A Renewed Commitment to Unleashing Open Data about the Earth

Data about the Earth have long been vital to our Nation’s progress. Thomas Jefferson looked to Lewis and Clark to collect and bring back weather, water, and other data from their expeditions, and used those data to guide the development of frontier settlements and spur economic growth. 

That tradition continues today on a global scale, as the United States and other nations collect and share high quality  data about the Earth that can help save lives and grow the economy. Data about weather systems, crops, and ecosystems, for example, help growers plan for planting and harvesting, help speed relief to disaster victims, and provide accurate information to decision makers and resource managers in every region of the country.

Many nations around the world invest in the collection of data about the Earth, using a diverse array of sophisticated scientific instruments, and storing data that are collected in many different formats. Cooperation among partner nations is critically important to ensuring that scientists, researchers, decision makers, and innovators can extract the best value from these large and diverse datasets—wherever they may originate.

The United States works to achieve this goal by collaborating closely with international partners as part of the Group on Earth Observations, or GEO. 

Last week, at a series of meetings in Geneva, the United States marked its founding role in establishing GEO a decade ago—which today comprises 90 members and 77 participating organizations—and celebrated an important milestone as GEO’s charter was renewed for another 10 years.

GEO is a collaborative and voluntary multi-national organization built on the bedrock principle of open data. Its mandate is to help connect the many thousands of individual technological tools around the world that work each day to measure, monitor, and predict the state of Earth’s land, waters, and atmosphere.

Working together, GEO’s partner governments and participating organizations aim to enhance the interoperability of Earth-systems data in key priority areas, so that decision makers can more accurately understand how Earth systems work.

Today, for instance, GEO is advancing a number of open-data-driven efforts to increase the interoperability of Earth Observations to meet specific needs, including better understanding the links between human health and environmental change; improving forecasting of agricultural productivity; and supporting the development of a cholera early warning system and a new global ocean-acidification network.

The United States, partner GEO members, and participating organizations serve as global ambassadors for free and open data about the Earth—a mission that resonates with the Executive Order issued by President Obama last May calling upon all Federal agencies to ensure that newly developed data sets are released in open and machine-readable formats.

Freshly chartered for another decade of progress, GEO will continue to tackle the challenging task of connecting the world’s Earth-observation networks and helping to open new frontiers of scientific understanding for the benefit of people and nations around the globe.

Learn more about GEO here.

Peter Colohan is Assistant Director for Environmental Information at OSTP

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