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Interview with Mr. Marco Malacarne- Head of Unit for Space research and applications at European Commission

In this issue of EOMAG, EARSC will have the excellent opportunity of
including an interview with Mr. Marco Malacarne- Head of Unit for Space
research and applications at European Commission. First of all, thank
you for taking some time from your busy agenda and giving us the
occasion to talk about some aspects relevant for the European Earth
Observation sector.

The ‘Global Monitoring for Environment
and Security’ (GMES) represents a concerted effort to bring data and
information providers together with users, so they can better
understand each other and make environmental and security-related
information available to the people who need it through enhanced or new
- GMES has catalogued the benefits
obtained by Earth observing systems in monitoring for scientific,
economic, and societal benefits, Mr. Malacarne, could you provide me
with some examples?
First of all, GMES is the result of more than 20 years of public investment at EC level and MS level (including ESA)
in observation techniques and processing methods, modelling, data
assimilation into models, etc. A few examples are: space measurements
of ocean characteristics and ocean dynamics modelling, monitoring of
land cover, monitoring of stratospheric ozone concentration from space
and sub-metric observation of specific areas such as rapid mapping for
organization of rescue.
On the other hand, potential GMES benefits are being assessed now and GMES will be a necessary activity
to deliver benefits but it will rarely be sufficient. It will be
associated with policy changes, negotiation of internal agreements,
changes in behaviour etc.
As indicated by the preliminary results of
an impact study conducted by PWC, the main areas where GMES could
produce benefits are in relation to a better understanding of climate change and in relation to deforestation, where very significant potential benefits are estimated over the next 25 years.
Another potential impact area concern development aid:
Europe’s governments have set a target of giving annually 1 per cent of
its € 11 trillion GDP towards development aid particularly in Africa.
That is more than € 100 billion. A small increase in the efficient delivery
of such aid, say 1 per cent, would bring a value of € 1 billion. Using
a different measure, humanitarian aid agencies have estimated the
improvements which GMES can achieve through, for example, more targeted
responses. Calculations suggest that, when the benefits of GMES are
measured in terms of welfare gains for the recipients, they will indeed
amount to around € 1 billion annually.
But many other benefits will be strategic
in nature and largely unquantifiable. For example, it is difficult to
value benefits such as the ability to protect European peacekeeping
troops in action on the ground or to detect sites associated with the
production of weapons of mass destruction.
- Moving to technology itself, is GMES
illustrating how industrial and technological successes can be fully
exploited through complementary initiatives?
There is no need to oppose industry and
technology; industry is fully involved in technological progress.
Industry should exploit the relevant achievements of research to
implement competitive services at European and world levels. The implementation of public information services using up-to-date observations techniques and data processing methods is definitively the GMES main objective.
- How will be covered the bridge between research to operation?
Let me answer you by saying that there is no bridge between research and operations, but rather a continuum. Once implemented, GMES services should become prescribers of upstream research activities. Services should be improved and/or expand their scope:
there is a need for continuous investment in research and development
(when operating version N of the service, R&D funding should allow
to prepare version N+1)
- and more in deeply, how is the
investment in data management and high performance computing; common
standards, formats and mechanism of sharing information?
GMES should take stock of investment in systems and harmonization methods.
However, GMES is demand and service driven and we should implement
these systems and methods after carefully assessing that they improve
the efficiency and performances of the services. It is equally
important to be pragmatic & empirical and allow for system evolution. A top-down techno-push approach should be avoided.
- Logically the Infrastructure for
spatial information in the Community, INSPIRE and GMES fit together,
however, in order to avoid duplication of efforts and assure adequate
allocation of resources, more co-ordination seems need. How is the
connection between GMES and INSPIRE?
INSPIRE clearly addressed the harmonization
of data which is at the heart of GMES. The availability of data and
information, especially though GMES services, is a prerequisite for
implementation of INSPIRE mechanisms. That is to say that a bottom-up approach
regarding data exchange standards, data harmonization, etc, should be
considered, in order to avoid rigidifying what is already working.
- Is GMES covering the pillars of economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection? GMES could be a model?
GMES could be a model of integration of services, of mutualisation of infrastructures and of harmonization of data at EU level. That is an important point because GMES process is carefully observed by major international authorities.
In this scene, I must also clarify that
GMES is merely an instrument: by providing relevant and up-to-date
information about the environmental and security issues, GMES should
clearly improve the awareness of EU citizen and the competitiveness of EU industry.
We expect that EU industry, and especially SMEs, will be a major user
of GMES information, not only for providing GMES-type services, but for
improving its competitiveness (examples of “global industry”-
such as big oil companies-interested by all the GMES domains, of
farmers, which should use GMES information for precision farming, of
clearly warning for pollution or for specific risks, such as asthma to
some tree species…)
- How do you see the specific role of industry in GMES?
On the one hand, upstream industry is necessary for the development of infrastructure, including space missions (where ESA has a coordinating role). On the other hand, SMEs should be providers of downstream customised/tailored services.
Downstream services could improve their coordination and/or networking
(even though there might be competition among them), in order to
improve their visibility and to consolidate their requirements with
respect to upstream general/core services and information, as well as
for R&D. That’s an important point because industry will be acting
as provider of some services, through service level agreement with GMES
authority, or contributing to services provided by institutions through
- Do you think it should be necessary
to identify instruments that allow organising co-operation between the
Commission and EO industry sector in a more effective way? Which will
be the challenges and the opportunities?
In some cases, e.g. when direct institutional involvement in the
service provision is not required, there is a possibility to consider
an “end-to-end approach” (“service buy”), which means a Private Public Partnership.
Another possible approach might be that of “data procurement” agreements (“data buy”)
where the EC becomes an “anchor tenant” of data from EO industry. Such
financial engineering is likely to be supported by industry and
institutions, which normally prefer smooth funding profiles.
And there is also the possibility of R&D funding for EO industry, including SMEs, under specific programmes (e.g. FP7).
- Could you provide us an outline of the
three pilot services, candidates for fast track (emergency response,
land monitoring and marine services)?
To help everyone to understand, let me give
you some background information. The fast track services will start
their operational delivery by 2008, which means the need for
operational validation after 2008. Further pilot GMES services are of
course envisaged for later implementation (by 2009 and later). Just
summarising, the fast track services are focused on three areas:
– Emergency response:
reference and situation maps for supporting rescue operations and
humanitarian aid (EU civil protections in/outside EU with possible EC
coordination, EC DGs linking with UN and NGOs). Real time update of
information in link with forecasting centres. Use of VHR imagery.
- Land monitoring (focus on land cover): exhaustive
mapping of EU with a 1-5 ha mapping unit (along the lines of CORINE
Land Cover). Mapping of the main EU urban areas ( > 105 inhabs) with
0.1 ha mapping unit. Regular update (1 to 5 year) of the information.
- Marine service: forecasting and monitoring of the
sea state (dynamics and primary ecosystem) for global ocean and EU
regional seas (Med, Baltic, North, E Atlantic). Nested models with
variable grids. Basic information for downstream services (oil spills,
marine resources, sea ice, maritime safety, marine security, coastal
management, …)
- Moving towards a global scene, GMES
and GEOSS should work in concert to determine the plan for ensuring the
proper system(s) components and the proper architecture are in place to
meet user requirements, how is this management taking place?
GMES is the main EU contribution to the Group on Earth Observations. The European Commission is defining its strategy in close inter-service coordination and in dialogue
with Member States (GMES Advisory Council and GEO-High Level Group). It
is definitively a common interest at international level for the
harmonization of observing systems and exchange of data of mutual
interest. Europe need to use space & in situ data collected
worldwide and the meteorology example could be extended to other areas
of interest in ocean, land or atmospheric composition.
- Full and open sharing of data
between systems is essential, How is being built the architecture for
the technical operation of the system of systems (features as data
capture, data collection, processing, dissemination, storage/archiving,
exchange, products and services, etc)?
There is the need for “GMES existence” to
consider these issues at EU level, so as to affirm an EU position
worldwide. However it is unrealistic to propose a worldwide
interoperable architecture and it should be better to opt for a system evolution.
We need to avoid a top-down approach, by
being pragmatic and considering the appropriate time scales to
implement such as system. An example could be that of Meteorology (WMO,
cooperation between NOAA & EUMETSAT, etc), which took decades to
fully develop. Just to remark, some communities (e.g. oceanographers)
have already considered the issue, and have experience of coordination
Now that you have covered relevant aspects for GMES focus on EO industry, let’s move on the service for the citizen
- Integrated operational
information services to support User requirements should be the end
result of our collective efforts to develop a mature and sustainable
operational Earth observation capacity across nations “Society needs
information and services, not just data”, what do you think of this
approach? Is that demand-driven enough?
While what you just said is important, there is a challenge for GMES, passing from an offer-driven approach (Research and Development involving institutions and industry) to a demand-controlled one (service level agreements) and certainly a need to provide services
(i.e. information tailored for each specific user, and delivered
according to his requirements in an operational and sustainable mode)
and not data. The service provision chain, including
observation infrastructure, core service of EU dimension, and
downstream service for specific uses should be organised and
controlled. On the user’s demand level it is important to
remember the management of regional scenarios and the appropriate level
of aggregation, particularly relevant for new Member States.
Some examples of user involvement could be
the thematic workshops on fast track services (led by user organization
representatives) or regional workshops on GMES which culminate in Graz
Conference, organized by Austrian Presidency in April 2006.
- At the end of the interview, here is
the opportunity for your final thoughts on latest GMES developments,
which important benefits will be provided in the near future? what do
you see as the task ahead for GMES, in general which is your vision for
the future?
Let me address the timing perspective. In the near future: proving our capacity to deliver operational services by 2008 (“fast track” approach); in the medium term:
implementing the appropriate governance structure for managing the EC
funding and developing and implementing the observation and service
infrastructure allowing to ensure the sustainability of GMES (including
continuity of Space component, as proposed by ESA); and finally in the long term:
implementing at EU level appropriate permanent GMES governance
structure, allowing to operate the service through service level
agreements and concessions, and ensure the permanent upgrading of GMES
service capacity though R&D funding.
What is important to remember is that the User Driven Service approach is and should remain at the heart of GMES.