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Earth observation

The challenge

Humans have always observed the Earth: watching the changing season to predict the best time for harvesting, or the night sky while navigating at sea. At present, research in earth observation is seeking to further integrate land- and sea-based sensor networks with space-based platforms that enable observation and comparison on a global scale. Better coordination and integration means better results, giving policy-makers more accurate information as they draw up environmental legislation to protect society and nature.

Research history and policy relevance

The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, highlighted the urgent need for coordinated observations relating to the state of the Earth. The June 2003 summit of the heads of states of the Group of Eight industrialised countries in France reinforced the importance of earth observation as a priority activity. Europe is a global leading player in the advancement of earth observation technologies and related environmental applications. European remote-sensing satellites cover all of the Earth’s climatic zones, while European ground-, air- and ocean-based monitoring devices serve users by providing high-quality observation data for subjects as diverse as urban planning, adaptation to climate change, disaster reduction, disease control and humanitarian relief. Earth observation projects are increasingly being integrated into the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), which brings together 71 partner countries from around the world as well as the European Commission.

Earth observation in FP7

In FP7, four blocks toward the establishment of GEOSS are emphasised:

  1. Integration of European activities within the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), supporting European activities at global level
  2. Cross-cutting research activities relevant to GEO understanding, modelling and predicting environmental phenomena
  3. Emerging earth observation activities, supporting the development of European earth observation systems and activities in areas of environmental research needed for GEOSS
  4. Developing capacity-building activities in the domain of earth observation, providing support to international research initiatives in which Europe would contribute to the development of observing systems.