The fundamental importance of Earth Observation (EO) for civil purposes has been well known for some time in the technical-scientific field, aimed at monitoring, as global and continuous as possible, of our planet from multiple points of view, for the benefit of knowledge and protection of the environment and the quality of life on Earth.
Most of the approximately 250 indicators to monitor the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are based on information also obtained from EO, whose importance is central to the activities of the United Nations initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM), and it is further underlined by international initiatives such as the Group on Earth Observation (GEO).
EO missions have been promoted by government agencies and, more recently (first decade of this century), by private companies at international level for some decades (since '70s); a complete and updated review of them is available at the link eoportal.org. These data are complemented by the observations of the numerous sensors on the ground measuring the state of our planet in real time, while Geoinformation allows us to validate, integrate and process them with traditional and artificial intelligence methods, to extract information and knowledge.
To this aim, Copernicus program (https://www.copernicus.eu/en) has been promoted and is managed by the European Commission, in collaboration with the Member States, the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Agency for the Environment and some European organizations with specific tasks. Copernicus is dedicated to offering European and international public authorities, organizations and service providers, not only data from EO and sensors on the ground but, above all, free services based on the information extracted from them (and on other ancillary information).
It should be emphasized that the fundamental peculiarity of Copernicus, driving its organizational rules and the investments necessary to its implementation and management, is the offer of free services officially guided by the needs and requirements expressed by end users.
In this sense, it is necessary to have professional figures able to identify the widest audience of users, collect their needs, design the most suited services to satisfy them; also, these professional figures must pay attention to guarantee easy access to these services to end users generally not specialized in EO, and possibly to increase end user skills.
In Italy, at national level, there are consolidated competences in Earth Observation, Geomatics and Geoinformation in various universities and research institutes, where these topics are already addressed in several PhD courses. However, no coordination is active at national level to guarantee a structured, homogeneous and complete training in Earth Observation, Geomatics and Geoinformation, which is essential to implement the broadest scouting of potential end users and the effective transfer of skills to them.
This essential coordination activity can be very effectively carried out by the Copernicus Academy (https://www.copernicus.eu/en/opportunities/education/copernicus-academy), the initiative formally established at European level in 2016 as part of the primary action of User Uptake of the Copernicus program, aimed at informing and raising awareness of real and, above all, potential end users on the usefulness and benefits of Copernicus services; Copernicus Academy is coordinated in the Italian context by the National Copernicus User Forum.
The primary aim of Copernicus Academy in the action of User Uptake is not only to use the already available competences in universities and research institutions to promote and manage the skills transfer to end users, but also to help collect, interpret and structure their new needs and to suggest possible additional services. Both these actions are managed by Copernicus Academy in cooperation with Copernicus Relays, promoters of the Copernicus program active since 2017, also coordinated by the National User Forum. Furthermore, due to its international structure, Copernicus Academy is able to offer a network of well-established relationships with other universities and research institutes at European level.
National and European context
The National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR) approved in Europe (Next Generation EU) provides for multiple activities divided into six missions: for at least three of them (M1: digitalization, innovation, competitiveness, culture and tourism; M2: green revolution and ecological transition; M3: infrastructures for sustainable mobility) information from EO plays a fundamental role from multiple points of view (it is explicitly mentioned in M1-C2 Investment 4: Satellite technologies and space economy), while doctoral level training has a central role in the fourth mission (M4: education and research), which envisages its reform and expansion. In particular, moreover, 500 PhD candidates will be enrolled over a 3-year period in programs dedicated to digital and environmental transitions, and the development of PhD courses in cooperation with the public administration and companies is encouraged.
These activities are intimately connected to the European digitalization plan (Shaping Europe's digital future), which includes Destination Earth, which, on the basis of information derived from EO and sensors on the ground, will contribute to the European Commission's Green Deal by developing a high-precision global digital model for simulating and monitoring natural and anthropogenic activities.
Considering the premises, the motivations and the opportunities highlighted, and the current national and European context in which the activities planned for the implementation of the six PNRR missions will be developed, it is considered strategic to propose the establishment of the National PhD Course in Earth Observation (DNEO).
DNEO will train professional figures with transversal and integrated skills of Earth Observation, Geomatics and Geoinformation, and specific application, administrative and legal skills, able to effectively support the wider exploitation and use of the Copernicus program, making it an essential tool of the digital economy and soft power of the EU globally.
Therefore, DNEO intends to realize the coordination at national level necessary to guarantee structured training at doctoral level, being integrated into the continuous training program promoted within the Copernicus program through the Copernicus Academy.
To this end, an organization based on a single consortium of universities and research institutes is proposed for the DNEO, which can be implemented using the Copernicus Academy and, at the same time, the Copernicus National User Forum to manage and consolidate relationships with the public administration and the significant industrial stakeholders at different levels (start-ups, SMEs and large enterprises) engaged in the EO sector. The constitution of the consortium and the activation of the DNEO will be implemented following the regulatory/administrative choices already adopted for the establishment and activation of the National Doctorate in Sustainable Development and Climate Change coordinated by the IUSS of Pavia.
Considering the development of the PNRR activities up to 2026, it is planned to activate, in the initial phase, DNEO for two complete cycles (XXXVIII - 2022-2025 and XXXIX - 2023-2026) on the basis of mixed PNRR and ordinary ministry funds, with at least 1-2 fellowships made available by each participating organization.
Also public administrations and private entities interested to grant fellowships can be admitted to the consortium.
Coordinator: Prof. Mattia Giovanni Crespi