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Intense heat and drought in the summer of 1988…greenhouse warming…acid rain…the ozone hole…rain forest destruction…Hurricane Hugo… The “endangered Earth” is making headlines around the world, and we are aware as never before of the fragility of the global environment and our own vulnerability to climate change. Yet, despite the technological advances of the last three decades, our knowledge of how the Earth’s systems work and interact remains incomplete at best. To determine environmental policies for the future, we need more information and better global climate models.
In Planet Earth, D. James Baker provides a concise, up-to-date overview of the ongoing international research efforts that will improve our ability to predict global climate change. In straightforward terms, Baker describes remote sensing from space. He reviews extant space-based satellites and their instruments and describes the areas in which operational and research missions are gathering ever-increasing data—on Earth–sun interaction, land vegetation patterns, ocean color, temperature, the atmosphere, the ice sheets of the polar regions, the shape and motion of the Earth’s crust, the Earth’s gravity field—which fill in gaps in our knowledge even as they raise new questions about critical global processes. In view of these questions and the subsequent need for more accurate global models, the satellite networks being planned for the 1990s will require state-of-the-art instrumentation, a new generation of supercomputers, and a high level of international cooperation if they are to succeed. Baker focuses on the United States initiative, Mission to Planet Earth, a long range attempt to study the planet as a whole using polar-orbiting, geostationary, and special orbit satellites coupled with a network of ground stations. In the concluding chapter, the author looks to the next century and examines the difficult long-term problems-of national security, technology transfer, data dissemination, cost, international coordination—that could undermine the achievement of the global operational system he proposes.
Planet Earth is a timely, well-illustrated introduction to Earth-observing satellite technology for the nonspecialist and specialist alike. It distills complex information that is otherwise available only in the technical literature. For those who follow space research, it will prove an indispensable guide.