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ESA leads endeavour to save Earth Science data

The amount of information being generated about our planet is increasing at an exponential rate, but it must be easily accessible in order to apply it to the global needs relating to the state of the Earth.

GENESI-DR (Ground European Network for Earth Science Interoperations - Digital Repositories), an ESA-led, European Commission (EC)-funded two-year project, is taking the lead in providing reliable, easy, long-term access to Earth Science data via the Internet.

"We shall soon be receiving petabytes of data about our planet from space, so data access will be a major logistical problem. The EC has funded GENESI-DR as a flagship project in Europe to help meet this challenge," said Prof. Alan O'Neill, Director of the National Centre for Earth Observation at the University of Reading.

GENESI-DR will allow scientists from different Earth Science disciplines located across Europe to locate, access, combine and integrate historical and fresh Earth-related data from space, airbourne and in-situ sensors archived in large distributed repositories.

Currently, information about the state of the Earth, relevant services, analysis results, applications and tools are accessible in a very scattered and uncoordinated way, often through individual initiatives from Earth Observation mission operators, scientific institutes dealing with ground measurements, service companies, data catalogues, etc.

A dedicated infrastructure providing transparent access to all this will support Earth Science communities by allowing them to easily and quickly derive objective information and share knowledge based on all environmentally sensitive domains.

The use of high-speed networks (GÉANT) and the experimentation of new technologies, like BitTorrent, will also contribute to better services for the Earth Science communities.

In order to reach its objectives, the GENESI-DR e-Infrastructure will be validated against user needs for accessing and sharing Earth Science data. Initially, four specific applications in the land, atmosphere and marine domains have been selected, including:

Near real time orthorectification for agricultural crops monitoring
Urban area mapping in support of emergency response
Data assimilation in GlobModel, addressing major environmental and health issues in Europe, with a particular focus on air quality
SeaDataNet to aid environmental assessments and to forecast the physical state of the oceans in near real time.
Other applications will complement this during the second half of the project.
"Data assimilation makes use of the diverse observational data now available to us and synthesises them into a coherent picture of the evolving state of the planet - a digital rendition of the real world," said O’Neill, who is working on GlobModel and GENESI-DR.

"No institution has all the skills in one place, but must be drawn from university and operational institutions distributed across many countries. With this objective in mind for Europe, ESA funded the GlobModel project and GENESI-DR could represent the way to ensure easy access to all necessary data and resources."

GENESI-DR also aims to develop common approaches to preserve the historical archives and the ability to access the derived user information as both software and hardware transformations occur.

Ensuring access to Earth Science data for future generations is of utmost importance because it allows for the continuity of knowledge generation improvement. For instance, scientists accessing today’s climate change data in 50 years will be able to better understand and detect trends in global warming and apply this knowledge to ongoing natural phenomena.

GENESI-DR will work towards harmonising operations and applying approved standards, policies and interfaces at key Earth Science data repositories. To help with this undertaking, GENESI-DR will establish links with the relevant organisations and programmes such as space agencies, institutional environmental programmes, international Earth Science programmes and standardisation bodies.

From an industry point of view, Stefano Beco, the Innovation and Advanced Applications Group Manager for Elsag Datamat, one of the Directors of the project, said the project’s infrastructure, which is based on state-of-the-art technologies such as Grid, will pave the way for them introducing new services in the Earth Science domain from a scientific and commercial viewpoint.

"We believe that GENESI-DR will push towards an easily accessible 'virtual repository', where an extremely large set of valuable scientific information will be available to small and medium enterprises and large companies, providing benefits to different actors, from data providers to service providers to end users," Beco said.

Mariangela D'Acunto | alfa
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