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GEO-VIII Plenary sets scene for 2012-2015 and beyond

Istanbul's Blue MosqueThe GEO-VIII Plenary was hosted in Istanbul by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) on 16 and 17 November. The nearly 400 participants reviewed recent progress on implementing GEOSS, accepted the new 2012-2015 Work Plan and its associated management structure, welcomed the Global Forest Observation Initiative (GFOI) and the GEO Global Agriculture Monitoring initiative (GEO GLAM), established a Working Group to consider how GEO and GEOSS should develop beyond the year  2015, and agreed how to further advance the GEOSS Common Infrastructure (GCI) and GEOSS Data-CORE (Collection of Resources for Everyone).

Making progress

The 2009-2011 Work Plan Progress Report highlighted three main trends: (i) many new products and services are now available via GEOSS, (ii) data sharing and the capacity for accessing and using data continue to grow, and (iii) there is increased support for user engagement.

Noteworthy progress has been made by the Supersites and National Laboratories initiative on geologically active regions, the GEONETCast network of satellite-based data dissemination systems, an improved global topographical map, the new warning systems for wildland fire, multi-model products for extreme-weather prediction, forest carbon tracking, new tools for land-cover maps, improved ecosystem classification and mapping, the Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON), the China Brazil Earth Resources Satellite program (CBERS), the Joint Experiment for Crop Assessment and Monitoring (JECAM), and the Global Agriculture Monitoring initiative (GEO GLAM).

GEOSS Common Infrastructure and Data-CORE

In an effort to accelerate improvements to the GCI, the Architecture and Data Committee led a “Sprint to Plenary” in the run-up to GEO-VIII. Key actions included adopting new technologies for search and discovery, proactively approaching data holders, executing technical enhancements to improve functionality and outcomes, simplifying the registration process for data providers, and proactively identifying potential Data-CORE resources.

Work will continue over the coming months on improving the user experience, improving functionality, and ensuring easier access to global resources. GEO Members and Participating Organizations are urged to contribute to this ongoing effort by improving access to their own data resources.

Thanks to the Sprint, the GCI (which consists of a portal, clearinghouse and registries) is starting to play its role as a central hub for the discovery and sharing of data and systems. Today more than 28 million data products are discoverable via the GCI.

This rapid growth is due to the introduction of the EuroGEOSS brokerage software, which allows the GCI to talk to external catalogues containing an enormous number of resources. The user sends a request to the GCI which is then transmitted through the broker to these catalogues. Because different catalogues use different keywords (e.g. rainfall vs. precipitation), a controlled vocabulary – the GEOSS Earth observation vocabulary – has been established by combining existing and well-established dictionaries and glossaries.

The User Interface Committee’s report on Critical Earth Observation Priorities has proven useful for determining whether the discoverable datasets really meet user needs. Of the top 25 most important parameters, 23 are covered by the GCI, as are 111 of the 146 critical Earth observation parameters. Next steps are to advance the GCI’s capability from simple discovery to enable access and exploitation. In addition, a communication plan will be created and implemented.

Parallel to the Sprint to Plenary, over the past year the Data Sharing Task Force has worked on promoting contributions to the Data-CORE, identified existing licensing options consistent with CORE requirements, and addressed other issues such as user registration and legal liability. The GEOSS Data-CORE now provides full and open access to over 120 datasets with thousands of resources. The promotion of data sharing will continue under the 2012-2015 Work Plan through a new Task under the responsibility of a Data Sharing Working Group.

The 2012-2015 Work Plan

The number of Tasks in the 2012-2015 Work Plan has been streamlined from 42 to 26. They have been organized into the three parts of Infrastructure, Institutions and Development, and Information for Societal Benefits.

Under the new Work Plan management structure, the three parts will each be supported by an Implementation Board, while each Task will be implemented by a Task team consisting of all the co-leads and contributors supported by a Task coordinator. Task teams will have direct responsibility for the best-efforts management, execution and coordination of the underlying Task components.

Coordination across Tasks will be supported by the Implementation Boards and the GEO Secretariat, and coordination within Tasks will be supported by the Task teams, Communities of Practice and Secretariat. The existing Committees will be disbanded and their roles transferred to the Task teams and the Implementation Boards.

New initiatives

The Plenary meeting accepted (with some amendments) the Implementation Plan for the Global Forest Observation Initiative. The GFOI has its roots in the Forest Carbon Tracking Task, which focuses on scientific and demonstration activities.

GFOI will support long-term observation needs and engage with key users, notably the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). GFOI is underpinned by an observations strategy developed by the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS). The Implementation Plan calls for a phased approach with a start-up phase in 2012, the commencement of operations in 2013 and then full operations from 2014.

The Plenary also welcomed the new GEO Global Agriculture Monitoring (GEO GLAM) initiative. GEO GLAM responds to the concerns of the Group of 20 about food price volatility and the need for large investments in agriculture over the next 20 years. Both GEO GLAM and the FAO’s Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), to which GEO GLAM can contribute, are applauded in the recent final declaration of the G20 Heads of State.

GEO GLAM will help to build national capacities for agricultural monitoring; strengthen, harmonize and connect global and regional agricultural systems; and develop an operational global Earth observation system of systems for agricultural monitoring. Long-term commitments and open-data policies will be vital to its success.

Next year and beyond

Brazil informed the Plenary that, as indicated at GEO-VII, it would be pleased to host the GEO-IX Plenary in late 2012. It plans to hold the meeting in the city of Foz de Iguazu.

Looking even further ahead, the Plenary endorsed the establishment of a Post-2015 Working Group. This Working Group will consider how both GEO and GEOSS should evolve after the conclusion of the 10-Year GEOSS Implementation Plan in 2015. The Group has been tasked with preparing a proposal for the Ministerial Summit and GEO-X Plenary meeting that will be held in late 2013.