Barbara J. Ryan, is the Secretariat Director of the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) in Geneva, Switzerland. GEO is comprised of nearly 100 Member States, the European Commission, and 90 international scientific and technical partner organizations.
Under Ryan’s leadership, millions of satellite images and other Earth observation data have been made available to the general public at no charge, allowing scientists, planners and policy makers to make better-informed decisions on problems that transcend political boundaries. Her work addresses critical issues in agriculture, biodiversity, climate change, disaster planning, energy, health and water.
Since becoming Director of GEO in 2012, Ryan has worked to integrate Earth observation systems from around the world into a single, comprehensive system that uses coordinated data to understand how environmental factors impact human life. Like Ryan’s career body of work, the system helps guide decision makers toward better agricultural, energy and land-use decisions.
After graduating from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland with a degree in geology in 1974, Ryan joined the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the nation’s largest civilian mapping agency. She became an expert in groundwater contamination and eventually was selected as staff assistant to the Department of the Interior’s top official for water and science.
Ryan advanced steadily in the USGS, earning master’s degrees in geography from the University of Denver and in civil engineering from Stanford University along the way. As associate director for geography at the USGS, she was responsible for the agency’s remote sensing, geography and civilian mapping programmes, including the Landsat satellites. It was during this time she led the effort to change the decade-old Landsat data policy to full and open, an action resulting in more than 23 million scenes being downloaded globally to date. Ryan has served as chair of the international Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, which coordinates information from more than 100 civilian satellite missions, and in 2008 became director of the World Meteorological Organization’s space programme. Ryan was recently awarded an honorary doctorate of science degree from SUNY Cortland.