CSIRO strengthened its international footprint looking down upon the Earth

And that’s a (successful) wrap: last week, the Centre for EO (CCEO) represented CSIRO at the 35th Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) Plenary (online), chaired by the US (National Aeronautics and Space Administration NASA), which was our last key meeting as Strategic Implementation Team (SIT) Chair.

35th CEOS plenary (online)

The CEOS principals could hear about and discuss progress towards the Work plan deliverables. They also endorsed ten documents including the ones on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its new Strategy implementation, the CEOS Strategy to Support the Global Stocktake of the UNFCCC Paris Agreement and the CEOS Analysis Ready Data (ARD) Strategy 2021, documents coordinated by the SIT Chair team.

After 4 years of providing leadership (Vice-Chair then Chair) to the Working Group on Information systems and services (WGISS), Dr Robert Woodcock (CSIRO) delivered his last presentation as Chair, highlighting the group’s achievements around Data Discovery, Access, Preservation; Interoperability and Use, and Technology exploration.

This event also marked, the end of our 2-year term as SIT Chair, a role that we successfully shared with Geoscience Australia (GA) to reinforce our international print.

When we embarked on this exciting journey to lead the CEOS community for deliverings against the CEOS Work plan deliverables, we also aimed at tackling 3 priorities around the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the global carbon observing system and biomass measurements, and the Analysis-ready data CEOS Strategy.


CSIRO and GA priorities (CEOS SIT Chair term)

We provided an assessment of our 2-year term last week, in addition to all the topics we supported in other key sessions.

Here are the main areas of our term:

  • 4 successful virtual meetings with more than 100 participants each time across the globe
  • Working Teams support (new processes, methods, etc.)
  • Analysis Ready Data (CEOS ARD strategy, progress on CARD4L Product Family Specifications, etc.)
  • Carbon and Biomass (deepened engagement with UNFCCC, with national inventory users, workshops, CEOS biomass protocol published, etc.)
  • Sustainable Development Goals (supported the Group on Earth observation (GEO) , sub-teams analysing 4 SDG indicators, a more sustainable strategic approach, and its implementation, etc.)

Serving as SIT Chair in 2020 and 2021 has clearly involved a different approach from the usual in CEOS given the global situation. We had looked forward to welcoming the CEOS community to Hobart (everything was ready in March 2020!), even then to Sydney for 2021. Yet here we are: all our 4 key meetings have been delivered virtually in the end.

However we believe that we have risen to the challenge of shortening the physical distance with our colleagues, and trying to innovate to ensure that the meetings remain compelling and productive for all our participants (across the CEOS structure, at all levels from the technical to the agency Principals). The fact that we had a considerably larger than usual attendance during our Strategic Implementation Team workshops – peaking at more than 120 participants clocked in the attendee list – confirms it.  CEOS Agencies community broadly has adapting – and even thriving through!- to the challenge of our remote cooperation model. One of the ‘positive’ outcomes of this virtual-only format to note is that, with the travel budget obstacle removed, we have heard new voices in our meetings.

While our CEOS colleagues warmly complimented our work, we have a tiny heartache: after months of screen fatigue, and anti-social hours that many have endured, we know that the impacts would have been much higher with face-to-face connections. Deeper discussions on specific topics, and informal interactions at coffee breaks, would have certainly helped.

We truly thank our CSIRO colleagues who supported also Alex Held in this SIT Chair role by engaging and leading various CEOS activities: Cindy Ong (Calibration/Validation, biomass), Neil Sims (SDG on 15.3.1: land degradation), Rob Woodcock (WGISS), Amy Parker (WGDisasters) and Flora Kerblat (SIT Chair and SDG teams). Without their enduring support, this would not have been possible.

On the bright side, lots of lessons learned, and we recognize that being more prepared, concise, and efficient in running meetings is definitely a plus that we need to embrace in future.

We are now honoured to pass the baton to ESA as the new SIT Chair 2022-23, confident that their experience and drive will continue to pull CEOS forward as a community, under CNES leadership (Chair in 2022)… and we hope that we will be able to reconnect with the CEOS community, and represent CSIRO at future meetings next year in Europe!

The CCEO will endeavour to continue to work closely with GA, the Australian Space Agency (ASA) and domestic partners, to ensure CSIRO and Australian Earth observation expertise is represented and visible on the international stage, allowing more global significant partnerships which are, in the end, beneficial to Australian business and citizens.