GEO-XIII Plenary: Advancing the Vision of GEO



GEO-XIII Plenary with inset images of Palace Square in the snow and the GEO Poster.


A surprise November blizzard greeted us in St. Petersburg for GEO-XIII, but unlike Washington DC, that's no reason for a snow day--it was business as usual along the Neva River as the Plenary got into full swing. Dr. Stephen Volz, National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) Assistant Administrator, led the U.S. delegation and represented NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan as the U.S. co-chair.


Night and Day comparison of the Winter Palace in the snow

U.S. Delegation lead Stephen Volz, NESDIS Administrator with U.S. Delegation team member Yana Gevorgyan

U.S. Delegation lead Steve Volz, NESDIS Assistant Administrator with U.S. Delegation team member Yana Gevorgyan. Photo Credit: NOAA/IOOS


The week stared off with several smaller events in the lead-up. The United States' small delegation covered as many of the events as possible, and chaired the event on Air Quality, co-chaired the AmeriGEOSS event and led the event on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Highlights include:

Air Quality: Small sensor technology is being evaluated by both the United States and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Data fusion is an important new direction. Combining small sensors, remote sensing, and in-situ monitoring may lead developing regions towards a more efficient and economical air quality monitoring strategy.

GEO data sharing workshop: While there are policies in place, data sharing is not where we would like it to be globally. Barriers include:

  • national security
  • acknowledgement of the data contributor
  • administrative costs to share data

Slide introducing AmeriGEOSS


AmeriGEOSS: Presentation offered a good summary of countries' activities. AmeriGEOSS platform was announced and well received.

GEOGLOWS: The new Global Wetlands Observing System (GWOS) is seeking coordination and collaboration, and sees the GEOGLOWS (GEO Global Water Sustainability) initiative as an interfacing initiative with GEO BON (Biodiversity Observation Network), GEco (GEO Ecosystems), AquaWatch, and IGWCO (Integrated Global Water Cycle Observations). WaterLex, a Switzerland-based NGO, wants to work with GEOGLOWS/GEO Water Societal Benefit Area to develop a map describing the water situation in each country to inform their work on the human right to water and for policy advice.


GEO Member representatives sit on panel at GEO-XIII


The plenary itself was called to order by Philemon Mjwara, Director-General, Department of Science and Technology, Republic of South Africa GEO co-chair.

GEO-St Petersburg was hosted by the Russian federal service for hydrometerology and environmental monitoring ROSHYDROMET, Russian state space corporation ROSCOSMOS and 14 agencies and ministers. There were 400 delegates and 110 delegations from member nations and participating organizations. There were 20 side events, and 75 commercial participants.

GEO changed the format of the plenary to include panels that engaged the community. The first panel was focused on GEO flagships and initiatives in support of users’ needs, the second focused on data and the third on commercial sector engagement. Keys to engagement are:

  1. responding to an issue
  2. UN mandate in the case for the SDG
  3. have users as part of the steering committee
  4. recognize that the various bodies of GEO need to work together to deliver the results needed

The key take away from the panel was that this new decade of GEO is to be outwardly focused.

On the second panel, the moderator ended with a question to the panelists: If you had a magic wand, what is the one thing you would wish for? And the wishes were:

  • Realtime data at my fingertips is nirvana (USA)
  • Moving from sharing as many data as possible to share data as good as we can (European Commission)
  • Working together to advance forecasting a month ahead to benefit socio-economics for all nations (Zhang, World Meteorological Organization)
  • See framework of EV to all domains; common language across interdisciplinary areas (Masó-Pau, CREAF)
  • In countries that don’t have the same capabilities to access the data, who will write the killer app that makes all the data available to all countries? (CEOS)

Panelists on stage at the GEO Plenary Commercial Sector Engagement panel


GEO has spent the last year thinking about how to engage the commercial sector, and this culminated in a panel of companies to discuss with their thoughts. After a robust dialog the GEO community agrees that they are keen to continue in a meaningful engagement with industry in order to learn from each other and increase the use of earth observations by both GEO and the commercial companies.



Messages about earth observing addressed to the U.S. President-elect.

Messages about earth observing addressed to the U.S. President-elect. Photo Credit: NOAA/IOOS

Whiteboard with poll results for observing system


The United States exhibit, which I was a part of, debuted a new look this year. We focused on the observing platforms and their uses within the United States, how we partner internationally, and specifically how the United States supports the activities of GEO. Since GEO took place the week of the elections we got in the spirit by asking GEO members to cast their ballots for their favorite observing systems in various categories and invited them to post messages to the U.S. President-elect on the importance of earth observations.

As expected, the closing statements by the co-chairs offered a lot of food for thought and excellent take-aways. My personal highlights were:

  • Robert-Jan Smits, EC, honored to be co-chair lead for the next year. "I will call on each of you to help me to make 2017 a GEO success & accelerate the pace."
  • Pendge Li, China "Expect closer cooperation of GEO and GGIM at local, regional and global level."
  • Steve Volz, USA, "GEO Plenary was successful experiment through the panels, and we look forward to engaging with you to make next year’s plenary as dynamic."
The U.S. Delegation at GEO-XIII St. Petersburg.  L-R: Zdenka Wilis (NOAA/IOOS), Lawrence Friedl (NASA), Matthew Connors (NASA/Booz Allen), Frank Kelly (CEOS/USGS), Nancy Searby (NASA), John Matuszak (State), Phil Dickerson (EPA), Ivan Deloatch (FGDC/USGS), Yana Gevorgyan (NOAA/NESDIS), Steve Volz (NOAA/NESDIS)

The U.S. Delegation at GEO-XIII St. Petersburg. L-R: Zdenka Wilis (NOAA/IOOS), Lawrence Friedl (NASA), Matthew Connors (NASA/Booz Allen), Frank Kelly (CEOS/USGS), Nancy Searby (NASA), John Matuszak (State), Phil Dickerson (EPA), Ivan Deloatch (FGDC/USGS), Yana Gevorgyan (NOAA/NESDIS), Steve Volz (NOAA/NESDIS). Photo Credit: NOAA/IOOS

The United States then announced that we would be hosting the GEO XIV Plenary in 2017 in Washington DC. Watch the Video here in high resolution or web-optimized for streaming!


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