Brussels, 16 Feb 2005
The co-chairs of the Group on Earth Observations have announced that the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in Geneva will host the secretariat for the planned Earth observation 'system of systems'.
The co-chairs met during Earth and Space Week in Brussels on 15 February, where they were also expected to approve a ten-year implementation plan for the system of systems.
Speaking at a lunchtime press briefing, the Commission representative in the initiative, DG Research Director-General Achilleas Mitsos, said that he and his co-chairs want to create a lean secretariat, and expressed his happiness that the WMO had accepted the offer to host the body.
'It has been hard work these last one-and-a-half years to produce what this summit will decide [this week],' said Dr Mitsos. 'Now we have to be even more ambitious because the system of systems on Earth observation has captured the imagination and political will of an unexpectedly growing number of countries and organisations.'
Dr Mitsos argued that in order to cope with the problems of the world, it is first necessary to gather reliable and shared information. 'If we can achieve that, then we can begin to be more optimistic about the future challenges facing the Earth,' he said.
As Dr Mitsos explained, the global Earth observation system of systems (GEOSS) initiative will not seek to build a new infrastructure, but rather better utilise and integrate the existing and future capabilities of the global partners involved. Europe's planned global monitoring for environment and security (GMES) system will constitute its major contribution to the initiative, for example.
The title of the press briefing was 'Imagine if...', and taking up the theme, the administrator of the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher offered this analogy: 'Most people you speak to understand the value of the Hubble space telescope, which is focused on the very edges of the Universe. Imagine turning Hubble around to look at the Earth, and what that knowledge could do for us.'
Vice Admiral Lautenbacher argued that the scale of the recent Asian tsunami disaster was due to an inability to provide the necessary technology. 'A comprehensive tsunami warning system could have saved an enormous number of lives. Or imagine being able to know whether a drought was going to end after one year or four - such knowledge would save billions of dollars and millions of lives. These will be the real benefits of Earth observation,' he said.
The South African chair, Director-General of the Department of Science and Technology Rob Adam, imagined the impact that GEOSS will have in the developing world. 'The role of the developing world in GEOSS will be very important, and not just in terms of deriving benefits but also through its involvement in the scientific measurements process,' said Dr Adam. 'It will be a great opportunity to improve the science systems of developing countries, and there is great interest from these countries in participating in scientific initiatives.'
Dr Adam emphasised the need for a truly global network of observation stations in both the developed and developing world, without which the system of systems would suffer from serious data gaps. And while he agreed with Dr Mitsos that GEOSS is more about integration and shared use of Earth observation capabilities than generating new revenues, he believes that the system will have a positive effect on the resources made available for such activities.
'I believe GEOSS will provide a better framework for making funding applications. We already have a whole range of existing measurement systems, some of which are inoperable, such as weather buoys. Once we have identified the gaps in our infrastructures, the system of systems will provide a stronger argument for addressing these gaps,' Dr Adam said.
Finally, Tetsuhisa Shirakawa, Japan's Deputy Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, recognised the duty of the world's most developed countries to use their technological expertise to mitigate the impact of disasters. 'That is why my country has authorised the heads of its delegation [to the GEO] to send a clear signal of Japan's support for the establishment of a tsunami warning system,' he concluded.
For further information about the GEO, please consult the following web address:
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