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Group on Earth Observations (GEO)


The GEO is coordinating efforts to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). GEOSS is an international public infrastructure using land, sea, air and space-based Earth observation systems to provide comprehensive environmental data, information and analyses.

Policy relevance

The GEOSS provides data and information across nine societal benefit areas (SBAs), complex clusters of issues which require accurate spatial and temporal resolution data., The nine SBAs listed in the GEOSS 10-Year Implementation Plan are as follows:

  1. Reducing loss of life and property from natural and human-induced disasters.
  2. Understanding environmental factors affecting human health and well-being.
  3. Improving management of energy resources.
  4. Understanding, assessing predicting, mitigating and adapting to climate variability and change.
  5. Improving water resource management through better understanding of the water cycle.
  6. Improving weather information, forecasting and warning.
  7. Improving the management and protection of terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems.
  8. Supporting sustainable agriculture and combating desertification.
  9. Understanding, monitoring and conserving biodiversity.

The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) will be a 'distributed system of EO systems', building on and strengthening current co-operation efforts among existing observing and processing systems within their mandate. These include, for example, the World Meteorological Organisation's World Weather Watch Global Observing System. The GEOSS would also encourage and accommodate new systems such as the observation components of Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative. GEOSS will acquire observational data from many different Earth observation platforms, promoting interoperability and harmonisation of different systems, aiming to process data into useful environmental information products for the benefit of the societies of the world. GEOSS will address exchange, dissemination and archiving of shared data, metadata and products. Last but not the least, GEOSS implementation activities will strengthen ongoing EO research, capacity building and outreach. GEO capacity building develops a strategy based on a global partnership, which aims to meet the requirements of the end users using the most recent progress of research and technology. Furthermore, GEO aims to establish and maintain certain sites for global in situ and remote-sensing networks that cannot always be justified on national grounds alone, in cooperation with relevant global research programmes and activities, in order to

Future Challenges

The international goal of developing GEOSS builds upon the most recent technological advances in observation tools, data management and modelling.

- Arrangements to make systems interoperable and to share data

GEOSS provides significant benefits through contributed systems working together to provide vital information in the nine societal benefit areas.

- Collective optimisation of the observation strategy

Optimization of sampling is only possible with a certain degree of knowledge of the distribution and dynamics of the system being observed. This is one of the reasons why it is highly imperative to maintain close and interactive relationships among observation systems, research programmes and user communities.

- Cooperative gap filling

Because many Earth-system processes operate at large scales, deficiencies in observation in one area could have an impact in other areas.

- Observational continuity

All the activities related to the development of the GEOSS cannot be effective in the long term, without a firm commitment to the continuation of observations at a certain level of accuracy, targeted at the needs of users.

- Capacity building

The GEO capacity building includes three observation system elements:

  • Human resources
  • infrastructure and
  • Institutional capacity.

The GEO capacity building develops a strategy based on a global partnership, which aims to meet the requirements of the end users using the most recent progress of research and technology. Furthermore, GEO aims to establish and maintain certain sites for global in situ and remote-sensing networks that cannot always be justified on national grounds alone, in cooperation with relevant global research programmes and activities, in order to achieve synergies between observations and achievements.

Research activities developed at the European Community level through the 7th Framework Programme are focussed on the development and integration of the GEOSS, (including support to the GEO Secretariat).. In relation to the nine societal benefit areas of GEO strong emphasis is put on the need to integrate the European Earth Observation related research activities into the global picture. The development of GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) is also supported through FP7. When implemented, the various GMES services will represent a significant contribution from the EU to the GEOSS.

The first actions that are currently being implemented under the 2007 Call for Proposals of the Environment Theme of the Cooperation Specific Programme of FP7 deal with priority areas of GEOSS, namely: monitoring of the carbon cycle at global level; contributing to a global biodiversity observation system; monitoring the ocean interior, seafloor, and sub-seafloor; developing a Global Soil Observing System; building a Georesource information system for Africa; improving observing systems for water resource management; and developing GEONETCast applications for developing countries. In 2008, support is targeted at: promoting interoperability between systems for observation, information management and data sharing; optimising information for understanding, modelling and predicting environmental phenomena; strengthening EU capacity in Earth Observation in the Black Sea region.

The 2009 activities will focus mainly on the integration of European Earth Observation research relevant to GEO and its contribution to the European Research Area (ERA), through structuring measures; covering GEO related areas such as environment and health, seismogenic hazards, mineral resources in support to the EU Technology Platform on Sustainable Mineral Resources, and enhancing earth observation capacity building in developing countries.

EU contribution to GEOSS

The goals of the GEO initiative are highly relevant to EU policies in the areas of environment, sustainable development, research, external relations, which call for a strong European knowledge-based economy. Therefore, Europe strongly supports this initiative and the implementation of the GEOSS, through:

  • EU environment research activities supporting the implementation of GEOSS in the different societal benefit areas;
  • The ‘Global Monitoring for Environment and Security’ (GMES) initiative, developing user-driven, operational, environmental monitoring services based on integrated EO data;
  • The 'INfrastructure for SPatial InfoRmation in Europe' (INSPIRE) initiative, making available relevant, harmonised and quality geographic information;
  • Data and information products based on regional and national European Earth observation networks.

EU environment research activities

During its ten-year implementation period, GEOSS will provide new impetus for Earth Observation (EO) research. The GEOSS Ten-Year Implementation Plan Reference Document, approved at the Third Earth Observation Summit on 16 February 2005 in Brussels, specifies a two-year period to facilitate the development and availability of data, metadata and products, including base maps and common socio-economic data, commonly required across the nine GEOSS societal benefit areas:

  • Disaster Reduction;
  • Climate Change;
  • Health;
  • Biodiversity;
  • Water Management;
  • Ecosystems;
  • Weather Forecasting;
  • Agriculture and desertification; and
  • Energy Management.

Within the next six years, 2006-2011, GEOSS will target data management facilitation approaches within the different societal benefit areas, encompassing a great part of the EO data life cycle, from input through data acquisition, processing, archiving and dissemination. A team of experts is currently drafting the GEO Work Plan for 2006.

All GEOSS benefits and research will respond to Environment and Sustainable Development issues. Under the EU Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) priority area on 'Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystems', work is already being carried out aimed at improving, integrating and using EO systems. This includes all available in situ and remote sensing platforms for climate change monitoring, early warning, including tsunamis, and risk management. Other important GEOSS research issues include improving interoperability and optimisation of information products for understanding, modelling and predicting environmental phenomena.

The Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), set to run from 2007 to 2013, will ensure the continuity of these activities, forging explicit links with the GEOSS Implementation Plan in the 'Environment' thematic area, which includes work on climate change.

  • Disaster reduction and climate change are the first two GEO societal benefit areas. Both require scientific progress in terms of understanding and prediction. Scientific knowledge of climate change is already well established, being the focus of a long tradition of research. Nevertheless, prediction capacity needs to be strengthened through the development of models to better analyse and forecast extreme events at the regional level. Similar needs exist for disaster reduction. The need for better early warning systems was sadly demonstrated by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.
  • Characterisation of natural resources and observations regarding their exploitation and management are also key to ensuring sustainability. Water, energy, agriculture, biodiversity, land use and ecosystems have been the subjects of many research efforts around the world, but it is now time to exploit the opportunities offered by the relevant existing observation systems. Building comparable databases and management tools allowing more efficient and sustainable use of these natural resources is an attainable objective within GEOSS. EO-based weather information will also help to achieve this objective.
  • Finally, Environment and health is an area that has yet to be explored systematically and knowledge about the relationship between environment and health is still limited. Well-organised and focused observations will make possible more rapid progress.
  • The elaboration of data information systems that bring together data from all EO platforms, ground-based, airborne and space-based, is a first pragmatic objective of GEOSS. Operational data information systems will permit better exchange, dissemination and archiving of shared data, metadata and products. These systems are essential for the scientific assessment and modelling of environmental phenomena, and are the only instruments able to support prediction of events and their impact on the human activity. The research community will have to clearly specify the contents and functions of the data information systems they need.

EU countries and those GEO member countries associated with the Framework Programme, including Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Israel, also have their own national EO and environment research activities. Coordination between national and EU activities is therefore necessary.

In addition to the research activities just mentioned, EU intents to provide up to 1.8 Million € from its FP6 environment research budget to cover up to 50 % of the operational costs of the GEO secretariat in 2005 and 2006. This will cover the GEO secretariat contribution of GEO members from EU Members States, Candidate Countries and contributors to the FP. European GEO Members can contribute to the GEO secretariat on a voluntary basis.


The objective of GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) is to provide information and customised services, based on space and non-space observations (airborne, water-based and ground-based), to a variety of user communities in the public and private domain. GMES should primarily respond to a demand for geo-strategic information services in environment and security related policy areas of the EU and ESA Member States.

GMES has to respond to the political mandate expressed by the Council Resolution on GMES 1 following the Gothenburg Summit of June 2001, stressing: “the importance of the initial period in preparing the next phase of GMES, aimed at achieving by 2008 an operational and autonomous European capability”. The EC has established an Action Plan for GMES in its Communication on GMES of February 2004 2. This Action Plan envisages an operational GMES core capacity starting in 2008.

GMES demonstrator projects, many of which address environmental issues, are already supported under the FP6, 'Aeronautics and Space' priority and by ESA funding. EC currently identifies a number of initial GMES services. The first three pilot services to be operationally implemented by year 2008 (“fast track”) include:

  • Information for Crisis (Emergency) Management
  • Land use/land cover monitoring
  • Marine Core Services

GMES and GEOSS share a range of strategic and technical issues and offer opportunities for interactions (e.g. space and non-space observation platforms, data exchanges and network connections, tasking and integration of observations, ad-hoc campaigns). At the European level, the two initiatives are closely related in that:

  • As it develops itself, GMES will become, with the data it can generate, a main European contribution to the GEOSS.
  • GMES will benefit from the observations collected and exchanged in the frame of the international GEOSS activities.

  1. Council Resolution 2001/C 350/02 (13.11.2001)
  2. COM(2004)65 Final (3.2.2004)


INSPIRE (INfrastructure for SPatial InfoRmation in Europe) is a directive of the EU Environment policy. It aims at making available relevant, harmonised and quality geo­graphic information for formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of Community policy-making by addressing data management and sharing, standards and interoperability issues of European spatial data. Thus INSPIRE will also be a European contribution to GEOSS.

Regional and national European contributions to GEOSS

In addition to GMES, other regional and national European national observation systems, modelling and data processing centres and data exchange and dissemination centres will be included within the GEOSS. The following systems and centres have already been identified in the GEOSS Ten-Year Implementation Plan Reference Document:

In addition, European countries contribute national observation systems, modelling and data processing centres, and data exchange and dissemination centres to the following GEOSS initial components:

Relevant documentation


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