IGOS homepage
Draft 3 of 24 February 1999

and the IGOS Partnership


The Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) unites the major satellite and surface-based systems for global environmental observations of the atmosphere, oceans and land. It is a strategic planning process, involving many partners, that links research, long-term monitoring and operational programmes, as well as data producers and users, in a framework that delivers maximum benefit and effectiveness. 

IGOS focusses primarily on the observing dimension of the process of providing environmental information for decision-making. The strategy covers all forms of data collection concerning the physical, chemical and biological environments of the planet, as well as data on the human environment, on human pressures on the natural environment, and on environmental impacts on human well-being. It recognizes that data collection must be user driven, leading to information products which increase scientific understanding and guide early warning, policy-setting and decision-making for sustainable development and environmental protection. 

Why an IGOS?

Since the range of global observations needed to understand and monitor Earth processes, and to assess human impacts, exceeds the scientific, technical and financial capability of any one country, cooperation is necessary. Everyone should understand the overall needs and their respective roles, so that they can address priorities without duplication or omission. Satellite missions and in situ networks require many years of planning, while continuity and coherence need to be assured between national programmes. Observations of the state of and trends in planetary processes cut across land, water, air and oceans. National programmes need to fit into larger international frameworks, since the environment does not stop at national boundaries. Such complex activities require integration at many levels. Thus both a strategic framework and a planning process are needed to bring together remotely-sensed and in situ observations, from both research and operational programmes. 

Processes and Components

IGOS provides the framework that enables data suppliers to respond to requirements that have been set by users. It involves processes that determine deficiencies, identify resources to remedy such deficiencies, and improve not only the observational programmes but also the various stages through which observations are turned into useful products. Finally the products and observations are monitored and analyzed to ensure they are fulfilling their goals. 

The components of IGOS have considerable strategic importance, cutting across all observing activities. Major thrusts of IGOS as it proceeds will include: strengthening space-based/in situ linkages to improve the balance between satellite remote sensing and ground- or ocean-based observing programmes; encouraging the transition from research to operational environmental observations within appropriate institutional structures; improving data policies and facilitating data access and exchange; stimulating better archiving of data to build the long-term time series necessary to monitor environmental change; and increasing attention to harmonization, quality assurance and calibration/validation so that data can be used more effectively. 

Meeting User Needs

Lines of communication and dialogue are being established with the principal user groups and institutions to determine the needs for global environmental information for decision-making, including: international decision-making bodies such as the UN General Assembly, the Commission on Sustainable Development, and the conferences of parties to international and regional conventions; international organizations, convention secretariats, and international scientific advisory processes; national governments and their relevant ministries; decision-makers and senior advisors; the scientific community and international research programmes; the private sector; non-governmental and public service organizations; the media, journalists, and others specialized in communications; the general public, grass-roots users and major groups. 


The Integrated Global Observing Strategy represents the convergence of several processes. The Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) coordinates national agencies launching satellites. Integrated research programmes on global change are being implemented through the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), and encouraged by the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change Research (IGFA). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC), International Council for Science (ICSU), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have jointly sponsored the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) to organize global-scale operational observations of the climate, oceans and land surface. Together all these organizations have formed an IGOS Partnership. 

CEOS began preliminary steps toward an integrated global observing strategy in 1992. In 1996, CEOS sponsored an ad hoc meeting on the space component of an Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS), while the three global observing systems held a meeting for in situ observations. CEOS then set up a Strategic Implementation Team to demonstrate the value of an integrated approach with prototype projects, and an Analysis Group to review the relation between capabilities and requirements, producing a scoping paper and a paper defining the concept of an integrated global observation strategy. At the same time, FAO, ICSU, UNEP, UNESCO and its IOC, and WMO established a Sponsors Group to develop a common strategy for the three Global Observing Systems (G3OS), and produced an integrated strategic planning document for the global observing systems as a contribution to IGOS. The two groups began joint meetings in September 1997 and agreed at the First IGOS Partners Meeting in June 1998 to establish a continuing IGOS Partnership. The Second IGOS Partners Meeting in November 1998 adopted an umbrella document as the framework for additional components of the strategy, including a space component and an in-situ component now being developed. 


The IGOS Partnership provides a continuing mechanism to oversee the IGOS process, with meetings arranged among the partners twice a year in association with CEOS Plenary sessions and meetings of the Sponsors Group for the Global Observing Systems. 

IGOS encourages the use of modular approaches to strategies for specific components, elements or processes that need to be integrated. More detailed strategies exist or are being developed for a number of sub-components. The CEOS Strategic Implementation Team is taking the lead in developing the space component of an IGOS, while the G3OS and their sponsors will prepare an in situ component during 1999. These nested processes of strategic planning at different levels of integration are an important part of the IGOS process, allowing each subsidiary group, module or partnership to work out the specifics at its own level. Where the IGOS Partners see the need for additional sub-components, they can stimulate the interested bodies to begin their own strategic process within the IGOS framework. IGOS itself helps to cap and interrelate these sub-components. 

The IGOS partners are also considering thematic approaches to particular categories, cross-cutting themes or domains of observations. This can assure some coherence in the IGOS approach to different issues, while achieving a focus on specific priorities, such as oceans, disaster management, or carbon storage and cycling, with the potential to progress rapidly through joint planning activities. 

Most environmental observations come from national activities contributed by national governments through their agencies, ministries and research programmes, and their commitment is essential to the effective implementation of IGOS. Building support for and participation in IGOS processes at the national level is a major activity for IGOS. 

The CEOS Strategic Implementation Team initiated six prototype demonstration projects to show the benefits of an integrated strategic approach: Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE); Upper Air Measurements; Long-term Continuity of Ozone Measurements; Global Observation of Forest Cover; Long-term Ocean Biology Measurements; and Disaster Management Support. Each addresses a specific issue for an integrated observing strategy, requires a defined set of tools, associates a wide set of partners, and is expected to produce specific products or results to demonstrate the IGOS concept. Other demonstration projects may be adopted by the IGOS Partners as necessary to push the whole strategic process forward and to build commitment to particular modules or processes. 

Identification of gaps to be filled and activities to be strengthened is another continuing function of IGOS. The Global Observing Systems Space Panel (GOSSP) assists this process. A next step will be to use existing and, as necessary, new structures to achieve the continuing implementation of IGOS. 

The IGOS process promotes awareness of the value of implementing IGOS and hence the need for resources to be made available at a relevant level, and of the benefits arising from integrated global observations in contributing to meeting the political objectives that have been set to improve the way we understand and manage the Earth. 

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