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GEO 2017-2019 Work Programme


Geo Global Ecosystem Initiative (GEO ECO)

Activity ID: 116


Terrestrial and marine ecosystems provide essential goods and services to humankind and are of crucial importance for the sustainable development of societies and for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the last several decades, however, anthropogenic pressures are causing serious threats to ecosystem integrity, functions and processes, potentially leading to habitat degradation, creation of uncertainty related to “novel ecosystems” and increased risk of collapse, with related loss of ecosystem services.

Knowledge-based conservation, management and restoration policies are urgently needed in order to ensure delivery of ecosystem benefits in the face of increasing anthropogenic pressures. Fundamental to all these is effective monitoring, understanding and modelling of the state and trends in ecosystem functions and services. New monitoring methodologies are now available that combine approaches in geo- and bioscience, remotely-sensed data and in-situ observations. New satellite missions, such as the European Sentinels, are going to provide a large amount of high-quality data on the environment and on ecosystems. In-situ data are being organized and made available through international activities such as the International Long-Term Ecological Research (ILTER) network. Ecosystem models capable of incorporating the information from Earth Observations are being developed.

Based on these perspectives and building upon existing activities, the GEO ECO Initiative builds upon available Earth Observation data, results and information and use them on a global scale, identifying Protected Areas of international relevance, extending the analysis to unprotected areas and adopting the view of ecosystems as "one physical system" with their environment, characterized by strong geosphere-biosphere-anthroposphere interactions across multiple space and time scales. Both terrestrial and marine ecosystems are considered, with a special focus on interactions and processes taking place in the thin layer at the surface of our planet (the Earth Living Skin), such as the Earth Critical Zone from the rocky matrix to the top of tree canopy for terrestrial ecosystems, and the dynamics in the euphotic layer and in coastal areas for marine ecosystems. The knowledge on ecosystems acquired through the activities of GEO ECO will be built together with the people in charge of the management of the Protected Areas, and an Ecosystem Community of Practice will be created.

Activities for the period

GEO ECO activities are devoted to obtaining the integration of remote sensing and in-situ data, collectively called Earth Observations, and make best use of them to support the management and conservation of natural ecosystems, seen in their full complexity characterized by both biotic and abiotic components and their interactions.

Research needs are defined by the interplay of the application needs, as expressed by stakeholders and ecosystem managers, and the rigorous framework defined by scientific endeavour.

The focus will be on Protected Areas, owing to their fundamental importance in the ecosystem landscape, and the various Tasks described below will be integrated into a unified framework. Specific "storylines" will be defined for similar Protected Areas, with a focus on specific ecosystem services, functions and processes.

Seven main tasks are envisaged:

  • Global mapping of Ecological Land Units (ELU)/Ecological Marine Units (EMU);
  • Remote sensing observations for Protected Areas;
  • Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) big data visual platform;
  • Long-Term ecological data from in-situ measurements;
  • Ecosystem models and e-laboratories;
  • Future ecosystem scenarios and related uncertainties;
  • Characterization of geosphere-biosphere interactions.

User engagement

  • User communities of the ecosystem information generated by GEO ECO include environmental (for example, Protected Area) managers, private users (for example, tourism companies) and citizens. In the proposed partnership, user communities are already involved. These include the Israel National Park Authority, the Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy, the Northern Limestone Park in Austria, and others;
  • The GEO ECO Initiative will make data, products, information and knowledge available to a broad range of stakeholders, to allow the development and implementation of such knowledge-based policies. Starting from the European-based activity of ECOPOTENTIAL and SWOS, GEO ECO will develop strict links with the stakeholder, PA management and policy-making communities by activating a permanent stakeholder consultancy group and involving PA managers, stakeholders, nature conservation associations, economic sectors and concerned citizen groups into the definition and discussion of the crucial social and economic needs of the local populations.

Future plans

One of the goals of the EU H2020 Project ECOPOTENTIAL is to create an Ecosystem Community of Practice, composed by managers and staff of Protected Areas, policy makers, local communities and other stakeholders, with the aim of determining the applied needs that should inform the research and data collection activities.


At the moment, funding is secured by:

  • The EU H2020 project ECOPOTENTIAL (about €16 M in the period 2015-2019);
  • The EU H2020 project SWOS (about €5 M in the period 2015-2018);
  • Possible funding by the Italian project NextData (expected €3 M for 2016-2017);
  • In-kind and cash contributions for ELU/EMU mapping at USGS and Esri;
  • In-kind and cash contributions for the activities on EIA big data visual platform based on RS-GPS -Web GIS by the Chinese Academy of Forestry;
  • This leads to expected committed resources of at least €6 M/year for 2017 and 2018, and at least €3 M for 2019.



Members: Australia, Austria, China, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, UK, USA.

Participating Organizations: UNEP, UNESCO.

Others: Lithuania.

Linkages across the Work Programme

Flagships: GEO BON.

Initiatives: Earth Observations in Service of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; GEOGLOWS; GEO-GNOME; GEO Wetlands Initiative.

Leadership & Contributors (this list is being populated)




Implementing Entity


Lead (PoC)

Antonello Provenzale




Michael Mirtl




Wang Mingyuan




Ioannis Manakos




Arnon Karnieli




Abel Ramoelo

South Africa