Our Global Capacity To Observe Earth – Too Much Or Too Little?
    By Bente Lilja Bye | June 29th 2012 01:21 PM | 13 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Bente Lilja

    Earth science expert and astrophysicist writes about Earth observation, geodesy, climate change, geohazards, water cycle and other science related...

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    Today you'll find a myriad of different Earth observation systems covering all from local to global areas, collected from sub-sea to ground to air and of course space. Providers of these Earth observation services come from both public and private sector. Some of the collected data are required through national regulations while others are in demand because of global challenges such as climate change etc. The need for Earth observations permeates the entire global society.

    Answering this need for Earth observation capacity several Earth observation systems have been built. Agenda 21, G8 meetings and other international declarations (the latest from Rio +20) lend political support and reference for this capacity building. Below you will find the description of a handful of Earth observation systems that have been or are being constructed. The question is then; are we as a global society coordinated enough when answering this need of Earth observation capacity?


    Global Monitoring for Environment and Security - GMES

    The European initiative for the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) provides data to help deal with a range of disparate issues including climate change and border surveillance. Land, sea and atmosphere - each is observed through GMES, helping to make our lives safer.

    GMES was initiated 1998 by the main national space agencies in Europe, the European Space Agency - ESA, the European Commission – EC, and the European organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites - EUMETSAT.

    GMES consists of a complex set of systems which collects data from multiple sources (earth observation satellites and in situ sensors such as ground stations, airborne and sea-borne sensors), processes these data and provides users with reliable and up-to-date information through the services mentioned above. Some of these systems and data sources already exist today, as well as prototype services but many developments are still required in all domains.

    GMES is an EU-led initiative. The coordination and management of the GMES programme is ensured by the European Commission. The developments related to the observation infrastructure are performed under the aegis of the European Space Agency for the space component (i.e. Sentinel missions) and of the European Environment Agency and the Member States for the in situ component.


    Group of Earth Observations - GEO

    The Group on Earth Observations is coordinating efforts to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS.

    GEO was launched in response to calls for action by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development and by the G8 (Group of Eight) leading industrialized countries. These high-level meetings recognized that international collaboration is essential for exploiting the growing potential of Earth observations to support decision making in an increasingly complex and environmentally stressed world.

    GEO is constructing GEOSS on the basis of a 10-Year Implementation Plan for the period 2005 to 2015. The Plan defines a vision statement for GEOSS, its purpose and scope, expected benefits, and the nine “Societal Benefit Areas” of disasters, health, energy, climate, water, weather, ecosystems, agriculture and biodiversity.


    Eye On Earth

    Eye on Earth is a global public information service to share data and information from diverse sources. Eye on Earth allows you to manipulate tha data for collective discovery. Eye on Earth is the result of a public-private partnership joining expertise from industry and public organisations. The European Environment Agency (EEA), Esri and Microsoft Corporation collaborated to launch the Eye on Earth Network, the online community for sharing and discovering data about environment. This new cloud computing-based network promotes the principles of public data access and citizen science.

    The first Eye on Earth Summit was held in Abu Dhabi in 2011.



    In 2011 EarthCube was initiated by USA's National Science Foundation. The goal of EarthCube is to transform the conduct of research by supporting the development of community-guided cyberinfrastructure to integrate data  and information for knowledge management across the Geosciences.


    ICSU's World Data System (WDS)

    In 2008 ICSU decided to establish the World Data System – WDS. The WDS supports ICSU’s mission and objectives, ensuring the long-term stewardship and provision of quality-assessed data and data services to the international science community and other stakeholders. WDS covers more that the Earth system sciences.

    The WDS concept aims at a transition from existing stand-alone WDCs and individual Services to a common globally interoperable distributed data system, that incorporates emerging technologies and new scientific data activities.

    The new system will build on the potential offered by advanced interconnections between data management components for disciplinary and multidisciplinary scientific data applications. Applications for the new WDS are already being investigated, including the WDC online portal which is being considered as a proof of concept for an element of the new system.

    WDS will enjoy a broader disciplinary and geographic base than previous ICSU bodies and will strive to become a worldwide ‘community of excellence’ for scientific data


    Future Earth

    Future Earth is a new 10-year international research initiative that will develop the knowledge for responding effectively to the risks and opportunities of global environmental change and for supporting transformation towards global sustainability in the coming decades. Future Earth will mobilize thousands of scientists while strengthening partnerships with policy-makers and other stakeholders to provide sustainability options and solutions in the wake of Rio+20. Future Earth was launched in 2012 and his a common effort of a number of international research programs, funding agencies, ISSU and ICSU.




    The blue marble by NASA

    As a politician, science policy maker or funding agency I would ask myself: Where shall I invest my money? They all look so similar. Redundancy is necessary and good, but are we funding capacity building that will result in too much overlap?

    As an end-user, in science, industry, government or as a civil citizen, I would ask myself, where can I find the right information for me in the most effective and quality assured way? It is a jungle of portals out there. Who can I trust?

    In both cases I would be confused, and it would take me some time to figure out where to spend my money and where to go for information. Maybe this is how it has to be or even ought to be, but it sure looks like governments have lost track of the original idea and motivation behind the establishment of GEO; namely to created a global interoperable system of systems that increase capacity yet avoids unnecessary overlaps.

    The question asked in the title deserves a thorough analysis. Science policy, socio-economic and political research is needed as a basis for answering my follow-up questions and I suspect there are no easy answer or solution for them. All the same, the unanswered questions reflect part of reality. We, who work both on funding strategy and are trying to fill the gap between the available knowledge and the end-users, have to deal with this rather confusing and messy reality. Even as insiders we get lost sometimes.

    The author has experience from all elements of the research system, including a national funding agency where she worked both on national and international science policy and program funding. Today she runs BLB, an European SME and partner in the EU-funded project Egida. One of BLBs tasks is to help develop a funding scheme for GEO.


    Climate change science has done to science what abusive priests did for religion.

    And by observing Earth we get the unbiased answer to what happens to our planet - the hard facts! Including changes in climate. I do not see a need to bring any kind of priest into the equation...
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    I do not see a need to bring any kind of priest into the equation...
    I’m not so sure about that.  It’s the deniers who call Climate Change a religion, so maybe they do need a bit of the bell, book and candle ...
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Aaahhhh! I am so slow...of course they think it is religion. The "bell, book and candle" has such a nice ring to it somehow. Almost cozy. :-)

    And since we are so to the point in this comment thread now: I see you love poppies - I have some gorgeous ones in my wild, wild garden right now. Let me show you:


    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    How did you get so low in that first one?  You are tall.  Were you in a ditch??
    Our knees are totally fantastic. They can be bent...hahaha
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Oh, I forgot to say that the poppies in my garden are actually rather big. Not the regulars you find out in the fields. You'll probably find bigger in Texas though. Everything is bigger in Texas as I am sure you know. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth

    I think yours are Oriental Poppies, which have the largest flowers of those normally grown in European gardens.

    My “avatar” (I think that’s the right word) is a Poppy Anemone.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    And by observing Earth we get the unbiased answer to what happens to our planet - the hard facts! Including changes in climate.

    I agree, but you also need to put the facts into context, such as the fact that weather stations recorded
    temps warmer than now in the 40's.
    Never is a long time.
    Facts are facts. :-)

    When it comes to temperatures in the 40ties I do not know what your point is. I can only comment in terms of reminding you of the period that we define as a climate period, namely 30 years.

    It could well have been warmer in the 40ties, but it doesn't change the fact that we do see global warming today. (and remember, I do not refer to single year records, it is the long trends over more than 30 years).
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    As a remote sensing "practitioner" for 30+ years I am sure we could have an interesting debate about global warming, but hasn't that been done elsewhere (everywhere ?)
    Just caught the name so I thought I'd say hello

    Hello Mr. Bye!,

    I am not sure I understand the question - this article is not about global warming, but EO capacity in general.

    I do address the global warming issue on my blog, though. :-) One example is this

    Thanks for stopping by by(e)! :-)

    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    How will you make out the mess on observations? when the recruitments are all an eyewas.............
    Admin officers become Programme Officers..........consultants hae no practical field experience........