Group on Earth Observation Measures GEOSS Progress at GEO Plenary VI

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GEO assembly plenary

GEO assembly plenary

The GEO Plenary VI in Washington, DC Nov. 17 and 18 drew an international and dedicated assembly of delegates from its 80 Member nations, the European Commission, and 56 affiliated organizations who reported their progress toward achieving the goals of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems by 2015.

The Group on Earth Observation is co-chaired by China, the European Commission (EC), South Africa and the United States. They are represented by Dr. Zheng Guoguang, Administrator of the China Meteorological Administration; Ms Manuela Soares, Environment Director in the EC’s Research Directorate General; Dr. Phil Mjwara, Director General of the Department of Science and Technology, South Africa; and Ms Sherburne Abbott, Associate Director for Environment, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Ms. Abbott was chair of the Washington meeting.

GEO Secretariat Director, Prof. Jose Achache, was cautiously optimistic in his opening remarks. ‰ÛÏOne of my teachers once told me when you want to measure a process you don’t look at where it is, but how fast you got there. In other words, it’s the first derivative that is always more important than the absolute value. When we apply these criteria to GEOSS implementation, we can be proud of what we have achieved over four years. Just from Bucharest to Washington in one year, the amount of work that has been added to the GEOSS implementation plan is enormous‰Û_‰Û

He also said, ‰ÛÏI see a major challenge ahead of us. We’ve heard from John Holdren [Science Advisor to US President Barack Obama] that environmental information is going to be needed more and more for decision making both public and private. It means that Earth observation is bound to become a commodity in the new green economy. The way we are going to build GEOSS into a commodity is the real question. The private sector is more and more interested in becoming a partner in building GEOSS. At the same time Earth observation has to remain a basic information tool of science, and we have to maintain the public good dimension of GEOSS. How we will reconcile these competing forces; how we will coordinate them, will be a major challenge before us.‰Û

To read all of his remarks and those of GEO Plenary co-chairs Dr. Phil Mjwara of South Africa, Dr. Zheng Guoguang of China, and of Dr. Holdren and Dr. Jane Lubchenko of NOAA at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, as well as others, please visit GEO on Facebook.

GEO Committees Report a Year’s Progress

Also, during the two-day plenary, the chairpersons of major committees gave presentations to delegates that summarized their progress. The documents that support the agenda are available online.

The progress made so far by GEO includes the rapid expansion of the free and open access to data and observations. Inspired by the data-sharing principles developed by GEO, space agencies are making their data much more easily accessible ‰ÛÒ free of charge.

The 2009-2011 GEO Work plan update also highlights the following points of progress:

‰Û¢ Users were given access to the world’s largest collection of land surface imagery ‰ÛÒ including Global Landsat data ‰ÛÒ via the Land Surface Imaging portal;

‰Û¢ A new digital topographical map of the Earth was made publicly available to respond to the critical need for a comprehensive, highly accurate, fully consistent, and freely available global Digital Elevation Model (ASTER GDEM);

‰Û¢ The principle of ‰ÛÏuniversal access‰Û to the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters was endorsed by space agencies. In 2008, 45 GEO Member countries still did not have Authorized User status to the Charter;

‰Û¢ World seismic information strongly progressed towards free availability at minimum time delay. Access to the complete Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data holdings was granted through the Supersite website. Over 170 geological datasets were made available by 40 nations through the OneGeology Portal;

‰Û¢ Major global reanalysis datasets were released by national and international numerical weather and climate centers in Europe, Japan and the USA;

GEO Portals

GEO Portals

‰Û¢ Satellite data records were expanded through the launch of the Japanese Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite ‰ÛÏIBUKI‰Û (GOSAT) satellite and the development of a new Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) virtual constellation to provide ocean biology and bio-geochemistry products;

‰Û¢ Near-real time and archived measurements of remotely-sensedåÊåÊåÊåÊ ocean-color products and seasurface temperature (SST) were made available for South America, Africa and the Indian Ocean through the ChloroGIN portal;

‰Û¢ Numerous global runoff data sets and products were made available through the newly-reworked Global Runoff Data Centre (GRDC) website ‰ÛÒ including time series of daily and/or monthly river discharge data of more than 7,300 stations from 156 countries over a period of around 38 years;

‰Û¢ Long-record (quasi-)global precipitation climatology datasets were made available by the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre (GPCC), the Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP), and the TRMM Multi-satellite Precipitation Analysis (TMPA);

‰Û¢ TIGGE ‰ÛÒ a global database of ensemble weather forecasts originating from 10 major numerical centers (Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Japan, Korea, UK, USA and ECMWF) ‰ÛÒ was made a free resource for high-impact weather research in early warning and societal applications‰Û

GEO Exhibitors Spanned the Globe

The plenary reviewed emerging monitoring and information systems, web portals and data-sharing principles. Exhibitors in over 30 booths demonstrated the progress being achieved in these areas.

Many of the information systems and services under review at the plenary analyze Earth observation data gathered by satellites and by in-situ instruments, such as ocean buoys, carbon flux towers, rain and discharge gauges, cameras and sonar. Two of the examples presented at the plenary and exhibition were:

‰Û¢ Forest Carbon Tracking ‰ÛÒ By integrating field observations with radar and optical images provided by space agencies (including NASA, USGS, JAXA, CSA, ESA, DLR, ASI, INPE, GISTDA and CRESDA), the GEO Forest Carbon Tracking task is estimating trends in the spatial extent and carbon content of the world’s forests. Participants in the task can share images, photos, in-situ data, models as well as results via an on-line platform contributed by Google Earth Outreach.

‰Û¢ The GEO Biodiversity Observation Network ‰ÛÒ Some 100 organizations are collaborating through GEO BON to bring together their biodiversity data, information and forecasts and make them more readily accessible to policymakers, managers, experts and other users.

Image of the GEO VI logo

In another part of the Exhibition Hall, delegates and visitors could test the ‰ÛÏGEO Portal‰Û for searching integrated data sets and presenting targeted information products to decision makers was also featured in Washington. Two leading information technology companies, ESRI and Compusult, and two international agencies, the European Space Agency and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, are contributing to this effort.

GEO was established in 2005 after the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries (G8) and three ministerial Earth Observation Summits all called for improving existing observation systems.

GEO Plenary VII will be held in November 2010 in Beijing, China.

For more information: Please contact Michael Williams at,+41-22-730-8293. See also the GEO website at