent Earth Observation Summit III in Brussels.

While not all of the 25 individual EU member states are members of GEO, the European Commission continues to be strongly engaged in the development of the system of systems. Luxembourg, the new President of the European Union, expressed strong support for the Global Earth Observation System of Systems at the recent summit.

Bradley, from Adams Middle school writes:
I saw on the web site the President was in Brussels as well. Did your meeting have anything to do with his?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
No. The Third Earth Observation Summit was a separate event from the President’s visit.

Metsy, from South Dakota writes:
How will the EU Earth Summit affect the tsunami survivors?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
Tsunami survivors, and all of our citizens living in coastal communities, should never again be surprised by another tsunami. The participants of the Summit adopted a plan to support the expansion of a tsunami and multi-hazard warning systems in the Indian Ocean and other regions of the world as an integral part of the multi-hazard approach supported by GEOSS. The tsunami disaster has shown us how important Earth observation can be, by providing invaluable data to support humanitarian response and reconstruction. If we link together all our Earth observation systems in space, the ocean, and on land, we will give ourselves the instruments to tackle global problems more effectively.

Allen, from Boston Massachusetts writes:
What is the GEOSS I read about in the news last week? How does this affect me?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
The Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS, will link existing technology in space, in the ocean, and on land that is already demonstrating value around the globe. GEOSS also supports the building of new observation capacities where required. It will provide a planning framework for systems, data and vital information so scientists and policy makers in many different countries can design, implement and operate systems in a compatible way.

GEOSS will, for example, help better monitor and record drought and its severity, ensuring that policy makers can make more informed decisions about allocating resources. Such information will help determine which farms should be irrigated, when drainage basins are parched and require upstream water resources, and how to more effectively evaluate soil moisture levels to better assess crop productivity.

In addition to serving to mitigate tsunami and other natural disasters, GEOSS will allow winter weather forecasts months in advance; better climate forecasts, dramatic cuts in energy costs; predictions of where and when outbreaks of malaria, SARS and West Nile virus are likely to hit; and more effective monitoring of air quality and wildfires. Among numerous other benefits to the United States and people and countries around the globe, GEOSS will also help better predict the pattern of the North Atlantic Oscillation that drives winter weather patterns off New England.

Herb, from San Jose writes:
Can the United States really count on other countries to help our world's environment? It seems the US always puts lots of money forth.

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
The Global Earth Observation System of Systems, and member nations’ contributions will be completely voluntary. The U.S. will continue its investment in understanding the globe, but the goal of GEOSS will be to avoid duplications of efforts and coordinate our global systems in a way that we have a more complete view of the Earth.

Kerr, from Coopersville writes:
How is NOAA affilated with the Department of Commerce? I read that Secretary Gutierrez was at the conference with you--how did the two of you work together so that the United States Environment and Tsunami warning systems are better?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
As the largest bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. We have four main mission goals.

  • Protect, restore, and manage the use of coastal and ocean resources through an ecosystem approach to management.
  • Understand climate variability and change to enhance society’s ability to plan and respond.
  • Serve society’s needs for weather and water information
  • Support the nation’s commerce with information for safe, efficient, and environmentally sound transportation.

The American contribution to GEOSS, the Strategic Plan for the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System, was presented to the summit participants by Commerce Secretary Gutierrez. Here in the United States, we are working at a national level to coordinate our observation research and development investments in the most efficient and effective manner possible. Both at the national and international levels, we are working to achieve near term goals, including the development of a global all-hazards warning system, which will help predict and mitigate catastrophic events like the recent Indian Ocean tsunami.

Paul, from Spokane WA writes:
What exactly is the European Union Earth Summit? What countries arewere involved?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
The summit was called the Third Earth Observation Summit and it was held in Brussels, Belgium a week ago today. Nearly 60 countries and the European Commission adopted a plan that, over the next 10 years, will revolutionize the understanding of Earth and how it works. Countries agreed by consensus to implement a 10-year plan to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, known as GEOSS. This initiative promises to make peoples and economies around the globe healthier, safer and better equipped to manage their basic daily needs. The aim is to create an observation system as interrelated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects, providing the science on which sound policy and decision-making can be built. Nearly 40 international organizations also support the emerging global network.

Jackie, from Huntington Beach writes:
what were the highlightsoutcomes of the summit, in your opinion? Will us Americans see any immediate changes from the summit?

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
The Third Earth Observation Summit was a professional highlight for the people at NOAA, and the other US government agencies participating in this endeavor. This milestone in our effort to establish a comprehensive global system of systems could not have occurred without the high-level political commitment of all of the participating nations. For years, our science and technical communities have discussed and understood that we must link our individual observation systems in order to understand Earth's complex processes. The challenge has been not so much the technology -- we can and have already made our machines and computers talk to each other. The real challenge has been overcoming the political boundaries that our Earth systems do not recognize. That is what is unique about this initiative.

Admiral Conrad Lautenbaucher
As I indicated in my opening comments, this accomplishment of adopting the implementation plan is really the beginning of a major process. But we are not beginning empty-handed. There are currently thousands of individual observation platforms in existence, many operating largely independent of each other.

The challenge is not so much in the technology -- we can, and have already begun to make our machines and our computers talk to each other.

The real challenge is overcoming the political boundaries that our Earth systems do not recognize. That is what is unique about GEO.

The catastrophic events in the Southeast Asia tsunami in December served to illustrate the power of a networked system. By linking our observational capabilities in a more comprehensive way, we will be able to keep the citizens of every nation more safely out of harms way.

A global tsunami warning system is an excellent example of one of the many systems in a "system of systems" that will give us new perspective on the interactions of Earth. As UNESCO Director General Matsuura noted recently, ". . . it makes sense to develop a global tsunami warning system within the framework of GEOSS. . . "

Thank you for your interest in this significant milestone in the development of this system of systems and participation in this discussion. I look forward to moving into the next phase of developing the Global Earth Observation System of Systems.

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