Science Wednesday: A Visit to the Geo-VI Plenary

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“I’ll never get lost again,” I exclaimed as I opened the box containing my new GPS unit, an early holiday gift from my folks. Now I can harness the power of coordinated satellites as I confidently venture toward my destination, forever settling the age-old argument over the efficacy of stopping to ask for directions.

It seemed fitting that my new toy arrived the same week the Group on Earth Observations, better known as GEO, held its 6th plenary meetings. Thanks to EPA securing the space, the gathering took place in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC, just a few floors below my office.

GEO members, including some 80 governments, the European Commission, and 56 intergovernmental, international, and regional organizations with mandates in Earth Observation or related issues, are coordinating their efforts to build a Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS.

The goal of GEOSS is to create a flexible network where all sorts of earth observations—from direct observations of temperature and other climate data, to networks of open-ocean buoys, and high-tech satellite imagery—are standardized, coordinated, and shared.

The end result will be kind of like the Internet, except instead of Facebook-like social updates, content providers will supply a wealth of earth observation data, providing decision makers access to an extraordinary range of information right at their desktops.

The potential benefits of such a system are enormous: improved understanding of environmental factors affecting human health, disaster reduction, integrated water resource management, ocean and marine resource monitoring and management, weather and air quality monitoring and management, sustainable land use, development of energy sources, and adaptation to climate variability and change.

The Plenary-VI meeting featured a large public exhibit area where delegates from across the world demonstrated their research efforts. My EPA colleague and fellow Science Wednesday blogger Dr. Montira Pongsiri staffed the US-GEO booth, sharing highlights of her GEOSS work exploring the links between biodiversity and human health.

Of course now that I have my own, personal satellite access, my favorite exhibits were those illustrating how GEOSS is harnessing high-tech satellite datasets and imagery. It was all very exciting, and I didn’t even need to stop and ask for directions on my way back to the office.

About the author: Aaron Ferster is the “Science Wednesday” editor and a regular contributor. He is the lead science writer for EPA’s Office of Research and Development.