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Helping science respond to society, through open data

Harnessing the power of open data to improve the quality of life of people everywhere. That is the renewed commitment made by 77 organizations and 90 nations during the Group on Earth Observations (GEO-X) Tenth Plenary and Ministerial Summit, held in Geneva on January 12-17, 2014. GEO is a voluntary partnership of governments and international organizations that are coordinating efforts to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).

Targeted global observation systems were created to enable the international community to come together, interconnecting a diverse, growing array of Earth observing instruments and information systems for monitoring changes in the global environment.  Data gathered by these systems feed science-based decision-making and translate into many tools and services for society, from forecasting weather to epidemics, improving disaster management to protecting biodiversity and better understanding climate change. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC-UNESCO) plays a vital role in several such systems. This is through co-sponsoring the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) along with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Council for Science (ICSU), and together with the same sponsors, leading the secretariat of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).  

GEOSS, the ‘system of systems’, links together existing and planned observing systems around the world and supports the development of new systems where gaps exist. GEOSS coordinates complex and interrelated observation and data issues simultaneously, avoids unnecessary duplication, encourages synergies between systems and facilitates substantial economic, societal and environmental benefits. During the Summit, partners agreed to continue building on the organization’s first 10 years of pioneering environmental advances, and defined a vision to 2025.

Common technical standards must be defined and promoted so that data from the thousands of different instruments can be combined coherently. Under IOC-UNESCO’s leadership, GOOS is implementing a framework to define requirements for the observation of Essential Ocean Variables (EOVs). These will include new biogeochemical and biological variables to help understand marine ecosystems, in addition to the existing physical ocean variables, identified in collaboration with GEO’s Biodiversity Observation Network (GEOBON). IOC-UNESCO will facilitate improving the use and application of earth observation data to marine assessment through leading: GOOS; the ocean component of the European Commission funded GEOWOW (GEOSS inter-operability for Weather, Ocean and Water) ; and the marine components of the Global Environment Facility funded Transboundary Waters Assessment Programme. In keeping with the GEO commitment, this will involve the sharing of marine data and tools to generate information for policymakers, managers, experts and other users.  

The GEO-X was also an opportunity to present other new components, such as the Global Ocean Acidification – Observing Network (GOA-ON). Created in 2012 with IOC-UNESCO’s support, the Network brings together scientists from as many countries as possible – 28 to date – to pool reliable and comparable data allowing them to assess the extent of ocean acidification, known as “the other CO2 problem”, and its impact worldwide.
Each of these IOC-UNESCO initiatives fall under the new GEO Task "Blue Planet: Oceans and Society" (SB-01), through which ocean observations contribute to all 9 GEO Societal Benefit Areas. In partnership, the IOC-UNESCO, POGO, CEOS and GODAE-OceanView are leading the establishment of Blue Planet within the GEO community and beyond. GEO-X was the first opportunity to showcase this since the Task was created at the previous GEO-IX in Brazil (2012).

Together, the efforts within Blue Planet, all of the SBAs and under the overall umbrella of GEOSS, are painting a fuller picture of complex environmental processes and helping us to plan for a sustainable future. By increasing the utility of open data about the Earth, GEO is assisting to mitigate disasters, develop water-management strategies, support citizen observatories, and strengthen food security.

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