EU Space Information System to Address Alpine Risk

BRUSSELS, Belgium, June 21, 2005 (ENS) - The European Commission is seeking to improve risk warning and risk management of landslides, avalanches, and floods in Alpine regions by funding research that will combine data from satellites with airborne and meteorological data. A new €1.1 million (US$1.3 million) project, announced Monday, will be useful for both environmental and security operations, EU officials said.

Mountain ranges or chains account for 30 percent of European Union territory, with some 30 million inhabitants. And in Italy, Spain, Greece, Austria, Switzerland and Portugal, mountain areas represent over 50 percent of the territory.


The Cassas landslide in the Susa Valley near Torino, Italy, where the 2006 Olympic Winter Games will take place (Photo courtesy ARPA Piemonte)
European mountainous areas include the Alps, Sierra Nevada, the Island of Crete, the Pyrenees, the Apennines, the Sierra de Estrela, the Massif Central, the upper Tatra and the Carpathians.

With announcement of the Alpine risk management research, “The Commission has taken an important step in fostering dialogue between stakeholders from both the provider and the user side of information in the fields of environment and security," European Commission Vice-President Guenter Verheugen said Monday.

The new project, known as ASSIST, will be conducted under the 6th Framework Programme for Research activity Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), a joint initiative of the European Union and the European Space Agency.

“The basic idea of GMES is to give Europe independence in its own data sources in Europe," explained Volker Liebig, the European Space Agency’s new director for Earth Observation Programs. "Today we rely a lot on international data, especially from the USA."

"If Europe has its own capabilities, we can also offer these services internationally and better negotiate our participation in international initiatives," Liebig said.

Under GMES, the Commission is currently funding 14 projects. ASSIST is the latest and 15th project.


Volker Liebig is the European Space Agency’s new director for Earth Observation Programs. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
Seven partners from Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, engaged in different areas of research, satellite remote sensing, communication technology, and alpine safety management, are collaborating in the development of a product portfolio of safety and risk information for direct use in participating alpine safety information centers.

Switzerland is participating although it is not a member of the European Union.

The project utilizes autonomously operated service nodes that will be used by police, hospitals, air rescue, and firefighters. The nodes will be laid out to support day-to-day monitoring and predictions of risk mitigation scenarios as well as operation during actual crisis situations.

"Whilst making the lives of citizens safer," said Verheugen, "we are also helping EU industry to become more competitive through developing a strong and innovative industrial pole both for information services and space/terrestrial infrastructure.”

The results of this project can be extended to other mountainous areas, Verheugen said.

The GMES initiative is a concerted effort across the EU to bring data and information providers together with users, so they can agree on how to make environmental information available to the people who need it.

Today, the scientists, policymakers and businesspeople who wish to use Earth observing data from satellites face volumes of data so immense and varied that it becomes impossible to extract the information relevant to their specific needs, the Commission says. The work of data and information providers is not sufficiently coordinated; the data is often incomplete, not comparable, or difficult to access.


Avalanche in the Alps (Photo courtesy Météo France)
The GMES program aims to make the wealth of satellite data pouring in from European satellites understandable to the end users.

Liebig, the European Space Agency’s new director for Earth Observation Programs, explains, “GMES will deliver independent European monitoring capabilities from space for environment and security. It will also incorporate data from airborne and in situ instruments. ESA is developing and implementing the space component with the corresponding ground segment."

GMES will consist of space missions developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) but will also encompass missions from EU member states or industry, Liebig said.

The ESA is planning to bridge existing gaps in operational remote sensing capabilities using Sentinel satellites. The first Sentinel will be launched in 2008-2009 at the earliest.

"The Sentinels will not replace existing sensors nor will they duplicate the work of satellites planned as national initiatives," said Liebig. "The Sentinels are complementary. National programs should and will be part of GMES, or will at least contribute to it."

A second specific goal is the creation of a European Shared Information System for exchanging of a wide range of useful information on environment and security matters.

Finally, GMES seeks to make this dialogue permanent by creating a specific authority and funding framework.

GMES will be the European contribution to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, an international project that aims to establish a worldwide environmental monitoring system.