U.S. Senate Panel Weighs Funding for Weather Satellites

July 16, 2007

Cuts to planned weather and environmental satellites will significantly affect scientists’ ability to study the Earth’s climate, experts told a U.S. Senate committee last week.

The Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee also heard testimony on the aging QuikScat satellite, a hurricane forecasting tool that garnered headlines after the director of the National Hurricane Center called for its replacement but ended up replaced himself when staffers criticized his public pleas.

No decision was made on any of the nation’s satellites, but the hearing on Capitol Hill came as the Senate and House consider bills that would pay for a replacement for QuikScat.

QuikScat measures wind speeds over the Earth’s oceans, data that assists in hurricane forecasting. The satellite became an issue after the National Hurricane Center’s now-ousted director, Bill Proenza, began speaking out about it. Proenza later came under fire from his staff, which said he damaged public confidence in their abilities, exaggerated problems and hurt staff morale. He went on leave from his position July 9.

A NOAA official submitted written testimony saying despite the fact QuikScat is operating on a backup transmitter, the instrument should continue to operate for several more years and has enough fuel to last through 2011. The official, Mary Ellen Kicza, who is NOAA’s assistant administrator for satellite and information services, said even if QuikScat were to fail, forecasters would not be blind.

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