EU Science Hub

Digital Earth

Digital Earth is a concept of an interactive digital replica of the entire planet that can facilitate a shared understanding of the multiple relationships between the physical and natural environments and society. To do so, it needs to be accessible globally from multiple platforms (mobiles, tablets, computers); be able to display information in ways that are easily understood by multiple audiences (the public, decision-makers, scientists); and be constantly updated with data coming from sensors (space-based, airborne, in-situ), citizens, and both public and private sectors. It must be able to focus on change (from the past, to present and future) and thus include not just data but also the outcomes of models and simulations to enable a wider understanding of the consequences of human action on the environment, and of environmental change on society. It must be a tool for scientific discovery and education, social interaction, and debate. It must also be fun to use to engage the younger generations, who are the future of our planet.

Information Infrastructures

Sharing information on environmental and social phenomena is at the heart of Digital Earth. To do so we need a framework of technologies, standards, organisational arrangements and policies that makes it possible to find, access, use, share, and publish such information, in other words we need an information infrastructure, or to be more precise we need to connect the multiple information infrastructures being developed across the world. Such infrastructures come in multiple flavours: they include information and services for citizens and business provided by national and local governments (e-government infrastructures, and more recently open data initiatives and portals), dedicated infrastructures for scientific information and data (research e-infrastructures), and the many platforms developed by the private sector to find and share information among the public at large, including social networks like Facebook or Twitter which have become particularly popular. In Europe, the Digital Agenda is a key flagship supporting the development of these infrastructures and open data initiatives. In this sense, Digital Earth is an important contribution to the Digital Agenda and the overall Europe 2020 objectives of smart, sustainable and equitable growth in the Union. 

 

Citizens and Sensors

Information infrastructures such as INSPIRE primarily address the sharing of official information held by governments at multiple levels that is relevant for environmental policy. This is a critical first step, but in order to fully develop the vision of Digital Earth and have an interactive, dynamic, and participative framework we need to harness the opportunity presented by the development of millions of cheap sensors that can monitor social and environmental phenomena such as traffic, air quality, temperature, etc., and the billions of social network users who exchange information on many aspects of their lives and their surroundings in real time.

Image acquisition and storage

The JRC is in charge of image acquisition in the context of CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) Controls with Remote Sensing. Two types of images are acquired: satellite imagery and aerial photography. These are used for the management of feasibility studies. The JRC also produces image acquisition specifications and performs benchmarking studies of newly launched satellite sensors.

Bringing it all together

The JRC is the in-house science service of the European Commission, supporting the policies of the Union with impartial scientific advice. In the environmental domain, it is widely recognised that a key challenge facing humanity is the need to understand and better communicate to all involved the complex relationships between environment and society. Digital Earth is a framework that brings together open data policies, ICT technologies, data, and people to help develop a global shared understanding of these relationships and the consequences of human activity.