Committee on Earth Observation Satellites
First meeting of the
IGOS Strategic Implementation Team
Irvine, California, 6-7 February 1997
(Topic 2)

As might be anticipated the potential advantages for an IGOS all basically stem from the benefits of improved international cooperation and coordination. As has been stated before those benefits arise from the impossibility of any single nation providing itself with all its needed observations either because of costs in the case of space observations or logistically in the case of many in situ observations. The need for cooperation also arises from the fact that useful products often require the integration of multiple observations from multiple sources.

One fundamental issue relating to IGOS is in the identification of what it could contribute, that can not be achieved through existing national and international mechanisms.

To address this question it is necessary first to indicate the likely nature of IGOS. In my view it should be an overarching strategy for global observations allowing those involved in their collection to improve their contributions and in particular to allow improved decisions on the allocation of resources. Ultimately IGOS will be judged by whether it enables better observations to be derived in a more cost-effective manner in a more timely fashion than without it.

IGOS should not represent an attempt to create a centralized decision-making organization, nor should it replace existing international structures which successfully contribute to current global observations. Rather it should build upon current successes with additional efforts being directed in those areas where satisfactory international arrangements and structures do not currently exist.

It would be difficult, if not impossible for an IGOS to satisfy both national and international needs. Individual nations and groups of nations will always have their own individually defined priorities for observations and these will be the drivers when allocating their resources. The role of IGOS should be to help nations make better decisions in the allocation of resources to meet their own priorities, taking advantage of better international collaboration and coordination.

What are the types of activities that would indicate IGOS is worthwhile? (Note that I am trying to develop a typology rather than provide specific examples) :

1) Reduce unnecessary duplication of observations. I would anticipate this would relate particularly to space observations and would be effective primarily in the planning stages such that future unnecessary duplication was eliminated. (I purposely use the adjective "unnecessary" since some duplication may be desirable).

2) Make possible improvements in other observational components through reallocation of resources saved by reducing duplication. (Of course those outside of the "observational business" might decide they have better things to do with any saved resources. A better way to look at things might be that it could enable agencies better to deal with shrinking budgets).

3) Assist in the improved allocation of resources between different types of observational systems (e.g. between space and in situ observations). (Note this might not be something welcomed by space agencies.)

4) Make possible the creation of improved higher level products by facilitating the integration of multiple data sets from different agencies, national and international organizations. This could include a wide variety of tasks from development of international agreements concerning the exchange of data, to technical issues concerning the formats and protocols of data exchange, to pricing policies, and coordination of inter-instrument calibration. Of course the emphasis would have to be on the role of IGOS in identifying where there were deficiencies in current capabilities that could only be solved through improved international coordination and which were unlikely to develop through existing mechanisms.

5) Improve the likelihood of continuity and spatial comprehensiveness of key observations. One could imagine that improved timing of the launch of sensors, better coordination of the overpass time for polar orbiters, better coordination of the deployment of in situ observations for cal/val are all activities where better international coordination could make a substantial contribution and where a high level overview would be of value. In terms of spatial comprehensiveness it is clear that many developing countries will have increasing problems in maintaining their contributions to in situ observational systems, which are not only locally important but which are of global relevance. An effective integrated strategy should be capable of identifying these and in assisting the deployment of resources to reduce such deficiencies through mechanisms such as aid programs.

6) Identify situations where existing international arrangements do not exist for the management and distribution of key global observations and products (or groups of observations and products) and assist in their development and enhancement. For example there are many terrestrial sets of observations where such coordination does not yet exist.

7) Assist in the transitioning of systems from research to operational status through improved international coordination. Again it is not suggested that IGOS would have an exclusive role here, just that in those situations where either costs or logistics make efforts by one or two countries inadequate, an IGOS could provide a useful framework within which new observational capabilities could be prioritized and resources committed for long term continuity.

8) Provide improved understanding for governments of the need for global observations through the presentation of an overarching view of their capabilities and limitations.

I will leave it to others to add other possible activities. In developing specific examples of these types of activities, the essential thing must be to identify ones, which can be better achieved by the existence of an overall strategy and improved international coordination. IGOS would, of course, have no exclusive role in achieving the above goals, since many might be more effectively achieved through bilateral cooperation and even in some cases simply through inter-agency coordination within an individual country.

John Townshend
Department of Geography
University of Maryland College Park

IGOS Homepage  Earthwatch Homepage

Maintained for IGOS by UN System-wide Earthwatch Coordination, UNEP Geneva