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Interview with Dr Haris Kontoes, coordinator of GEO-CRADLE

a new H2020 project focussing on the integration of EO capacities in North Africa, Middle East and the Balkans.

The importance of regional initiatives that support coordinated, comprehensive and sustained EO information as an enabler for informed decision making is strongly recognised by GEO and Copernicus. Could you please describe how GEO-CRADLE contributes in that direction?

GEO-CRADLE, funded under the EU’s H2020 programme, has brought together a unique team of key players from a total of 26 countries, representing the EO value chain and combining extensive experience from past or ongoing projects in the regions of North Africa, Middle East and the Balkans (e.g. BalkanGEONet, AfriGEOSS, etc.). Building on the outcomes of such initiatives, GEO-CRADLE aims at establishing a multi-regional network of EO stakeholders that will effectively support the integration of EO capacities existing in these three regions. The ultimate goal of the project is to support the implementation of GEOSS and Copernicus in the three regions, whilst also raising awareness of the benefits of EO services amongst end-users, and promoting the uptake of market opportunities for EO companies, especially SMEs.

Representatives of GEO and DG RTD presenting the key priorities for the implementation of GEOSS and Copernicus in the three regions. (source: GEO-CRADLE KOM)

In supporting enhanced and integrated capacity building across these three regions what are the main challenges you have identified and how do you plan to address them?

Despite the important progress in the Balkans and in North Africa, in both regions, but even more so in the Middle East, there still exist several critical gaps when it comes to the assessment, coordination, and synergetic utilisation of EO services, skills, and data. This includes for example the ineffective and fragmented exploitation of available complementarities in EO resources and expertise, the inadequate engagement of the user community and stakeholders in the regions, the low involvement of the private sector and the limited public awareness on the benefits that EO can bring to the market and into people’s everyday lives.

In order to address these challenges, GEO-CRADLE plans to engage the complete ecosystem of EO stakeholders, advocate the benefits of EO towards addressing priorities in the domains of Climate Change, Raw Materials, Food Security, and Energy, and deliver a set of tools that pave the way for the establishment of region-wide EO services and project initiatives.

GEO-CRADLE in a nutshell

Could you please elaborate a bit further on the type of activities that the project will undertake and the concrete tools it will build?

The activities of GEO-CRADLE have commenced with the execution of a survey amongst key actors in the region that represent the supply side (i.e. raw data providers, value adders, GIS providers). The outcomes of the survey will help us construct an accurate and comprehensive picture of the EO capacities and skills in the three regions, which will be then analysed against the needs of end-users (through a series of interviews) to allow the identification of gaps. The analysis of the regional and national capacities will also help us to establish a novel methodology for the assessment of regional EO maturity and to identify the main priority areas that can benefit from the use of state-of-the-art EO data and services.

The next important step in our approach includes the execution of four feasibility studies, demonstrating how the regional priorities can be tackled by the GEO-CRADLE Network. These studies will focus on thematic areas of particular importance for the regions: Adaptation to Climate Change, Improved Food Security, Access to Raw Materials, and Energy. In parallel, GEO-CRADLE will set up a Regional Data Hub, which abides by the GEOSS Data Sharing Principles, and facilitates access to and dissemination of region-wide EO data.

GEO-CRADLE priority domains

Finally, the project will elaborate a roadmap for the future implementation of GEOSS and Copernicus in the region, with the ultimate aim to enable sustainable exploitation of the regional infrastructures and capacities as well as informed decision-making.

Given that end-users are the principal beneficiaries of the wealth of information that can be extracted from and delivered by EO data and services, their effective engagement in your activities could be considered critical. How does GEO-CRADLE plan to ensure this?

There are two main aspects to this matter. Firstly, GEO-CRADLE will strive to raise awareness amongst end-users and policy makers of the benefits that EO brings to various application sectors. This will be pursued through a series of engagement and outreach activities. The GEO-CRADLE portal, once fully launched will promote successful use cases from the region, inform on the value of EO data and services and support effective linking between the end-user community and the supply side. To give a concrete example, all planned GEO-CRADLE events will be marked by active participation of end-users. Thus, in the upcoming 10th GEO European Projects Workshop in Berlin (31/05-02/06), GEO-CRADLE will organise a session on the Regional dimension for GEO and capacity building priorities, where the testimonies from end-users will be presented.

Secondly, the project has already set out to capture and understand the concrete requirements of end-users in a way that is as much unbiased from the supply side as possible. In this way, the foreseen feasibility studies will be tuned onto the needs of end-users paving the way for the subsequent establishment of regional scale EO services.

The importance of the involvement of EO companies in the implementation of GEOSS has been increasingly recognised in a number of recent occasions. How does GEO-CRADLE aspire to ensure this and what are the main benefits that EO companies can expect from their engagement in the project?

In line with the strategy of GEO for the period 2016-2025, and the outcomes of recent workshops that were focussing on the respective challenges, GEO-CRADLE has put strong emphasis in the effective involvement of the EO industry and SMEs. First, we have invited and are keen to be joined in our consortium by EARSC – who has recently become a GEO participating organisation. EARSC’s participation shall ensure the appropriate platform for the representation of the European EO industry in the project, whilst also allowing the establishment of concrete links with other important activities run at regional level such as the Inventory of African EO Companies

GEO-CRADLE consortium: A unique team of key EO actors from North Africa, Middle East and the Balkans. (source: GEO-CRADLE KOM)

The benefits for EO companies and in particular SMEs participating in GEO-CRADLE activities are multiple. Firstly, they can become members of a large regional network of stakeholders that can effectively work together towards creating business opportunities, and generating EO services that meet regional needs. Secondly the will gain access to a number of tools promoting regional cooperation on EO-related activities such as the GEO-CRADLE portal and the Regional Data Hub. Thirdly, they can be informed through the GEO-CRADLE portal and our engagement activities about business and/or collaboration opportunities, networking events, and regional EO-related news. In that respect, a dedicated industry engagement workshop is planned to be held in Brussels in a year from now. Last but not least, companies will have the opportunity to participate in concrete consultation activities that pave the way towards a future regional GEO/Copernicus initiative.

With all this in mind, we invite EO companies but also all other stakeholders along the EO value chain, to closely follow our activities through our website, participate in our upcoming events, become members of the GEO-CRADLE network and support us in the implementation of GEOSS and Copernicus in the region.

Dr KONTOES Charalampos (Haris) holds the position of Research Director in the Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics Space Applications and Remote Sensing of the National Observatory of Athens (NOA/IAASARS). He received his Doctorate in Remote Sensing of the Environment (NTUA, 1992). He completed his doctoral studies holding a grant from the European Commission in the Institute for Space Applications of the Joint Research Centre at ISPRA (Environmental Mapping Group, JRC). Since 1992 he has been assuming responsibilities in managing Earth Observation operational & research projects, focusing on risk assessment and mitigation, risk monitoring and management, environmental resource management, and mapping in various territorial contexts and scales. He leads a research team with active participation in projects funded by ESA, EC Framework Programs, H2020, COPERNICUS, and GEO.

With his capacities as National Delegate in Space, he has been responsible for leading and coordinating interdisciplinary high level representations in several Decision Making Boards and Program Committees (e.g. ESA PBEO, EC Space Program Committees (FP7, H2020), COPERNICUS Committee, Space Advisory Committee). He assumes the responsibility of the National Point of Contact to promote ESAʼs CollGS initiative, coordinating the development and sustained operation of the first Copernicus data dissemination facility available in the SE Europe and the Balkans (the so called Hellenic Sentinel Data Hub). He has developed, and is currently assuming the responsibility of the Ground Segment facilities operated by NOA, for receiving in real time a multitude of EO satellite missions. He is author of more than 120 publications in reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Member of the editorial board and reviewer of highly ranked Scientific Journals (IJPRS, IJRS, SENSORS, IEEE Geoscience and RS). Member of the Advisory Boards of on-going EU and ESA projects. EC expert evaluator in the various framework programs (FP6, FP7, H2020).

GEO-CRADLE: Coordinating and integRating state-of-the-art Earth Observation Activities in the regions of North Africa, Middle East, and Balkans and Developing Links with GEO related initiatives towards GEOSS