Representatives from the multinational Group on Earth Observations met in Geneva last week to examine how open Earth observation data integration could benefit thousands of people globally.
Participant countries “discussed strategic approaches to ensure that GEO continues to contribute to resilient societies, sustainable economies, and healthy environments,” Tim Stryker, the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology’s U.S. Group on Earth Observations, wrote in an email to FedScoop.
He added that in the coming year, GEO will focus on regional initiatives to build capacity for the more effective use of Earth observations data and information.
Founded in 2005, GEO’s 177 member organizations connect technological tools around the world that can monitor and predict the state of Earth’s land, waters and atmosphere.
The U.S., which has a permanent position on the GEO’s Executive Committee, maintains one of the world’s largest collections of Earth observations, gathering data from networks of satellites, ocean buoys, stream gauges and human surveys. But Stryker said the value of this data extends far beyond the policy of the United States.
“Open, machine-readable, and interoperable Earth observation data collected and shared by GEO member nations and organizations is a valuable resource for governments, organizations, researchers, firms, and individuals around the world,” Stryker, whose agency supports the country’s interactions with GEO, said in a blog post about the most recent meeting.
The U.S. has been working to manage its Earth observation programs more efficiently. In July 2014, the National Science and Technology Council of the Executive Office of the President released the National Plan for Civil Earth Observations, a guide for future federal investments and strategic partnerships to advance Earth observing systems. The plan also promotes the use of data-management principles for the information.
The Obama administration has placed a strong emphasis on open data throughout federal government. The president issued an executive order last year pressing agencies to establish an open data policy, making more information and data sets accessible to the public.
Recently, Obama said at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York that the United States has plans to release elevation data for most of the Earth’s land surface. In September 2014, elevation data for the African continent were released, and the U.S. has plans to periodically release other regional data sets. By September 2015, the U.S. aims to have a global elevation data set available for public use.
This initiative was praised highly by the international development community when it was announced in September and last week by the GEO representatives in Geneva.
“These data will improve understanding of environmental change and societal ecosystem and vulnerability in countries worldwide, and their release underscores the U.S. commitment to address the environmental impacts of extreme weather and climate change,” Stryker said of the elevation data in a recent blog post.