America will lose much of its ability to monitor global warming from space unless the Bush administration reverses course and restores funding for the next generation of climate instruments, according to a confidential report prepared by government scientists.
Cost overruns and technology problems recently caused the federal government to cut the number of planned monitoring satellites from six to four. Those four will focus on weather prediction rather than climate research, according to the report.
"The recent loss of climate sensors ... places the overall climate program in serious jeopardy," said the report, which was drafted by government atmospheric and space scientists for the White House Office of Science and Technology.
The report was posted on the Internet Monday by Climate Science Watch, a Washington-based watchdog group.
America depends on a variety of satellites operated by the Department of Defense, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to compile information on everything from sea level change to the erosion of the protective ozone layer in Antarctica.
NASA alone has 14 Earth-observing satellites in orbit, according to the agency.
NASA spokesman David Mould insisted NASA remains committed to climate science. Seven more launches are planned in the next few years, he said.
But Climate Science Watch said that cancellation of the satellites would compromise the ability to recover information about ice sheets, the surface levels of lakes and seas, and atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Among the instruments eliminated from the next generation of satellites are sensors measuring solar energy, climate energy, ocean topography and aerosols, the report said.
"This is going to create a crisis in the science community's ability to monitor global warming, starting in 2010," said Rick Piltz, director of Climate Science Watch. "This gives the lie to the idea that the Bush administration is placing a high priority on climate change."
President Bush has requested $331 million for work on the pared-down satellite system in his 2008 budget, which has yet to be acted upon by Congress.