Republicans, including President Trump, stand accused of deliberately obstructing climate research as the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) struggles to maintain its fleet of satellites that monitor sea ice. After sensor malfunctions began last year, the latest satellite broke down, but its replacement was ordered destroyed by Congress.
At present three ageing satellites – DMSP F16, F17 and F18 – remain in operation, though they are all beginning to drift out of their orbits over the poles. The latest satellite in the series, F19, began to suffer sensor malfunctions last year and finally broke down a few weeks ago. It should have been replaced with the F20 probe, which had already been built and was being kept in storage by the US Air Force. However it had to be destroyed, on the orders of the US Congress, on the grounds that its storage was too costly.
Scientists, who disseminate the program's data globally, say there is no possibility of launching a new satellite until 2023, by which point the remaining satellites will be out of service.
“This is like throwing away the medical records of a sick patient,” said David Gallaher of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. “Our world is ailing and we have apparently decided to undermine, quite deliberately, the effectiveness of the records on which its recovery might be based. It is criminal.”
Scientists also warn that other climate change monitoring programs may be in danger of a similar fate, which many believe to be ideologically driven.
Such losses have serious consequences, say researchers. “Sea-ice data provided by satellites is essential for initiating climate models and validating them,” said Andrew Fleming of the British Antarctic Survey. “We will be very much the poorer without that information.”