News of the Week
Earth-Observation Summit Endorses Global Data Sharing
Established in 2005, GEO is an effort by 85 countries, the European Commission, and 58 international organizations to meld disparate remote-sensing tools and ground-based databases—300 databases and counting—into a seamless Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), which is expected to come fully online in 2015. When GEO was conceived, "we understood that if you want to manage planetary problems, you have to have planetary information—which didn't exist at that stage," says Bob Scholes, a biodiversity expert at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria.
Ground-truthing such data is a key element of Silva Carbon, a U.S.-led scientific network announced here to help GEO improve access to Earth-observation data on forests. SilvaCarbon is expected to develop technologies to implement one of the few bright spots in international climate negotiations: REDD+, a program to reduce emissions from deforestation and enhance forest carbon stocks. Together with GEO's Global Forest Observation Initiative, SilvaCarbon "shows that we are ready to take the next big step to a robust and transparent global monitoring system for forest carbon," says Richards.
A second new effort, the Global Land-Cover Data Initiative, aims over the next 2 years to compile and publicly share a current snapshot of Earth's land-cover conditions. Landsat data provide 80% coverage; GEO partners will fork over the rest.
As GEOSS is woven from disparate data sets, there have been a few glitches in integrating the information. "We can't get all data into the free and open database at this point," says Abbott. And some resistance remains. "We still get pushback," says Scholes. "Some countries worry about how data release will affect national security." Nations fret, for instance, over satellite data they have no control over and others revealing info such as flows rates of transboundary rivers. Of course, all agree that some sensitive data, such as the precise location of the last few individuals of an endangered species, should not enter the public domain. "But these instances are now perceived as the exceptions to the rule," Scholes says. And that, he says, testifies to the profound cultural change on data sharing that GEO is helping drive.
Science. ISSN 0036-8075 (print), 1095-9203 (online)