Open earth observations for the benefit of humankind

23 Mar 2018 09:00h - 10:45h

Event report

[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]

Mr Steven Ramage, Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Secretariat, opened the session with remarks about the meaning of earth observations (EO) for sustainable development. Firstly, he introduced the work of the GEO which is not a part of the UN, but has about one thousand representatives from national government agencies. The GEO encompasses 115 participating organisations, 5000 data providers, and 400 million space-based and in situ earth observations. One of their main products is the GEOSS portal that works as a platform for consolidating different types of data on EO, organised by key words, and visualised on the word map. GEO works across eight societal benefit areas to find solutions for global challenges that now correspond to a range of sustainable development goals (SDGs). In addition, Ramage highlighted four flagship initiatives run by the GEO: a biodiversity observation network, a global agricultural monitoring initiative, a forest observation initiative, and an observation system for mercury.

Next, Ms Inga Petersen, UN Environment, introduced the UN-backed cloud solution for monitoring the use of resources called MapX. As the fourth industrial revolution takes place, there is a lot of data, including spatial data, but people face great challenges in using it because such data is fragmented, or inaccessible, or not envisioned to work with. MapX provides interactive maps with dashboards, listing a range of indicators of water and land use together with other statistical data. The maps can be customised for the national level. They also can be used to establish baselines and monitor compliance with different agreements on environment. Finally, MapX provides so-called ‘story maps’ integrated in the multimedia in order to make them more explanatory for people.

Mr Grégory Giuliani, University of Geneva and UN Environment, Global Resource Information Database (GRID), delivered a presentation about the Swiss Data Cube, an EO project monitoring the state of the environment in Switzerland in space and time. He started with the history of satellite EO and mentioned the Landsat programme, active since 1972. It was used to take pictures of the surface and from 2008 the data became open. However, the problem was that the pictures were fragmented; different users have to process them again and again to get the whole picture. The idea of data cube was firstly probed by Australia; they combined the satellite pictures of the country by layers to get a highly detailed image without clouds. Moreover, they used the time-series pictures from satellites to analyse the dynamics of environmental changes. Switzerland is the second country to implement this approach.

Ms Denisa Rodila, University of Geneva & UN Environment GRID, told the audience about the GEO Essential European Project on Essential Variables (GEOEssential) that helps to build workflows from raw data to indicators. The project addresses the need for trusted sources of data and information to monitor the progresses made on environmental conditions towards policy targets. GEOEssential is designed to contribute to the GEOSS platform described above.

Finally, Mr Anthony Lehmann, University of Geneva, Institute for Environmental Sciences, talked about his education programme on geomatics and sustainable environment. The main goals are to acquire a set of tools linked to spatial data infrastructures, web mapping and programming. Also, it will teach tools to assess biodiversity, ecosystem services and water resources.

By Ilona Stadnik