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The GEOSS ("Global Earth Observation System of Systems") is a coordination structure for the harmonisation of earth observation systems worldwide which are operated by different national or international institutions. The establishment of GEOSS supports administrative and political decisions, scientific research and public and private action for the realisation of the aim of sustainable development.


As a contribution to the realisation of the objectives of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg the Group of the eight leading economic nations (G8) at a summit meeting in Evian in 2003 decided on an Action Plan for the Development of Clean, Sustainable and Efficient Technologies for Sustainable Development. Great opportunities were especially seen in a more intensive international cooperation in earth observation.

Therefore the first "Earth Observation Summit" took place, upon invitation of the US Administration, in Washington D.C. on 31 July 2003. High-ranking representatives from more than 30 states as well as international organisations conferred on the structure of a worldwide coordination of the earth observation systems in support of the aims of Johannesburg. The following objectives were formulated in the Washington Declaration:

  • A better coordination of strategies for earth observation and of the existing systems. In this context possibilities to close data gaps should be identified. The overriding aim should be the establishment of a comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS);
  • joint efforts for the integration of developing countries;
  • exchanging observations from in situ and satellite-based systems in an open and cost-effective way.

The fundamental documents on GEOSS were further developed at two other political summits in Tokyo (2004) and Brussels (2005). A ten-year plan on the establishment of GEOSS was adopted at the Brussels Summit and the intergovernmental forum "Group on Earth Observations" (GEO) was brought into being. It was mandated with carrying out the establishment of GEOSS by implementing the ten-year plan. GEO itself does not implement any programmes. It is rather the GEO partner organisations and its member states which increasingly integrate their programmes into GEOSS in order to thus extend it by additional activities and to win partners from other specialised sectors. So GEOSS is increasing the visibility and efficiency of ongoing activities which contribute to the tasks of the GEO work programme. The original contributions of GEO and/or GEOSS mainly lie in the fields interconnectivity, setting-up of coordination structures and new incentives in many areas, e. g. space applications, geoinformation and infrastructure.

In March 2010, 80 Governments and the European Commission are members of GEO. 58 international organisations, especially operators of international infrastructure (satellites and measuring networks) contribute to GEO as "Participating Organisations". In support of their activities a GEO Secretariat was established at the WMO in Geneva. An Executive Committee controls GEO between the annual plenary meetings.


The working structures of GEO (Secretariat, Plenary, Summit, Executive Committee, the four Committees, Working Groups, Workshops) have essentially been established and they are working successfully and efficiently with a broad international participation. The architecture of GEOSS, too, and the interfaces with supporting systems (GEOSS components) have, in the meantime, been to a large extent defined. At the GEO Earth Observation Summit (Cape Town, 2007) a progress report was presented which, among other things, emphasizes 100 concrete successful examples of the implementation of the GEOSS work programme. This Summit also adopted the "Cape Town Declaration" which confirms the aim of GEOSS and defines central issues for the future years. They are mainly the promotion of the free exchange of data and the setting-up of structures for the operation of the central elements of GEOSS (web portal, register of the GEOSS components, cataloguing service).

An important step for the development of GEOSS was the initiation of a test operation of the GEO portal in June 2008, that is the point of access to the system of systems. This is accompanied by the beginning of the registration of the first GEOSS components.

GEOSS in Germany

The global aim of GEOSS - a user-oriented, comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable global earth observation system - is supported by Germany for many reasons:

  • Existing investments in the development and operation of national and international earth observation networks and systems are enhanced; a better supply of data and a simplified access to data lead to better results;
  • the convergence and standardisation of global data records accelerates and improves the understanding of supra-regional environmental processes and provides incentives in the fields of environmental and especially climate policy;
  • the convergence of data from different fields across sectoral borders makes new scientific findings possible;
  • the simplified access to data opens up new potentials for public and private services;
  • the international cooperation in the fields of earth system research and adaptation to climate change is strengthened and facilitates an agreement on adequate strategies for action;
  • the global coordination of earth observation strategies results in more consistent international data as a foundation for advising policymakers on global environmental issues.

The conception of GEOSS as "system of systems" means that existing systems and initiatives at international, European, national and state level are to be involved. The Global Climate Observing System GCOS, for example, is the climate observation component of GEOSS: The transposition of the GCOS implementation plan adopted by the Framework Convention on Climate Change is an important contribution to the development of GEOSS.

The Directive INSPIRE which entered into force in May 2007 and the development of the national GDI (GDI-DE) are determining factors in Germany for the development of a geo-data infrastructure (GDI). The European earth observation system Kopernikus (= GMES Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) which pursues the development of an operational European earth observation capacity will be an essential component of the observation capacity of GEOSS. In fact central German contributions to GEOSS are introduced indirectly via Kopernikus (GMES) or other international initiatives. National measuring systems can form capacities for GEOSS either indirectly, in the framework of European or international earth observation programmes, or directly.

In order to support the multidisciplinary orientation of GEOSS in the area of earth observation also on a national level, the Federal Ministry of Transport and digital Infrastructure (BMVI) (formerly Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs) initiated the initiative "D-GEO". Currently especially the federal authorities of various ministries whose area of responsibility is connected with GEO are actively cooperating in D-GEO. A D-GEO Secretariat was commissioned at the German Aerospace Centre DLR to coordinate Germany's cooperation in GEO/GEOSS and the EU and to support the national implementation. Often contributions to GEOSS come from research institutions which introduce their technical competence in the tasks of the GEO work programme and which sometimes also have taken the lead in their implementation.

In November 2006 the Federal Cabinet asked the Federal Ministry of Transport and digital Infrastructure (BMVI) to develop a strategy for the national implementation of GEOSS: The BMVI then presented, at the beginning of 2008, a National Plan for the Implementation of GEOSS (D-GIP). The D-GIP addresses superordinate issues and strategies of the German participation and recommends concrete measures. They are aimed at

  • the increased use of up-to-date earth observation technologies to improve public and private services,
  • a better national coordination in the area of earth observation,
  • the development of new, promising earth observation technologies,
  • the safeguarding of the long-term availability of the important earth observation systems,
  • the extension of the development cooperation based on partnership for the setting-up, operation and use of earth observation systems,
  • the extension of the national geo-data infrastructure,
  • the consistent implementation of international standards,
  • the opening of data policy and
  • the introduction of national activities into GEOSS.

The D-GIP was adopted by the Interministerial Committee for Geo-Information (IMAGI) on 14 May 2008 and now forms the basis of the further national implementation.