Observations and Data Management

Extensive Earth observation and monitoring are a critical component of environmental and natural resource research aimed at advancing scientific understanding and developing predictive capabilities. The coordination of observation and data management efforts ensures that the data necessary to answer the questions of highest priority to both scientists and policymakers are being gathered and distributed and that U.S. efforts are taking full advantage of, and being sufficiently coordinated with, international efforts.

The Administration has identified four areas for enhanced emphasis: (1) linking local-scale data collection efforts to regional- and global-scale efforts; (2) linking remote sensing data from satellites to in situ measurements; (3) linking socioeconomic data to data on the natural environment; and (4) making Federal agency environmental data and information available in forms useful to the public, educators, policymakers at all levels, business activities, and researchers.

Although the United States and many other nations are collecting critical environmental and natural resource data, successfully understanding many aspects of environmental science will require the implementation of an international policy of open and stable exchange of data and information. The United States promotes the continuance and extension of the full and open exchange of all environmental data and related information at no more than the marginal cost of fulfilling specific user requests. Finally, the Administration is acting to put hard-won and expensive data collected during the Cold War to the service of environmental understanding. Following a Presidential Executive Order, some 800,000 spy satellite photographs taken between 1960 and 1972 are to be released. Selectively declassifying information gathered during the Cold War will allow these images to shed new light on the progression of deforestation, the loss of fresh water, desertification, and other issues.

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research

In June 1993, the United States signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, which aims to protect and utilize the world's genetic inheritance. The Interior Department has been directed to create a national biological survey to help protect species and to help the agricultural and biotechnology industries identify new sources of food, fiber, and medications.

The Administration has set a goal of developing the understanding of ecological systems necessary for assessing the ecological consequences of environmental change. This goal will promote the efficient use of natural resources, while sustaining ecosystem integrity for future generations by developing science-based management principles and a predictive understanding of the ecological impacts of environmental change.

It is imperative that we understand and quantify the drivers of change in ecological systems. Understanding the importance of the influence and magnitude of different drivers of change is critical to developing strategies for sustainable development. To this end, the Administration has identified six areas for enhanced emphasis in ecosystem research: (1) documenting change in ecological systems; (2) understanding processes in ecological systems; (3) synthesizing and assessing ecological data and information; (4) predicting ecological change; (5) understanding the interactions of human and ecological systems; (6) and the restoration, rehabilitation, and management of ecological systems.

An example of the Administration's increased emphasis on ecosystem research, and its importance for preserving biodiversity, is provided by the Coral Reef Initiative. The declining health of coral reef ecosystems links the larger issues of climate change and increased stress from human population growth. Some scientists estimate that 10 percent of reefs have already been degraded beyond recovery, and that 10 to 20 percent more could be gone by the year 2010. Not only does this mean the loss of a large fraction of the ocean's most biodiverse ecosystems, but also this decline is bad for tourism and fisheries, and hence for development. To address this degradation, the U.S. Government is forming partnerships with states and territories, other nations, multilateral development banks, and nongovernmental organizations. The Initiative's goal is to enable countries to use existing resources to sustainably manage coral reef ecosystems over the long term.

Socioeconomic Dimensions

The social and economic sciences represent a critical component of any research agenda on environmental change. Research in the social and economic sciences aims to clarify how human activities affect the environment; how environmental changes affect our society and its component groups; and how we and our institutions respond to environmental change.

Long-term research is needed on human-environmental interactions and system dynamics. Their complexity requires greater collaboration of physical, life, and engineering scientists with social scientists than usually prevails. The Administration has identified three research areas for enhanced emphasis: (1) fundamental human and social processes that affect our use of the Earth; (2) the development of a better portfolio of policy instruments and decision tools; and (3) improving the flow of information between the research and policy communities and within the public and private sectors.

Science Policy Tools

Science policy tools for decisionmaking provide the links between the physical, natural, social, and economic sciences and environmental policy. Technical assessments are key tools in formulating national and international environmental policies. To be useful, however, these assessments must be credible to all stakeholders, including the Administration, Congress, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and the public.

The Administration's goal is to use assessment methods to characterize, prevent, and reduce health and environmental hazards in the most effective, efficient, and fair manner. The Administration is committed to strengthening the methods used to perform risk and integrated assessments of health and environmental hazards.

Strategic International Cooperation

As a world leader in science and technology, the United States has an opportunity to apply its science and technology capabilities to support international initiatives that benefit the United States and the global community. To realize this potential, the Office of Science and Technology Policy is developing strategies for cooperation with other nations-"country strategies"-placing a priority on those that are key to the stability of their region, have the scientific and technological base to attract long-term investments and trade, and offer emerging markets for U.S. goods and services. By strengthening the progress of science and technology and the communities of researchers and scholars, international cooperation can contribute to positive political and economic reform, regional stability, sustainable development, and economic growth.