The European Association of Remote Sensing Companies (EARSC) held its annual general meeting on 26-27 June in Brussels. During the event, EU policy makers and industry representatives discussed the future of European earth observation (EO) services and of Copernicus, the European EO programme providing a wide range of information services based on full, free and open data from satellites and land-based sources.

Picture of a Copernicus satellite circling the Earth

On this occasion I wanted to highlight some of the areas of common interest between the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) and Copernicus, two open data initiatives from the EU.

How can the EOSC and Copernicus benefit each other?

The Copernicus programme relies on vast amounts of data collected by satellites and other systems like ground stations, airborne sensors, and sea-borne sensors. All this data is then stored, analysed, organised and used in a wide variety of applications including environment protection, agriculture, healthcare, and emergency responses after natural disasters. The fast provision of accurate data and capacity to process huge amounts of material are of paramount importance: Copernicus is the third largest data provider in the world! In order to cope with these technological requirements, a robust and reliable data infrastructure is needed.

By federating existing research infrastructures and scientific clouds, by 2020 the EOSC will offer an open pan-European virtual environment to access, store, analyse and re-use data and support the development of cloud-based services for open science. The primary beneficiary of the EOSC will be Europe’s research and scientific community, but the EOSC aims to widen its access and support public services, industry and ultimately society as a whole. Eventually, the EOSC will be able to offer an integrated virtual environment to deposit, share and reuse EO data and provide the computing resources necessary to manipulate and manage large amounts of data. It will be easier to retrieve and process EO data, and this will stimulate demand for EO services and market opportunities for EO data services.

The benefits will, however, flow in both directions! Integrating Copernicus services into the upcoming service catalogue of the EOSC, as foreseen in the INFRAEOSC-01-2018 call, will also enable researchers to easily access these services, even when provided by commercial operators. As a result, academic institutions will have to engage in fewer complex procurement processes, and this development will also support the cross-analysis of data from different sources while expanding research and innovation opportunities in Europe.

Concrete examples

The fact that e-Infrastructures are needed to make the most of EO is already well illustrated by some successful synergies.

For instance, two ongoing EU-funded projects are currently deploying service-driven research environments to make full use of earth data:

  • The EarthServer-2 project has developed the Earth Observation Data Service, a Big Data platform to enable fast and easy access to geospatial data. This new service will allow scientists to query and analyse huge amounts of EO datasets, spread over multiple data providers, using a single query.  It has been already recognised as a game changer for Copernicus services.
  • The EVER-EST project is developing a European virtual environment focused on the requirements of the earth science community. This innovative new framework aims to enhance the ability of the earth science communities and observational scientific disciplines in general, to collaborate and share knowledge and expertise.

Finally, GÉANT, a pan-European network providing computing, analysis, storage, applications and other resources to the research and education community, signed an agreement with the European Space Agency in February 2016 to distribute Copernicus data to research and education users worldwide. This agreement was crucial, as the GÉANT network is able to deliver the scalable, robust capacity required to meet the Copernicus programme’s critical parameters, including bandwidth and latency, reliability and geographical scope.

Background

The Copernicus programme, led by the EU, is one of the most ambitious EO systems to date and aims to manage the environment and respond to the challenges of global change. The programme is coordinated and managed by the European Commission. The development of the observation infrastructure is performed under the aegis of the European Space Agency for the space component and by the European Environment Agency and EU countries for the land-based component. It consists of a complex set of systems which collect data from multiple sources: earth observation satellites and land-based sensors. It processes this data and provides users with reliable and up-to-date information through a set of services related to environmental and security issues. The services cover six thematic areas: land, marine, atmosphere, climate change, emergency management, and security.

The concept of the EOSC originated in the 2016 Communication “European Cloud Initiative - Building a competitive data and knowledge economy in Europe”. This Communication was further developed into an implementation roadmap published in March 2018. A first version of the EOSC portal aiming to federate existing data infrastructures and provide European researchers with world-class data infrastructures and cloud-based services will be released in November 2018.