Expert of the Week   for  24 Apr - 07 May 2017

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Steven Ramage

Head of External Relations

Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Expertise:  Steven has worked for most of his career in the areas of strategy, policy, standards and innovation related to location or geospatial data, tools and services. He is an active Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Global Advisory Council of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) focussed on open geospatial standards.

Steven Ramage leads global stakeholder engagement and external relations for GEO, the Group on Earth Observations. He has worked in the disaster domain during his time at the Open Geospatial Consortium (on open standards development), with the British Government (on national data infrastructures) and with a startup in the UK (on geocoding). Steven is a SASNet Fellow at the Urban Big Data Centre at the University of Glasgow and a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Future Cities at the University of Strathclyde also in Glasgow, Scotland where he has been involved in setting strategic direction, as well as giving lectures. Steven works internationally with many of the GEO government and participating organisation members, such as ESA, JAXA, NASA, WMO, World Bank, UNOOSA, UNOSAT and UNISDR. He also leads commercial sector engagement activities at the GEO Secretariat.

Open Earth Observation Data for Disaster Response.

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QQuestion by Mr Xiang ZHOU

Dear Steven,
How does GEO work across global regions, for example the Asia Pacific region is the most disaster-prone area, does GEO operate there?

Mr Xiang ZHOU Director of Major Project Division | Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth(RADI

APosted on 04 May 2017

GEO is working to deliver the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), which means providing broad, open access to Earth observations. As a global intergovernmental organisation it is important to be able to translate the global activities to a local level and also deliver on national policy drivers and requirements. As such, there are a number of regional initiatives set up around the world.

As pointed out, the Asia Pacific region is the most disaster prone region of the world and Asia-Oceania GEOSS (AO GEOSS) exists to bring together the GEO community in the region. AO GEOSS, co-led by Australia, China and Japan, intends to establish an effective cooperation framework at regional level and promote the Earth observation capacity of Asia-Oceania countries to confront the challenges, such as disaster risk reduction. There is a good example here of regional GEOSS coordination.

Other objectives include engaging and coordinating multiple stakeholders working together on Earth observation activities in the region. These objectives are met by using shared resources and capacity to develop integrated and sustained observations. This also includes investigating user needs and addressing gaps relating to the implementation of GEOSS.

The 9th GEOSS Asia-Pacific Symposium was held in Tokyo in January 2017, organized by GEO and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) of Japan with hundreds of participants. One ofthe focus topics was the GEOSS Asian Water Cycle Initiative (AWCI). The AWCI takes advantage of existing initiatives and programmes to improve understanding, strengthen governance, inform investment and support implementation for reducing water-related disaster and environmental risks. AWCI developments will establish and strengthen national platforms and identify milestones, resources and deliverables clearly, to reconcile the relations between disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change adaptation. These cross-activity linkages are key to develop evidence-based, quantitative and qualitative information for addressing floods and landslides, drought and water scarcity and water environmental degradation.

It’s also important to note that the African Earth observation community has been supported for numerous years through AfriGEOSS and also AmeriGEOSS serves the Americas for local input and contributions. HimalayaGEOSS is a work in progress with some events planned for this summer to get the initiative started.

QQuestion by Mr Adam Fysh

I know that the OGC is working on open standards, but can you give a bit of an outline on the state of policy when it comes to earth-facing observations? It feels like the disruptive possibility of earth observation is working with a hand tied behind its back due to the global security requirements of earth-facing work. Estimating displacement or impact could be so substantially improved...

Mr Adam Fysh Programme Officer | UNISDR

APosted on 04 May 2017

The OGC is a good parallel in terms of the activities that they and ISO TC211 undertake on international geospatial standards and the longstanding activities of GEO on broad, open data policy (and data management topics). 

As an organisation consisting of over100 countries as members including the European Commission, you can imagine that the state of national policy relating to Earth observations varies dramatically.Typically technology moves much faster than policy, so we are always playing catch up. However, there are some key drivers and hence the GEO priority areas,which can support the development of policy.

It is not only the Sendai Framework, but also the Paris Agreement for climate change and the UN Agenda 2030 for sustainable development that we are focused on (with many other topics included under our societal benefit areas). We are working closely with a number of organisations to ensure the most suitable language relating to geospatial information, including Earth observations, is included in policy. Having these references is important at the international level so that they can then be referred to at the local, i.e. national level by decision makers. This currently includes working with organisations, such as UNISDR and also UNCCD, UNFCCC,UN-GGIM and the UN regional commissions. 

Gaining access to digital data has been a cultural challenge since the advent of the computer and the ability to exchange files. Security is just one of the many reasons given for not providing access to data and it's in these scenarios where organisations like the Open Data Institute (ODI) and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) can support and help the endeavours of intergovernmental organisations, such asGEO. One of the main goals is to explain the value of opening up the data

Translating what estimations of displacement or impact means is important, especially in political language.This is both a cultural and a communications issue, which we are facing everyday across the numerous areas where Earth observations could actually help improve or even save lives. 

Giving a clear picture of data policies of all types of Earth observations (satellite, airborne, ground-based and marine-borne) is still challenging, while the landscape for satellite data policy is relatively clear. Marked by the Landsat open data policy in 2007and Copernicus open data policy in 2014, there has been a big shift in data policy. Globally 62 agencies from 28 countries have operated or supportedEarth-observing satellites, spanning 650+ mission/instrument combinations, of which 415 have open data policies ( but there is still a long way to go. 

QQuestion by Mr Dave Paul Zervaas

Dear Steven, can you tell how much specialized knowledge is usually needed to make adequate use of the data; and if people who would benefit from such data (but may have little data interpretation background) have enough opportunities to receive relevant training in a simplified and 'quick' fashion.
Thanks and kind regards

Mr Dave Paul Zervaas Programme Management Officer | UNISDR

APosted on 03 May 2017

The resources, i.e. the data and information provided by GEO are all related to observations in, on or around the Earth. It depends which resources are being accessed, some of the information resources are useful to anyone working on open data, from policy makers to decision makers. However, some of the more technical resources, although freely and openly available it will require someone with a basic technical understanding of geospatial data who can easily download and discover the value within the resources.


Withover 200,000,000 open Earth observation data and information resources, there are many different types of resources available for access and download.


The following capabilities are also offered by GEOSS (the Global Earth Observation System of Systems) Common Infrastructure (GCI) to users:

(a)    Metadata harmonization to facilitate data evaluation, comparison and use;

(b)    Definition and support (discoverability) of Essential Variables for different societal benefit areas, such as disaster resilience, food security and sustainable urban development;

(c)     A preview service via the GEOSS Portal;

(d)    Increasingly more support for domain specific discovery and access capabilities, this means the GEOSS Community Portals, GEOSS Views and other areas.


Through the GCI people can access climate, environmental and socioeconomic data that when integrated together provide information on the magnitude, impact and consequences of a disaster.


The GCI is therefore a single place to find multiple, different datasets from authoritative sources and we hope it will become more recognized and used not only for the disaster prevention community, but also to support disaster response.

QQuestion by Mr Tim Haigh

What is the relation between GEO and the Disasters Charter?;jsessionid=2C5DF2B2642A522747E2CB37E75549E9.jvm1
For example, Is one a member of the other? As GEO has made much progress on opening data, can GEO be activated in the same or a similar way by those in need as with the charter - albeit with maybe a slightly longer delivery timeline?

Mr Tim Haigh Manager Information Resources | EEA

APosted on 01 May 2017

Thank you for your question. GEO has been working with the International Charter for Space and Major Disasters for many years and there are many links between both organisations through GEO Member countries who have space agencies and through CEOS (the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites), which is a GEO Participating Organization (PO). For example, the recent past Chair of the Disasters Charter is Roscosmos from Russia, which is also the Principal Member organization for GEO. The current Chair is the UK Space Agency, which is a member of UK GEO.

A few years ago GEO advocated for broader access to the Charter, starting with GEO Members (104 as of today) there has also been a formal user consultation conducted by the Charter in more than 15 African countries to increase user awareness and improve access to the Charter. After more than a decade of operation successfully providing satellite data to designated users for disaster response, in 2012 the Charter worked with GEO to open its doors even wider. By adopting the concept of Universal Access, the Charter further strengthened its contribution to disaster management worldwide. 

Universal Access means that any national disaster management authority is able to submit requests to the Charter for emergency disaster response. Proper procedures need to be followed, but the affected country does not have to be a Charter member. The Charter also has arrangements with UNOSAT and with the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) (both GEO POs) to provide support to UN agencies and/or any government that requires assistant accessing the Charter. This agreement allows UN relief agencies to submit a request in case of a humanitarian emergency caused by a major natural or technological disaster, in any part of the world. There is a lot more information here relating to how the Charter operates and how it helps during disasters:

One of the goals of GEO is to continue to work with Charter members on the next stages of development around access and availability.

The GEO work on open data is manifested through the GEOSS Common Infrastructure where more than 200,000,000 open earth observation data and information resources are made freely accessible and discoverable via There are a number of resources in the GCI that are relevant for disaster risk reduction and other stages of the disaster cycle and we recently held a virtual seminar to determine the usefulness and applicability of those resources, as well as potentially missing EO resources that could be added. In terms of activating GEO in the same way, this is a good idea but would need several members of the GEO community to support and help implement it. Some of these discussions will hopefully take place at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR) in Cancun, Mexico later this month. GEO will have a Marketplace booth with a number of Members and POs present, as well as deliver a lightning talk.

Other related aspects of the GEO community can be found here, with some references to the integration of  GEONETCast into the Charter processes. GEONETCast is a global network of sustained and cost-effective satellite-based dissemination systems: