13 May 2024

The Research Insitute for Innovation and Sustainability (RIIS) has been appointed as the interim host for the Digital Earth Africa Programme Management Office.

Digital Earth Africa is used extensively by stakeholders throughout Africa as a free platform providing satellite imagery and products specific to the African continent. It is the world’s largest operator of open data cube (ODC) infrastructure.

Digital Earth Africa is on track to improve the lives of African people and support decision-makers across the continent assess, plan and protect their countries from the potential impacts of climate change.

The platform draws on more than three decades of satellite imagery to address critical challenges facing the African continent. By packaging earth observation data into accessible and free data sets, African governments, researcher bodies, industry players and decision-makers can track changes across the continent in great detail.

This enables better decision-making across areas that include flooding, drought, soil and coastal erosion, agriculture, forest cover, land use and land cover change, water availability and quality, and changes to human settlements.

The Digital Earth Africa platform is based on the ODC infrastructure, which is an open-source solution supported by six institutional partners: Geoscience Australia, Committee on Earth Observations, United States Geological Survey, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Catapult Satellite Applications and Analytical Mechanics Associates.

The infrastructure enables the access, management and analysis of large quantities of geographic information system data.

Initially modelled on Geoscience Australia’s Digital Earth Australia platform, Digital Earth Africa has been designed to catalogue and allow the scalable processing of the stored data on a continental scale, while still allowing Geoscience Australia to provide technical and operational expertise.

Digital Earth Africa co-chairperson and Geoscience Australia space division chief Alison Rose says Digital Earth Africa has seen strong uptake on the continent, with African governments actively engaging with the platform, as well as numerous private-sector companies and academic institutions incorporating the data into their curricula. She comments:

“We are excited for this new chapter. Ensuring that the programme is African-owned and led is a key principle of Digital Earth Africa’s mission, enabling the platform to be responsive to the information needs, challenges and priorities of the African continent.”

RIIS, as Africa’s largest innovation-focused advisory firm, has significant expertise in the space sector, particularly in growing the continent’s emerging space innovation ecosystem through the implementation of capacity-building programmes, working with space agencies in building innovation roadmaps and strategic policy documents, and supporting the establishment of global space programmes on the continent.

RIIS CEO Davis Cook says the Africa Earth Observation Challenge in particular, which is a continent-wide space-tech startup competition managed by RIIS, provides further opportunities to drive uptake of the Digital Earth Africa platform. He says it is critical to develop Africa’s use of – and capabilities in – space-based tools and technologies, adding that Earth observation data is increasingly being used by both the public and private sectors across the globe to solve social and environmental challenges, mitigate risks and aid economic growth.

To date, 18% of satellites orbiting the earth are dedicated earth observation satellites. Over the past decade RIIS has witnessed a 71% increase in earth observation satellites, with the data industry for it being worth almost $8-billion.

Cook concludes this signifies the growing importance of incorporating earth observation data into decision-making for better and sustainable futures, adding that:

“In providing free access to this data and derivative products, Digital Earth Africa breaks down barriers to participation and is a key enabler towards Africans actively participating in this new space economy.”