Earth observation systems consist of measurements of air, water, and land made on the ground, from the air, or from space. Historically observed in isolation, the current effort is to look at these elements together and to study their interactions.
Producing and managing better information about the environment has become a top priority for the U.S. and nations around the world. In July 2003, the Earth Observation Summit brought together 33 nations plus the European Commission and many International Organizations to adopt a declaration that signified a political commitment toward the development of a comprehensive, coordinated and sustained Earth Observation System to collect and disseminate improved data, information, and models to stakeholders and decision makers.
An ad-hoc group of senior political officials from all participating Countries and Organizations, named the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), was formed to undertake this global effort. GEO was charged to develop a "Framework Document" plus a more comprehensive report to describe how the collective effort could be organized to continuously monitor the state of our environment, increase understanding of dynamic Earth processes, and enhance forecasts on our environmental conditions. Furthermore, it was to address potential societal benefits if timely, high quality, and long-term data and models were available to aid decision-makers at every level, from intergovernmental organizations to local government to individuals. Through four meetings of GEO, from late 2003 through April 2004, the required documents were prepared for ministerial review and adoption.
In April 2004, U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt and other senior U.S. Cabinet members met in Japan with environmental ministers from more than 50 nations. They adopted the Framework Document for a ten-year implementation plan for a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).
GEOSS is envisioned as a large national and international cooperative effort to bring together existing and new hardware and software, making it all compatible in order to supply data and information at no cost. The U.S. and developed nations have a unique role in developing and maintaining the system, collecting data, enhancing data distribution, and providing models to help all of the world's nations.
Outcomes and benefits of a global informational system will include:
- disaster reduction
- integrated water resource management
- ocean and marine resource monitoring and management
- weather and air quality monitoring, forecasting and advisories
- biodiversity conservation
- sustainable land use and management
- public understanding of environmental factors affecting human health and well being
- better development of energy resources
- adaptation to climate variability and change
The US GEO sub-committee advances the principles of GEO and GEOSS by the interactive work of over twenty-one federal agencies. This includes activities of USGEO itself in developing and acting on policies to align federal activities, and staffs out efforts to its five workgroups. Policies and coordination of efforts comes from USGEO, and planning for collaborations and meetings is from the International Workgroup. Data interoperability and transmissions are developed through the Architecture and Data Management Workgroup, and outreach and communications are fostered by the Programs and Communications Workgroup. The Strategic Assessment Workgroup develops portfolios of observations for future development, and assesses gaps and needs in communicating observations and facilitating decision-making.
GEO is an international body of over seventy nations and over fifty international organizations as members. Created from the ad hoc GEO in 2005, GEO coordinates the work of GEOSS through Workplans, and efforts by Committees and the Plenary. The User Interface Committee (Foley, Co-Chair) fosters the linkage between observations and the users who implement applications and enhance decision-making using GEOSS. The Capacity Building Committee seeks to advance use of GEOSS to benefit society in developing countries. The Architecture and Data Committee works to develop GEOSS through observation inputs and portal technologies to make applications available to a variety of users. The Science and Technology Committee advances the scientific and engineering issues that are the heart of GEOSS (Whung, Co-Chair).