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Geospatial and Earth Observation data

Discover more about Copernicus and INSPIRE and their work with geospatial and Earth Observation data

Geospatial data

Geospatial data and information management is part of various fields, thematic areas, initiatives, and programmes within the European Union (EU). As such, the European Commission’s (EC) approach towards geospatial and Earth Observation data are diverse and several activities are recognisable. For example, in:

  • Standardisation bodies such as OGC, W3C, and ISO;
  • Legislative efforts in line with the Public Sector Information (PSI), open data, DSM; or
  • Research, such as with the Joint Research Centre of the European Union.

However, the two most well recognised driving forces to date are Copernicus and the INSPIRE Directive. Both initiatives have strong impacts on the Member States (legal, organisational, semantic, and technical) and are long standing efforts.



Previously known as GMES, Copernicus is the European Earth Observation programme led by the EC and European Space Agency (ESA). Copernicus aims to provide accurate, timely, and easily accessible information for numerous sectors, including environmental monitoring, climate change detection, and civil security.

For the Space Component of Copernicus, a new series of satellites was developed, while several of these Sentinel satellites are already operational. The Copernicus Ground Segment manages the data of the Sentinel and contributing missions and provides access services. It is a federation of independent ground segments for each mission, which is linked together and coordinated by the Data Access System of the Copernicus Ground Segment. This system acts as a hub for the network of contributing ground segments, providing a harmonised interface to access the data. Data and services are accessible in the form of datasets, which are pre-defined collections of coherent products. As part of the harmonised distribution of the data, standardised and interoperable service are created that can be used in the INSPIRE context.



The INSPIRE Directive is the effort to create an EU-wide interoperable spatial data infrastructure for sharing geospatial data, mainly for EU environmental policies and related activities across borders. The directive addresses 34 (geo)spatial data themes and has led to several standards that are commonly used as the basis for numerous geospatial applications, even outside of the targeted environmental domain. The Directive follows a staged approach and the full implementation is required by 2021. INSPIRE regulates data models, code lists, metadata, and map layers for exchanging spatial datasets and services to enable a consistent cross-border and cross-thematic communication with minimal or no additional specific effort. Due to the nature of the INSPIRE Directive and scope of the task, INSPIRE spawned a technical well-versed community that is active in supra-national activities and standardisation bodies.

At the intersection or adjacent to INSPIRE and Copernicus are several EU activities that stimulate the larger geospatial data management. For example, open data and open science initiatives are at the forefront to enable a free-flowing digital economy, while early adopters start to deal with big (geospatial) data that originates from crowd-sourced or crowd-sensed information or other developments such as the Internet of Things. In combination, these data sources provide a wealth of geospatial data that require different processing and handling strategies on the legal, organisational, semantic, technical dimensions to allow further exploitation of the available data and to stimulate economic growth across Europe.


For more information or examples on geospatial and Earth Observation data, explore the European Data Portal’s (EDP) news archive. Aware of geospatial and Earth Observation data examples or stories?  Share them with us via mail, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to stay up to date!