Scanning the Globe: Standards and New Publications Focus on Earth Observations

Image of scientists attempting to launch a weather balloonIt has become clear in recent years that human beings need to be much more careful in how we develop the Earth’s resources if that development is to be sustainable for future generations. To support sustainable development, in turn, we need to know the present state of the Earth and the impact of our activities. Measuring that impact and sharing the results with decision makers around the world is the goal of a major international scientific effort, the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) [see “Taking the Pulse of the Earth,” The Institute, September 2005].

The IEEE is contributing to GEOSS by leading the effort to develop standards and by publishing two journals on Earth observation.


To help identify what standards are needed and to facilitate their development, the inter ¬governmental Group on Earth Observation (GEO) Architecture and Data Committee approved a proposal from the IEEE Committee on Earth Observation (ICEO) to initiate and guide an ongoing Standards and Interoperability Forum. This all-volunteer committee, which is designed to support the inter ¬operability requirements of GEOSS, will not dictate standards. Rather, it will foster cooperation among the many GEOSS participants and help them agree on standards for the program’s components, which fall into four categories: observation (acquiring data), processing (converting data into useful information), storage, and dissemination.

To determine how well the process for reaching interoperability among components works, a series of pilot projects has begun that involves four of the nine GEOSS application areas, biodiversity, seismology, weather, and water. Any of these pilots that successfully demonstrated interoperability were expected to be discussed at the end of November during the GEO ministerial meeting in Cape Town.


The IEEE also is starting two publications dealing with the acquisition and use of data about the state of our planet. The publications, an online magazine for the general public and a peer-reviewed technical journal, join with other GEOSS-related endeavors of the ICEO. These include running Earth-observation workshops around the world, hosting a registry of GEOSS standards for such parameters as measurement units and data rates, and strengthening the ability of developing countries to acquire and use the Earth-observation data.

The journals support the GEO’s effort to apply Earth-observation data to various goals. These include improved weather forecasting; better understanding of how environmental factors affect health; better management of natural resources; improved management of eco ¬systems; and learning to foster sustainable agriculture and combat desertification.

Earthzine, written for the general public, went live on 30 November. The first issue of the professional journal, the IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing (J-STARS), is to appear in the middle of next year.

Earthzine aims to increase awareness among the general population of global changes, and to promote community among the world’s professional Earth observers, according to its editor, IEEE Member Paul E. Racette.

“The greatest challenges of implementing GEOSS are not technical but rather sociopolitical,” Racette says. “There’s the challenge of coming to an agreement on how data will be shared. And, of course, there are challenges in implementing agreements that mitigate the effects of harmful human activities.”

The keys to overcoming the challenges, Racette says, are education and public outreach, the primary objectives of Earthzine. By making it a one-stop shop for the latest in Earth science and observations, Racette hopes the magazine will attract a broad range of readers. Earthzine will feature interviews with leaders in the Earth observation field, he says, along with profiles of organizations active in the field, announcements of upcoming events, news stories, opinion pieces, book reviews, and noteworthy items reprinted from other publications.

J-STARS, the new technical print journal, which is scheduled to appear quarterly, is being edited by IEEE Fellow Ellsworth F. LeDrew, a professor of geography at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario. LeDrew’s research focuses on remote sensing of submerged coral reefs for coastal management, as well as on applying remote sensing to measure changes in sea ice.

At the start, at least, J-STARS will have special issues dedicated to particular subjects. The debut issue will concentrate on Earth observations and renewable wind energy. Two future issues are in the works: one devoted to remote sensing of human settlements, the other, wildfires and biomass burning. The first deals with population studies and determining where to place buildings; the second covers fire management.

Together, the new publications strengthen the IEEE’s education and outreach efforts on behalf of GEOSS, efforts that Senior Member Jay Pearlman, ICEO chair, regards as equal in importance to the institute’s technical contributions.


This article was originally published in the IEEE Institute in December 2007 and is republished on Earthzine with the expressed written permission of the IEEE Institute Editor.