GEO logo
         GEOSS Portal Button

GEO Blog: Observations


February 1, 2018

Open Space: The Global Effort for Open Access to Satellite Data

When the Group on Earth Observations was formed in 2005, promotion of full and open data sharing was one of its primary goals. By that time, some agencies – including NASA and NOAA in the United States and INPE in Brazil – had already made most or all of their satellite data openly and freely available. A number of other large agencies – including the U.S. Geological Survey and the European Space Agency – adopted open data policies a few years later. In many cases, space and meteorological agencies were leaders in open data, developing and implementing these policies well before national open data initiatives were announced. Despite these and other important data sharing success stories, however, there is a significant amount of data that is still restricted. As of the beginning of 2016, data from less than half of the 458 unclassified, government-owned Earth observing satellites launched since 1957 has been made openly available.

My new book “Open Space: The Global Effort for Open Access to Environmental Satellite Data” examines the factors that caused some nations to embrace open data sharing, while others continue to restrict access to their environmental satellite data.

The book includes case studies of both WMO and GEO, providing the historical and international context in which data sharing decisions have been made. It then presents agency-level historical case studies looking at data sharing policy development in the space and meteorological agencies in the United States, Europe, and Japan (i.e. NASA, NOAA, USGS, DoD, ESA, EUMETSAT, JAXA, and JMA) as well as summaries of data sharing policy developments in the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). There is an appendix that discusses the data sharing policies of every nation that has ever owned an Earth observation satellite.

The book provides insights into the challenges of open data sharing. In nearly every agency examined, data was restricted to some extent with commercial sales in mind. These agencies used different models: government data sales, licensing private entities to sell data, or fully privatizing whole satellite systems – but the experiences were the same: satellite data sales did not result in significant revenues, but they did reduce data use for science, public policy, value-added products, and other applications.

The book shows that the satellite agency’s mission and the economic attributes of the data are particularly important for data sharing. Historically, nations have been interested in recovering costs through data sales or promoting the growth of a commercial market by partnering with the commercial sector. Despite evidence of limited opportunities for revenue generation, some nations continue to develop data policies focused on enabling these efforts. For many other nations, however, particularly those with relatively new or small space programs, remote sensing satellite programs are undertaken with a focus on capacity development or technology demonstration. In these cases, data utilization and sharing are secondary and typically do not receive significant attention or resources, resulting in a lack of open data sharing and its benefits.

Based on these findings, I offer practical suggestions for those working to increase open data sharing - including GEO and its members. First, stakeholders can continue to raise awareness of the economic benefits of open data sharing and data use so that decision-makers understand the costs and benefits of these policy choices. For nations considering partnerships with commercial remote sensing firms, efforts to identify innovative designs for engagement with the private sector - including the purchase of open data licenses or licenses that allow agencies to make data openly available after a given period of time, for example, will ensure that the benefit to society is maximized.

For nations that are focused on capacity building and technology demonstration, rather than data utilization, technical and logistical assistance can help to ensure that the resulting data is made available. Assistance in setting up data portals, or even offers to host foreign data, for example, can guarantee the data from a broader set of nations is made available.

The trend towards open data sharing began early among nations that operate satellites, but there is still significant room for improvement.


Mariel Borowitz

About the author:

Mariel Borowitz is an Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. Her research deals with international space policy issues, primarily international cooperation in Earth observing satellites, and satellite data sharing policies. She also looks at international trends in commercial remote sensing and civil-military interactions in remote sensing technology and data. Her research interests extend to human space exploration strategy and developments in space security and space situational awareness. Dr. Borowitz earned a PhD in Public Policy at the University of Maryland and a Masters degree in International Science and Technology Policy from the George Washington University. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she also earned a minor in Applied International Studies. Dr. Borowitz is currently on detail at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC through Fall 2018.


December 13, 2017

GEO’s Value Highlighted at COP23

The 2017 UN Climate Conference (COP23) gathered over 20,000 people in Bonn, Germany this past November to drive forward global efforts to combat climate change. Attendees were diverse, ranging from non-governmental and international organizations to high-level government officials.

For the first time in its 12-year history, GEO participated as an official exhibitor and side event organizer at the COP. This was made possible through a 2016 decision of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), evidencing the increased recognition of the value of Earth observations (EO) for tackling climate change.

Hundreds of visitors from diverse sectors visited GEO’s exhibit booth over two weeks to learn about the work we are doing in support of the Paris Agreement, in areas including carbon, water, agriculture, energy, oceans, wetlands and more.

While many exhibit visitors came from beyond the traditional EO community and were unfamiliar with GEO, a common thread among almost all was their need for environmental data to better inform policy and decision-making processes. All too often, people working to combat climate change are struggling to find or access appropriate data for their uses. Many visitors to the GEO exhibit were surprised to learn that over 400 million EO resources are discoverable and accessible openly for download via the GEOSS Platform (, including data resources covering most - if not all - of the 50+ Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Essential Climate Variables (ECVs). This illustrates an enormous untapped potential for GEO to support governments addressing the challenges posed by climate change.

GEO, together with GCOS and the Remote Sensing Technology Center of Japan (RESTEC), also organized an official Side Event that was introduced by Andrea Tilche of the European Commission and moderated by the European Space Agency’s Stephen Briggs, and was attended by over 100 people. The event explored the role of integrated observations for mitigation and adaptation. Speakers included country representatives (Germany and Japan) and international organisations (Integrated Carbon Observation System [ICOS], Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] and GCOS). A summary and pictures of the event are available here.

One key topic of the side event was the role of Earth observations to support National Greenhouse Gas Inventories and the ongoing refinement of the IPCC Guidelines. During the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) session, this issue was formally brought forward and finally included in the outcome document, which noted the “increasing capability to systematically monitor greenhouse gas concentrations and emissions, through in situ as well as satellite observations, and its relevance in support of the Paris Agreement”.

These outcomes mark the successful entry of GEO into the UNFCCC COP arena, and we look forward to an even stronger presence next year at COP24.

The Secretariat also participated in a side event on “NEXGEN Governance Systems” for Climate, organized by the Higher Ground Foundation (initiative of Climate Mitigation Works Ltd., UK registry). The event explored how the Paris Agreement goals can be achieved through a next generation of governance which is decentralized and based on scalability, efficiency and transparency. As part of that governance, the Vulnerability Reduction Credit (VRCTM) Standard Framework was launched as a cross-sectoral metric to quantify the results of climate adaptation measures that may serve for adaptation target setting, monitoring and evaluation, and supporting finance for countries taking measures to reduce vulnerability, in line with commitments to the Paris Agreement. GEO, through GEOSS, has a role to play in supplying specific Earth observation data and information as part of the VRC methodology needed by countries participating in the framework.


More information on GEO’s role at COP23 (including the exhibition material and the side event presentations) can be found here.


André Obregón

About the author:

André Obregón is the Climate Coordinator at the GEO Secretariat.


December 4, 2017

Earth Observations: Global Perspectives from the UK

Last month I had the great pleasure of leading the UK delegation for the annual Plenary meeting of the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO). Earth observation (EO) is the gathering of information about the Earth’s physical, chemical and biological systems, usually via remote sensing technologies. GEO is a partnership of 105 national governments and 118 Participating Organizations (mostly non-governmental organisations: NGOs) that aims to bring together environmental Earth observations, policy and decision makers to solve global and local challenges. With over 500 people attending the GEO Plenary, an additional 250 people at side events and tweets reaching almost 11,500,000 impressions with the #GEOWeek17 hashtag, this was a truly global gathering.

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) group of organisations has a very substantial interest in EO – it is increasingly using EO technologies, including using EO tools to validate rural payments schemes, managing flood emergencies, supporting management planning for protected sites and we are investigating other uses particularly in the marine environment. As satellite data availability and quality increases (improved resolution and a wider range of measurements such as air quality) the trend of using EO data for our delivery and policy will increase across the UK Government. This was why leading this delegation was such a pleasure – a delegation of 12 people each from different departments, agencies (including the Environment Agency [EA], Ordnance Survey [OS], Office of National Statistics [ONS] and the UK Meteorological Office [Met Office]) and academia – all learning from the best across the world and also demonstrating UK leadership in the application of this technology.

It was obvious during the meeting that there is rapid growth in capability in the use of freely available satellite data from European (Copernicus) and US (Landsat) programmes across the world for a wide range of public and private applications, and much excitement about novel applications.

The UK delegation was able to demonstrate our substantial leadership in this field – I spoke on a panel on national EO strategies, talking about lessons learnt in establishing the Defra EO Centre of Excellence on a panel with those just starting out this journey – Vietnam – and those with fully developed cross government structures – the US. EA colleagues presented at a ’Best Practices in Data Sharing’ event outlining the benefits and challenges in publishing open data – a great opportunity to share our open data story on a global stage, which received widespread interest and support and it was noted that the UK is ranked first in the Open Data Barometer (a global measure of how governments publish and use open data).

I was also able to announce, with thanks to support from Ordnance Survey, a remote UK secondment into the GEO Secretariat that will increase the use of EO data in disaster risk reduction and strengthen the UK’s contribution to GEO. Colleagues also took the opportunity to visit US counterparts and learn how they have developed cross-government EO services through the United States Geological Survey (USGS) – which will feed into our thinking as we support cross UK government work in developing the wider use of EO technologies. We also had a stand in the very well visited exhibition, showing off various UK government EO approaches, including Defra’s own EO Centre of Excellence.

There were some excellent success stories from others in the use of EO for economic and policy benefit – Australia estimated that utilisation of EO, along with the associated spatial industry, will have created 15,000 new jobs and contribute $8bn to its economy by 2025. A study by Google estimated that the private sector industry in EO services generated revenue of US$400bn in 2016. But there was also the view that more could be done to promote the use of EO both in the public and private sectors. There was an excellent Commercial sector panel highly relevant to Defra, including a farmer from Australia using EO data to manage his farm, representatives from the insurance industry and EO services companies that advise the food supply chain to keep food fresh. Further discussions with industry continued in the Executive Committee meeting (the body that provides strategic direction to GEO), with strong UK input and acknowledging that the commercial sector will be where major innovations in EO are likely to come from in the future. Another panel session focussed on using EO data to support International Development.

So what does this mean for the UK and other countries? Three lessons:

  • The use of EO is expanding globally, the UK is at the forefront of the technology and its use, but as with any new technology or approach – the pace of change is fast and we need to keep abreast of latest developments
  • The event was a diverse meeting of different communities much more than the traditional ’EO from satellites’ meeting – demonstrating the increasingly pervasive nature of EO across the public sector globally
  • Open data is very much still on the agenda (and the UK is an exemplar in this) and the vast array of new technologies and data science being brought to bear to utilise open data is very impressive, but at the same time, probably just beginning.

Finally GEO’s vision for the future is something we would strongly support, to move from a data centric approach to a user centric approach – closing the gap between data providers and users might, I hope, go some way to countering a quote from one of the speakers ’we are drowning in data and starved of wisdom’.


Iain Williams

About the author:

Iain Williams is the Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser at the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Since August 2016, Iain leads Defra’s governance of science and research including scientific capabilities, leading partnerships with other research funders domestically and internationally, independent scientific advice, science strategy and quality, and the use of emerging and disruptive technologies and methods – including the use of, and policy for, Earth observation.

Iain’s research background is in entomology, epidemiology and population dynamics, having held research posts at Imperial College, London and the University of East Anglia.


November 6, 2017

Join in OpenStreetMap GeoWeek - November 12th-17th

Credit: Dale Kunce CC-BY - OpenStreetMap maps in use in disaster response in Puerto Rico
Credit: Dale Kunce CC-BY - OpenStreetMap maps in use in disaster response in Puerto Rico
Credit: Dale Kunce CC-BY - OpenStreetMap maps in use in disaster response in Puerto Rico
Credit: Dale Kunce CC-BY - OpenStreetMap maps in use in disaster response in Puerto Rico

OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a free, editable map of the world, and by far the most comprehensive global map dataset there is. OSM data is open source, providing huge value for the GEO and humanitarian community. The Missing Maps Project works to crowdsource individuals to produce OSM maps. The objective of Missing Maps is simple: to map the world's most vulnerable communities so that local and international NGOs, communities, and individuals can use the maps and the data to better prepare for and respond to crises affecting the areas.

In the past three years, nearly 40,000 people have mapped the homes of over 50 million people worldwide, who can now be targeted by humanitarian and development programs. Missing Maps is a project founded by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), American Red Cross, British Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders (MSF-UK). HOT is a GEO Participating Organisation since 2016 following the same broad principles of open data for the benefit of humankind.

OSM GeoWeek is a week long celebration during which community groups, map lovers, teachers and students around the world, join together to celebrate geography and make maps with OpenStreetMap. Last year, in partnership with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), American Red Cross, MapGive, YouthMappers, PEPFAR, and many more, there were 140 mapping events in 42 countries!

Mapping with HOT and OSM, participants don’t need any special expertise, just basic computer skills. Events can be of any size, and registration is easy, just fill out this FORM and your event will be registered on both the GeoWeek and Missing Maps event pages. Please see OSM GeoWeek for more information on this year’s events. If your organization would like to participate, our team and the OSM and Missing Maps network can provide you with the information and materials needed to host a successful mapathon. Regional support is available in some locations, so make sure you register your event!

We hope you can join us mapping this year! To learn more about hosting a mapathon please see or email


Rebecca Firth

About the author:

Rebecca Firth is the Community and Partnerships Manager at the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). HOT provides free, up-to-date and high quality maps for many parts of the world, notably developing countries. These maps are provided through crowdsourcing remote volunteers and empowering local communities. This improves the resilience of these communities and provides governments and organisations with the data they need to make effective decisions.


October 21, 2017

SMURBS: SMart URBan Solutions for Air Quality, Disasters and Urban Growth

On 9-11 October 2017, a number of Earth observation scientists, communicators and policy makers came together in Rome, Italy to attend the ERA-PLANET kick-off meeting. ERA-PLANET is the European Network for Observing our Changing Planet; a network of 34 partner organizations from 15 European countries and one associated country, coordinated by the National Research Centre for Italy (CNR-IIA).

Operating on an overall budget of €33.6m, ERA-PLANET’s goal is to strengthen the European Research Area in the domain of Earth Observations,  and to contribute to the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), particularly EuroGEOSS and the EU Space Policy through the Copernicus programme.

The Network promotes the use of tools and technologies to improve decisions based on data from the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), and consists of four strands represented by innovative projects: SMURBS, GEO-Essential, iGOSP and iCUPE.

I am the project leader for SMURBS, which stands for SMart URBan Solutions for Air Quality, Disasters and Urban Growth. With greater numbers of people now living in urban areas, cities are growing and this brings several interlinked associated pressures. SMURBS will work with selected cities in Europe to integrate and unify existing fragmented Earth observation resources (satellite data, in-situ networks and sensors, unmanned aerial systems, models and citizen observatories) under the "smart city" concept, for information and decision making in the areas of air quality, disaster resilience and urban growth, with a view to improve quality of life in urban areas.

This work also aligns with the GEO Engagement Strategy priorities of the Sendai Framework, the Paris Agreement and the United Nations 2030 Agenda, particularly Sustainable Development Goals 3, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15 and 16. We hope this work can also feed into the GEO Work Programme through the associated activities of the EO4SDG initiative.

Resilience is an important aspect of our work, and in this area the project also addresses long standing as well as modern issues like health and migration. SMURBS should inform decision making for the large-scale migration of people coming into Europe using multi-source EO data. We plan to foster citizen participatory mechanisms, on top of and merged with RS information, to build urban and societal resilience relating to migration induced pressures. The goal here is to provide better living standards for both migrants and locals weighing all relevant pressures. On a similar theme, Earth observations will be used to add value to health assessments and analyses, as part of the SMURBS smart city approach.  Tools and methodologies for assessing the health impact of air pollution will support policy makers in evaluating risks and taking appropriate action. The plan is to review existing and produce a new series of Essential Urban Variables and indicators, as well as white papers on EO4health and EO4migration. A portfolio of SMart URBan Solutions will be delivered in a ready to take up fashion and training materials will be widely disseminated, the latter under the approach of "lighthouse-follower" cities. Cities overseas Europe are already involved through partners' activities (e.g. La Paz in Bolivia, Beijing and Nanjing in China), and engagement also overseas Europe is anticipated to increase further during the course of the project.

In terms of programmatic advancement, we hope to contribute to GEOSS and Copernicus by supporting GEO’s Strategic Engagement priorities and addressing the Societal Benefit Areas of Sustainable Urban Development, Public Health Surveillance and Disaster Resilience. We will also build on previous European projects, support capacity building and help to broaden the user base for GEOSS and Copernicus. As just one of the strands of ERA-PLANET, we believe the  project as a whole will have a major impact in Europe and internationally through GEO.


Evangelos Gerasopoulos

About the author:

Dr. Evangelos Gerasopoulos is a Research Director at the National Observatory of Athens, Greece, and has a background in Atmospheric Physics and Air Quality. He graduated from AUTH-GR (MSc, PhD) and worked as Post Doctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute (Biogeochemistry Department, Mainz) and the Environmental Chemical Processes Lab (University of Crete). He serves as a member of the Programme Board of GEO since 2015, and among others as member of the Sectorial Scientific Council for the Environment and Energy of the National Council for Research and Technology (2014 – 2016), Member of the SC of the Navarino Environmental Observatory (Greek-Swedish).


October 18, 2017

China’s SASMAC advances regional cooperation on Earth observations

In response to increasing demand for Earth observation and geospatial information technology to assist with sustainable development efforts worldwide, and in-line with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Satellite Surveying and Mapping Application Center (SASMAC) of China’s National Administration of Surveying Mapping and Geo-information (NASG) is dedicated to improving global and regional cooperation on Earth observation and civilian-oriented applications for public benefits. In accordance with GEO's engagement priorities, SASMAC has been involved in the International Charter 'Space and Major Disasters' (CHARTER) as the China Executive Secretariat and the space resource provider. When the China National Space Administration chaired CHARTER in 2014, SASMAC also took on the role of Emergency On-Call Officer (ECO). From the experience with CHARTER, SASMAC fully understands how in-time sharing of high resolution Earth observations can make a difference for disaster response, recovery and mitigation.

SASMAC is currently working to establish an application system, policies and specifications for China’s ZY-3 satellite. Launched in January 2012, ZY-3 is China’s first domestic civilian high resolution stereo surveying and mapping satellite, and together with ZY3-02 (launched in May 2016) it forms a Dual Satellite Network. A Cloud Service Platform of ZY-3 Satellite Images provides management and distribution services, as well as real-time push services for users, that facilitate sharing and access to the latest images from high-resolution Chinese satellites. The platform was built as a virtual service center, which can be used in the fields of surveying, mapping and geo-information, as well as other industries at home and abroad. Satellite data and related services are available for free to public non-profit organizations and domestic educational institutions through the cloud platform, while fees apply for commercial and private access.

Within the framework of GEO, SASMAC is working to promote bilateral and multilateral cooperation for the sharing and application of ZY-3 data, as a means to take advantage of complementarities and to improve the quality and availability of Earth Observation data and derived information. SASMAC’s international cooperation has included partnerships with Thailand (GISTDA), the United Kingdom (University of Nottingham) and Austria (University of Vienna). The scope of future international collaboration may include joint calibration of Earth observation data and geospatial information products, geospatial information extraction and application, and the establishment of a local node of the ZY-3 satellite image cloud service platform. The overall objective of this collaboration will be to promote the application of geospatial information in urban planning, environmental management, and beyond.


Xinming TANG

About the author:

Dr. Xinming TANG is the Deputy Director of China’s Satellite Surveying and Mapping Application Center (SASMAC). He is also the chief designer of the ZY-3 satellite engineering application system,which mainly focuses on research in remote sensing image processing, fuzzy geographic information systems, large-scale spatial database construction, aerial surveying and mapping remote sensing.


October 6, 2017

GEONETCast Mexico: US – Mexico Space Cooperation for Disaster Risk Reduction

As a donation from the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the Mexican Space Agency, ten GEONETCast-Americas (GNC-A) receiving stations have been set up across Mexico to provide valuable information on the environment, climate change, food safety and security and energy resources, and to contribute to disaster risk reduction efforts in the country.

An example of international space cooperation, this donation connects Mexico to a satellite network that distributes information on natural disasters. This process is activated when a network participant requests the support of the international community.

The Mexican Space Agency, in coordination with other federal agencies, has redoubled efforts to improve national terrestrial infrastructure for the prevention, mitigation and rapid response to emergencies and natural disasters. Over the next few years, Mexico intends to increase the number of antennas to became the country with the second largest number of receiving stations.

The ten NOAA antennas are distributed throughout the national territory, and are operated by the Mexican Space Agency, the Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada (CICESE), the National Center of Disaster Prevention (CENAPRED) of the Ministry of the Interior (SEGOB), the National Water Commission (CONAGUA), the National Meteorological Service (SMN), the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), the Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC) and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).


Gustavo Arriaga Mendez

About the author:

Gustavo Arriaga Mendez, Communications Engineer - Manager of Satellite Applications for Civil Protection, Mexican Space Agency.



September 5, 2017

Automatic Semantic Enrichment for Intelligent Big Earth Observation Databases

EO Level 2 information layers, are automatically generated and linked with the EO data to be employed as input for spatiotemporal semantic querying (Tiede et al., 2017)
EO Level 2 information layers, are automatically generated and linked with the EO data to be employed as input for spatiotemporal semantic querying (Tiede et al., 2017)
EO Level 2 information layers, are automatically generated and linked with the EO data to be employed as input for spatiotemporal semantic querying (Tiede et al., 2017)
EO Level 2 information layers, are automatically generated and linked with the EO data to be employed as input for spatiotemporal semantic querying (Tiede et al., 2017)

Big Earth observation (EO) Data has unique challenges for efficient and intelligent storage, data analysis, and data distribution. While for other Big Data domains the main challenge is in the sheer volume of data, remote sensing data also requires a transformation of pixel values into usable information to realize their potential as a source of relevant multi-temporal, globally available geoinformation, used for example in the global monitoring of land cover dynamics including deforestation, or for efficient disaster management.  

State-of-the-art EO image retrieval is based on simple metadata text information (i.e. acquisition time, target geographic area, cloud cover estimate), without the possibility of higher semantic content-based querying of images or spatio-temporal analysis directly in the database (i.e. an initial classification of pixel values is missing). Existing EO content-based image retrieval systems do not support semantic spatially explicit content-based querying because they lack EO image understanding (EO-IU) capabilities of multi-source EO big data, which is a pre-condition for semantic content-based image retrieval.

In the approach developed at the universities of Salzburg, Austria and Naples, Italy, as a proof-of-concept, an innovative EO semantic querying (EO-SQ) subsystem was designed and prototypically implemented together with an EO-IU subsystem. The EO-IU subsystem automatically generates Level 2 geospatial products  (including a scene classification map, up to basic land cover units) from optical satellite images. The EO-SQ subsystem comprises a graphical user interface (GUI) and an array database system embedded in a client server architecture. In the array database, all EO images are stored as query-optimized space-time data cubes, together with their products.

The GUI facilitates database querying through a graphical world model, i.e. an ontology of real-world (geo-)spatio-temporal objects and events derived from the underlying data types. Furthermore, it provides access to a shared knowledge base, fostering the online collaboration in spatio-temporal EO image analytics between domain experts and non-experts.

(upper left) Extracted flood mask using a long time series of optical EO images (Landsat 8, 01/2016-09/2016). (right) Analysis of a single flood event in Oct./Nov. 2015. In addition to an extraction of the flood extent, a cloud mask was extracted from the semantically enriched database to support flood mask interpretation (from Sudmanns et al., 2017, modified)
(upper left) Extracted flood mask using a long time series of optical EO images (Landsat 8, 01/2016-09/2016). (right) Analysis of a single flood event in Oct./Nov. 2015. In addition to an extraction of the flood extent, a cloud mask was extracted from the semantically enriched database to support flood mask interpretation (from Sudmanns et al., 2017, modified)
(upper left) Extracted flood mask using a long time series of optical EO images (Landsat 8, 01/2016-09/2016). (right) Analysis of a single flood event in Oct./Nov. 2015. In addition to an extraction of the flood extent, a cloud mask was extracted from the semantically enriched database to support flood mask interpretation (from Sudmanns et al., 2017, modified)
(upper left) Extracted flood mask using a long time series of optical EO images (Landsat 8, 01/2016-09/2016). (right) Analysis of a single flood event in Oct./Nov. 2015. In addition to an extraction of the flood extent, a cloud mask was extracted from the semantically enriched database to support flood mask interpretation (from Sudmanns et al., 2017, modified)

Use cases of semantic spatio-temporal queries within the Big EO data bases through the GUI are limitless, due to the generic semantic enrichment of the underlying EO data. Examples already accomplished using Sentinel-2 and Landsat data include:

  • Land cover change detection through time
  • Cloud-free semantic content based image retrieval for user defined AOIs
  • Extraction of higher-level land cover classes based on shape descriptors (e.g. Lake and River) and/or multi-temporal analysis (e.g. agricultural area)
  • Flood extent mapping and aggregation through time (flood risk analysis)

This system contributes to the big data paradigm to ‘bring the user to the data and not the data to the user’, and to the ability of users to retrieve valuable information otherwise hidden in big EO data archives.

Read more:

Tiede, D., Baraldi, A., Sudmanns, M., Belgiu, M., Lang, S., 2017. Architecture and Prototypical Implementation of a Semantic Querying System for Big Earth Observation Image Bases. Eur. J. Remote Sens. 50, 452–463.

Sudmanns, M., Tiede, D., Wendt, L., Baraldi, A., 2017. Automatic Ex-post Flood Assessment Using Long Time Series of Optical Earth Observation Images. GI-Forum J. Geogr. Inf. Sci. 1, 217–227. doi:10.1553/giscience2017


Dirk Tiede

About the author:

Dirk Tiede, PhD, is Assistant Professor at the Department of Geoinformatics - Z_GIS, University of Salzburg, Austria, where he is co-leading the research group on object-based image analysis (OBIA). He is involved in a range of national and EU-funded research projects, specialized in image analysis, process automation for Big EO data, object-based information extraction and multi-source data integration. .


September 5, 2017

Leveraging the Cloud and Earth observations for monitoring development in Africa

How can the latest scientific and technological advances help researchers in Africa better use Earth observations to address development challenges? With this question in mind, participants from across the continent travelled to Ghana to learn how to leverage Google Earth Engine – Google’s potent cloud-based geospatial analysis platform - in their work. The topic of this SERVIR training session could have wide implications for the use of Earth observations not just in Africa, but around the world.

A different way to work with EO data

Google Earth Engine integrates 40+ years of satellite data from NASA, the European Space Agency and other sources. It serves as a sandbox with an expanding number of datasets and processing algorithms, providing specialists with a number of datasets and processing a wide range of datasets.

The platform is unique in that it helps data users overcome persistent road blocks to their work, including the high cost of image processing software, and the difficulty of downloading large datasets on limited internet bandwidth. More efficient than traditional processing methods, Google Earth Engine allows researchers to “bring their processing algorithms to the data”. With this tool, users can process massive amounts of data in seconds - not months. Data users with slow Internet connections are not disadvantaged since processing is done on Google’s servers.

Forming a community of practice in Africa

While helping to overcome many traditional challenges, the novelty of the Google Earth Engine’s code editor for most geospatial scientists poses a new one. Despite the sometimes steep learning curve, AfriGEOSS coordinator Andiswa Mlisa hopes that training can galvanize a critical mass of EO professionals leveraging the Cloud for monitoring development across Africa. Beyond simple training, a sample customizable code repository is already adding value to Google Earth Engine training exercises.

Looking forward

The applications for Google Earth Engine are endless. In one example now underway, the SERVIR-West Africa Hub is implementing a pilot project on the use of satellite data to monitor ephemeral water bodies in arid parts of West Africa, so that pastoralists can guide their livestock to areas with adequate water supplies. Google Earth Engine is providing a way to rapidly process this data.

While it may be too soon to gauge the overall impact of providing African researchers with access to the powerful Google Earth Engine processing suite, there is already a great deal of interest in mainstreaming its use.


As a collaborative effort of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA), SERVIR strives to lower barriers to using EO data for tackling development challenges.


Emil A. Cherrington

About the author:

Emil A. Cherrington PhD, serves as NASA’s Regional Science Coordination Lead for SERVIR-West Africa and also as the alternate lead for the land cover, land use change, and ecosystems thematic service area for the SERVIR Science Coordination Office.


August 24, 2017

Distributed Ledger Technology: Blockchain for shared economy of space

Location is seen as the fundamental element of a geographical view of the world. Unlike sharing data using digital maps, the data-driven future will have machines rather than people as primary consumers of our data. This will mean that we will require explicit references to objects that are machine readable and which mandate a new way to deliver data.

At its 61st session in 2018, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS)’s UNISPACE+50 will take into account interdependencies in the space sector and foster international cooperation, while carefully considering the long-term sustainability of outer space activities. One possible area that will impact these activities is blockchain: a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) in which transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency are recorded chronologically and publicly.

Innovation through DLT in Earth observations (EO) make possible flexible, low-cost and distributed ownership of satellites and the data they produce by non-profit community groups, NGOs, and individuals. This new economic model could provide much more accessible, fast and low cost remote sensing data, universal broadband communications, and remote machines: a space-based, shared infrastructure connecting physical, digital and biological spheres for the 4th industrial revolution on a truly global scale.

This shared economy could spur innovation that rapidly reduces the cost of EO from satellites. Higher sensing capability is made possible due to the use of low-cost, distributed trust provided by the blockchain distributed ledger through a series of decentralized and encryption technologies. For the EO community, however, challenges will include data ownership and addressing private ownership of satellites.

The application of DLT could remove some barriers relating to access to data by improving efficiency in data handling, and improving the ability to manage voluminous transactions, potentially leading to cost reductions in various areas. The combination of crowd-funded space-based broadband access and blockchain technologies could also allow stakeholders in areas with weak banking, universal broadband communication and/or legal infrastructures to participate in global markets.


Manohar Velpuri

About the author:

Dr Manohar Velpuri is the Chair of working group 9.2, FIG (member of UNGGIM-GSS). Dr Velpuri is also the executive director for TLF Consortium, Switzerland and an MIT certified fintech specialist and has been working in financial consulting for over ten years.


August 22, 2017

Open population grid data aids ICRC´s crisis response

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working around the world to protect and assist the victims of the war and other emergency situations. In order to be effective, it is vital that the ICRC be able to  estimate the size of the populations affected by a conflict or disaster situation. By more accurately estimating how many people are being affected, the ICRC can improve response, and better plan activities such as food and supply distribution, or assess the distribution of medical service centres in a given area. Unfortunately, reliable information from statistical or government bodies is often missing or fragmented in the areas where the ICRC is working.

In response to this challenge, the ICRC’s GIS team is working to facilitate the accessibility of population information through a simple web tool called the Population Kiosk. The Population Kiosk gives ICRC team members access to  various population density grids and basic geoprocessing tools, allowing them to more accurately assess the size of the potentially-affected population.

The Population Kiosk uses 4 population grids: landscan 2011, WorldPop 2010, Ciesin 2015, and the Global Human Settlements Layer (GHSL).  Each grid has a different mix of coverage, methodology on for calculating population density and different spatial resolution. The estimated population will differ depending on the methodology used. As some layers are more appropriate than others in certain regions, the Population Kiosk gives access to multiple sources in order to allow the analyst to use the best option for a given context.

The GHSL in particular, released in 2016, is making an impact as “the most complete, consistent, global  free and open  dataset” on built-up areas and population. The GHSL produces global spatial information, evidence-based analytics and knowledge describing the human presence on the planet. This resource is supported by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the DG for Regional Development (DG REGIO) of the European Commission, together with the GEO Human Planet Initiative.

There are many barriers to finding and assessing reliable data on human populations at the speed needed for conflict and disaster response, but working with grids made available through open data portals such as the GEOSS Common Infrastructure (, the ICRC is able to better estimate population size in order to make live-saving decisions in their crisis management work. With more open data becoming available and new end-user applications being applied to global challenges every day, the opportunities for innovation in disaster risk reduction and crisis response are just beginning to be explored.


About the author:

Yann Rebois is a GIS Specialist at the International Committee of the Red Cross since 2010. He was previously actively involved with CartONG and other humanitarian organizations including the UNHCR.


August 8, 2017

An eye on Earth: satellite Earth Observation for agriculture insurance

The use of Earth Observation (EO) data in the agriculture insurance (AgI) industry is still in its infancy, but the pressure for agricultural geospatial products and services, for instance underwriting, contract monitoring and various kinds of risk management is increasing.

Several global changes exert pressure on the food production chain, from the anticipated growth of human population, to climate change and more frequent and intense extreme weather events. Understanding these changes and mitigating their impacts on agriculture largely depends on regular and reliable data acquisition combined with comprehensive modelling and decision-making tools. The full EO value chain, from near real-time data collection, through processing, distribution and data exploitation, is fundamental to understanding, predicting, and making business decisions about long-term, sustainable AgI products and services.

The AgI industry, however, is now compelled to respond to a great challenge: how to choose and implement EO-based technology that is contextually appropriate, while bringing stability to agriculture production and building a profitable portfolio of AgI products and services.

Space for AgI: towards a $50bn market

In 2013, global AgI premiums increased steadily and reached a value of US$30 billion, up from US$8 billion in 2005. Analysts estimate that the market will grow to US$50 billion by 2025. Despite this recent growth, the global AgI penetration is generally low when compared to other economic sectors, illustrating an enormous growth potential.

For this immense potential to be realized, companies offering AgI need to address distinct challenges related to underwriting agriculture insurance policies, risk and damage assessment, as well as contract monitoring when designing their AgI products and services. These challenges include high operational, administrative, and monitoring costs driven by remoteness and geographic dispersion of agricultural land use and land cover, together with the high financial risks of providing insurance. Some of the ways in which EO is enhancing the AgI industry include the following:

  • Underwriting: Insurance underwriters have traditionally used historic loss data to assess individual risk. These records can now be combined with or substituted by EO data and weather forecasts to determine location more accurately, improving the relationship between past and future loss rates. This results in a more accurate underwriting method and premium calculation.
  • Risk and damage assessment: Satellite data, and more specifically, Earthobservation imagery, offers an alternative tool for verifying whether substantial damage or destruction has been caused by an insured risk, andfor assessing suspicious claims. This possibility emerges from the well-established potential of remote-sensing to detect drought stress, flooding and hail damage. To insurance companies offering AgI, this information can be valuable for both risk and damage assessment.
  • Contract monitoring: Because of the greater geographical dispersion of clients in rural and remote areas, as well as highly differentiated characteristics in terms of farm production, the administrative costs of effectively monitoring customer compliance to the contractual obligations and differentiating between legitimate and fraudulent behavior can be increased. Using EO data, AgI companies can remotely check in real time and verify whether farmers comply with specific conditions stipulated in the insurance contract.

From pixels to insights: flood of applications

With the proliferation of remote sensing satellites, more intense competition is likely as fresh players enter the battle for AgI market share. Many market players are now making the switch from providing raw data to delivering strategic value through unique insights and tailored solutions.

Both EO startups and mature ICT players are now tailoring their offerings to the real-world and day-to-day needs of the AgI market, adapting to and addressing their customers’ technical, commercial, organizational, and legal requirements.

New alliances and joint ventures

The commercial EO data market, which totaled $1.7 billion in 2015 and is anticipated to total $3 billion in 2025, is often used synonymously with EO. The EO market, however, is significantly larger than this, covering, for instance, high spectral resolution infrared observing systems, or weather satellite data. The Internet of Things market brings further opportunities for sensing the Earth either in situ or remotely.

It is clear that strategic alliances and joint ventures provide a way to supplement internal assets, capabilities, and activities, with access to needed resources or processes. An example of this is the regional GEO-CRADLE networking platform. It offers a searchable database of EO stakeholders active in various thematic areas, available for networking, as well as co-development of products and services based on EO.


It can be difficult to navigate through the ever-expanding EO landscape, with sentinel missions and Copernicus in situ systems delivering vast amounts of data on agricultural land use and its changes every single day, and more than 400,000,000 open data and information resources in GEOSS portal.

The AgI industry, however, needs more than raw EO data, and is seeking deep-dive analytic products on top of EO data that will help create more reliable and economically viable AgI solutions.


Grigoris Chatzikostas

About the author:

Grigoris Chatzikostas is a Business Development Director with fifteen years of experience in the introduction of IT in agriculture and environmental monitoring. Highly active in the EU startup ecosystem as a mentor and coach.



July 27, 2017

Open Data Areas Alberta – Earth Observations for Cumulative Effects and Integrated Resource Management.

Management of land, water and natural resources to meet social, economic and environmental outcomes is a priority in many jurisdictions. In Alberta, Cumulative Effects Management (CEM) frameworks, such as Integrated Resource Management (IRM), are being implemented to enable sustainable land and resource management to provide long-term social, economic, and environmental benefits. These systems are complex, encapsulating energy, mineral, forest, agriculture, land, air, water, and biodiversity resources.

Foundational for the success of any CEM/IRM initiative are technologies that enable more accessible, timely, scalable, interoperable, science-based data upon which governments and stakeholders can base informed decisions. Earth observation (EO) data and technologies meet this need, and form an integral part of the spatial data infrastructure needed to support these approaches.

From 2010 to 2015 the Government of Alberta, Alberta Energy Regulator, Natural Resources Canada – Canada Center for Mapping and Earth Observation, and a number of post-secondary institutions collaborated on several projects to demonstrate the use of EO technologies for regulatory and environmental monitoring. The final workshop report provided a number of recommendations for future projects and initiatives:

  • Established management and regulatory frameworks can be used to enable the integration and operational use of RS/EO;
  • Interdisciplinary / multi-sector teams should be involved to ensure science is connected with a business focus; and,
  • There is a need to develop integrated and innovative frameworks for supporting research and demonstration projects.

Recommendations from this report led to the development of the Open Data Areas Alberta (ODAA) Initiative. Led by Alberta Data Partnerships (ADP), the intent of this initiative was to develop a series of areas that:

  • Contain openly accessible public and commercial datasets that include geospatial, remote sensing and EO data;
  • Represent a majority of provincial land cover types and would encompass a range of activities;
  • Enable interdisciplinary and multi-sectoral teams to collaborate and develop new tools elated to CEM/IRM; and,
  • Enable the demonstration and de-risking of EO data and technologies to accelerate their commercialization and operational use.

The six 2,500 km2 areas selected for the project are representative of provincial and some global land cover types, and encompass a range of recreational, commercial, and industrial activities.  By making available a range of datasets comprised of EO (i.e., aerial and satellite imagery, LiDAR, radar), geospatial information (i.e., cadastral maps, land ownership, vegetation, and soils information), the project aims to fuel creative ideas and enable data users to solve challenges.

To learn more about Open Data Areas Alberta please visit or contact Erik Holmlund at


Erik Holmlund

About the author:

Erik Holmlund is the Executive Director of Alberta Data Partnerships. Alberta Data Partnerships Ltd. is a not-for-profit public-private partnership based in Alberta, Canada focused on connecting the creators and users of geospatial data through a unique partnership model to ensure that the products and services that support Alberta’s geospatial needs remain accessible, affordable, useful, and of high quality.


July 24, 2017

New leadership revitalizes GEO Health Community of Practice to improve public health outcomes using Earth observations.

The GEO Health Community of Practice (CoP) is a global network of governments, organizations, and observers. It seeks to use Earth observations to improve health decision-making at the international, regional, country, and district levels.

Under the new leadership of John Haynes, Program Manager of NASA Health and Air Quality (HAQ) Applications, the GEO Health Community of Practice was re-invigorated and reshaped in August 2016.

Mr. Haynes is a leading authority in the fields of meteorology, geography, remote sensing, and oceanography, particularly as they relate to health and air quality. He has expertly guided multiple programs at NASA to address issues of global significance and societal benefit for the past 15 years.

"The GEO Health CoP provides a platform for the Earth observation, modeling, and prediction communities to come together with end users in public health and air quality to address GEO Health Tasks," says Haynes. He looks forward to working with health and environment professionals around the world to address the CoP’s primary focus areas, including developing a Harmful Algal Bloom Early Warning System, integrating methods for air quality and health data, and developing a Global Observing System for Mercury and Persistent Pollutants.

Since August 2016, the CoP has held regular membership-wide teleconference calls to collectively explore the status of the 2017-2019 GEO Work Programme as it relates to health activities conducted by members. The group, currently represented by over 70 members worldwide, fully supported the addition of a new Community Activity to the Work Programme entitled, ‘Earth Observations for Health.’ This Community Activity has three focus areas: 1) weather and climate extremes; 2) water-related illnesses; and 3) vector-borne diseases.

The CoP leadership is dedicated to enhance communications and collaboration within the group, as well as to engage relevant professionals, including public health managers and environmental researchers, worldwide. To that end, the CoP-wide calls have engaged members to share their on-going regional or global initiatives of interest, including those that may not be specifically tied to the GEO Work Plan.

Additionally, the CoP leadership has launched a new website ( to communicate significant news and events of interest.

Planning is underway for an in-person meeting of the CoP at the GEO XIV Plenary in Washington, D.C., U.S.A., in October, 2017.

For additional information about the GEO Health CoP, please contact:

John Haynes,
Shobhana Gupta,


Shobhana Gupta

About the author:

Shobhana Gupta, MD, PhD, is a physician scientist currently serving as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow at NASA, and is the Project Manager for NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge Program. Prior to joining NASA, Shobhana completed her medical and graduate training at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and trained as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University School of Medicine in the Department of Neurology.


July 18, 2017

Blue Planet 3rd Symposium: The role of oceans in Earth’s life-support system.

Blue Planet Symposium explores the critical role that oceans play in the Earth’s life-support system, and the challenge of minimizing human impact on their wellbeing. Held in the run-up to the first UN Oceans Conference, the Symposium established that the GEO initiative will focus efforts on supporting the ocean-related Sustainable Development Goals.


The 3rd GEO Blue Planet Symposium took place in College Park, Maryland (USA) from 31 May - 2 June 2017, hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Maryland. The event served as a platform for information exchange and for identifying potential pilot and prototype projects/services for Blue Planet to focus on in the coming years.

The Symposium brought together a diverse group of participants to discuss the challenges facing the ocean, and how GEO Blue Planet can add value to the existing ocean observing activities and programmes by highlighting the societal benefits of ocean observations, engaging with end-users and supporting informed decision making. Sessions covered the threats to and pressures on the oceans, current and predicted states, impacts to the Earth’s life support system, as well as user information and existing information services.

As a result of the discussions, it was agreed that Blue Planet will focus efforts around needs to support the ocean-related Sustainable Development Goals, engaging with stakeholders at regional and local level, and where relevant support other policy mandates such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The Symposium affirmed Blue Planet’s key role in engaging with new communities of users and identified potential pilot and prototype projects, and demonstrated it’s ability to provide a tangible added value in the wider EO community by reducing the gap between the observed dataset and the information knowledge needed for the sustainable management of our oceans.

Read more here


If you are interested to join the GEO Blue Planet Initiative, please contact us at:


Samy Djavidnia

About the author:

Samy Djavidnia is a member of GEO Blue Planet’s Management and Steering Committees. Samy has been involved with the Initiative since its conception in 2012 and was the Lead Editor of the book "Oceans and Society: Blue Planet". Currently working for a European Union Agency, his main interests and expertise include international cooperation, earth observation and oceanography from space.

About Blue Planet: GEO’s Blue Planet initiative is an open network of voluntary organisations and individuals which aims to ensure the sustained development and use of ocean and coastal observations for the benefit of society. Blue Planet envisions an informed society that recognizes the oceans’ crucial role in Earth’s life-support system, and is committed to stewardship of the oceans for a healthy, safe and prosperous future for all.



July 4, 2017

Balkan Peninsula cooperates on Earth Observation services for sustainable development.

Access to timely and accurate data is crucial to inform decision making for sustainable development. International commitments on sustainable development and climate change adaptation aiming to reduce impact from geopolitical and social pressures - such as the global economic crisis - affirm the need to provide proper access to modern infrastructure and tools to support decision-making processes in the agricultural and rural sectors.

A wide range of activities promoting Earth Observations (EO) as an important enabler for sustainable agriculture and for the monitoring of relevant Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been carried out in support of this goal. Activities range from the launch of initiatives (i.e. GEOGLAM, RAPP) and EU and ESA-Funded projects, to the latest conclusions adopted by the meeting of G20 Agriculture Ministers on 22 January 2017 in Berlin.

As an immediate follow-up, the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), the Greek Ministries of Rural Development and of Digital Policy Telecommunications and Media, and i-BEC as a GEO participating organization, are working together to develop regional cooperation among Balkan countries to promote the uptake of EO services and address development challenges.

1st Regional Round Table to promote Sustainable Development in the Balkans

The first round table aiming to develop an integrated regional initiative to implement the SDGs in the Balkan Peninsula took place in Vlasti Kozani, Greece on Saturday 17 June 2017. The meeting engaged a critical mass of EO stakeholders along the complete value chain, including government officials, international research organizations [NASA, CEOS, CSIRO, ESA etc.], and the industrial sector, with participants representing the entire region.

During the meeting the need was identified to leverage EO services and encourage data integration into an agriculture-oriented sub-regional GEOSS application that can be nested into the larger EUROGEOSS framework, as a pathway for relevant national organizations and as an interface for GEOGLAM in the region. The focal points established by the GEO-CRADLE project could act as technology brokers and advisors to promote sustainable and modernized agriculture, and support the achievement of the relevant SDGs in the region.

Moving regional cooperation forward

The need to strengthen the profile and reliability of the agricultural sector, and the need to promote responsible agricultural investment, were identified by participants as key requirements to progress towards sustainable agricultural development and inclusive economic growth. For these efforts to be successful, consistent effort and engagement by the private sector and other industry stakeholders is required. Private sector associations can transfer information on market needs to agro-cluster and/or EO Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, thereby contributing to innovation, business opportunities and market exploitation.

The action plan can be accessed here.
For more information regarding Balkan GEOSS contact George Zalidis,


George Zalidis

About the author:

George Zalidis is the scientific coordinator in the interBalkan Environment Center and Director in the Laboratory of Applied Soil Science and the Laboratory of Remote Sensing and G.I.S., at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki at the Faculty of Agriculture. He aspires to promote GEO in the Balkan Peninsula via the iBEC, which serves as an international cluster of new technologies and innovation, linking together the public and private sectors for sustainable management of natural resources and protection of the environment. Finally, George represents the Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food in GEOGLAM.


June 19, 2017

New report demonstrates how Earth observation data can help to measure the Sendai Framework for DRR.

The map shows the 87 countries that participated in the Sendai Framework Data Readiness Review (Feb - Apr 2017)
The map shows the 87 countries that participated in the Sendai Framework Data Readiness Review (Feb - Apr 2017)
The map shows the 87 countries that participated in the Sendai Framework Data Readiness Review (Feb - Apr 2017)
The map shows the 87 countries that participated in the Sendai Framework Data Readiness Review (Feb - Apr 2017)

How ready are countries to monitor progress in achieving the global targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and disaster-related targets for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The ‘Global Summary Report on Disaster-related Data for Sustainable Development’ - produced by UNISDR - shows what countries across all regions estimate to be the status of accessible disaster-related data that fulfills minimum quality standards, as of April 2017. The report examines factors that hinder data use for monitoring as well as decision-making, and further showcases programmes and initiatives that work towards filling data gaps, enhancing accessibility and improving quality and applicability. Earth observations and geospatial information are cited as crucial components to fill existing data gaps in disaster loss data and disaster-related statistics, and are identified as crucial in contributing to risk-informed decision making.

Chapter 1 of the report addresses disaster-related data availability, summarizing findings from the 87 countries that participated in the ‘Sendai Framework Data Readiness Review’ - a survey that assessed data availability for all indicators measuring the Sendai Framework global targets, and disaster-related targets of the SDGs.

Countries data availability to monitor and report on the Sendai Framework global targets
Countries data availability to monitor and report on the Sendai Framework global targets
Countries data availability to monitor and report on the Sendai Framework global targets
Countries data availability to monitor and report on the Sendai Framework global targets

The report concludes that most countries collect a critical mass of disaster loss data required to measure Sendai Targets A to D and SDGs 1 and 11, while greater gaps in data availability exist for Targets E, F and G. Gaps in data must be addressed by March 2019, for all countries to be able to report in the first official reporting cycle of the Sendai Framework and build the 2005-2015 baselines required for measurement. Exceptionally, the first reporting cycle will cover the two biennia 2015-2016 and 2017-2018.

Correlation between Sendai Framework global targets and SDGs global targets through common indicators
Correlation between Sendai Framework global targets and SDGs global targets through common indicators
Correlation between Sendai Framework global targets and SDGs global targets through common indicators
Correlation between Sendai Framework global targets and SDGs global targets through common indicators

Action is required to address issues of data availability, accessibility and quality of available data. Three Country experiences in disaster risk reduction and disaster management, as well as sustainable development and climate change adaptation, have shown that failure to address these three aspects severely hamper data and information management.

Chapter 2 of the report is dedicated to data quality aspects. It references the work of partners – including the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Earth observations for Disaster Risk Reduction - relating disaster loss accounting with geospatial data, big data and statistics. While data for measuring the Sendai Framework targets are coming from national disaster loss accounting systems, national statistical systems, household surveys and routine administrative data, it can be easily amplified by geospatial information to fill existing data gaps in disaster loss data and disaster-related statistics.

The report further affirms that Earth observations are fundamental to defining the environmental dimension of the SDGs and the Sendai Framework, and that it can be combined with demographic, statistical, and other data, to support data-driven decision-making and action across government institutions and programmes. With the integration of a number of the key indicators of the Sendai Framework within the global indicator framework of the SDGs, Earth observation-derived monitoring and methodologies could also be explored for Sendai Framework indicators.

The report concludes that a Global Partnership for Disaster-related Data for Sustainable Development would facilitate a collaborative, multi-stakeholder effort (bringing together governments, international organizations, the private sector, academia, civil society groups, and the statistics and data communities), to optimize and operationalize existing and future disaster-related data in support of national and sub-national disaster risk reduction efforts and the measurement of the global targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It is expected that upon drafting the terms of reference for the partnership, collaborating entities will use the information provided by the 87 Member States contributing to the Sendai Framework Data Readiness Review 2017, to formulate the strategy and priority actions to support enhanced monitoring, reporting and risk-informed decision-making.

The full report can be accessed via:


Rhea Katsanakis

About the author:

Rhea Katsanakis is a Programme Management Officer in the "Supporting and Monitoring Sendai Framework Implementation" Section in the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). She coordinated the Sendai Framework Data Readiness Review and is leading the development of the Sendai Framework Monitor Prototype. She led the pilot testing of Sendai Framework national policy indicators in eight countries, and works in a team on the development of indicators and relevant technical guidance documents to support member states in measuring progress, and as inputs to related intergovernmental processes and the work of stakeholders developing disaster-related statistics. From 2006 - 2013 she worked as Tsunami Officer and Programme Officer in the UNISDR Regional Office for Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, supporting African governments in measuring progress in disaster risk reduction and developing national risk reduction policies and plans. She has relevant field experience in 20 African countries. She completed postgraduate studies in Political Science, Sociology and Public Law.


June 1, 2017

2nd AfriGEOSS Symposium, Sunyani, Ghana.

The countdown has started for the gathering of the GEO Earth observations community in Africa. I'm looking forward to meeting the AfriGEOSS community in Sunyani, Ghana in a couple of weeks.

We are holding the 2nd AfriGEOSS Symposium hosted by the Earth Observation Research and Innovation Centre (EORIC), University of Energy and Natural Resources. Building on the success of the 1st symposium held in Victoria Falls in 2016, this year’s theme “Delivering Earth observations for policy and sustainable societal impact in Africa” will see us focus on how Earth observations, through the AfriGEOSS Action Areas, support the implementation of African policies and enable informed decision-making for improved quality of life. The 3-days rich programme, with speakers from all six regions of the continent and over 20 countries, covering thematic areas aligned with the GEO Societal Benefit Areas, will provide a platform to promote and build synergies amongst national, regional and global initiatives. Engagement with end users will better inform the EO community how to deliver user-driven solutions.

To foster capacity building, the Symposium will be preceded by a full week of training workshops, offered in partnership with local and international partners such as AGRYMET, CERGIS, EORIC, ESA, USAID, NASA, SERVIR and Software Carpentry.

If you have an interest in Earth observations in Africa, then you should attend the AfriGEOSS Symposium and contribute to this continental coordination initiative.

There are a number of active regional GEO initiatives in addition to AfriGEOSS, in the Americas and Asia Oceania. Other regional initiatives are under development.

For more information regarding AfriGEOSS contact Andiswa Mlisa

For press enquiries contact Steven Ramage


Andiswa Mlisa

About the author:

Andiswa Mlisa: Scientific and Technical Officer - AfriGEOSS Coordinator, Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Secretariat, Switzerland.

In her current role at the GEO Secretariat she coordinates and facilitates the implementation of AfriGEOSS, a trans-continent initiative to coordinate and reinforce synergies among national and regional Earth observations efforts in Africa and globally. AfriGEOSS identifies opportunities and put in place measures to enhance Africa's participation in, and contributions to the development of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) and the implementation of the African Space Programme. In addition Ms Mlisa is responsible for coordinating capacity building activities in GEO, which aim to build individual, institutional and infrastructure capacity to foster the uptake and use of Earth observation for informed decision-making.


May 26, 2017

Perspectives on the Nature of Geospatial Information.

I’m pleased to introduce a special issue of the international journal: “GEO-SPATIAL INFORMATION SCIENCE”, entitled “Perspectives on the Nature of Geospatial Information”.This special edition includes work on Sustainable Development, Earth Observation and Geospatial Information, authored by Barbara Ryan, GEO Secretariat Director and Greg Scott, Advisor on Global Geospatial Information Management in the United Nations Statistics Division.

In the GEO review paper, I read with interest how Earth observations (EO) inform, locate and provide context for research and policy making to achieve sustainable societies. As well as investigating the role of the Group on Earth Observations to support countries to monitor and achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through building GEOSS, the paper also identifies gaps and challenges.

GEO works to promote access and use of open data for sustainable development, as well as seeking to address difficulties locating quality cross-national time series data, particularly Land Cover change. The paper looks at how Earth observations respond to metadata requirements in SDG Indicators and Targets, especially Goal 2, Hunger; Goal 11, Cities; and Goals 14 and 15 on Ecosystems. Use of EO to measure and achieve these goals introduces the ability to visualize the data, which in turn allows decision-makers to identify solutions. Harnessing investments in EO as well as investments in the science-policy interface lead to more accurate data and information, better knowledge and improved decision-making so that ‘no one is left behind’, the basic principle of the 2030 Agenda.

In this special issue, we have included major contributions of the leading geospatial information science practitioners and organizations that have shaped this dynamic field. There are 13 papers by authors from many countries. Papers focus on policy, at the global and national levels and perspectives on the technical, educational, commercial, industrial, security, scientific perspectives on the nature of geospatial information, as well as on geo-spatial standards issues, in addition to some application examples.” All papers are freely downloadable, as the journal is Open Access.

This Special Issue of the journal is available here:


John van Genderen

About the author:

Professor John van Genderen completed his Ph.D. in Remote Sensing in 1972, the year that the first LANDSAT was launched,and has been working in Earth Observation ever since. He has carried out projects in more than 140 countries all around the world. He has worked for remote sensing companies in U.K., Belgium, USA and the Netherlands, before returning to the ITC in 1986. There he was Professor of "Operationalization of Remote Sensing Applications" until his retirement. Since then he is Emeritus Professor at various Universities in Asia. He may be reached at:

Professor ( Em.) Dr.J.L.van Genderen
Department of Earth Observation Science
Faculty of Geoinformation Science and Earth Observation(ITC)
University of Twente, P.O.Box 217,7500 AE Enschede, The Netherlands;Tel: +31-53-4874444; fax: +31-53-4874400; Mobile tel.: +31-615884037


May 24, 2017

Ninth meeting of the Research Dialogue.

At the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn (8 to 18 May), scientists and delegates came together for their annual dedicated Research Dialogue under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). This year was the ninth meeting of the Research Dialogue and it centered around the two themes of "Regional Climate Research Data and Information, and Gaps" and "Science to Take Stock and Assess Progress on Mitigation".

A poster session with over forty posters aligned to the two themes was followed by keynote presentations from WCRP Director David Carlson on "Urgent Climate Challenges - Research and Modeling" and Professor Chris Rapley on the importance of climate communication and an interactive dialogue between all scientists and delegates.

Scientists warned of accelerating global climate impacts with large regional differences and called for more precise forecasts and regional model outputs, as well as improved and open access to regional scientific data and information. Morten Skovgård Olsen from AMAP reported on the SWIPA 2017 assessment showing that the Arctic has been warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Andre Kamga from ACMAD identified that in Africa, with several regions already facing severe droughts, more extreme dryness is projected. Given that differences in regional climate projections are so large, it is essential to update adaptation and disaster risk policies using regional and local information. Emphasized were the importance of regional co-creation of data, training and capacity building and climate services, including the work of the Global Framework for Climate Services, to support national adaptation plans. The GEO regional initiatives are also an important part of this ongoing work.

A vital element of the Paris Agreement is taking stock of progress. The global stocktake will assess progress by Parties on all aspects of the Paris Agreement in 2023 and every five years thereafter. In 2018 a facilitative dialogue will take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the mitigation goal. The scientific community have an important role in providing scientific inputs into the global stocktake and facilitative dialogue, including the latest reports of the IPCC. Jim Skea from the IPCC reported on progress on the sixth assessment cycle, particularly the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees C to be published before the facilitative dialogue in 2018. Also presented were developments under the GCOS 2016 implementation plan on a set of indicators for the Earth. These indicators shall consist of both historic Indicators to help improve communication and dialogue with policy makers, practitioners and the public, and future risk indicators to inform of societal impacts and guide mitigation and adaptation policy and actions.


Joanna Post

About the author:

Dr. Joanna Post is lead officer for Research and Systematic Observation at the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn. At UNFCCC she is responsible for leading the work to support negotiations on research and systematic observations, collaborating widely with international and regional scientific organizations and programmes so as to implement mandates, inform the negotiation process, and help to maintain and enhance the capacity of countries, in particular developing countries, to undertake and participate in research activities and systematic observation.

She holds a Ph.D. in environmental biochemistry from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. Her career has focused on science research and communication from starting as a writer and designer of science educational resources and museum exhibits to project and communication management roles in national and international science research projects and networks, before she joined the UNFCCC in her current role in 2014.


May 22, 2017

Geneva innovations.

Part of an image over Italy that contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by DLR/ESA/Terradue,  CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Part of an interferogram image over Italy that contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by DLR/ESA/Terradue, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Part of an image over Italy that contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by DLR/ESA/Terradue,  CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Part of an interferogram image over Italy that contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2016), processed by DLR/ESA/Terradue, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The podcast series Geneva Geeks: Innovation and Impact was launched in 2017 by the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The  goal of each podcast is to educationally explore all the innovative work taking place in Geneva. Each episode features three guests who talk about their work and the role Geneva plays. Collectively, the series tells the story of innovative collaboration amongst a diverse array of international experts in fields such as, health, telecommunications, trade, disarmament, industry standards, human rights, nuclear research and humanitarian responses - including preparedness for natural disasters.

Our episode featuring the Group Earth Observations (GEO) and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) focuses on the Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction, putting global Earth observation data to work, and the successes in this field over the past year. Such as, GEOGLAM, an  initiative that is strengthening global agricultural monitoring to improve the use of remote sensing tools for crop production projections and early warning systems. The Geneva Geeks teamcouldn’t stop thinking about the unleashed potential of connecting the imagery and Earth observation data collected around the world to the communities that need it, in order to plan for disasters and pursue more prosperous lives.

Nowhere else in the world will you find so many different groups of connoisseurs determined to make this world a better place. Geneva is a hub bringing together resources and diverse global talent. All of our guests have emphasized the necessity of a neutral space for collaboration between countries and across fields.

Geneva Geeks celebrates the United Nations’ role as a convener of global stakeholders to work together to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

Listen here to the podcast "GEO Putting the Data to Work"


Meg Riggs

About the author:

Meg Riggs is the Deputy Public Affairs Counselor at the US Mission in Geneva, Switzerland. She has lived all over the world, with a specialty in sub-Saharan Africa.


Allyson Corlett

About the author:

Allyson Corlett is an intern in the Public Diplomacy office in Geneva, currently attending Florida State University for Public Relations.


May 17, 2017

Digital Earth Australia: Big Data for a Big Country.

The Australian government recently announced funding of AUD $15.3m over the next 2 years to transform the prototype Australian Geoscience Data Cube (AGDC) into an operational Earth observation service called Digital Earth Australia.

Digital Earth Australia Video

For those who have not heard of the Data Cube (I could ask where have you been?), it is an analytical engine that has been developed in Australia to routinely transform Earth observations into actionable information for users. The AGDC has organised over 30 years of free and open Landsat data across the entire Australian continent into a calibrated, ortho-rectified, time-series tool for delivering information products of use to non-remote sensing specialists.  Water Observations from Space (WoFS) was the first product developed which tracks the presence or absence of water over the last 30 years for every 25 metre square in Australia. WoFS is being used for flood risk assessment, agricultural water tracking, coastal change detection and even mangrove monitoring. 

Digital Earth Australia will operationalise all the products showcased in the AGDC by providing regular scheduled updates of all products, and improving the resolution and frequency of all products through incorporation of multiple satellite sources. In full operation, DEA will provide most products at 10 metre resolution every 5 days for the entire continent. A prospectus detailing the first suite of operational products to be delivered is available here.

This is big news for the global GEO community since each product produced by Digital Earth Australia can potentially also be generated for every country in the world!!  Digital Earth Australia has been developed on the open source “Open Data Cube” platform which is being further developed both by Australian researchers and through the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) the space-coordination arm of GEO. CEOS has demonstrated that with free and open Landsat and Copernicus (Sentinel) data, Open Data Cube can be developed rapidly for any country in the world, and even hosted in a cloud environment for quick deployment without the need for a huge infrastructure investment.

Australia, through its investment in the fully operational Digital Earth Australia, will demonstrate that operational Earth Observation services can be as important as having a national weather service and that an operational service like DEA can stimulate a rich commercial sector value adding industry for societal use of Earth Observation information.  I think the next ten years will see this sort of operational service become the norm across to world, and it will have the spin-off benefit of making reporting on key issues like climate change and progress against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals much easier on a global scale.

The open source community code for the Open Data Cube is now available to all GEO Members and Participating Organisations, as well as anyone else with an interest in open EO data and information. It is supported by CEOS and the data is free and open so now is the time to engage!

More information on Digital Earth Australia is available here.
More information on Open Data Cube can be found at


Stuart Minchin

About the author:

Dr Stuart Minchin is the Australian GEO Principal and the Chief of the Environmental Geoscience Division at Australia’s geoscience agency Geoscience Australia.

You can follow Stuart on Twitter @sminchin and the agency he works for @GeoscienceAus


May 13, 2017


Last week the European Space Agency (ESA) continued to break new ground engaging in the wider community: live streaming and encouraging interaction with a panel of experts at their #FutureEO event. This follows on from the success of #Sentinel2Go where social media was welcomed into mission control at ESA in Darmstadt, Germany.

These are exciting times for Earth observation and many of the speakers spoke of this just being the tip of the iceberg. I followed the live stream provided by ESA. They split it up into 2 clear sections; in the morning speakers from Planet, Urthecast, SSTL and Descartes Labs all spoke passionately about the disruption and challenges faced by the industry today. In the afternoon, talks about Google Earth Engine, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and SAP highlighted what can be done with the sheer volume of this data.

Robbie Schingler from Planet noted "Every pixel that we create is useful for everyone". It is great to see commercial and governmental organisations coming together to maximize the potential of Earth observation data. The Group On Earth Observations (GEO) through portals such as are fundamental in the communication of this deluge of Earth observation data helping connect the private and public sectors.

All the sessions are available on replay and I encourage you to take the time to watch them Some digested highlights/comments from the talks include:

  • The industry needs to move away from business to government through to business to business, away from humans processing to machines processing (Urthecast)
  • Make things (satellites) quicker with less investment (SSTL)
  • Food security in Africa can be modelled (Descartes Labs)
  • Google Earth Engine is free for non commercial use, used as part of ~100 academic papers last year
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) has more than a billion requests on Landsat and the requests are even larger from Sentinel2!
  • Species extinction is being modelled by EO data (Microsoft)
  • Big Data (EO) with vast computing power means disasters can be acted on in near-real time (SAP)

Tellingly, Planet showed a slide from an EARSC Industry survey that highlights 63% of all companies in Europe have 10 or less employees, like Terrabotics who are bringing Terrain Intelligence at scale to the Energy sector, such organisations are driving the growth in commercial EO business in Europe.


Andrew Cutts

About the author:

Andrew works as Earth Observation Lead for Terrabotics he has over a decade working within the Energy Sector, delivering solutions to complex large scale exploration projects worldwide. Andrew is an Earth Observation enthusiast and regularly blogs at



May 2, 2017

Mapping Nations: The Next Decade.

Mapping Nations: The Next Decade
Mapping Nations: The Next Decade

During the first week of July, leaders of national geospatial, mapping and cadastral authorities from across the globe will be in Oxford, UK, to discuss some of the greatest challenges the World faces.

The Cambridge Conference will be held between 2-6 July 2017 with the theme ‘Mapping Nations: The Next Decade’.  Aimed at national geospatial leaders these senior government officials will examine some of the biggest global challenges we face - economic, social and technical. They will consider how geospatial, mapping, Earth observation and cadastral agencies can adapt to face these challenges, and how the industry can make a profound contribution to global communities.

The challenges are considerable.  Climate change, insecurity (water to terrorism), population growth and urbanisation, resource shortfalls, the politics of nations v global communities and an increasing pace of technological change are but some examples.  Properly informed, the World can adapt.  The geospatial community will play a major role in overcoming these challenges - going beyond inform to enabling understanding, decision making and action.

When Cambridge Conference delegates first met in 1928, the map was the best way to represent reality.  It still is - the brain is wired to understand this pictorial portrayal of attributed information.  But just as maps have become data, so too have automated extraction techniques and machine learning enabled ‘raw’ data to be interpreted quickly to solve a wide variety of challenges.  This source data is wide-ranging, from smart phones to remote sensing satellites and now with social media, telecoms, multi-spectral, LIDAR and synthetic aperture radar, and much of it in near-real time.

Earth observation is a key contributor to maintained fundamental geospatial data, including identifying land use.  But beyond that, the power of combining Earth observation sources and associated derived data with attributed fundamental geospatial data is a multiplier for good.  Be it disaster response, climate change or sustainable development it is evident that national mapping agencies and the Earth observation community achieve most by working hand in hand.  Take a crop failure scenario;  combining predicted crop failure Earth observation data with fundamental geospatial data such as geocoded addressing and wider location data, such as census data really enables us to understand the impact of the looming disaster, and how to respond.

Delegates at the Cambridge Conference will explore this and more.  The mix of expert speakers and collective experience will help us find new approaches to common challenges such as efficiency savings, the pace of technological change, multiple data sources and customers’ increasing demands for instant, detailed and accurate information and answers.  Many nations represented at the Conference are also members of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO).

There are conference places still available. For more information and to make a booking visit:


John Kedar

About the author:

John Kedar


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