New Global Service To Broadcast Vital Environmental Data

At an international conference on Nov. 28 in Bonn, Germany, the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) introduced GEONETCast, a near real time, global network of satellite-based data dissemination systems.

Not fully operational yet, but once it is, "this service will put a vast range of essential environmental data at the fingertips of decision makers and many others around the globe who might not otherwise have timely access to this information. With a 24/7 data stream, GEONETCast will provide the critical information required to protect lives and more effectively manage a world of resources," said José Achache, director of the GEO Secretariat.

With contributions from many nations and organizations, GEONETCast is a cooperative effort being organized by the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, or EUMETSAT, the United States, China and the World Meteorological Organization.

"GEONETCast is a milestone in the growing Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). As an interconnected global network of near real-time regional dissemination systems, GEONETCast will link environmental data providers and users across the globe," said Lars Prahm, EUMETSAT director general.

GEO is providing an international framework in which participating governments and organizations will cooperatively implement GEOSS. With 66 countries, the European Commission and 43 international organizations, GEO is leading a worldwide effort to design a "system of systems" that will work in an integrated fashion. Working with and building upon existing national, regional and international systems, GEOSS will yield a broad range of basic societal benefits, including the reduction of loss of life and property from tsunamis, hurricanes and other natural disasters; improved water resource and energy management; and improved understanding of environmental factors significant to public health. With a global capacity, GEONETCast will be one of the key data dissemination systems within GEOSS, officials said.

Through GEONETCast, data about disease, agriculture, biodiversity, natural disasters, air and water quality, ocean conditions, ecosystems and much more will be broadcast in free or low-cost, near real-time, user-friendly formats.

"GEONETCast will help us take the pulse of the planet. This global service will provide steady access to data needed to better understand the links between the environment and important sectors such as public health. Integrating environmental data with data about disease vectors, pollutants, rainfall and sea surface temperature, for instance, can help in predicting, mitigating and even preventing health threats before they become a crisis," said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., Ph.D., undersecretary of Commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Lautenbacher is GEO co-chair for the United States.

During the GEO conference in Bonn, a presentation showed how South Africa receives data that precisely measure vegetation activity across the country. Gathered by satellites and broadcast by GEONETCast 24x7, the information is critical to food security. The information also can be applied to mitigating disasters from drought, wildfires and floods, as well as monitoring both air and water pollution patterns and outbreaks of diseases such as malaria and meningitis. As one example, sites of schools and villages where people need to be vaccinated can be identified.

Zoran Stancic, GEO co-chair from the European Commission, added that, "In Europe, we are extremely pleased with this flagship example of global co-operation in the GEO framework. It has enormous potential for the implementation of European policies in the domain of the environment, climate and sustainable development. We are also proud that the system is based on an existing European system run by EUMETSAT to broadcast weather and environmental data."

Additional information on GEONETCast can be found at http://www.earthobservations.org/progress/GEONETCast.html.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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