Feb 19, 2014

What is GEO? A Quick Look at the Group on Earth Observations

Estimated Article Reading Time: 3 min.

By Elise Mulder Osenga, posted on February 18th, 2014 in Earth Observation

The 10th GEO Plenary in January marked an opportunity for the organization to celebrate its accomplishments and set goals for the future. At Earthzine, this gathering also provided an opportunity to highlight the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) in new articles and reflect back on the origins of the group.

GEO is an international organization that embodies a call for action from the World Summit on Sustainable Development. In 2002, the Group of Eight Industrialized Countries (the G8) joined the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, to discuss health and well-being in the face of a growing population and increasingly pressured water, food, economic, and ecologic services. One of the goals of the summit was to establish action implementation plans to help move from discussion into achievement.

One of the action items identified by the summit was a need for international collaboration on Earth observations for the purpose of aiding decision-making about key environmental concerns. GEO was launched in response to this goal.

Today, GEO has grown to be an organization of 90 member nations and 77 participating international organizations.

Together, these partners work together to build the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). This system of system’s purpose is to gather Earth observations and share Earth information to aid society by serving a number of purposes, such as to:
•help predict and alleviate damage from natural disasters
•better understand the relationship between environmental factors and human health
•assist in the management of natural resources
•inform understanding of and adaptation to climate change
•monitor biodiversity
•support the development of sustainable agricultural systems.

GEO’s participants contribute to these efforts in a variety of ways. Key to GEO’s success is outreach. As a participating organization of GEO, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) proposed that part of its contribution to the establishment of GEOSS would be to support the development an open-access online publication to report on Earth observation topics from around the globe. The result was the launch of Earthzine.org in 2007.

Below are links highlighting GEO-related projects covered by Earthzine over the years:

GEO continues to plan future actions and conferences, with upcoming events for 2014 including:

•a webinar series presented by Centre of Hydrologic and Spatial Information for Latin America and the Caribbean (Feb. 14)
•“the 3rd International Conference on Use of Space Technology for Water Management “:http://www.unoosa.org/oosa/en/SAP/act2014/Morocco/index.htmlin Morocco (April 1-4)
•the 2014 Climate Symposium in Darmstadt, Germany (Oct. 13-17).

GEO’s most recent plenary included a plan for the next 10 years: Vision for GEO 2025 .The government of Switzerland has extended an invitation to the current members of GEO to extend their commitment through the next 10 years.

In addition to strengthening its former action plans, GEO has also identified new objectives. These new plans include the development of a global ocean forecasting and information system, expansion of urban global observations systems, expansion of observation systems specific to vulnerable areas such as cold regions or mountainous regions, and identifying and filling existing gaps in Earth information.

Throughout each of these plans, GEO will continue to serve in the role it has effectively carved since its establishment, as a facilitator of public and multilateral involvement in Earth observations and provider of a forum for dialogue on Earth observation-related issues.