One key application of GMES is to contribute to understanding and command of global change, by making it possible to provide data and validate models related to phenomena such as El Niño and the carbon cycle. It will also enhance the study of various processes that put pressure on the environment, in particular due to the growth of urban or industrial areas.
Europe leads Envisat, the largest earth observation satellite ever built and a key component of GMES, was successfully launched on 1 March 2002. Orbiting the Earth 14 times a day, it will use on-board instruments to gather data on environmental pollution and climate change. Envistat will measure and analyse greenhouse gases, locate environmental polluters, identify ocean currents and monitor the Antarctic and Arctic ozone holes.
More than half a million hectares of forest are destroyed every year by fire in the EU Mediterranean region, causing often-irreversible damage to the fragile ecosystems. Under its Fire Risk Watch scheme, the Joint Research Centre supplies civil protection and forest fire services with reliable forecast maps based on up-to-date satellite imaging.
This enables appropriate preventive strategies to be applied – including the allocation of aerial, mechanical and human resources.
A second task is linked to the civil security dimension: civil protection and town planning agencies are major users of observation systems permitting the evaluation and prevention of catastrophes or disasters, whether of human or natural origin.
Crisis management is another important area where GMES can make a valuable contribution. The ‘Communication from the Commission on Conflict Prevention’ acknowledges the role of environmental degradation and competition for natural resources as sources of tension that can lead to civil and international strife.
Europe’s ability to play a positive part in conflict prevention will depend on its ability to predict and pre-empt these circumstances.
Thus, GMES will also contribute to the common defence and security policy, in line with the so-called ‘Petersberg’ tasks.
For the initial period of work, nine specific priorities are identified under the four themes below:
European regional monitoring: Land cover change in Europe, and environmental stress in Europe;
Global monitoring: Global vegetation, atmosphere, and oceans;
Environmental security: Support to development aid, systems for risk management, systems for crisis management and humanitarian aid; and
Horizontal support actions: Reference data and information management tools, and contribution to the development of a European Spatial Data Infrastructure.