An Introduction to OBSERVE, Strengthening and development of Earth Observation activities for the environment in the Balkan area

EarthzineArticles, Earth Observation, Original

Observe logo

Observe logoPetros Patias
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, School of Rural and Surveying Engineering
OBSERVE is the acronym of a research project with the full title “Strengthening and development of Earth Observation activities for the environment in the Balkan area.” It is funded under the scheme of Coordination and Support Action by the 7th Framework Programme. Its duration is 24 months and started in November 2010.
Since it began, the project has delivered five consortium meetings, one workshop, presence in three international conferences by way of academic papers and posters, and a long list of other public and internal deliverables including an Earth Observation (EO) stakeholders’ database, national thematic reports on EO capacities, questionnaires and other auxiliary documents. All of the results and objectives are targeted toward EO activities, and are especially focused in the Balkan area.
The OBSERVE project consortium consists of (Figure 1): Fifteen institutions from 13 different countries, eight of which belong to the Balkan region. Ten of the partners are universities or research organizations, while the other five are from the private sector.

A list showing the 15 participants of OBSERVE

Figure 1: Participants of OBSERVE.

The concept
Balkan countries do not have a coherent and continuous approach toward the challenge of implementing integrated Earth Observation (EO) applications in environmental monitoring and management. It should be mentioned the Balkan countries, except Greece and Romania, are not ESA members. Besides, Albania, Bulgaria, FYROM, Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina also are not members of the Group on Earth Observation (GEO).
The defect in the implementation of EO applications and their use in the environmental decision making are manifested through the limited synergies among national and regional institutions, ineffective technological means and discontinuous record of participation to international organizations and committees.
On the other hand, the increasing importance of a common approach toward effective environmental monitoring practices, for the benefit of the societal web of the broader Balkan region, calls for immediate action, setting as a starting point the build-up of regional institutional capacity and spillage of technology transfer.
The aim of the OBSERVE project is to collect and compile all the necessary information for delivering an integrated analysis on the current status of EO activities and networks in the Balkans regarding environmental monitoring, the potential benefit from the full exploitation of an integrated capacity development strategy, and the prospect of creating a relevant and permanent EO community in the broader region. OBSERVE has the ultimate goal of raising awareness and establishing firm links with the regional decision-making bodies on the importance of a mutual and enhanced EO application network on environmental monitoring according to the principles of the GEO.
Another key objective is to ensure a focused and strong dissemination strategy in the Balkan region, including EO and environmental decision makers, as well as national and regional government decision makers, the international research community, local stakeholders, the media and other valuable multipliers.
The Vision
OBSERVE has the vision of establishing a new Balkan EO community of multilevel stakeholders that will make use of state of the art technological developments, products and knowhow from the existing European EO community and industry.
Strategic Objectives
Map showing distribution of official organizations using EO data in the OBSERVE Balkan countries.

Figure 2: The distribution of official organizations using EO data in the OBSERVE Balkan countries as recorded through special survey and delivery of National Thematic Reports on EO capacities.

The strategic objectives of OBSERVE are summarized below:

• Build a spatial database and web inventory with all existing dynamic elements related to the scope of the relevant analysis in order to reinforce new synergies in EO solutions for the benefit of environment;
• Raise awareness on the need to harmonize policies and practices in field EO applications to address the challenges described by the GEO societal benefit areas;
• Serve as an efficient mechanism for recording, monitoring and influencing policy in EO;
• Favor exploitation and development of EO activities and ensure coordination of these activities for the benefit of natural resources management;
• Promote the idea of permanent institutional links and mutual cooperation between Balkan states in the field of EO for environmental management;
• Ensure free access of Balkan countries to all advantages of Earth Observation techniques;
• Promote cooperation between Balkan States in the fields of training and sharing of staff and experiences in all aspects of EO.

During the short lifetime of OBSERVE, institutes from most of the Balkan countries have had the opportunity to cooperate and exchange experiences and knowhow to cope with environmental management issues, taking advantage of Earth Observation data and services. The recording of status quo for Earth Observation in the Balkan region through the OBSERVE surveys and deliverables (Figure 2) will be a powerful tool to:

• Explore strengths and weaknesses in the production, use and delivery of EO products and services;
• Find the gaps and emphasize certain problems each Balkan state is facing;
• Design a road map to overcome problems connected to the use of Earth Observation for environmental applications.

Petros Patias, OBSERVE coordinator, is a professor and ex-chairman at the School of Rural and Surveying Engineering, The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, board member of the Department of Urban Planning, and Vice Rector at the University of Western Macedonia, Greece. His published work includes six books, four chapters in international books and 161 papers in journals and proceedings.
See also
OBSERVE Project Announces Competition
The Experience of the 1st OBSERVE CARAVAN Workshop
New Journal on South-Eastern European Earth Observation and Geomatics
A Post-GEO Plenary Workshop on Earth Observations for the Social Benefit of the Balkans