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Group on Earth Observations (GEO)

| Observing our planet – GEO and GEOSS

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) was established in 2005 as a response to the 2002 Johannesburg Summit on sustainable development and the subsequent G8 Summit in Evian (France). GEO currently brings together 73 national governments plus the European Commission, along with 52 intergovernmental, international and regional organisations who address Earth observation issues. Together they are creating the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) to provide comprehensive environmental data, analyses and information.

The Global Earth Observation System of Systems

Today, a vast array of systems monitors the environmental status of the Earth. Historically, these measurements were mostly taken in isolation, but now using the GEOSS a global effort is underway to assemble the data collected by these various systems, thereby enabling us to study and understand the status of our planet and to provide information to policy-makers and stakeholders.

When fully implemented, GEOSS will link literally thousands of observation systems such as: floating buoys monitoring currents, temperatures and salinity; land stations that record air quality and rainwater trends; sonar and radar systems that estimate fish and bird populations; and more than 60 environmental satellites that monitor Earth from space.

To achieve this, GEO members have agreed on a 10-year Implementation Plan, which sets out how, through the use of common technical standards, information from each system can be combined into interoperable datasets. The GEOSS will be a “system of systems” consisting of existing and future Earth observation systems (both space-based and non space-based), supplementing but not supplanting their own mandates and governance arrangements. It will provide the institutional mechanisms for ensuring the necessary level of coordination, strengthening and supplementation of existing global Earth observation systems, and for reinforcing and supporting them in carrying out their mandates.

Societal benefits

The purpose of GEOSS is to achieve comprehensive, coordinated and sustained observations of the Earth system, in order to improve monitoring of the state of the Earth, increase understanding of Earth processes, and enhance prediction of the behaviour of the Earth system. GEOSS will meet the need for timely, quality long-term global information as a basis for sound decision making, and will enhance delivery of benefits to society in the following societal benefit areas:

  • Disasters – GEOSS will enable planners to better predict, prepare for and reduce vulnerability to disasters such as fires, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. By better understanding the correlation between disasters and climate change, the risk such disasters pose will be reduced. Furthermore, through more integration of different types of data from across the globe, GEOSS will strengthen the analysis of disaster risk and facilitate disaster planning and decision-making.
  • Health – by better compiling data, GEOSS can provide health organisations with more comprehensive and accurate information to prepare for, plan and research environmental issues that have an impact on health such as drought, floods or algal blooms. Information gathered via GEOSS can be used to predict and address trends in infectious diseases such as meningitis.
  • Energy – governments and businesses will be able to monitor and use energy resources more effectively with the information gained from GEOSS. In addition, it will provide better information for:
      • monitoring and forecasting fluctuations in hydropower, solar, ocean and wind energy sources;
      • assessing and predicting the environmental impacts of energy exploration, extraction, transportation and consumption;
      • reducing weather-related and other risks to energy infrastructure;
      • matching energy supply and demand;
      • informing other aspects of energy-policy planning in both developing and developed countries.
  • Climate – climate change – one of the most pressing issues facing the globe – can be addressed with the help of GEOSS. It will improve the accuracy, speed, sophistication and resolution of climate modelling and forecasting. Linking partners around the globe will disseminate more information in a user-friendly format that will facilitate risk management and sustainable planning.
  • Water – GEOSS will assist the long-term monitoring of changes and transfers in the global water system. It will track the variables which affect the amount of freshwater available for human consumption. By combining satellite and ground data, GEOSS can standardise and improve data to better predict changes in water cycles and work to ensure potable water for everyone.
  • Weather –GEOSS will boost the amount of data and accuracy when predicting weather patterns. Further increasing this international cooperation will expand the range of uses of weather information, benefiting society and the economy.
  • Ecosystems – land-use changes, pollution and over-exploitation of natural resources have greatly harmed the world’s ecosystems. With GEOSS, ecosystem monitoring will be improved by creating a strengthened network to monitor land, oceans and coasts. This will allow for enhanced monitoring of flood control and timber harvests, for example.
  • Agriculture – food supplies depend on the environment, which can also suffer impacts from agriculture. GEOSS will give farmers, fishermen and policy-makers information to plan and ensure productivity, while protecting ecosystems and biodiversity. By disseminating the most up-to-date information about weather, storm warnings, long-term forecasts and water supply information, GEOSS will facilitate sustainable agriculture planning.
  • Biodiversity – GEOSS will link together many of the stand-alone biodiversity monitoring systems around the world. This will allow for a greater breadth of data and help assess global biodiversity trends as well as the spread and retreat of alien species.

GEOSS and the EU

The GEO initiative is of a strategic nature for the European Union given its clear relevance to a number of important European policies in the areas of sustainable development, environment, research and international co-operation.

Ministerial Summit – a crucial crossroad to the achievement of GEOSS

On 27 November–1 December 2007, the European Commission – together with ministers and scientists from the GEO Members and Participating Organisations – met in Cape Town (South Africa) to take the next steps necessary to implement GEOSS. The meeting resulted in the adoption of the Cape Town Declaration which provides further guidance towards GEOSS’s successful implementation.

As part of the move to full implementation, a one-year assessment period for the GEO Portal began from June 2008. The GEO Portal will provide a web-based interface for searching and accessing the data, information, imagery, services and applications available through the GEOSS. For the next year, users will have the opportunity to assess the three candidate GEO Portals. Based on feedback from the entire GEO community, the GEO Portal will be continually refined and then fully established during 2009.



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  • Contacts in DG Research
    Directorate Environment
    (including climate change)
    Tel +32 2 29 68 958/90606.