On 1 and 2 March, ESRIN, the ESA Centre for Earth Observation near Frascati, Rome, hosts a worldwide meeting related to the activity of the United Nations Spatial Data Infrastructure (UNSDI).
The 'UNSDI Global Partners meeting' is a unique chance to estabilish an institutional and technical dialogue between UN and its Member States, pushing the international community to a radical change in the management, quick dissemination and effective use of geospatial data, as satellite imagery and related products.
"At this point Earth observations from space foster a lot of applications," says Jeff Tschirley (FAO), Co-Chair of the United Nations Geospatial Information Working Group (UNGIWG). "Examples span from safeguarding UNESCO World Heritage sites to the management of natural resources; from environmental protection to the management of drinking water; from food safety to humanitarian response in case of natural disasters, to the forecast of endemic diseases as malaria or avian flu."
Long before the space age, the pioneers Tsiolkoskij and Oberth planned space observatories to study our planet, so as to improve resources and land management. Fifty years after the Sputnik launch, nowadays the real challenge is an efficient data management and distribution to the final users to allow concrete and effective actions.
In 2000 ONU launched the United Nations Geospatial Information Working Group (UNGIWG). In 2005 an endorsement was made for the constitution and the development of an UN spatial data infrastructure, UNSDI.
UNSDI is the ideal framework to develop at international level common standards, protocols, technologies and policies for the dissemination, the cataloguing, the use of geospatial data including satellite imagery and derived products, even in quasi-real time as for natural disasters.
Dialogue among institutions at national or regional level which have the function of local Spatial Data Infrastructure for the data dissemination is mandatory to attain the UNSDI goal as soon as possible.
"The UN infrastructure allows much more widespread and cost-effective data dissemination than today," points out Jelle U. Hielkema, UNGIWG Secretariat. "But we must work hard all together to define standards and protocols."
The two-day congress, gathering as much as 11 UN organizations and some 60 participants from Member States, is conducted back to back with another meeting, the Heterogeneous Missions Accessibility (HMA) Workshop, conducted on 27-28 February at ESRIN and organised by ESA, with the participation of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the French Space Agency (CNES), the Canadian Space Agency, the German Space Agency (DLR), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC).
Both the HMA project and UNSDI focus the need of metadata and protocol standards to exchange and share geographical and spatial data. The HMA project was launched by ESA in November 2005, aiming to ensure the interoperability within the Ground Segments of the European and Canadian satellites providing data as part of the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme (GMES). This goal allows the first GMES operational services to start in 2008.