Interview with Prof. Jose Achache,Secretariat Director of Group on Earth Observations (GEO) GEO
Prof. Jose Achache
GEO has been created to develop coordination mechanisms like APRSAF does. It's not specifically about satellites - it's about all observing systems in space and in-situ and modern capabilities, and it is global. It is to promote cooperation and coordination activities in using observations to provide information. So, obviously anything APRSAF does to promote the exchange of information and coordination in the Asia-Pacific region is very helpful for identifying projects which could be integrated into GEOSS.
Do you have some special relations with Asian countries especially in the field of space activities?
Of course, we have relations with a number of Asian countries, as we saw from the national reports this afternoon.
Asian countries are very strongly contributing to GEOSS. Japan, first of all, is one of the major contributors to integrating space components through JAXA, but also in-situ in regional projects. For example, MEXT is making good contributions, as is Professor Toshio Koike from the University of Tokyo in the project on the Asian water cycle. Japan is providing its leadership at a regional level in this issue of the water cycle.
China is also a very strong contributor, and we have seen what Bangladesh is doing in this area. Indonesia is now initiating a number of activities, and Pakistan has conducted some very important activities. In addition, South Korea is increasing its profile. Further, Australia's Department of Climate Change is becoming a very significant contributor to GEOSS implementation, and is very actively involved in GEOSS. This is reflected by the fact that in the executive committee of GEO Asia used to be represented by Thailand, China and Japan, but because of the increased activities in Australia and South Korea there had to be a rotation.
I think this shows how active and constructive Asian countries are with regards to GEOSS implementation.
Disasters will happen in most Asian countries, so we need some relations with each Asian country to decrease the damage caused by those disasters. Do you have some ideas about organizations in Asian countries for decreasing the damage caused by disasters? I think this theme relates to the environment and water resources quality, or something like that.
Prof. Jose Achache
There are, of course, several ways of dealing with disasters and trying to reduce the consequences of disasters.
One way is to try to forecast disasters, since many disasters that occur in Asia are related to hydro-meteorological conditions. Improving the models used to forecast water cycle changes is probably the best way to reduce the impact of a flood.
You can forecast floods and thereby help to protect the population. And there have been many developments in flood forecasting models that have actually surpassed the water cycle modeling efforts for cyclones, hurricanes, storm surges, critical water disasters. And the CMA is developing its forecasting capabilities. Japan's weather services are also very important.
There are two areas which I think are a bit more complicated. One is seismology, where we still do not have real capabilities to forecast earthquakes. Japan has been very good at developing adaptation measures and regulations of its constructions and which have proven to be efficient. But we need to maintain observing capabilities and we hope that eventually we will find mechanisms or technologies for forecasting earthquakes.
GEO would also like to consider slowly developing disasters, which are gradual changes in the environment that may evolve into critical situations. They are not really disasters as we know it, but they may have really dire consequences for economies and people. You could say that the food crisis we saw last year is one of these disasters..
And GEO is gathering a set of indicators which are based on observations. These indicators will allow governments to know whether we are in a critical situation or not. The light is not red yet, but there is a yellow light on. Things are beginning to become critical and we should react before it becomes too late, when we have a red light and a real disaster on our hands. We can make observations of deforestation, gradually increasing droughts or, possibly, excessive urban development.
Especially we have some problems in communication between each country. When some disaster occurs, we want to deliver information to Asian countries but we have some communication problems in that area.
Prof. Jose Achache
We have some ideas about this. Another way of reducing the effects of disasters is to have efficient rescue operations. And space observations can be very useful for supporting serious security and rescue operations. You know that space agencies have developed a charter for major disasters. This charter does not relate to just operational systems, but it has some limitations.
What GEO is doing, first of all, is to make sure that all countries can benefit from this charter. This requires that Authorized Users are recognized for all countries. Authorized Users must have a certain level of expertise, and in some countries they do not. So GEO will be proposing a mechanism to build this capacity for all GEO Members.
We could have regional Authorized Users which could operate for ten or twenty countries in the regions. I think Sentinel Asia could be recognized as an Authorized User for Asian countries, so that they can activate the Charter and make sure that the relevant people receive the right information in an appropriate format and at the right time so that the we can move to the next step in order to help prevent disasters by using information for rescue and recovery operations. And Sentinel Asia can play a significant role in this.
APRSAF has a good support plan to launch an APRSAF satellite. Several countries, like Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, have helped to build the APRSAF satellite with multi-spectral imagery. This special satellite is very useful for focusing on disasters in Asian countries.
Prof. Jose Achache
I think multispectral imagery is very useful. But there are many other needs, like for instance, contributing to GPM, the global precipitation mission? That also would be very useful.
JAXA will hold some training in Japan and invite special persons from Asian countries.
We hope that plan will help to mitigate disasters in Asia. We would like to share such information, not only in Asian countries, but also in countries all over the world, similar to the activities of GEOSS. My final question about GEOSS activities - what contribution are Asian countries making especially in the field of space technology?
Prof. Jose Achache
Japan launched GOSAT which is one of the greatest contributions that has been made in this area.
GOSAT can directly measure carbon dioxide fluctuations in the atmosphere, and that is absolutely critical.
ALOS has the world's only L-band radar and that is going to be critical for forest monitoring in conjunction with X-band and C-band radar. There are several X-band and C-band radars, but only one L band. So these are two very strong contributions.
China has contributed FENYUNG CAST to the GEONETCAST global system, which GEO established. China Meteorological Administration (CMA) has also contributed several polar orbiting satellite to GEOSS which are extremely useful.
ISRO is a major contributor to Earth observations for water, ocean and land and this is also a significant contribution.
Thailand is also a significant contributor to EO, and is chairing CEOS this year.
Now KOMPSAT from KOREA is also adding more capability to SPOT Image products, and this is making more data available. These four countries are making significant contributions which are benefiting countries all over the world, not just Asia. When one country launches a satellite, everybody benefits because it makes global observations. That is one of the great advantages that satellites have over in-situ observations - they are by definition global and so they make a very useful contribution to GEOSS.