3rd GEOSS Science and Technology Stakeholder Workshop
March 23-25, 2015, Norfolk, VA, USA

Scope | Deadlines | Venue | Logistics | Committees | Participation | Output | Abstracts | Registration | Accommodation | Sessions | Schedule | Program

Workshop infos

Co-Located Events

Relevant Links and Documents

  • [April 15, 2015] Date of EV Workshop in Bari, Italy, fixed: The EV workshop organized by the ConnectinGEO project will take place on June 11-12, 2015 in Bari, Italy.
  • [March 24, 2015] Essential Variable Workshop in Bari, Italy: The ConnectinGEO project is organizing a workshop on essential variables for the GEO SBAs in Bari, Italy. The exact date is still tbd, but the most likely dates are June 11-12, 2015. Download the Workshop Flyer ...
  • [March 21, 2015] Breakout Session Questions: Questions to be considered in the breakout sessions are now available. See here for all questions.
  • [March 20, 2015] Weather in Norfolk: The forecast for the weekend and most of the week is indicating that we will have partly sunny weather with a chance of rain towards Thursday and Friday. Day temperatures will be somewhere in the 9 to 18oC range. See the most recent full forecast here.
  • [March 17, 2015] Draft GEO Strategic Plan available: The Implementation Plan Working Group (IPWG) has made available a new version of the Draft Strategic Plan for GEO for 2015 to 2025. Download the pdf ...


Informing Sustainability: 2015 is a year of important decisions preparing humanity's Road to Dignity. Our leaders need comprehensive information about the state and trends of the planet, including our global society, to make progress on this road to sustainability and dignity. The workshop linked societal goals to essential variables needed to measure progress towards these goals and discuss research innovations in support of sustainable development.


Our planet is rapidly changing and moving out of the Holocene. Navigating and managing the changes and maintaining a sustainable development is complex. We need to have goals and targets related to sustainable development, understand the limits of what is a safe and sustainable development, know the ongoing changes, and have foresight about the impact of our actions on the planet. The workshop brought together the science that links our goals with the “navigation tools,” that is, the indicators of change, and the Earth observations required to quantify these indicators.

A main outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, was the agreement by Member States to initiate a process to develop a set of “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). Motivated by the partial success during the decade from 2005 to 2015 of achieving the “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs), the SGDs would serve as the driver for progress towards the decade from 2015 to 2025. Since RIO+20, a number of groups have been active in developing the set of goals, with the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development (OWG) being central in the process. In July 2014, the OWG published its proposal for the SGDs (see the Outcome Documents of the 13th Session of the OWG), and in December 2014, the Secretary General added a synthesis report detailing The Road to Dignity. Both, for MDGs and SDGs, metrics that can measure progress towards the goals are important. The OWG has identified a set of indicators for the SDGs, which aim for consistency with the indicators used for the MDGs. These indicators are currently refined by technical teams. Many of these indicators are environment-related and require comprehensive Earth observations for a reliable quantification.

The concept of a safe operating space for humanity (SOSH) is central to sustainability. The global boundaries of the SOSH are partly known quantitatively, and partly blured, with potential thresholds still unknown. A better quantification of the boundaries and a monitoring of the state of the planet with respect to these boundaries depends on comprehensive Earth observations.

Major scientific organizations have identified grand research challenges that need to be addressed in order to provide the knowledge needed to make progress towards global sustainability. The required research also depends on a comprehensive and accessible Earth observation database. Research innovations are needed at many scales to address the grand challenges and to make progress towards the societal goals.

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) is implemented the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) with the goal to improve access to, and the use of, Earth observations for a broad range of stakeholders. The 10 Year Implementation Plan for GEOSS endorsed by a Ministerial Summit in 2005 states “GEOSS was a step toward addressing the challenges articulated by United Nations Millennium Declaration and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, including the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. GEOSS will also further the implementation of international environmental treaty obligations.” The recent Ministerial Summit on Earth Observation held in January 2014 in Geneva (see meeting documents) underlined the importance of the SGDs and of GEO focusing the development of GEOSS on the information needs that arise from humanity's quest for the SGDs.

The Implementation Plan Working Group (IPWG) initiated during the Ministerial Summit in 2014 with the mandate to draft the next 10 Year Implementation Plan for GEOSS provided in March 2015 a first report summarizing the first “reflective phase” of the IPWG and laying out the scheme for the further development of GEOSS. At the XI GEO Plenary, the IPWG provided a draft Strategic Plan. The workshop built on these reports and discussed the science and metric needed to achieve the goals indicated in these report.

With this in mind, the 3rd GEOSS S&T Stakeholder Workshop focussed on the knowledge needs of the global and national decision makers to enable progress towards global sustainability on a changing planet. The workshop used the priorities of the discusion on the SGDs, the preliminary indicators, the grand challenges, and the global boundaries of the SOSH as a starting point in the discussion of the science of sustainability indicators with the goal to derive a comprehensive sustainability metrics. The workshop addressed to what extent the current and planned Earth observation systems would allow a quantification of the indicators comprising this metrics.

Outcomes of the workshop include a refined set of global sustainability indicators, the essential variables required to quantify these indicators, and an assessment of the capability of current and future Earth observation systems to provide observations of these essential variable with sufficient spatial and temporal resolution, accuracy, and latency.

Scientists and researchers engaged in environmental research supporting the current MDGs and the future SDGs and addressing the grand challenges are key stakeholders of GEOSS. Aligning the governing strategy for the implementation of GEOSS to the needs of these stakeholders has a high priority for GEO. The workshop reviewed the support of GEOSS for research on global sustainability and provided guidance on how to improve this support.