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GEO Blog: Observations


April 25, 2017

Marine observation - with Frank Muller Karger.

Ecological marine units (EMUs) with colour highlighting temperature gradients. Credit: Esri
Ecological marine units (EMUs) with colour highlighting temperature gradients. Credit: Esri
Ecological marine units (EMUs) with colour highlighting temperature gradients. Credit: Esri
Ecological marine units (EMUs) with colour highlighting temperature gradients. Credit: Esri

A network of regional observation systems that collaborates, shares information, and works jointly to understand marine biodiversity, its geographic distribution, and how it changes through time – that’s the vision of the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON), a network established under the Group on Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON).

The U.S. Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (US-MBON) has projects working on the Chukchi Sea (Alaska; AMBON), Santa Barbara Channel Islands (California; SBC MBON) and the Monterey Bay and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuaries (in California and Florida, respectively; Sanctuaries MBON).

The MBON team will provide a product that countries or regional groups can use in addressing internationally agreed biodiversity targets and hopefully to engage actively in participating in MBON. On March 15-17, 2017, the Sanctuaries MBON team hosted a workshop to define biodiversity products that meet the needs of local coastal zone and conservation area managers, and that can also can be scaled to address one or more of the targets of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 14. SDG 14 seeks to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The meeting was hosted by the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, Florida and was sponsored by the NASA Applied Programs office of the Earth Sciences Division, the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System, the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the US Ocean Biogeographic Information System (US-OBIS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) including the National Marine Sanctuaries program, the State of Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

In the past year, the Sanctuaries MBON data management team has enrolled more than 50 datasets – some of the time-series span nearly three decades -- into a public data server. The data are available using the ERDAPP protocols. The SBC and AMBON teams have also enrolled dozens of datasets.

The US MBON portal serves and helps visualize the datasets through an interactive geospatial mapper. Biodiversity indices are computed by the software instantly, and also enable a user to sort the data by abundance, or size structure, total biomass, diversity, and composition. We will add near-real time and historical data as possible, including some in situ and satellite remotely-sensed data for physical, chemical and biological environmental observations. 

The MBON is exploring additional collaborations with the USGS and Esri to integrate their new map of Global Ecological Marine Units (EMU). The EMU booklet was produced in association with the GEO BON Workgroup 5, and Mark Costello who co-led that workgroup, is an author on the new EMU publications.


Frank Muller Karger

About the author:

Frank Muller Karger, a Professor at the University of South Florida, is the Principal Investigator on the Sanctuaries MBON project with Francisco Chavez (Monterey bay Aquarium Research Institute). Frank is co-chair of the GEO BON MBON work group, along with Mark Costello (Univ. Auckland) and Isabel Sousa Pinto (Univ. of Porto).



April 19, 2017

Development Seed, "a timely conversation" at the Data Providers Workshop.

Vojvodina, Serbia, copyright: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA
Vojvodina, Serbia, copyright: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA
Vojvodina, Serbia, copyright: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA
Vojvodina, Serbia, copyright: contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by ESA

We are on the cusp of a data revolution. We have the technical capability to extract tremendous information and insight from satellite imagery and sensors. Robust cloud infrastructure and powerful open source technology for machine learning and computer vision allow us to do this at scale and at depth. Today we have highly-local, up-to-the minute traffic and weather data in our pockets. This information drives millions of decisions every day. Tomorrow, satellites will deliver critical daily insights to farmers, first responders, investors, and policymakers.

To take part in this data revolution, data providers must change the way that they produce and deliver data. Current methods of data distribution are optimized for our government, university, and research partners. Everyday users demand data that can integrate with their smartphone app or voice assistant. To drive the future, earth observation (EO) data must be ready for the web. We must rethink how we process, distribute, and archive data. We must revolutionize our methods of drawing insight from this data. And we must be thoughtful about how we deliver these insights to decision makers.

Development Seed is one of dozens of organizations working to build this future. Amazon Web Services (AWS) doesn't simply put satellite data on the cloud; it also convenes users to agree on data conventions that meet the needs of modern web apps. We work with some brilliant people at NASA who are considering how to move more of their data operations onto the cloud. OGC has defined a process for community standards to better support standards development in a world of quickly changing technical realities. Sector-based groups like Radiant are providing the coordination, training, and open software to empower new user communities. And GEO is expanding its reach to engage first-line user communities like the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.

This movement will be on full display at the GEO Data Providers Summit this week. The event will feature people who are rethinking everything from ingest and processing, to pipelines and automation, to analysis and insight generation at scale, to creating usable and insightful interfaces. We are delighted to be part of the conversation. We will share our experiences building user-facing apps like the Astro Digital platform; developer facing resources like sat-utils; machine learning tools like skynet; and data provider platforms like NASA's Cumulus.

This is a timely conversation. Urgent environmental, social, and humanitarian challenges can be better understood and addressed using massive data and computational resources now available to us. The solutions to these challenges will be shaped by the daily decisions of billions of people around the globe. Let's get them the data they need to build a better planet.


Ian Schuler

About the author:

Ian Schuler - As CEO, Ian oversees the technology strategy and development capacity at Development Seed, keeping it pointed at the most interesting problems in development. Ian has a rich history of building teams and communities at the intersection of technology and human rights. Ian was a founding member of the National Democratic Institute’s ICT team where he led innovations such as SMS-based election monitoring and open election data. Ian went on to build Internet Freedom Programs at the State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Ian oversaw a growth in the State Department’s Internet freedom portfolio from $20 million to over $100 million. His stewardship of Internet freedom funding helped to grow the community of organizations advancing digital rights. Ian graduated from Johns Hopkins University, where he "focused" on physics, economics, computer science, and international relations.



April 4, 2017

Understanding changes in cold regions.

The GEO community recently held the 2017 International Workshop on Observations and Understanding of Changes in High Mountain and Cold Regions (HiMAC 2017).

The workshop focused on five themes: integrated observations in cold regions, understanding changes in the Arctic, teleconnection research and model-building in the high mountains and northern cold regions, snow and ice observations in mountain and cold regions, and water cycle observations in mountains and cold regions.

The two-day event, held in Beijing March 3-4, 2017, was attended by over 60 experts and scholars from Finland, Nepal, Netherlands, the U.S., Norway, Mongolia and China, whose research interests focus on the Earth’s cold regions that include the high-latitude oceans, and High altitude cold areas, especially the High Mountain Asia, and Arctic regions.

The workshop was organized by DBAR-HiMAC together with other international programs, with guidance from the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society (IEEE GRSS), ISDE, and Pan-Eurasian Experiment (PEEX).

Prof. GUO Huadong, CAS Academician gave a keynote report on “the comparative study on the Earth’s Three Poles”. In his report, he highlighted the fact that the Tibetan Plateau, the world’s largest and highest plateau, is regarded as the “world’s third pole” because it contains abundant ice and snow resources.

The Three Poles, as major cold regions of the Earth, are particularly sensitive to global warming and hotspots for global change research. Prof Guo held that integrated observations of environmental change in these cold regions is crucial for understanding the systematic process of global change. Current research mainly focuses on a single pole, and comparative study across three poles is lacking. To fully understand the impacts and responses of Three Poles to global change, he proposed that scientists need to consider Earth’s three poles as a whole, study their spatial-temporal varieties, interconnections and relationships of their environmental parameters. He pointed out the advantages of using space-based Earth observation for systematic study on the three poles.

Dr. QIU Yubao, associate researcher of RADI and lead of the GEO Cold Regions Initiative (GEOCRI), introduced the initiative, pinpointing its three priorities including development of the Community Portal for information services in cold regions, integrated application of in-situ and remote sensing observation, and the definition of Essential Cold Region Variables (ECRVs).

Discussions also covered the following topics: space-based Earth observation facilities and data, the integrated Arctic observing system, the observation of glacier, permafrost, snow, and river/lake ice, climate correlation between the Arctic and Eurasia, ecological hydrological processes and the basin hydrological energy balance. Observation and understanding are key parameters to the establishment of Big Earth Data, providing guidance to the implementation of DBAR(Digital Belt and Road) and GEOCRI-related information services.

The workshop also featured in-depth discussion on how to observe and understand environmental changes in High Mountains and cold regions and how this kind of understanding will facilitate the implementation of the “Belt and Road” initiative.

The workshop, in collaboration with GEOCRI, held discussions on ECRVs and resulted in a preliminary plan for GEOCRI implementation.

The agenda can be downloaded here


Yubao QIU

About the author:

Dr. Yubao Qiu is Associate Professor of the Remote Sensing of Snow and Ice in the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, Chinese Academy of Science. He serves as coordinator of the GEO Cold Regions Initiative (GEOCRI), and co-chair of the High Mountain and Cold Regions Task Force for Digital Belt and Road (DBAR-HiMAC).


March 30, 2017

Atlas of the Human Planet assesses vulnerabilities to disaster.

On behalf of The Human Planet GEO initiative, I’m pleased to announce  that the 2017 Atlas of the Human Planet will focus on Global Exposure to Natural Hazards.

This years’ edition of the Human Planet Atlas will be released at the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, to be held in Cancun from 22 to 26 of May.   The Atlas addresses the change in global exposure to six major natural hazards.  The findings of the Atlas are derived by processing the global built-up and population grid datasets delivered by the Global Human Settlement Layer project of the Joint Research Centre (JRC). The Human Planet Atlas 2017 and the global human settlement layers will be presented in Side Events and in a dedicated Ignite Talk at the Global Platform.

The Human Atlas 2017 is the first global historical assessment of exposure to natural disaster. It measures the changing exposure of related to the built environment and population over time. It addresses earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanos, wind and sea-surge cyclones and floods.  The Atlas shows that earthquakes puts more people at risk than any other hazard globally. It is estimated that 2.7 billion people live in seismic areas (2015). This number increased by 93% in 40 years, from 1.4 billion in 1975 to 2.7 billion in 2015. 

The Atlas reports that in 2015, 414 million people live near one of the 220 most dangerous volcanoes and could be affected by the consequences of eruptions. Tsunamis that affect coastal areas are mostly concentrated in Asia. Japan has by far the highest amount of built-up areas exposed to tsunamis, followed by China, second also per exposed population, and by the United States of America.

Floods is the hazard that occurs most frequently and affects 1 billion people worldwide. About 10% of the built-up areas on the Earth are potentially exposed to floods. Asia is the continent that is affected most. Cyclone winds threaten 89 countries in the world. The population exposed to this hazard has increased from 1 billion in 1975 up to 1.6 billion in 2015, that accounts for approximately a quarter of the world population.

640 million people are exposed to extremely strong winds.  China is by far the country with the highest number of people potentially exposed to sea-level surge generated by tropical storms: 50 million Chinese people that live in coastal areas may be affected by storm surges and their number has increased 1.5 times in the last 40 years.

The Global Human Settlement Layer

The Atlas of the Human Planet 2017 relies on exposure data produced by the GHSL project of the JRC.  The GHSL was set up to extract global information on human settlements from open source data. GHSL uses a novel spatial-data analytics tools to manage the complexity, heterogeneity and large volume of satellite image archives used to generating information and knowledge about the human presence on the planet Earth from the years 1975 to 2015.

GHSL delivers two main information layers, global built-up areas and global population densities.  In 2017 the GHSL was awarded the top price at the Geospatial World Forum for having delivered “the most accurate multi-temporal global open and freed data about built-up areas and population for assessing the human presence on the planet”.


Martino Pesaresi

About the author:

Martino Pesaresi - Works at the European Commission, Joint Research Center (JRC), contributing to several programs dealing with the use of space technologies for automatic image information retrieval and decision support systems. In 2005-2007 he was the scientific coordinator of the Global Monitoring for Security and Stability (GMOSS) Network of Excellence. From 2007 to 2013, he was the leader of the team "Information Support for Effective and Rapid External Action" (ISFEREA) in the former Global Security and Crisis Management Unit of the JRC, developing remote sensing applications in the areas of post-natural-disaster and post-conflict damage assessment, conflict-related resource monitoring (diamond extraction sites, poppy, coca crops), and risk and exposure mapping. From 2014 to 2016, he was initializing and leading the Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL) project activities of the JRC, establishing new geospatial analytics technologies for assessing the human presence on the planet supporting post-2015 international frameworks as: Sustainable Development Goals, the Disaster Risk Reduction, and the new Urban Agenda. He is the chair of the "Human Planet" international initiative in the frame of the Group of Earth Observation (GEO) work program 2017-2019.



March 23, 2017

Multi-Hazard Early Warning at Global Scale: New Ways to Address Humanitarian and Economic Imperatives.

Common Operating Picture with CAP Alerts.
Common Operating Picture with CAP Alerts.

We stand today on the threshold of a profound revolution in emergency alerting for societies around the world. With recent advances in standardization and interoperability, all manner of communications networks can now be leveraged to get alerts to everyone who needs them, wherever they are and whatever they are doing. This is crucial to address moral imperatives such as saving lives and livelihoods as well as an economic imperatives such as enhancing Disaster Risk Reduction.

Historically, emergency alert messages have been mostly just text bulletins, composed like a news story. This kind of unstructured text message makes sense for personal communication, but it is a barrier to automated communications processing. A further problem was that the information in emergency messages varied widely across hazard types, and across countries and languages as well. Without a broadly agreed emergency messaging standard, all-hazards public alerting at scale was just not possible.

The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) standard is exactly the single standard format needed. As a "standard business form for alerting", CAP is simple yet flexible enough to convey essential alerting information about any kind of emergency. Also, the alerting area is represented with Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC, a GEO Participating Organization) conventions for polygons and circles so that CAP alerts are easily processing by mapping tools as well as GIS facilities. In emergency operations centres, this processing is the basis of the ubiquitous "Common Operating Picture" map.

Alerting authorities typically implement CAP as an add-on feature to their current alerting processes. They publish a copy of the alert, in CAP format, on their own Internet news feed (RSS or ATOM). Alert re-publishers then monitor that news feed so they can automatically disseminate critical warnings to online users in the alerting area. This public-private partnership approach for online alerting already involves Google, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and many of the major online advertisers through a consortium called the Federation for Internet Alerting.

Each alerting authority typically focuses on emergencies in one geographic region, although some span the world while focusing on one particular hazard. Such focus is a great strength but it does result in many hundreds of CAP alerts feeds that need to be aggregated for emergency alerting at larger scales.

The aggregation of CAP alerts across many news feeds is facilitated with a "CAP Alert Hub". Just as an Internet search engine helps people find relevant online resources such as merchandise for sale, Web sites and news stories, the new "Filtered Alert Hub" freeware (see ) helps people get just the CAP alerts they want to receive. For instance, a civic authority may want to get all published alerts, while a typical citizen wants only the infrequent, high-priority alerts. The WMO Alert Hub prototype is now using this freeware and gathering alerts from about 50 countries that already publish their official CAP alert news feeds.

There are many ways in which this new emergency alerting paradigm intersects with the capabilities of participants in GEO. For example, remote sensing can be a source of CAP alerts, as has been demonstrated with satellite data optimized for spotting fires. Also, GEONETCast has been configured as a global means for disseminating CAP alerts via satellite.

Perhaps the most exciting synergies between CAP and GEO will be found in the application of GIS techniques. As one example, the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) adds value to many CAP alerts by analyzing how the given alerting area overlaps with the nearby built environment. An earthquake in the empty desert, for example, has far less human impact than an earthquake near a city. The result can provide a much more refined sense of where humanitarian response should be focused.

Another frontier concerns the use of very fast geospatial processing with CAP. When needed, CAP-based alerting systems can then disseminate alerts to people in the affected location on the scale of seconds. This is essential for sudden-onset hazards such as tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunami, and flash floods.

The study of Climate Change is another area that can benefit from CAP and GIS analysis. Severe weather damage is expected to increase due to Climate Change, but the actual effect is hard to measure. The geospatial footprints of CAP alerts will provide the kind of record needed to establish baseline rates of severe weather events and track changes over time. If you are interested in prototyping such analysis using data being accumulated now by the Filtered Alert Hub project, please contact the author by email.

This is an exciting time for everyone working in emergency and disaster management. With these new capabilities, it is clear that many lives can be saved and livelihoods protected as emergency alerting becomes more available, more precise, more reliable, completely secure, and as fast as it can be.


Eliot Christian

About the author:

Eliot Christian is a consultant to and retired from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). He was a chief architect of the WMO Information System and the Global Earth Observations System of Systems. Eliot is also retired from, but remains a volunteer to, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) where he worked in the Geographic Information Office and helped lead national and global programs for geospatial and environmental data sharing. Since 2001, he has been active in developing and promoting the Common Alerting Protocol standard, especially internationally.


March 15, 2017

GPSDD announces funding for EO data projects.

A project on use of EO to measure wetlands in Uganda will help monitor SDGs through the Ramsar convention
A project on use of EO to measure wetlands in Uganda will help monitor SDGs through the Ramsar convention.
A project on use of EO to measure wetlands in Uganda will help monitor SDGs through the Ramsar convention
A project on use of EO to measure wetlands in Uganda will help monitor SDGs through the Ramsar convention.

The last few months in the world of data have been all about collaboration.  The year opened with January’s World Data Forum in Cape Town, which brought together well over a thousand people from hugely diverse organisations, including many in the GEO community, to talk, learn and plan how to improve the production and use of data.

Last week saw the regular Statistical Commission meeting at the UN in New York – an event which is fast becoming a regular fixture for non-statisticians too.  A packed programme of side events and meetings brought together different worlds of data to talk about how to bring their different skills and ideas to bear on the problems faced by governments as they put in place the data infrastructure to achieve and monitor the Sustainable Development Goals.

All this is absolutely our core business at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development data, and we were heavily involved in both events.  We were created to be a place where very different organisations involved in the production and use of data can come together and find out how collaborating can allow them to do more than they can do separately.

We’re supporting collaboration in very practical ways too, and were absolutely delighted to be able to announce last week the winners of the first Innovation Fund projects, supported by the World Bank, and to be able to support 10 pilot initiatives which are focused on collaborative innovations in using data to solve practical problems. The initiative will bring the benefits of enhanced understanding for good environmental and political planning in the short term, as well as inspiring other similar projects as those results are shared.

The Group on Earth Observations, our Anchor partner, coordinated submissions for projects with an Earth observation focus, and I’m pleased to see two of the ten finalists make use of Earth observations.

Wetlands monitoring in Uganda, through a collaboration between DHI GRAS, the University of Twente and the European Space Agency is being led by the Ramsar Center for Eastern Africa.  This demonstration will harness the potential to use EO to provide a full national wetland inventory in Uganda, which has been a pilot country for monitoring SDG 6.6.

Sustainable fishing is vital to sustain human development in coastal areas, as well as maintaining sustainable management of life in the oceans, encapsulated in SDG Goal 14. Fishermen from low income countries fish at night. The project for ‘Mapping Night Time Fishing Activity’ Southeast Asia is led by the University of Boulder, Colorado, to better understand long term nighttime fishing activity.

The other projects selected include improving registration of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, helping health workers predict patient behavior in Africa and using mobile phone signal attenuation to estimate rainfall. We were overwhelmed with the quality of proposals received and we’re working to make sure we can support more projects in the future.

This initial pilot round of funding ranges from $25,000 to $250,000 according to its stage of development and potential to scale-up. I know these projects will bring us some valuable lessons to share throughout the GEO community and the broader Global Partnership. Not only will we hopefully inspire more projects along these lines, we’ll have the tools to demonstrate the power of data for effective development programming, and the power of collaboration for effective data.


Claire Melamed

About the author:

Claire Melamed is Executive Director of the Global Partnership on Sustainable Development Data and Editor of the UN Report, "A World that Counts: Mobilizing the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development".


March 7, 2017

Mapping & Monitoring of Settlements in South Africa.

map of spatial urban growth around Johannesburg and Pretoria
Spatial urban growth around Johannesburg and Pretoria.
map of spatial urban growth around Johannesburg and Pretoria
Spatial urban growth around Johannesburg and Pretoria.

African cities are growing fast but many are unable to respond to the challenges of urbanization because old colonial plans did not include marginalized poor populations. Town planners are struggling to cope with the environmental management consequences of urbanization.

A Global Human Settlement Layer (GHSL) application, developed by the EC’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) is substantially contributing to enabling the human settlements authorities in mapping built-up areas to monitor and plan monitoring spatial infrastructure developments. JRC and SANSA customized the GHSL application to enable SANSA to process their archived SPOT-5 imagery that date back until the year 2006.

SANSA is currently processing the human settlements historical layers and plans to partner with other African agencies in the future to produce human settlements data for other Africa countries that do not have access to high resolution human settlement data. Availability of SPOT 6/7 satellite imagery in South Africa allows SANSA to continue updating the National Human Settlement Layer.

The success of the South African National Development Plan and SDGs also relies on availability of accurate spatial data. The human settlement data is one of the base datasets required during the implementation and monitoring of the set outcomes and development goals. Human settlement data developed using the GHSL application is currently being used in South Africa to support a number of legislations including Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act;  National Human Settlements Land Inventory Act; Statistics Act;  Municipal Demarcation Act; Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act; Disaster Management Act and  Electoral Act.


About the author:

Naledzani Mudau works in Regional cooperation with the South African National Space Agency.


February 15, 2017

Earth observations for ecology in CAR.

My country, the Central African Republic, is mostly known for uranium and diamond mining in the South East and for oil in the North West, but our greatest natural resource is protected through our national parks.

I run the Nouabalé Ndoki Natural Park. It’s 400km from the capital, Bangui. The road is bad and some of the year you can’t pass.

Our park is part of the Dzanga-Sangha Tri-national area shared with Cameroun and the Republic of Congo -  the second biggest rainforest on earth and the green lungs of the planet.

We’ve been collecting forest data since 2012, we use cyber trackers and hidden cameras as well as acoustic measurements of the elephants. Elephants make infrasonic sounds, below the range audible to humans – which we can pick up to track their movements.

Also, we have a drone coming this year, in 2017, which will contribute forest data. We use these Earth observations to stop animal poaching and we have eco-guards who enforce fines. The penalty for killing an elephant was recently increased in CAR to 1 year in prison. Elephant numbers were going down, but are now stable and from January to March you can see around 200 elephants in a single day.

Our park attracts around 500 tourists a year and our main activity for poverty reduction is eco-tourism. However, we can’t have too many more tourists than that, we have a pristine natural resource to maintain.

I’ve been part of the GEO community since 2006 and we’ve been proud to host visits to our park for AfriGEOSS to demonstrate the power of data sharing for nature conservation.


Padou Lambert

About the author:

Padou Lambert is Director of the of the National Ecotourism Programme and Parks Manager, Central African Republic.


February 7, 2017

Open Geospatial Standards with Mark Reichardt, CEO.

OGC and GEO – in partnership from the start

Partnerships are key to our success.  The context of location permeates across all disciplines.  OGC has established numerous alliance partnerships with other standards organizations and associations as a mechanism to improve our standards and best practices through better understanding of community needs.  These partnerships also enable us to coordinate on activities of mutual interest, driving outcomes that could not have been achieved in isolation. To date, OGC has over 40 such partnerships spanning sensors and IoT, built infrastructure, smart cities, modeling and simulation, law enforcement, the smart grid, and of course Earth Observation to name a few. Our partnership with GEO is one of our more important relationships given the role that standards and interoperability play as an integration platform for the large-scale heterogenous global array of EO sensors and sensor systems.

The OGC / GEO partnership began in the early 2000’s as Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) open web service standards gained global implementation – improving the ability of geospatial technologies and data sources to work together seamlessly.  This was around the same time as OGC members began interacting with GEO and GEOSS activities to assist in advancing Earth observation interoperability arrangements in the GEOSS Common Infrastructure (GCI) - drawing on standards from IEEE, ISPRS and the OGC.

OGC members recognized early on the importance of a close and continuous relationship with GEO.  In February 2005, OGC became a GEO Participating Organization at the final ad hoc GEO Plenary. Shortly thereafter, OGC participated in the Earth Observation Summit that formally established GEO.

Role of Open Standards In GEO

The initial GEOSS 10 Year Plan identified a bold vision to create a system of systems based on voluntary contributions from nations and participating organizations from around the world.  This vision is now being realized by GEO through an architecture based on open international consensus standards.

Just as the internet continues to grow and prosper based on an open standards architecture, creating a system of systems for Earth observations required a similar standards framework that would also address the unique aspects of the varied characteristics of EO systems and information.

The role of open standards as expressed in the GEOSS Architecture / GCI is significant. They provide a level of interoperability that enables organizations and nations to contribute and share their EO assets to more effectively address a range of social, economic and environmental issues.

OGC Role in GEO

OGC’s involvement in GEO has been significant and varied:

From 2005 to 2008, OGC in conjunction with IEEE and ISPRS planned and conducted a series of GEOSS Architecture workshops in locations around the world.  OGC’s role was to conduct live demonstrations of GEOSS architecture capabilities based on OGC standards.  These workshops and demonstrations were well received, helping to validate the power of an interoperable architecture for GEOSS, and inform the community of how to implement and scale this architecture.

On behalf of GEO, OGC conducted a series of GEOSS Architecture Implementation Pilots (AIP) bringing together the user community, industry, and the university and research community to develop an architecture for the GEOSS including GEOSS Common Infrastructure components.  A series of eight Architecture Implementation Pilots developed and implemented operational prototype capabilities using OGC’s Interoperability Program rapid prototyping and engineering process. AIP Phase 1 was conducted in 2007, and focused on evaluation of the GEOSS Initial Operating Capability produced by the GEOSS Architecture and Data Committee.

Subsequent AIP phases addressed topics in the context of GEO Societal Benefit Areas such as: renewable energy planning and placement, air quality assessment, habitat management and forecasting, disaster management, water quality and drought, and disease surveillance.  For each of these AIP phases, operational prototypes, live demonstrations and detailed engineering reports and best practice videos were delivered and made public to encourage adoption of the GEOSS Architecture. These can be found on the OGC website at and at our YouTube channel “ogcvideo”.

OGC continues to support a range of GEO activities and members are involved in a range of activities including Flagships, GEO Initiatives and Community Activities as defined in the current GEO Work Programme.  Further, OGC serves as an active member of the GEO Programme Board.

Opportunities Ahead

The OGC plans and conducts a range of interoperability testbeds and pilot initiatives to rapidly develop, test, validate and demonstrate the power and effectiveness of new and enhanced candidate standards and architectural best practices.  OGC is presently seeking participation in its next major interoperability testbed – OGC Testbed 13. This initiative has a significant emphasis on the access, processing and application of EO data. I encourage GEO Members and Participating Organizations to review the Call for Participation which is open until 17 February 2017.   The Mass Population Migration and other themes of this testbed will benefit from access to a broad range of EO sources, and I can see great opportunity to leverage assets available through the GEO portal and GEO Members.

As the GEOSS approach calls for open standards, it is vital that the implementations conform to those open standards.  OGC’s Compliance Program provides a testing framework to certify that implementations conform to OGC standards.  The OGC Compliance Program testing infrastructure can be applied to confirm use of OGC standards in GEOSS as well as extending this open source testing framework to other standards used in GEOSS.

OGC is a participating member of a H2020 NextGEOSS project, which will implement a federated data hub for access and exploitation of Earth Observation data, including user-friendly tools for data mining, discovery, access and exploitation. This data hub will be supported by a strong commitment to the engagement of Earth Observation and related communities, with the view of supporting the creation of innovative and business oriented applications.

NextGEOSS includes a set of demonstrative pilot activities based on research topics, and various business scenarios. These Pilots will showcase GEOSS capabilities with emphasis on data accessibility and use, and will directly engage GEO and other EO-related communities, including the commercial sector.  The GEO Secretariat will announce the Call for Participation to AIPs.

OGC also has a standing Domain Working Group on Earth System Science, as well as a range of working groups that rely heavily on EO information. These working groups would benefit from deeper involvement by GEO Members and Participating Organizations to identify new geospatial interoperability challenges requiring action by the standards community.  Most of these DWGs are open to participation by OGC members and the broader community.

Finally, OGC conducts quarterly Technical Committee meetings where OGC Members converge to discuss interoperability issues and work to advance solutions.  Our 102nd Technical Committee meeting will take place in Delft, The Netherlands during the week of 20 March, 2017.  I encourage GEO representatives to consider participating in these meetings to further strengthen the ties and alignment of activities of importance to our organizations.


The OGC is an international consortium where members participate in a consensus process to develop publicly available geospatial standards. The OGC was formed with 8 charter Members in 1994 with a mission to advance open standards and related best practices to promote improved geoinformation discovery, access, sharing, processing and application for improved understanding and decision making. To achieve this interoperability mission, OGC advanced a durable and successful global forum for the collaboration of over 500 private, public sector, research and academic organizations representing technology and data providers and users.


Mark Reichardt

About the author:

Mark Reichardt is President and CEO of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). Mark joined the OGC team in 2000 after a 20-year career in map production and mapping technology modernization with the US Government. During that time he learned first-hand the incredible cost, time and customization required to enable geospatial information to be shared between systems. Mark become aware of the OGC’s interoperability mission in the latter half of the 1990s and decided in 2000 to join the OGC to directly address the interoperability challenge.



January 12, 2017

GEO Value at the American Geophysical Union.

Speakers from left to right: Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Dawn Wright, Jared Berenter, Ben Miller, Danny Vandenbroucke, David Goodrich
Speakers from left to right: Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Dawn Wright, Jared Berenter, Ben Miller, Danny Vandenbroucke, David Goodrich.
Speakers from left to right: Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Dawn Wright, Jared Berenter, Ben Miller, Danny Vandenbroucke, David Goodrich
Speakers from left to right: Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Dawn Wright, Jared Berenter, Ben Miller, Danny Vandenbroucke, David Goodrich.

GEOValue is an international community with focus on the value and socioeconomic impacts of geospatial and environmental information for decisions. Geospatial information contributes to decisions by societal decision-makers, business leaders and individuals.

More effective use of information is essential as issues become increasingly complex and consequences are critical for future economic and social development. To achieve this vision, our “community” includes a wide range of natural science, social, economic, management and communication disciplines, and stresses communication and collaboration across specialties.
The Public Affairs sessions at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting are a great way for community face-to-face exchanges, and outreach to many different earth science domains (we have conducted sessions there since 2012).

This year, we opened our AGU presence early Monday morning at 8am, with “GEOValue: Addressing best practices for assessing the societal impact and value of geospatial information based on use cases”. Despite the early start, we had a great set of speakers and audience discussing a broad range of use cases/assessment methodologies. Topics ranged from watershed assessment, to endogeneity of rainfall, to forest fire prevention, to narrowing uncertainty in climate sensitivity.

We had two traditional invited talks, five lightning talks and a panel for the speakers and audience to delve into more details after the lightning talks. Our presenters were consistent with the community diversity - social scientists, economists, and natural scientists; they came from academia, public service, and industry. The session was concluded by a tribute to the life and accomplishments of Molly Macauley, a leading figure in the field, who passed away tragically in 2016.

That afternoon, and on the following days, we had several poster sessions, which allowed interesting discussions on the value chain – from data to decisions, and on representative use cases.


Francoise Pearlman

About the author:

Francoise Pearlman has 30 years of experience in engineering and management. For over 15 years, she worked on government programs with focus on development, integration, and field-testing of digitization software/systems. After a career in technical management for major aerospace corporations, she is currently co-owner of J&F Enterprise, a small technical services company operating in the global dimension, where she focused primarily on the socioeconomic impacts and benefits of Earth Observations. J&F Enterprise receives support from NASA. Francoise is a senior member of IEEE.



December 21, 2016

Tribute to Giovanni Rum who retires from GEO in December.

Giovanni Rum (centre) thanked for his service to GEO at the Thirteenth GEO Plenary in St Petersburg, Russia by Executive Committee Chair, Philemon Mjwara, Director-General, Department of Science and Technology, South Africa (l) and GEO Secretariat Director, Barbara Ryan (r)
Giovanni Rum (centre) thanked for his service to GEO at the Thirteenth GEO Plenary in St Petersburg, Russia by Executive Committee Chair, Philemon Mjwara, Director-General, Department of Science and Technology, South Africa (l) and GEO Secretariat Director, Barbara Ryan (r).
Giovanni Rum (centre) thanked for his service to GEO at the Thirteenth GEO Plenary in St Petersburg, Russia by Executive Committee Chair, Philemon Mjwara, Director-General, Department of Science and Technology, South Africa (l) and GEO Secretariat Director, Barbara Ryan (r)
Giovanni Rum (centre) thanked for his service to GEO at the Thirteenth GEO Plenary in St Petersburg, Russia by Executive Committee Chair, Philemon Mjwara, Director-General, Department of Science and Technology, South Africa (l) and GEO Secretariat Director, Barbara Ryan (r).

It has been a pleasure and great experience working with you, Giovanni.

I think anyone involved with the GEO community knows Giovanni, the outgoing Senior Programme Officer at GEO. Over the course of the first decade of GEO, he helped to shape the development of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). He’s also been instrumental in setting the course for the next decade of GEO.

Giovanni spent the majority of his career at the Italian Space Agency, from 1981 to June 2006, where he was the Head of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) Earth Observation Unit, before joining the GEO Secretariat.

Giovanni has also been a member of the ESA Earth Observation Program Board, CEOS, and worked closely with Institutional Users to introduce satellite data and related information into their decision processes.

Giovanni, I think we first met over ten years ago. Probably for the first time in a Sentinel Asia disaster monitoring workshop in Malaysia or a GEO Asia-Pacific symposium.

Since about 2008, we have had a close working partnership under the GEO Forest Carbon Tracking task (now GFOI), with lots of joint coordination workshops and meetings around the world.

I have valued your friendship and professional approach to the complex environment of GEO and associated initiatives, and I wish you all the best in retirement.

I’m sure we will cross paths again, anyway, soon


Alex Held

About the author:

Alex Held is Research Group Leader of Landscape Observation and Simulation Group of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Land and Water Flagship. Alex is also serving as the Director of the "AusCover" remote sensing data facility that is part of Australia´s "Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network" - TERN, which provides free and open access to various satellite datasets.




December 15, 2016

GEO pushes for adequate biodiversity monitoring for the planet of tomorrow.

The world has agreed that we live on a planet under threat and we need to sustain the rich diversity of life on Earth. Commitments came through the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity signed by government leaders; and the 20 time bound, measurable targets agreed by those parties in 2010.

The Aichi Targets are now being translated into national strategies by all countries – and we at GEO BON are there to remind all 193 parties to the convention that they can’t set targets without assessing the status and trends of biodiversity, through observation.

I attended the 13th Conference of the Parties this month in Mexico to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity observation networks. Consistent biodiversity monitoring is fundamental – and GEO BON is helping countries to work on improving consistency.

In collaboration with the Alexander von Humboldt Institute in Colombia we developed BON in a Box, an online toolkit for technology transfer. BON in a Box is a mechanism for capacity building to assist countries in the development of biodiversity observation.

GEO BON is also working on the development of the Essential Biodiversity Variables and on biodiversity change indicators to assess progress to specific Aichi targets which rely on the availability of repeated biodiversity observations in time but also on a better geographical coverage.

As isolated science research programmes start to become more uniform and connected through GEO BON, we can build up a more accurate picture of the world today, and how to manage it for tomorrow.

Watch the GEO BON side event on Periscope, by the Humboldt Institut, Colombia.


Laetitia Navarro

About the author:

Laetitia Navarro is Executive Secretary of the Group on Earth Observations - Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON)



December 7, 2016

MYGEOSS - apps for better lives.

icons of different MyGEOSS apps
icons of different MyGEOSS apps

Apps really allow you to hold Earth observation data in the palm of your hand. Over the past two years, the European Commission has supported the development of web-based and mobile applications as tools to support citizen science and make greater use of open data and data from GEOSS. Also, as you contribute data about your environment, such as the local weather or air quality, you become more aware about it and that shared information makes the app smarter for everyone.

MYGEOSS received funding from the Horizon 2020 R&D programme of the European Union, and was carried out by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC). The project ran for two years, from January 2015 to December 2016, with three open calls for innovative ideas based on open data. We had more than 160 proposals, around a third each from research institutions and individuals. The other 40 percent of proposals came from small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), which is great, because we want to involve more businesses in developing apps to turn Earth observation data into useful information. Here’s my top pick of a few of the 39 apps developed through MYGEOSS.

MIGRATE – migration patterns in Europe by Poli GeoWizards gaming app aims to raise awareness and challenge misconceptions and fears about migration in Europe. Here’s an incentive to use the app, the top 10 players between now and 5 January win an award.

Our health is all we have and one of the biggest environmental threats to health – measurable by Earth observations – is air pollution. We have three apps to cover that. CALIOPE, by Barcelona Super Computing Centre, gives air quality forecast of all major air pollutants ON a 24 hour bases: ozone (YUO3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5). eQUOS app by Filippo Macaluso provides quality data for outdoor sports, to help you decide whether to go for a run or if it would be wiser to head for the gym. SenseEurAir pushes warnings form official air quality data networks in Europe, so if the air pollution levels in your area exceed a pre-set threshold, you’ll know about it.

Some cities are better than others in considering artful use of streetlights to good effect so monuments are illuminated, citizens are safe and light pollution is reduced. It’s not an easy balance and My Simulated Sky at Night can help choose the appropriate type of lighting. This app is a follow up to the hugely successful Loss of the Night which makes skyglow data accessible. Both apps were developed by Interactive Scape, in Berlin.

As the extra-terrestrial film Arrival hits cinema screens this week, citizens should remain calm when they use IASTracker, or Invasive Alien Species in Europe, two apps to locate Invasive Alien Species, not of the inter-galactic kind. Plants such as knotweed, bugs and other creatures can cause expensive damage to property and local biodiversity. These apps help identify and locate plants, birds and insects in a way that is easy to use for non-biologists and feed the European data centre on Invasive Alien Species managed by the JRC.

There are so many more I would like to mention – OdorCollect – for citizens to report nasty smells, GEOAvalanche to keep mountaineers and skiers up to date on the latest conditions. My recommendation – try them all! Some are little more than prototypes while others are already more developed. In any case if you find a good idea, you can access the open source code and open data from the MYGEOSS website, and develop the apps further yourself or in partnership with a friendly geek!

See the full list of all the My GEOSS apps in the Digital Earth Lab gallery here.


Max Craglia

About the author:

Max Craglia is Scientific Project manager at the Digital Economy Unit of the Joint Research Centre (JRC), European Commission



December 1, 2016

Building a Great Green Wall Across Africa.

Great Green Wall on map of Africa
Great Green Wall on map of Africa

The Great Green Wall is a transcontinental programme for Africa, to plant trees in a 15 km wide band across 12 countries, stretching for 7,000 km across one of the most difficult places to measure on the planet.

The Great Green Wall should increase reforestation, reduce soil erosion, develop and diversify agriculture and conserve plants and biodiversity. The Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall is responsible for planning and monitoring. My organization, The Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS), based in Tunisia, is leading on Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E).

All the technical and financial partners involved in the definition, implementation and evaluation of activities for land rehabilitation and conservation under the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative expect to rely on trusted, standardized systems for monitoring and evaluation of progress against agreed-upon objectives.

OSS is tasked with the development of geospatial applications and capacity building with national partners on questions linked to monitoring and evaluation. We developed an online geoportal giving access to thematic data with spatial references for technicians in charge of management of natural resources at national program level.

OSS has also developed geographic information systems for all SAWAP* national programmes, consisting of a planning tool to help decision making and the development of spatial data for follow up of activities.

OSS has produced a mapping of land use with the latest data of 30m resolution, covering the whole of the 12 countries in the SAWAP program. We’ve also produced a training kit for monitoring and evaluation which is used to support capacity building activities for managers and technicians for the national projects. Mapping national project sites at a scale higher than Sentinel2-MS data is planned for 2017.

We’re pleased OSS was approved as a Participating Organization of GEO at the GEO-XIII Plenary in November 2016. For us, one of the biggest advantages of GEO membership is to be in contact with experts, data providers and Earth observation initiatives at the international level. This means we can share experiences on the approaches and environmental surveillance techniques involved in remote sensing.

We’re also looking to GEO for promotion of Earth observations techniques and data use in the Sahara and to support and reinforce the capacities of partners and institutions in member countries.

*National projects implementing the Great Green Wall are supported by the Sahel and West Africa Program (SAWAP) through the World Bank’s Global Environment Facility (GEF). OSS is responsible for Monitoring and Evaluation, (M&E) under the BRICKS 12 country regional knowledge and monitoring hub. BRICKS is run in partnership with the Permanent Interstates Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) and IUCN.

Nabil Ben Khatra, Observatoire du Sahara et du Sahel (OSS)



About the author:

Nabil is coordinator for the environment programme at OSS


November 21, 2016

UNFCCC Earth Info Day and open Earth observation data.

GEO´s Efforts in Support of the Paris Agreement
GEO´s Efforts in Support of the Paris Agreement
GEO´s Efforts in Support of the Paris Agreement
GEO´s Efforts in Support of the Paris Agreement

Last week in Marrakech at the 2016 UN Climate Change Conference known as COP 22, the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) was represented by a number of Participating Organisations. In particular, Dr Werner Kutsch, Director General of the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) delivered two presentations relating to GEO.

Werner presented at the EarthInfo Day, held to connect the science community to Party and non-Party stakeholders to benefit the intergovernmental process and the Paris Agreement implementation. The event took place on the second day of COP 22 and aimed to inform the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA). It focused on observations necessary for well-guided actions and opportunities to support adaptation in Africa.

To support sustainable development and reviewing, tracking and reaching the Paris Agreement goals, extended scientific knowledge is required to assist governments and other stakeholders. Earth observations are the base to provide this knowledge.  Werner presented GEO’s efforts in support of the Paris Agreement and the GEO initiative on carbon and greenhouse gases that integrates actions across scientific domains.

The event provided an update on the status of the climate, the global carbon budget and the development of indicators to support adaptation and mitigation. Also, the new Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Implementation Plan 2016 was launched, which describes how essential climate variables, indicators and actions support the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. GCOS is the overarching body for coordinating the development of observation concepts and consulting SBSTA. It furthermore endorses and supports the implementing organisations.

In terms of Earth observations there were presentations introducing novel technical-scientific approaches in the estimation of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as actions and services to support adaptation in Africa. GEO is also very active in Africa through AfriGEOSS.

We were very pleased that Werner was able to represent the broad open Earth observations perspective alongside other GEO Participating Organisations, including the EarthInfo Day organisers UNFCCC, WMO and UNESCO-IOC.

There is a fantastic summary of EarthInfo Day here.

This is the first in a series of GEO blog posts, which will be known as Observations.

Steven Ramage, GEO Secretariat


Steven Ramage

About the author:

Steven is responsible for stakeholder engagement and external relations for GEO




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