Unlocking the Benefits of Earth Observation Data for All
We may not always realize it, but every day we depend on Earth observation data. Choosing the best routes, locating hospitals and receiving weather updates are all thanks to Earth observation.
Earth observation (EO) involves measuring the natural and man-made environments of the Earth to assess their condition and track changes. Balloons, planes, ships, floats, drones, and satellites are a few platforms used for data collection. OT data is essential for understanding the Earth and finds applications in various fields.
In particular, information derived from Earth observation data has supported – and still supports – response and recovery actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Where are the confirmed cases? What are the movement patterns? Where are the health facilities? What are the best routes for emergency services? Which areas are at higher risk of transmission? —Does the EO data answer some relevant questions. The pandemic has indeed highlighted the importance of access to reliable information.
Recognizing the importance of access to information, the United Nations declared September 28 as the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). This year’s theme is The right to know: rebuilding better through access to information. As the world recovers from the pandemic, access to OT’s data is paramount.
Let’s take a closer look at the factors accelerating access to EO data, the socio-economic benefits of accessing EO data, and the need for standards.
Democratized access to OT data: favorable factors
Democratization means making OT data easily accessible to everyone. But simply providing access is not enough. Users must be able to extract information. The problem is that extracting information requires specialized skills and resources. In addition, there are various providers of OT data, which makes it difficult to combine datasets.
Despite the challenges, all is not gloomy. Several factors make OT data more accessible and user-friendly.
Machine learning algorithms and scalable cloud technologies have made it possible to process huge volumes of EO data collected by satellites. For example, the Copernicus satellites produce 12 terabytes of data per day, which would be impossible to analyze without these technologies.
Another factor is the rise of platforms that aggregate and distribute data and OT processing algorithms. These platforms make it easy to combine and analyze datasets from multiple large-scale data providers to gain new insights.
In addition, several providers make their EO data available free of charge: In 2008, the US Geological Survey made data from its Landsat satellites free. The European Space Agency has also adopted a free and open data policy for its Sentinel data.
Finally, partnerships between government and commercial data providers (such as Norway’s partnership with Planet) to provide EO data to the public further boost the accessibility and use of EO data.
From data to information: the socio-economic benefits of democratizing access to OT data
Earth observation supports evidence-based decision making, resulting in socio-economic benefits. While quantifying these benefits remains a challenge, a study by AlphaBeta reports that in 2016, the geospatial services industry generated $ 400 billion in revenue.
In addition, the Group on Earth Observation and the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites have established that Earth observation data can support and inform official statistics and indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals ( ODD). This would save money on traditional methods of collecting data which are time consuming and expensive.
Most importantly, OT can provide the data needed to tackle critical challenges such as climate change, deforestation, food security and natural disasters.
Statistics from the United Nations show that in 2020, 2.37 billion people either had no food or could not eat regularly with a balanced diet. Of these, 70 to 161 million people are likely to have suffered from hunger due to the pandemic. With the rise in food insecurity, agricultural production must increase to meet demand.
Optimizing yields and protecting crops against bad weather are therefore essential. Easily accessible EO data provides information on crop health, weather and soil conditions. Putting such actionable information in the hands of farmers can lead to increased food production for the benefit of entire communities. One example is the Gezira project, where farmers quadrupled their wheat yields while conserving water and other inputs using satellite information.
Another area that benefits from accessible EO data is climate monitoring and climate-related disaster management. Earth observations provide rich data on greenhouse gas emissions, forests, sea levels and glaciers, which are crucial for long-term climate monitoring.
In the short term, access to OT’s data plays a crucial role in monitoring and responding to climate-related disasters, such as floods, forest fires and storms, saving lives and reducing damage. materials. AlphaBeta reports that in 2016, emergency response times decreased by 20% due to geospatial services.
These are just a few of the long list of benefits of democratizing OO data access. Realizing the full potential of OT requires data integration, which is not possible without standards.
A solid foundation: the need for standards
OT data is collected from different locations, using different sensors, in different formats. Integrating such disparate data sets is a challenge. The only way to overcome this challenge is to agree and adopt a set of standards.
Indeed, building back better calls for collaboration. Standards break down the communication barrier, opening up new perspectives.
Towards increased access to OT data
The democratization of access to OT data has many advantages. The main one being that it facilitates the meeting between people and data. Access can enable people and organizations to innovate, promote sustainable development and stimulate economic growth.
While great strides have been made in increasing access to EO data, what can be done to push for greater access? Are the existing regulatory frameworks and standards adequate? And how do we measure progress and recognize success?
(The author is the Head of Public Relations and Communications, UP42)