Science Questions

NASA’s 2014 Science Mission Directorate Strategic Plan reflects the agency’s science agenda, as proscribed by the Executive and Legislative branches. Published every four years, the SMD plan is designed to complement the agency’s overall strategic plan and is informed by the most recent Decadal Survey.

NASA’s strategic objective for Earth science is to advance knowledge of Earth as a system in order to meet the challenges of environmental change and to improve life on our planet.

Composite image of nine earth data set visualizations
Nine data set visualizations based on information from instruments on NASA’s Terra satellite. Data includes (left-right, top-bottom): biosphere, water vapor, temperature; fires, clouds, methane; aerosols, radiant energy, vegetation index anomalies. To see an animated representation of this image and learn more about the science, visit NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio. Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, The SeaWiFS Project and GeoEye, Scientific Visualization Studio.

The Earth Science Division (ESD) programs address this objective by asking the following key science questions:

  • How is the global Earth system changing?
  • What causes these changes in the Earth system?
  • How will the Earth system change in the future?
  • How can Earth system science provide societal benefit?

These science questions translate into seven overarching science goals to guide the Earth Science Division’s selection of investigations and other programmatic decisions:

Atmospheric Composition: Advance the understanding of changes in the Earth’s radiation balance, air quality, and the ozone layer that result from changes in atmospheric composition.

Weather: Improve the capability to predict weather and extreme weather events.

Carbon Cycle and Ecosystems: Detect and predict changes in Earth’s ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles, including land cover, biodiversity, and the global carbon cycle.

Water and Energy Cycle: Enable better assessment and management of water quality and quantity to accurately predict how the global water cycle evolves in response to climate change.

Climate Variability and Change: Improve the ability to predict climate changes by better understanding the roles and interactions of the ocean, atmosphere, land and ice in the climate system.

Earth Surface and Interior: Characterize the dynamics of Earth’s surface and interior, improving the capability to assess and respond to natural hazards and extreme events.

Societal Benefit: Further the use of Earth system science research to inform decisions and provide benefits to society.