SBA Description Ecosystems

Statement of Need

Ecosystems are the basis and necessary condition for all life on Earth. Ecosystem services are the benefits that people derive from ecosystems, such as food, water, fibre and timber, energy, climate, flood and pest regulation, nutrient cycling and soil fertility, detoxification of waste, coastal and marine protection. Ecosystem condition, also referred to as health, is the capacity of the ecosystems to sustainably supply services, even in the presence of mild disturbance and stress. Ecosystems, beyond their utilitarian values, also have intrinsic value. Ecosystem extent is the actual (as opposed to potential) area and location of a particular ecosystem type.
The purpose of observations within the Ecosystems societal benefit area of GEOSS is to describe accurately and to assess the present conditions and trends of ecosystem services, as well as the pressures and impacts upon them, for policy making and natural resource management to promote sustainability. To this end, it is essential to improve the basic knowledge of the temporal and spatial variation in the ecosystems in question. This requires sustained and comprehensive observations. Ecosystem observations will also help assess ecosystem resilience, i.e. the capacity of ecosystems to resist changes due to internal and external pressures (e.g. habitat fragmentation and alien invasive species) and the pace at which they would be able to recover to conditions similar to the original ones after those pressures have been removed.
Given that ecosystem services are essential for human existence, their total economic value is incalculably large. Nevertheless, various partial analyses of the marginal net costs and benefits resulting from loss of particular ecosystem services at various scales indicate that the economic impacts run into millions, and in some cases billions, of dollars, and significantly affect the well-being of hundreds of millions of people.

Vision and How GEOSS will help

The vision is to develop, on a global basis, standardized and integrated methodologies, observations and products that allow the repeated mapping of ecosystem extent and the quantification of ecosystem condition, for the purposes of detecting and predicting changes in ecosystem function, identifying locations under threat of degradation, and identifying uses that are unsustainable. GEOSS will improve the capacity to monitor the status and variability of ecosystems and the pressures on them and thus contribute to sustainable management of living resources. It will also contribute to monitoring the pressure on terrestrial, coastal, marine and freshwater ecosystems and the assessment of their ability to support sustainable development. Thirdly, it will be of value in acquiring and integrating information on the biological causes and feedback mechanisms implicated in global change and climate variability.
The key users of improved observations of ecosystems will be decision-makers in the field of natural resource management at the global, regional and national levels. At the global scale, particular beneficiaries will be those charged with implementing Multilateral Environmental Agreements. Environmental government agencies and Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) at the international and national scales, such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Worldwide Fund for Nature or World Wildlife Fund (WWF), are also important users.

For more information regarding this SBA, please consult the “10-Year Implementation Plan Reference Document by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO)”, available at: