OBSERVER: The Synergies between Copernicus and the Group on Earth Observations

OBSERVER: The Synergies between Copernicus and the Group on Earth Observations

OBSERVER: The Synergies between Copernicus and the Group on Earth Observations

Thu, 14/04/2022 – 11:17

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is an intergovernmental partnership currently comprising 113 Member Countries as well as 140 Participating Organisations. Its primary focus is upon improving the availability, dissemination, and access of open data for Earth Observation (EO) from different sources (satellite imagery & in situ data). GEO’s work mainly tackles three global priorities: Sustainable Development Goals, Climate Action, and Disaster Risk Reduction.

As one of four co-chairs and a founding member of GEO, the European Commission is one of the key actors working towards greater interoperability and availability of EO data, both in its governance role as well as through Copernicus, the European Union’s EO capability.

Copernicus for GEO Work Programmes

Indeed, Copernicus is a key contributor across several of GEO’s activities. The synergies between Europe’s eyes on Earth and GEO are apparent; Copernicus acts as a cornerstone for GEO’s Flagships, Initiatives, and Community Activities. The European Commission actively participates in three of the four flagship programmes, specifically in the Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO-BON), the Global Agricultural Monitoring (GEOGLAM), and the Global Observation System for Mercury (GOS4M), while the European Space Agency contributes to the remaining programme, the Global Forest Observations Initiative (GFOI).

Copernicus is instrumental in supporting several GEO Initiatives, furthering the expansion of the EO ecosystem, increasing the maturity of EO data exploitation in developing regions, as well as supporting the development of innovative EO products and tools.

One such instance is within the scope of the Human Planet initiative, wherein a new generation of information products leveraging EO data for cities and human settlements is developed in order to inform policy action tackling key international frameworks (e.g., UNFCCC, Sustainable Development Goals, Sendai Framework, etc.). Within this particular initiative, the European Commission acts as a core partner, co-leading the programme through its Directorate-General Joint Research Centre together with the Centre for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University in the United States. Data from Copernicus’ Sentinel satellites (primarily, 1 and 2) are used in order to detect and characterise built-up areas.

Exhibit 1: Human Planet includes a historical baseline data on the historical evolution of human settlements as captured in 1975 (red), 1990 (orange), 2000 (yellow), and 2015 (white). Historical records of Landsat images are leveraged together with Sentinel data. Credit: European Commission, DG JRC[1]

Another joint initiative of GEO and Copernicus is the Global Wildfire Information System (GWIS), aiming to coalesce existing information sources at regional and national level to yield “a comprehensive view and evaluation of fire regimes and fire effects at global level, and provide tools to support operational wildfire management from national to global scales.”[2] The development of GWIS is facilitated by several partner organisations and space agencies, including NASA as one of three core partners (together with Copernicus and GEO). Building upon established programmes such as the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), GWIS provides valuable and harmonised fire information, integrating local wildfire products from different sources, including from different services of Copernicus, as well as from ESA’s Fire Climate Change Initiative.

Exhibit 2: GWIS map of wildfires in the Artic region between 2015-2020, produced in March 2021, with data on the total emissions of black carbon and CO2, the average latitude of wildfires and the cumulative burnt area. Credit: European Commission, DG JRC[3]

These two brief examples highlight the profound synergies between Copernicus and GEO Work Programmes, most of which count either the European Commission or the European Space Agency (or both) as key participants. Indeed, most GEO Initiatives leverage Copernicus data, models, or dedicated products from its different services.

Copernicus for GEOSS & EUROGEO

In addition to over 70 Work Programmes addressing global challenges and knowledge gaps, GEO is responsible for the creation and implementation of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), supporting the dissemination and EO data and information through the GEOSS Portal. Coupled with research and innovation initiatives within the Horizon Europe framework (formerly Horizon 2020), Copernicus data and information products are the primary contributions which the European Commission provides to GEOSS.

Different Copernicus services and datasets have been developed within the scope of Horizon 2020 in order to support the implementation of GEOSS for specific applications or regions. For instance, Arctic-relevant observations from Copernicus were leveraged as part of the GEO-Cold Region Initiative as well as in preparation for the implementation of ArcticGEOSS.

More generally, Copernicus is extensively leveraged and combined with other elements of European GEO Members and Participating Organisations (e.g., ESA, EUMETSAT) within the scope of the European Group on Earth Observation initiative (EuroGEO). The initiative forms the core of Europe’s contribution to the implementation of GEOSS, thus aiming to showcase the benefits of an integrated 

system of systems as well as favouring meaningful cooperation and coordination between different actors.

EuroGeo focuses upon sparking a paradigm shift from a data-centric approach to user-EO products and services. As such, applications developed through EuroGEO take full advantage of the infrastructure, data and information products of both Copernicus and the core Copernicus Services. In order to improve the handling and interoperability of data and information, initiatives leveraging Copernicus data in support of GEO rely on coherent data management procedures, applying the GEOSS Data Management Principles.

In essence, the synergies between Copernicus and GEO are profound. Both work towards the collection and dissemination of EO data and information on a free and open basis, supporting global users in decision-making and increasing humanity’s knowledge of various global challenges. Further integration of Copernicus with other EO systems within the scope of GEOSS will undoubtedly prove to be instrumental in the mitigation and remediation of environmental crises and other consequences of climate change, as well as furthering prevention and management efforts of natural or manmade disasters.


Thu, 14/04/2022 – 12:00

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