What costs more than space exploration? The 2014 California Drought.
It’s impossible to say exactly how big the economic impact of the 2014 California Drought will be, but what is certain that it will be really, really expensive. That massive, negative impact will come in a variety of forms. One of those is the havoc the drought will reek on California’s massive agriculture industry: Politico estimates that fallow fields caused by this drought will result in a net loss of $2 billion this year—a believable estimate, given that the 2009 drought (which was not as dry a drought) cost nearly $3 billion. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that many California farming towns are facing the specter of 50% unemployment rates thanks to the drought. As the Huffington Post lays out, there are likely to be other massive costs as well, including increased energy bills, damage from fires, a slowdowns in various industrial processes. These add up to billions more in costs. Even on the more hopeful side of the equation, the potential solutions are expensive: NBCNews reports that a new desalination plant in Carlsbad, CA will cost $1 billion. That plant will supply 7% of the water required just for San Diego County when it comes online in 2016, meaning that a lot of similar plants or alternate solutions would be needed to mitigate the impacts future droughts across the state, to say nothing of other regions. If you live in California (or in any other drought-affected area), like I do, these numbers and the human suffering they represent are presumably quite terrifying. (If you are motivated to do something about it, you may want to start here).
Approximately eight days from now, the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory (GPM, for short) will launch on board an H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The joint NASA/JAXA mission is designed to “provide next-generation observations of rain and snow worldwide every three hours.” This next-generation data will “advance our understanding of Earth’s water and energy cycles, improve the forecasting of extreme events that cause natural disasters,” like, say, droughts (plus floods, landslides, hurricanes, and many other phenomena). In addition to keeping a watchful eye out for disasters, the data from GPM will also be used to improve weather and climate models and to help with things like crop forecasting. NASA lists the projected full life cycle cost for the GPM mission as $978 million.
(Photos from a Flickr user via creative commons license and from a public domain NASA photo by Rebecca Roth.)