California

‘Our own damn satellite’: California to collect more climate, fire data from space

Two years ago, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown vowed that the state would “launch its own damn satellite” if President Donald Trump’s administration cut off access to climate data.

Now, the state is adding new capabilities to the climate data it’s tracking from space.

The California Air Resources Board announced the partnership with billionaire Michael Bloomberg and San Francisco-based earth imaging company Planet to launch a project called Satellites for Climate Action.

It builds on a program former Gov. Brown in September at a climate change forum in San Francisco. At the time, the state planned to track greenhouse gases like methane.

“Operating the largest constellation of earth observing satellites in orbit, Planet acquires near-daily imagery covering earth’s entire landmass,” according to the Air Resources Board. “Building on this technology, Satellites for Climate Action will aim to fill critical data gaps in ongoing environmental research and climate monitoring by analyzing coal-fired plant operations globally and measuring essential climate variables.”

The new partnership will include assessing forest health to determine fire risk, according to the Air Resources Board, as well as monitoring efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The project is funded by private philanthropic donations and at this time California state government is not expected to contribute money.

The state’s role is expected to come in the form of the “the time and work of expert scientific and other staff,” Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young said by email.

The project will also help to launch more satellites into space, “since Bloomberg’s support is at a global level,” Young said.

California’s interest in controlling its own satellites dates to the early days of the Trump administration, when his government set off fears that it would restrict access to climate data collected by NASA. Scientists worried they’d lose the data because the Trump administration took down certain environmental information on the White House website.

The administration has not restricted access to climate data, although Scientific American has reported the administration deleted references to climate change in press releases, and it has withheld other scientific reports.

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