Going green, NASA designs Earth System Observatory to battle climate change

By Asitha Jayawardena

President Joe Biden requires all agencies to prepare a climate action plan to battle climate change and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA is no exception.

NASA going green

NASA is already seeking to improve its sustainability. Annual progress of its sustainability efforts include:

  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy
  • Water efficiency
  • Buildings and infrastructure
  • Waste
  • Adapting to a changing world

Energy efficiency and renewable energy: Using less energy reduces energy intensity, which can be achieved in various ways, such as installing LED lighting upgrades at Goddard Space Flight Centre in 2019. Moreover, renewable energy accounts for 13% of NASA’s electricity consumption in 2019. On-site renewable energy continues to increase. Examples include the 58 renewable energy projects across 10 centres, including the rooftop solar panels in the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida in 2019.

Water efficiency: Significant reducing water intensity of NASA is an achievement. How much potable water is used in achieving NASA’s mission is done with a similar metric.

Buildings and infrastructure: NASA’s ageing infrastructure costs to maintain, so one thing that is done is renewal by replacement. A more sustainable building with energy and water efficiency will optimize the square footage. Currently, 20% of buildings are considered sustainable.

Waste: At NASA, the biggest sources of non-hazardous waste are construction and demolition waste as well as refuse. In 2019, NASA diverted 56% of its generated refuse (73% of that is recycled, 19% reused and the remaining 8% donated, composted or sent for the energy recovery) and 89% of construction waste from going straight into the landfill. The hazardous waste is dealt with with proper disposal methods.

Adapting to a changing world: During the pandemic in 2020, fewer people came to NASA centres so it led to the consumption of less waste and less energy. However, it had to run, for example, HVAC equipment to maintain low moisture to prevent the growth of mould. At the agency level, there are two primary directives, namely creating a culture of sustainability and improving the conservation of energy and water.

“NASA is a scientific leader, globally and nationally,” said Denise Thaller, director of NASA’s Environmental Management Division. “We embody that focus on the stewardship of the Earth, so we need to lead by example. We need to evaluate everything we do and make sure we’re reducing our impacts on the Earth while we study the Earth.”

NASA to battle climate change

NASA not only reports data but also act on it. One example is the plan to design a system to battle climate change.

The Earth System Observatory, designed by NASA, will act as guidance related to climate change, disaster mitigation, fighting forest fires, and agricultural processes. Each satellite of this observatory will be in line with others, working collaboratively to create a 3D, holistic view of Earth, from bedrock to the atmosphere.

“I’ve seen first-hand the impact of hurricanes made more intense and destructive by climate change, like Maria and Irma. The Biden-Harris Administration’s response to climate change matches the magnitude of the threat: a whole of government, all-hands-on-deck approach to meet this moment,” said NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson. 

NASA satellite observations and research have helped realize the changing climate of Earth in the last three decades. He went on. “NASA’s new Earth System Observatory will expand that work, providing the world with an unprecedented understanding of our Earth’s climate system, arming us with next-generation data critical to mitigating climate change, and protecting our communities in the face of natural disasters.”

Areas of focus for the observatory, which maintains necessary research and observation guidance, include:

  • Aerosol
  • Cloud, convection and precipitation
  • Mass change
  • Surface biology and geology
  • Surface deformation and change

Currently, NASA is initiating the formulation phase for the observatory. It partners with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It harmonises two types of radar systems that can measure changes in Earth’s surface less than a half-inch. 

One of the first missions of the observatory intended as a pathfinder is using this capability and it is called NISAR (NASA-ISRO synthetic aperture radar). Measurements include the planet’s most complex processes such as ice-sheet collapse and natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and landslides.

In the future, planners and decision-makers will benefit from NISAR while managing both hazards and natural resources.


Besides going green, NASA will put into place a system that will help the Earth in reporting and decision making around climate change.


On a Changing Planet, NASA Goes Green https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3080/on-a-changing-planet-nasa-goes-green/

New NASA Earth System Observatory to Help Address, Mitigate Climate Change https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/new-nasa-earth-system-observatory-to-help-address-mitigate-climate-change

NASA Earth https://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/index.html



  1. Great blog post! Battling climate change is going to require huge amounts of data, and NASA’s satellites will be instrumental in obtaining that. Great to hear that there’s now a partnership with the ISRO, too!

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.