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Some catastrophes emerging from the Pakistan floods were averted because of a new earth observation system set up only last July, a meeting heard last week.

SERVIR-Himalaya, a web-based monitoring system kept an eye on the floods and alerted aid workers to emerging consequences of the flood disaster.  

The system was set up by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal, the US space agency NASA, andthe US Agency for International Development.

It revealed the progress of the floods in near real time, forewarning agencies, for example, to the imminent destruction of some 200 tuberculosis clinics, so that they were able to move patients to unaffected clinics.

SERVIR-Himalaya is just one of around 300 remote-sensing efforts that the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), set up in 2005,  is trying to combine into a single, seamless, Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) by 2015. 

At a GEO summit last week delegates agreed to compile remote-sensing data on a range of issues, from biodiversity to earthquake risk, into an open-access database.

"What's happening is groundbreaking,"said David Hayes, deputy secretary of the US Department ofthe Interior. "This data is incredibly valuable. If you share it, your incremental contribution can yield a super benefit."

"If you want to manage planetary problems, you have to have planetary information," said Bob Scholes, a biodiversity expert at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa.

"When an earlier generation of scientists collected data on the public purse, they considered it their data. Thenorm now is that data will quickly enter the public domain," he added.

But there is still some resistance to openly sharing data. "We still get pushback," said Scholes. "Some countries worry about how data release willaffect national security."

Link to full article in Science