From Nov. 11-13, 2015, researchers from around the world who depend on and develop Earth Observation data will gather in Mexico City for the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) 12th Plenary and Ministerial Summit.
This is the most important EO event of the year and Earthzine will be reporting on it here, with daily blog posts featuring interviews with researchers and coverage of issues that are on the forefront of EO – everything from the latest developments in remote ocean monitoring to an in-depth look at how EO can be used to further the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
You also can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for live updates.
(Read our coverage of previous GEO plenaries)
(Learn what GEO is doing to help obtain global sustainability)
“Environmental intelligence starts with our ability to take the pulse of the planet.”
Kathryn Sullivan, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, speaking at GEO-XII, 10 November 2015.
Below is an audio recording of NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan speaking at GEO-XII in Mexico City on November 10, 2015. Included in her remarks is the following observation:
“We are the first generation of human beings that has the ability to look at the Earth the way we now do: to look at it from above and see the entire Earth almost in a snapshot, and to hold a digital globe in our hands….This reality is abundantly clear to any of us who has been able to see the Earth from above, who has had the chance to circle our planet entirely every hour and a half. When you have that experience you come to realize, very quickly and very profoundly, that our planet is made up not of national boundaries and borders and exclusive economic zones, but is a richly connected web of natural systems – ocean currents, atmospheric patterns, weather systems, mountain ranges – all tied together into one single planet on which we all depend.”
Dr. Sullivan was speaking from personal experience.
As a NASA astronaut, she was the first American woman to perform an Extra-Vehicular Activity (a “space-walk”) on October 11, 1984. In 1990, Sullivan was part of the crew of SST-31 that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope.
“Science is fundamental to every decision we make.”
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, speaking at GEO-XII, 13 November 2015.
Below is an audio recording of U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell speaking at the GEO-XII Plenary in Mexico City on November 13, 2015. The recording was provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Statement from IEEE to the GEO Plenary, 12 November 2015, Mexico City, Mexico
November 12, 2015
Statement by Prof. René Garello
President of the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society
Thank you Mister Chair, good afternoon to all,
IEEE is “Advancing Technology for Humanity”. By bringing a technology and engineering base to GEO, IEEE supports important and transverse actions.
We are making substantial contributions to the evolution of the GEOSS Common Infrastructure including operation of the Standards, Interoperability and User Requirements Registry, which provides an important capability for interoperability and requirements.
We actively support expansion of the Blue Planet activities. For instance, we co-lead the GEO Coastal Zone Community of Practice, which is contributing to Blue Planet and we will co-host the next Blue Planet Symposium in 2017.
In the next ten years, we foresee an expansion of the services that GEO provides to the global community. IEEE will be strongly engaged in the GEO prospective activities as the new Work Program evolves.
Let me point for your consideration to a few services we support and will be supporting:
First, in collaboration with other organizations, IEEE is leading an effort to understand how to quantify the societal benefits and impacts of Earth observation and GEO.
Second, IEEE will support moving beyond data to a knowledge-based approach that will better engage decision makers. And IEEE is committed to contribute to this transition.
Third, understanding the Earth and its rapidly changing environment requires a focus on 70% of the Earth’s surface: the Oceans, which are a core component of Earth’s life support system.
Fourth, IEEE contributes to GEO outreach through its on-line magazine, Earthzine.
In closing, I look forward to continuing IEEE support for GEO and GEOSS and express our appreciation for the collaborative environment that GEO creates and that IS GEO. Thank you.
Blue Planet and Catching the Wave of Collaboration
Nov. 12, 2015
By Elise Mulder Osenga
“It’s very clear to me that one country working alone can’t achieve what it can working with other countries across the globe,” says Dr.Sophie Seeyave, Executive Director of the Partnership for the Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO).
Today, Seeyave took the time to talk to Earthzine about one of POGO’s primary initiatives, Blue Planet, and the importance of including ocean observations in GEO.
Conceived in 2011 and added to the GEO Work Plan in 2012, Blue Planet has an ambitious purpose: it is intended to align all ocean programs within GEO, expand the GEO ocean observation portfolio, and create foster synergies among ocean observation groups. At the time when GEO began, few ocean observations were included in the overall plan, yet oceans play a critical role in Earth systems and human activities. Since its establishment, POGO has sought to help incorporate ocean observations into GEO, and Blue Planet was intended as an initiative to tie POGO more directly to GEO’s emphasis on societal benefits.
“One of the reasons why Blue Planet was created was to demonstrate that the ocean influences all of the nine original societal benefit areas that were designated.”
Examples of ways that ocean observations benefit society include development of more sustainable fisheries and food production, maintaining economic potential of recreational activities, and offering early warning systems for disasters such as tsunamis. Within Blue Planet, there is an especially strong emphasis on seeking opportunities for capacity building in developing nation states, particularly small developing nation states. Seeyave describes Blue Planet’s role in all this as an organizing infrastructure.
“It’s really about galvanizing all the important parts of the (observation) community into a single place that can be a resource to the outside communities.”
Those communities include other scientific researchers, decision makers, and practitioners such as fisheries or recreation companies. Blue Planet is a relatively new initiative, and it is still developing everything from coordination plans to platforms for housing data. Early pilot projects however, have shown a potential for success. In India, for example, the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services helps to provide SMS messages to fishermen, offering guidance on fishing locations. This kind of practical-application approach will be an important part of Blue Planet in the future.
“We decided to focus a lot more on user engagement,” Seeyave explains, “Actually producing information that is useable by society.”
If the new governance structure for Blue Planet receives approval from the GEO Secretariat to move forward, a decision that will be made this week, other Blue Planet objectives for the coming years will include a more formal structure for Blue Planet and its components and new activities such as focus areas on sea level rise services, mangrove monitoring, and water quality services. There may also be intensification of efforts to engage communities outside the geosciences in Blue Planet’s work.
“There are more and more projects now that are combining social sciences with ocean science and socio-economics….Ecosystem services is sort of a buzzword at the moment,” says Seeyave.
Bringing socio-economic players into Blue Planet will add new facets to an already complex coordination effort. Seeyave describes the field of ocean observations as “a very crowded place that can be very confusing.” It is her hope, that by facilitating an end-to-end framework that addresses multiple steps in the data ladder, from data collection up through the point where data are transformed into accessible products and then delivered to a user community, Blue Planet may help to bring greater clarity, improved collaborations, and productive organization to the eddies of information in the world of ocean observations.
Pictures at an (GEO) Exhibition
November 12, 2015
GEO Government Membership Hits the 100 Mark
November 12, 2015
Osha Gray Davidson
With the addition of five new States in the last year, GEO’s membership now stands at 100. On behalf of the GEO Secretariat, European Commissioner Rudolf Strohmeier welcomed Kenya, Vietnam, Ecuador, Somalia, and Zimbabwe at the opening of the GEO-XII Plenary. The participation of more governments from underrepresented regions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America is welcome news for the international organization.
Statement by new member Zimbabwe, to the Group on Earth Observations
Session chair, Mexico Principal Members, GEO Chair and Co-Chairs, Government Ministers here present, Distinguished guests
The Government of Zimbabwe is indeed very happy to join the Community of Nations which are Members of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). We know that our introduction to the GEO Community is welcome and that our stay in the organisation will contribute to GEO in fulfilling the needs of all the nine benefit areas.
Many of the issues that GEO addresses including agriculture, civil protection, health, wildlife and biodiversity protection, transport, energy, water, education, disease and vector control, among others are important policy matters in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwean agencies and organisations including health institutions, academic and research institutions, civil protection and emergency response units, wildlife management and protection units, government and private business entities, are prepared to contribute their skills and expertise for the success of GEO.
The Zimbabwean Delegation looks forward to meeting many people this week, and having more in-depth conversations about the future of GEO.
— Susan Muzite
Statement by new member Ecuador to the Group on Earth Observations
H.E. Ambassador Leonardo Arízaga, Head of Delegation XII Plenary and Ministerial Summit of the Group on Earth Observations
Thank you Mr. Chairman,
I have the honor to speak on behalf of the Government of Ecuador as a new Member of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), thank you for your kind words welcoming us to GEO’s family. I extend our thanks as well to the People and Government of Mexico for its gracious hospitality. There is no better place to begin officially our GEO membership than here, in Mexico, celebrating together with brothers and sisters of our bigger homeland, Latin America.
Two years ago, when Ecuador applied for Observer Status to GEO my country was already convinced of the relevance of this young but vital international organization. Knowledge, science, technology and innovation – as drivers of wealth- and means for equal and fair distribution of the benefits arising from it- are fundamental pillars for “Peace”, the name we use for development and Good living.
Global data and information generated by comprehensive, coordinated and sustained observations of the Earth play an important role for sound decision-making, and are fundamental to design and implement policies and programs to overcome social and economic challenges and attain sustainable development.
It is also important to place a particular emphasis on dialogue between producers and users of data and promote the allocation of sufficient resources by States and international cooperation agencies in order to compile pertinent, timely and reliable information.
To that end, we have established a research university that promotes innovation in the heart of Yachay, City of Knowledge in Ecuador. Among the areas of strength of science and technological specialization of Yachay, the schools of Information Sciences and Technology and Geological Sciences and Engineering are relevant to GEO’s Work Programme. We look forward to future cooperation to expand its network for interaction and open data.
We congratulate GEO for its first decade of remarkable work developing this unique international partnership that not only advocates for continued and expanded earth observations. It also strives to identify data needs, ensuring access to multiple sources, while promoting standards and interoperability among available data, and transforming that information into knowledge, which can be used to generate products and services for end-users.
We encourage GEO to continue its endeavor to identify critical gaps in existing observational networks with particular focus on the needs of developing countries, the need for continuity of observations, the need for increased development of in-situ networks, and the potential benefits of enhanced observing systems.
Finally, we look forward to further strength our collaboration and coordination in the four Societal Benefit Areas identified by the AmeriGEOSS iniative, mainly agriculture and food security, disaster risk reduction, water resource management, and biodiversity and ecosystem monitoring.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
— H.E. Ambassador Leonardo Arízaga, Head of Delegation XII Plenary and Ministerial Summit of the Group on Earth Observations
MBON: From Coasts to Oceans and Microbes to Whales
Nov. 11, 2015
By Elise Mulder Osenga
In her opening remarks at the GEO XII Plenary this morning, Katherine Sullivan, US Co-Chair for GEO, compared the Group on Earth Observations to a human being moving through the phases of life, transitioning from a bold, ambitious youth to a more cautious, measured adult. While she acknowledged that such a shift is natural, she urged the plenary,
“It is imperative that we act young again, that we remain flexible with one another.”
With experience comes wisdom about the challenges inherent in a project, especially for one with GEO’s international and multi-organizational scope. GEO is indeed a formidable and still-growing organization that added five new member nations to its ranks this year: Ecuador, Kenya, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, and Somalia. Its projects span the natural spheres: hydrologic, biologic, atmospheric, cryospheric, geologic, and anthropogenic, and the different working groups and programs addressing each sphere or the links that intertwine these spheres, vary greatly in size and age. What Sullivan went on to describe when she encouraged GEO to remain young in spirit, was a continued willingness to complement experience-driven caution with the enthusiasm necessary to keep such a large undertaking in motion.
Several developing themes intended for expansion over the coming decade seem tailored to embody Sullivan’s admonition to remain bold in envisioning the future. One such is MBON, the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network. Still in the early stages, this subset of GEO BON seeks to encompass not just a large geographic area, but an enormous biological arena as well, following the motto “from microbes to whales.”
MBON is looking to develop a data-sharing network and establish data collection protocols for coastal and oceanic observations by partnering with institutions and countries around the globe, with a focus on ecosystem services. The network will act as a cross-cutting organization that spans between the GEO BON and Blue Planet task forces. During presentations at the GEO BON side event yesterday, challenges and opportunities for the budding initiative emerged.
Much of the observational data currently available for oceans comes from fisheries, which are limited in the species they observe and the methods they apply. Additionally, pelagic zones as a whole—areas of the open ocean that are not near coasts—are poorly monitored in spite of their ecological importance. New technologies, approaches, and collaborations, however, offer promise to help fill these gaps, and network development for marine observation appears to be timely in terms of researcher interest in ocean species as well. One presented at GEO BON’s event stated,
“We’re in the golden age of discovery of marine biodiversity.”
He accompanied the statement with a graph revealing a sharp increase over the past 50 years in both the number of people describing unique marine species and the number of species described. From autonomous underwater vehicles to new ways of utilizing satellite data, opportunities exist to extend ocean observations, establish collaborations, and improve alignment with user data demands appears to be growing. It is MBON’s ambition to grow along with these opportunities, providing standards and a framework for partnership.
GEO at a Moment of Transition: An Interview with Director Barbara Ryan
By Osha Gray Davidson
OGD: Director Ryan, when we last spoke in Geneva, GEO had just completed its 10-year mandate and was looking toward the future. One year in, how’s that future looking?
Director Ryan: At the last plenary, the ministers came together and said this has been a grand experiment. A lot has been accomplished in the first decade of GEO. We’ve been providing advocacy for broad open data sharing, we’ve made headway in building out the infrastructure. But more needs to be done. We were directed to put together a strategic plan for what we’re going to do in the next 10 years. So, a team of 25 people from around the world has spent a lot of time this last year drafting the strategic plan.
While we’ve been working on that, five new members joined GEO. We still have some holes in Latin America, Africa, the Gulf States, and the Pacific Island states. But we’re now at 100 members. That’s pretty remarkable. That says to me that the message is getting out about the importance of integrated Earth observations. And our vision is still to make sure decisions are informed by those observations.
We’ve also had success in getting scientific partners in the first decade. A lot of time this last year has been spent talking with the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank and others. Now, we’re starting to fill out the value chain, from supply to use. It’s tremenously important to bring the foundations and development banks in, because they’re making investments out on the landscape. So all of a sudden the whole system is starting to fit together.
OGD: What are the primary challenges in this next decade?
Director Ryan: We’ve talked a lot about the importance of environmental governance. I think so many of our existing structures are just…failing. We used to talk about some institutions moving glacially. But now the glaciers are moving faster than the institutions! So, I think organizations like GEO are producing a useful forcing function on the whole system. One big challenge is to make our infrastructure more user friendly, and not just for scientists. That’s a problem, but we’re moving in the right direction.
OGD: Can you point to any examples where that’s happening?
Director Ryan: Sure. Look at GEOGLAM. Instead of just the data suppliers coming to the table – as important as they are – we’re now getting the departments of agriculture in GEO member states coming in and saying what they need. The G7 Science Ministers met in Germany a month ago, and we were able to get language inserted into their communique encouraging their members to use GEO as a useful framework. All of these externalities are now starting to come together. And that’s because of efforts like what Earthzine is doing to help us get our message out.
OGD: This may be a bit tangential, but I think it helps our readers understand where GEO is heading to look at the origins of the free and open data movement. When Landsat data was made free and open, was that a beginning point?
Director Ryan: First, that’s not tangential at all. It is core central. Landsat was huge, but I wouldn’t say it was the beginning. There was a joint Chinese-Brazilian satellite that opened its data before Landsat. Their data was from China and Brazil. The United States decision for Landsat was revolutionary, however, because its data was global.
OGD: And how did that decision come about?
Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and USGS Director Mark Meyers were the highest political appointees involved. I was associate director for mapping at USGS at the time, so I was the highest career person in line. But there was a whole team of people from several agencies who were involved. I’m sure there were people who were working on this issue since the first Landsat was launched in 1972.
People had been talking about this for 40 years. Some people at the University of Maryland played a big forcing function. There were many in the community who were very frustated by USGS selling data. The U.S. generally had broad open data policies. But when I first got into the job at USGS I realized what a wonderful idea it was because I had grown up in the water division needing Landsat data. And even other parts of the organization had to pay to use Landsat data. The price was $450-$500 per scene. At the peak of data sales, Landsat images brought in $4.5 million. That’s not chump change. But if you looked at who was buying the data, first, it was other federal agencies. Next, it was universities funded by the National Science Foundation. And third, it was contractors funded by the Department of Defense. So, we were just recycling federal money — and incurring transition costs every time money was taken from one federal pocket and put into another one.
The Internet played a large role because that gave us the tool to unleash the power of those Earth observations. The fact that you were going to start distributing data over the Web meant you could no longer justify a scene-by-scene cost of $450 dollars. Once you put the processes in place, there is no incremental cost to get the next scene out the door. So we proposed to the White House, let’s just give this data away. Just give it away and you will see more uptake of the data. And that’s what happened. We went from selling 53 scenes a day to having 5,600 scenes downloaded every day.
A recent economic analysis found that the decision to make the data available returns $1.7 billion of econmic benefits back to the U.S. annually. Then there’s another $400 million in economic benefits globally, for a total of $2.1 billion. That ecomomic message has to delivered to governments, because we still have many of them around the world that think by selling weather data for $17,000 a year is helping them. Does the agency have $17,000 in costs? Maybe they do. But the government will be miles ahead if it gives the agency the $17,000 and tells them to give the data away. Because then you would really unleash the power. Otherwise, all you’re really doing is creating a barrier for other federal agencies, and for citizens, and for the private sector, who you want to come in and build value-added products and services.
OGD: How would you describe this moment in GEO’s history?
Director Ryan: This really is a moment of transition for GEO. We’ve always been very good about pushing the data out. We have to keep that up, but we have a new task before us: creating an environment in which users will be pulling data. So, from push to pull. That’s a critical difference, and one that I think is very exciting with the potential to have real impacts in a way we haven’t seen yet.
Where Biodiversity and Well-Being Intersect: A Perspective on GEO BON with Tuyeni Mwampamba
By Elise Mulder Osenga
In her presentation at the GEO BON (GEO Biodiversity Observation Network) Side Event, Tuyeni Mwampamba early on commented,
“When ecosystem services change, human well-being changes also.”
This succinct statement gives a clear description of a key driver behind her research and an underlying issue associated with many of GEO BON’s projects.
Mwampamba works in Mexico as an associate research professor at the Centro de Investigaciones en Ecosistemas, and her passion is the interplay between ecological and human systems. As she explained during an interview with Earthzine, Mwampamba’s work explores how different social and economic practices impact ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are health, economic or other benefits that human populations derive from natural systems or processes. These services can be anything from carbon sequestration in a growing forest to the filtration of pollutants performed by wetlands. The project that Mwampamba is part of looks specifically at lands in Mexico that are being used for either charcoal production, cattle pasture, or both. Her research explores the question, “How does a changing (human) practice make a service more or less available?” Although in Mwampamba’s work, the question isn’t “how is an ecosystem service changing,” it’s “how is this bundle of ecosystem services changing.”
Site-specific work, such as that conducted by Mwampamba, plays an important role in the continuing development of the GEO BON program. Throughout the GEO BON side event, there was a strong emphasis on the importance of collecting usable data: data that could be shared either from scientist to scientist or from scientists to decision makers. GEO BON operates at a national to global level, but decision making most often occurs on smaller scales: national to city or even local. On-the-ground reporting of site specific findings, then, can be very helpful in understanding what type of data products or data communications may be most useful to include in the network. Therefore, there are shared benefits to participation in GEO BON, where site specific researchers can confirm whether or not their data have utility on a larger scale and GEO BON receives feedback as to its own applicability for decision makers. As Mwampamba says,
“Are these global ideas really useful at a site level, at a decision making level?…Are the data I gather useful at a global level?”
The side event today helped her to gain a better sense of the scope of work and many different projects currently associated with GEO BON, many of which Mwampamba feels either explicitly or implicitly address ecosystem services. The event revealed both GEO BON’s strengths and weaknesses, which spring from the same source: its broad scope and numerous activities. Mwampamba hopes that further coordination of and clearer direction for these projects will grow out of this event, and the energy and enthusiasm of GEO BON’s participants impressed her.
“They are all volunteers. They could be spending this time on activities within their own organizations, but they choose to do this work in collaboration with (GEO BON),” she says.
Forecasting a Future of User-Accessible Data
Nov. 9, 2015
By Elise Mulder Osenga
GEO Week 2015 has officially begun, with side events held today at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Mexico City. While achievement is certainly buzzing in the air for many GEO projects, there is also a sense of urgency and a desire to continue developing, expanding, and adapting actionable plans for the future. The work going on within the Group on Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) exemplifies this dichotomy.
At the session on GEOSS Water Services Publishing National and Global Streamflow and Flood Forecasts, Steve Kopp of Esri described prototypes for website applications that transform short term data on precipitation, runoff, and discharge into mapped visualizations that can be used to provide directly applicable information to decision makers. Such maps can offer an accessible way to help users envision water coverage and flow, with implications for everything from flood preparation or flood relief to tracking and addressing water borne spills. What makes these maps remarkable is that they are regionally specific, in the US they can be resolved to offer forecasts on scales of even counties or cities.
The concept and realization of these prototype aps is in some sense a victory for GEOSS, which offered a framework for the collaboration that led to their development. Another speaker, Angelica Gutierrez of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA, commented:
“If you had told me about this a year ago, I would have said it couldn’t be done.”
What she was describing was the jump forward in data availability that has made the idea of regionally specific streamflow forecasts possible. Over this past year, developments in data collection, management, and processing have made it possible for a super-computer at the National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to process data from 2.7 million stream reaches in 10 minutes. This astounding turnover allows for an ability to generate data on catchments and streamflows rapidly, thereby making aps at the scale Kopp described feasible.
“This is really where the science becomes relevant,” Kopp said, referring to how tools and technologies can help make data digestible for consumption by a broader community than just researchers.
These aps are by no means an end goal after which work will be completed, however. Aside from refinements to the prototypes of these tools as they are tested, decision maker geared approaches to data sharing and curation is a recurrent theme for GEOSS and one of the driving motivations behind creating frameworks for data systems.
GEO-XII Launches as WMO Issues Warning on the Dangers of Climate Change
Nov. 9, 2015
By Osha Gray Davidson
It’s fitting that as GEO-XII gets underway today in Mexico City, the World Meteorological Organzition issued a bulletin warning that, “The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached yet another new record high in 2014, continuing a relentless rise which is fuelling climate change and will make the planet more dangerous and inhospitable for future generations.”
The announcement is relevant to the meetings in Mexico City for two reasons. Our knowledge of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere comes, by definition, from Earth Observation. This includes ground-based sensors, but now also from remote sensing data streamed by satellites, and from marine sensors that show an alarming increase in CO2 in the global ocean (ocean acidification).
But gathering data is meaningless if the information doesn’t make a difference on the ground (and in the air and the ocean). For data to have an impact, it has to be free and open. It must be shared. And that’s GEO’s mission. The researchers, academics, NGOs, and policy-makers in Mexico City will be exchanging vital information about how to turn data into action. That’s why I love covering these meetings (this is my third plenary). It’s a chance to watch, listen, and learn from people who are on the forefront of action against a wide range of problems facing humanity — including climate change — and then share that data with Earthzine readers.
So, stay tuned for updates from Elise Mulder Osenga and me as events unfold in Mexico City.