Providing GMES services at the ends of the Earth?±interview with Dr Randell

9 December 2005
Receiving strong backing from ESA member
states at this week’s Ministerial Conference in Berlin, Global
Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) is a joint initiative
between ESA and the European Commission to combine ground- and
space-based observations to develop an integrated environmental
monitoring capability to benefit European citizens.
Broadening interest in GMES is
highlighted by a conference taking place in Warsaw, Poland on 12-14
December, which has been organised by the non-governmental organisation
Eurisy, dedicated to promoting the use of space technology. The
conference title is ‘Integration of the New European Union (EU)
countries into the GMES Programme’, and it will focus on how these
states may best participate in future GMES development and
As the conference will hear, initial GMES
services are already operational, addressing a range of sectors from
atmospheric chemistry monitoring to geological hazard assessment. They
are being provided through an ESA activity known as the GMES Services
Element (GSE). And with GMES a global endeavour, the particular needs
of the high latitudes have not been neglected.
within GSE is the Polar View initiative, which is delivering Earth
Observation-based products and services to users across the Polar
regions. In an interview originally carried out by SciencePoles, the
scientific website of the International Polar Foundation, Dr Charles
Randell, the Canadian Vice-President of the global C-CORE corporation
discusses the development of Polar View so far.
What is Polar View? What are its objectives?
Polar View is an Earth Observation (or
satellite remote-sensing) programme, focused on both the Arctic and the
Antarctic. Polar View is supported by ESA and promotes the utilization
of satellites for public good and supporting public policy. The Polar
View Team consists of companies, government agencies and research
institutes across Europe and Canada.

Each organization brings diverse, complementary skills and
experience to the Polar View programme and is committed to establishing
a dedicated service for addressing polar issues using Earth Observation
technologies. The reason Canadians are able to participate on a
European Space Agency programme is that Canada is an associate member
of the ESA and financially supports a number of ESA programmes.
How is Polar View different from its predecessor, Northern View? What services does it provide which didn’t exist before?
Polar View is a much larger programme with
participation from 10 countries and with an initial contract for three
years to 2008. Northern View was a 20 month programme really building
the foundations for Polar View.
The goal of the original Northern View
activity was to become a one-stop-shop for geospacial, or large area
information about what is happening in the North. Things like snow melt
and snow extent, ice issues, glacier issues, Northern infrastructure,
and what’s happening in terms of climate change. Because it was a much
smaller entity than Polar View, the emphasis of Northern View was very
much on operational services: using existing technology and getting the
information out there to the world – to those who could use it.
With Northern View, we were doing a lot of
marketing, but also trying to demonstrate to ESA that there was a very
real need for geospacial monitoring in the North, and that the benefits
outweighed the costs. The fact that we then moved from Northern View to
Polar View proves that we were successful in doing that.
Who are your users/clients? Are they mostly government or private?
Primarily government or other public agencies. We also collaborate
with the national ice centres in generating and providing information
beyond their typical mandate of producing ice charts for navigation.
Many of the ice centres would like to provide more detailed and
specific ice information to particular communities and other specialty products. Polar View helps them with that.
But we also provide information for certain
private clients and commercial interests such as iceberg information to
yacht races around the Antarctic, or to hunters and trappers who work
in the North and who need to go to the edge of the ice for fishing and
hunting. Polar View provides them daily updates of where the ice edge
is and the current state of land fast versus moving ice. Also to water
utilities which need information on glaciers and what is happening to
them in a seasonal context in order to optimize power generation or
reduce flood risk.
How is the service sold? What are the costs involved?
We are contracted by ESA to provide
these services initially free of charge if that’s what it takes to get
users to appreciate the benefit of satellite-based monitoring services.
But the ultimate goal is to become sustainable, so in the long run
someone other than ESA will have to pay for it. Sustainability is
foremost in our work.
We have quantified very well what it costs
us to provide these services or information products, but ESA’s
approach was that if we are going to be doing this for public agencies,
they don’t have a lot of disposal income, so we need to give them time
to get the budgets to pay for the information. We have allowed a
maximum of three years for them to be able to do that. At anytime, if
we do not see a realistic chance for sustainability of a service we
need to seriously consider keeping it part of the Polar View portfolio.
We have dropped some services because of this. We have also brought on
new ones.
So what is the budget of Polar View?
The value of the contract with ESA is
approximately ?Ñ8 million for three years. The actual Polar View program
of activity is at least 50% more than that.

Does this include the European Commission? Do you receive any funding
from the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6)? What about the Seventh
Framework Programme FP7?
No, but what we have done is to incorporate some of the technologies
which were developed with the help of FP6, and we are looking at FP7.
Who are your competitors in the US and internationally? How do you position yourself against them?
We’re not trying to replace national agencies or the science
community. What we’re doing is complementary to their activities and we
work with them. There are organizations that have been providing
services at a low level to some of the clients that we are also
providing information to, and generally what we have done in these
cases is to integrate them into the team. Polar View is exclusive in
that the Team is at the top of their game and very expert in extracting
information from satellite data. We demand no less than this. But it is
an open membership. People can leave and people can join Polar View.
You speak of Polar View as “a team”. How is it structured? How many people are involved?
is very much a team, but in terms of people involved, there are two
different groups. There are the users, spread out among 40 different
groups, and then there are the 30 Polar View sub-contractors
themselves. Because it is so large, spanning ten countries, and because
it is important to have regional representation, we’ve organized the
network into four regional nodes: the North American node, the rather
large Euro-Russia node, the Baltic Sea node, and the Antarctic node.
Each node is like a miniature consortium
in itself, but they remain very tightly networked with individual node
managers and standardized platforms. They are each responsible for
service provision and marketing within their regions. Over the top of
this we have circumpolar and other international activitiers.
Who is in charge of your Antarctic node?
The node manager for the Antarctic is the
British Antarctic Survey. We have service providers from the UK,
Norway, Italy and Canada.
How many satellites are involved in Polar-View?
There are two primary ones we use called
Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites: Envisat and Radarsat. We
also use about another six satellites.
What will be the impact of the recent CryoSat failure on Polar View?
Of course we were very disappointed,
but because Polar View services are in fact operational services which
rely on satellites that have already been up there for a few years, the
immediate impact of the CryoSat failure for us is fairly minimal.
However, we were certainly looking forward to using it and there were
enhancements to our existing services that we would have been able to
provide had it been successful. So we are hoping that there will be
another CryoSat before too long.
Finally, will the International Polar Year (IPY) have an impact on your work?
certainly hope so. Polar View submitted a proposal to the IPY
International Programme Office to provide geospacial information for
IPY missions both in the Arctic and the Antarctic. Since then the
national ice centres (collectively, the International Ice Charter
Working Group) have approached us to become the common portal of IPY
relevant ice information, and we are currently working on the details
of how this cooperation will take shape.
(Credits ESA
Author: EARSC

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