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| Third Earth Observation Summit: Global partners sign up to implementation plan

On 16 February, over 50 countries and 40 international and scientific organisations signed up to create the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, at a summit hosted by the European Commission in Brussels. This boost to co-operation amongst all providers and users of earth observation data will speed up and facilitate a huge range of research work in the environmental field.

Pierre Valette Head of Unit Environmental Research
Pierre Valette Head of Unit Environmental Research
“This Earth Observation Summit was very significant since it was the first time so many countries and organisations have come together to demonstrate their commitment to linking their many different systems for observation, to make them interoperable,” says Pierre Valette, Acting Director for Environment in the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research. “And most importantly, they made not just a commitment in principle, but a real, quite detailed agreement to co-operate, on the technical level, on well defined subjects.”

The Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) will provide the framework for integrating the diverse systems – both existing and future – of earth observation. These include space (satellite-based) platforms, but also include (much more numerous) terrestrial and marine-based platforms. “It’s a big challenge to bring together all these different people and make it work,” Valette admits, “but I believe the commitment is there, and the countries involved are motivated to make it succeed.”

Benefit to society

Nine areas where society will benefit from greater integration in earth observation are included in the 10-year implementation plan for GEOSS, signed on 16 February. These are:

  • Reducing loss of life and property from natural and human induced disasters;
  • Improved understanding of environmental factors affecting human health and well-being;
  • Better management of energy resources;
  • Understanding, assessing, predicting, mitigating and adapting to climate variability and change;
  • Improving water resource management;
  • Improving weather information, forecasting and warning;
  • Improving the management and protection of terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems;
  • Supporting sustainable agriculture and combating desertification; and
  • Understanding, monitoring and conserving biodiversity.

“These areas are of interest to all regions of the world,” Valette emphasises, “and as well as sharing data, the plan will also help to structure and order data better, so that everybody can work on the same basis.”

Environmental research

In terms of environmental research, Valette sees the development of the GEOSS as a “very promising initiative,” since the data provided by earth observation is a vital tool for researchers. “In research areas such as global change and ecosystems – basically we’re looking at the underlying goal of sustainable development – data from earth observation is very important,” he says. “Research in such fields should be able to progress faster, and researchers will gain easier access to the data they need.”

As with the current Programme, the EU is planning to devote significant resources from within the next research Framework Programme, due to start in 2006, to research on environmental issues. Earth observation will be an important part of this, according to Valette. Activities such as the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative (a joint EU-European Space Agency initiative) will play a key role in furthering earth observation activities, as the main contribution of the EU to GEO. The GEOSS is much wider than just the EU, and Valette underlines the value of strong co-operation with both the EU’s Member States and a range of other countries and organisations around the world. “In many cases these initiatives are already under way, but by creating a framework within which to work together, we will enable much faster progress towards solving major problems threatening our environment.”

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