EU BON and the European Space Agency: Earth Observations to support biodiversity monitoring

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Europe’s gateway to space. Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world.  ESA is an international organisation with 20 Member States.

How is EU BON connected to space research? As a speaker at the EU BON General Meeting, which took place on Crete between 30 March - 3 April 2014, Marc Paganini of the European Space Agency explains the collaboration between ESA and GEO BON, and how EU BON is involved.

In the following interview he continues the topic:


Marc Paganini (left) and Dirk Schmeller (right) at the EU BON General Meeting 2014

1) For most of the general public space and biodiversity research hardly have anything to do with each other, can you explain how the European Space Agency (ESA) and the idea of remote sensing communities make these two meet?

It is widely recognized that in-situ observations available on biological diversity are very scarce for most of the Earth’s ecosystems and are often insufficient for determining precisely the global status and trends of biodiversity worldwide. In most cases, satellite Earth Observations do not provide a direct measurement of biodiversity but, if properly used with ground collection of biodiversity data and species and habitat modeling, remote sensing can become an important and essential component of biodiversity monitoring systems. There are multiple cases where remote sensing is often the only instrument that can offer large scale monitoring, as for example in highly variable ecosystems such as wetlands or in remote areas that can hardly be monitored by field campaigns.

The recent and future evolution of the portfolio of EO satellites offers huge potential for increasing the use of EO products into biodiversity monitoring systems. The lack of data continuity has always been a barrier for the biodiversity community to invest in EO technology.  A commitment from Space Agencies to provide sustained observations on the long term is a strong incentive for the biodiversity community to invest in Space. The Sentinel series of the European Copernicus program, together with the freely available data from other space agencies such as the Landsat family of the US Geological Survey, will bring unprecedented long-term continuity of observations for the biodiversity community. In that context, free and open data policy to taxpayer-funded satellite remote sensing imagery is becoming a "de facto" standard amongst Space Agencies and a unique opportunity for the biodiversity community to use widely EO products to monitor biodiversity trends.

2) How is the ESA involved with the aims of EU BON, where do the two initiatives intersect?

ESA and many other Space Agencies are becoming more and more committed in helping the biodiversity community at large, in improving their capacity to use remote sensing data for monitoring biodiversity trends.

First there is a coordinated action from all Space Agencies through the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) and its involvement in the Group of Earth Observation (GEO). The GEO is a voluntary partnership of governments and international organizations who engaged jointly in developing a comprehensive, coordinated and sustained system of observations of the Earth with the ultimate objective to enhance scientifically-sound decision making. Biodiversity is one of the primary societal benefit areas of GEO and is addressed by the GEO Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON). CEOS is actively involved in GEO BON, principally through the participation to its steering committee of the European, US and German Space Agencies, namely ESA, NASA and DLR. Since EU BON is the principal European contribution to GEO BON, and has, amongst its objectives, the aim to integrate biodiversity data from ground observations to remote sensing information, ESA is directly concerned by the EU BON development in using remote sensing for terrestrial, freshwater and marine realms.

Second, ESA has its own EO application development programs, and funds a wide range of Research & Development projects for biodiversity and ecosystem services. In that context, ESA has established close relationships with the European Environment Agency (EEA) but also with the secretariats and scientific bodies of major Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA) such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands. The findings of the ESA-funded EO projects on biodiversity and ecosystem services are highly relevant to EU BON. It is therefore expected that the ESA and EU BON activities in relation to the use of RS for biodiversity monitoring will offer some convergence of evidence showcases for the whole biodiversity community.

3) How do you see the future of collaboration with EU BON?

The high potential for satellite Earth Observations to support biodiversity monitoring is growing but is yet to be fully realised. The recent efforts of GEO BON, supported by the GEO Plenary and the CBD Conference of the Parties, to define a set of minimum essential observational requirements to monitor biodiversity trends will give considerable impetus for space agencies and for the remote sensing community to focus their work on a small set of well defined EO products that will serve the needs of the biodiversity community at large. In that context ESA is firmly engaged in supporting the development of these emerging Essential Biodiversity Variables (EBVs). EU BON together with ESA can be pioneers in the early development and demonstration.

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flag big This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement No 308454.