Opening Remarks for “The Contributions of Space Infrastructure to Polar Regions” Action Panel

International Polar Year Conference
Montreal, Quebec, CANADA
23 April 2012


Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D.
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere & NOAA Administrator

As delivered

April 23, 2012

Thank you Steve [Maclean]. 

Satellites are essential for safe and smart Arctic living, operations and policies.  And their importance is increasing at the very time that the Arctic is changing dramatically and when most nations are struggling to rein in spending and balance budgets.  Hence, cooperation among nations is especially important.

We already depend on one another. Scientists' understanding of changing conditions in the polar regions is critically dependent on imagery and sounding data from polar-orbiting satellite systems operated by NOAA, CSA, and others. Ice monitoring products for navigation are derived from Canadian, U.S., and European satellites.  People in the polar regions depend on the SARSAT emergency distress system.  Satellite data support a worldwide ocean and climate modeling enterprise. 

As activity in the Arctic increases, these systems will become even more critical for safe and efficient marine transportation and for conducting science and other polar activities.

Especially vulnerable are long-term records where continuity is essential and at risk.  Gaps in satellite data put the long-term climate record at risk, as well as our capacity to make science-informed management decisions in support of healthy, resilient communities and ecosystems.   

We face fiscal challenges in maintaining even the currently deployed space infrastructure, not to mention developing new instrument and modeling capabilities in times of downward public sector budgets.

International collaboration and coordination, including joint missions, data sharing, and data integration are essential to meet this challenge.

  • NOAA along with NASA, ESA, EUMETSAT, JAXA, CSA and others contribute space resources with the WMO helping to coordinate the effort. 
  • Full and open data policies are especially important for data-sparse polar regions.  We applaud ESA’s continued commitment to a full and open data policy for satellite environmental data and hope to see others do the same.   
  • We now have more diverse and robust surface-based observing sites and systems, thanks to IPY and other efforts. To maximize their combined potential, product developers and observing site operators need to work synergistically.  For example, NOAA’s Arctic atmospheric observatories provide a wealth of atmospheric information. 
  • To maximize use of environmental data across observing systems, we must coordinate and, whenever possible, harmonize national and international data portals and infrastructures, such as the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS), the WMO Information System (WIS) infrastructure, or the Arctic Collaborative Environment (ACE) tool now under development.

Among much-needed tools and products that use satellite data are those for oil spill response.  This summer, NOAA and partners will be releasing the new Arctic Emergency Response Management Application – or Arctic ERMA.  ERMA is a the Open Source web-based Geographic Information System (GIS) data visualization tool used during the Deepwater Horizon spill. 

In summary, we already see increased activity in the Arctic.  The need for science, services, and stewardship at the poles is clear.  Collaboration, coordination, and partnerships are key to meeting growing needs for data, tools, and products, especially while fiscal pressures prevail.

Thank you.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
and NOAA Administrator