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Brussels, September 26, 2000

Earth Observation from Space: More than a Technical Issue!

Keywords: research, Earth observation, space

There is a critical need in Europe to make the policy on Earth observation data and the underlying economic issues more explicit and more user oriented. This is the message a high-level expert team led by Professor Ray Harris delivered to the European Commission and European space data suppliers in Brussels last week. The message comes at a time when space is very much on the Commission's agenda: earlier this month EU research Commissioner, Philippe Busquin discussed the EU-Russia Space Dialogue with the Russian Space Agency, and he will also present a communication on a European strategy for space, "Europe and space: turning to a new chapter", to the Commission next week. A coherent European approach to using satellite-based tools for environmental monitoring will feature prominently in this communication.

Professor Harris has been coordinating a working group under the Eopole initiative (see below) for the last two years. The group presented its findings to the Commission, the European Space Agency, Eumetsat and national space organisations at a workshop in Brussels on 12 September 2000. Their main recommendations were:

(See: Recommendations from the Eopole final workshop.)

The Eopole 1 initiative - 'Earth observation data policy and Europe' - is based on the idea that data policy and related economic and industrial issues are just as important as many technical issues in the development and maturity of the Earth observation sector. The Eopole Concerted Action took shape during an Information Day organised by the Commission's Research DG in June 1997 on the subject of Community research opportunities in the field of Earth observation applications. An independent Eopole working group, financed by the Commission's Environment and Climate research programme, was then created to spend two years looking at current Earth observation data policies and recommend improvements with a distinctly European perspective.

The group included representatives from industry, government and academia from eight different member states. It has held seven dedicated workshops over the last two years, culminating in the presentation of its recommendations last week.

More information about the workshop and the Eopole concerted action can be found at

For further information, please contact:

Dr Michel Schouppe, Research DG, Biodiversity and Global Change Unit
Fax: +32 2 29 60588

Professor Ray Harris, Eopole co-ordinator, University College of London
Fax: +44 171 5044293

Ms Piia Huusela, Press Officer, Research DG
Fax: + 32 2 29 58220

1. Eopole - 'Earth observation data policy and Europe' (EC concerted action ENV4-CT98-0760)

Recommendations from the Eopole final workshop

September 13, 2000

Looking at Earth observation as a major contributor to global research and observing programmes, Eopole pointed out the value of Earth observation data, not only in strictly market terms but also in terms of its value to society. In the current context of growing concern about human-induced global change, it would be extremely helpful to develop accounting measures to quantify the benefit of Earth observation to the environment.

Within the next few years, Europe will be confronted with storing and analysis of growing amounts of space data. ESRIN (one of the four establishments of the European Space Agency) will receive 160 gigabytes of Earth observation data per day. SPOT data archived in Toulouse and Kiruna comprises approximately 130 terabytes, which represents only 50% of the 7 483 285 SPOT scenes in the SPOT Image central catalogue as at 31 December 1999. The forthcoming Meteosat Second Generation mission is expected to deliver about 25 terabytes per year which means about 300 terabytes for the whole mission. It is foreseen by CEOS (Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, that by the year 2009 there will be 126 missions flying 217 instruments for Earth observation from the many and growing number of nations active in space. Against this background, active steps should be taken to find political, financial and institutional agreements to support medium and long term archiving of Earth observation satellite data. In parallel, Eopole suggested that no Earth observation mission should be launched without a statement of its archiving policy and that pricing policy should be the servant of mission objectives.

With the current trend from imagery to geo-information, users would directly take benefit from more compatible data policies for Earth observation and other kinds of data. Special consideration should be given particularly to facilitate trade and exchange of geographical information, notably via the internet.

A crosscutting recommendation by Eopole was the elaboration of a European scale institute or 'think tank' with independent and continuous capability to carry out assignments on the economic and policy issues of Earth observation. Space is a rapidly evolving sector that needs continuous monitoring!

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PRESS RELEASES | 22.09.2000