GEO BON Secretariat

June 7, 2017

A new GEO BON paper is published in the latest issue of the journal “Trends in Ecology & Evolution” which summarizes priorities to advance monitoring of ecosystem services using Earth observation. The GEO BON working group on Ecosystem Services aims, among other things, to (i) facilitate trend assessments and monitoring of ecosystem services at different spatial-temporal scales and (ii) inform on progress towards Sustainable Development Targets (e.g. the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs) taking into account ecosystem service variables.

Satellite Earth observation provides essential information on the functioning of ecosystems and on the drivers of environmental change. It has also been highlighted as a main source of information for the global monitoring of ecosystem services, along with national statistics, field-based observations, and numerical simulation models. However, significant challenges remain in quantifying connections between ecosystem functions, ecosystem services, and human well-being benefits. The full potential of Earth observation is therefore not yet realized in ecosystem service studies.

In this opinion article, a novel framework is introduced showing how Earth observation together with socioeconomic information and model-based analysis can support assessments of ecosystem service supply, demand, and benefit. Three examples are used to illustrate this: non-timber forest products (provisioning ecosystem service), water purification (regulating service) and outdoor recreation (cultural service). These examples indicate that: (i) Earth observation products can support the assessment of many types of ecosystem services, although to differing extents; (ii) several aspects of ecosystem service demand, not just supply, can be characterized using Earth observations; (iii) the combination of multiple satellite products and various types of other information (including household surveys, geolocated social media data, etc.) is the key to move the field forward; and (iv) much information that can be obtained from Earth observation is relevant across multiple ecosystem services.

To provide guidance for priority setting and to spur research in this area, the paper proposes five priorities to advance the capabilities of Earth observation-based monitoring of ecosystem services: (i) Defining standardized and monitorable Essential Ecosystem Service Variables, (ii) advancing methods for integrating Earth observation and socioeconomic data, (iii) ensuring open-access, maintenance, and interoperability of Earth observation products, (iv) utilizing Earth observation to assess spatial disconnects, trade-offs across regions, and global teleconnections, and (v) providing long-term opportunities for collaboration and synthesis across disciplines.

Joint work among social scientists, ecologists, and remote-sensing specialists is needed to operationalize and implement these recommendations and to address important gaps in current knowledge. It is time to seize the opportunity to develop a unified strategy for ecosystem service monitoring, in which Earth observation must have a crucial role.

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New paper: Priorities to advance monitoring of ecosystem services using Earth observation

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