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GROW Observatory

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - GROW (GROW Observatory)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-10-31

Urgent action, informed by new information and wisdom, is required to maintain soil as a sustainable resource, balanced against the necessity of maintaining / increasing crop productivity. Good soil management and land use practices are vital for economic growth, sustainable development, food security, biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation and protecting water resources. Availability of soil moisture data is important for understanding climate and climate change impacts, and for improving weather forecasts, monitoring droughts, predicting floods, assisting crop productivity, detailing water, energy and carbon cycles.

The GROW Observatory was one of 4 projects funded by the European Commission to demonstrate the concept of Citizens’ Observatories (COs) in operational conditions. GROW's aim was to create a sustainable citizen platform and community to generate, share and utilise information on land, soil and water resource at a resolution not previously considered. The vision was to create a movement around environmental observations, to empower citizens to participate in environmental decision making, to extend and reduce costs in global earth observation activities, and to contribute to innovation in the Digital Single Market. GROW is the first continental-scale CO to monitor a key parameter for science continuously over an extended period at an unmatched spatial density. The focus was on soil moisture, a vital element for understanding climate events such as flooding, drought and wildfires.
"GROW developed and refined a framework for COs, describing principles, concepts and a step by step process. Key dimensions were GROW Missions: coordinated periods of citizen science activity; and GROW Places: focus areas for community building and sensor distribution; delivering a minimum viable, high density distribution of sensors across geographically diverse areas.

A GROW sensor network was developed to enable citizens to contribute valuable and validated data at scale across Europe. GROW deployed the entire global stock, 15,000, of a leading consumer soil sensor using geographic and scientific criteria designed for scientific exploitation. Data was relayed using mobile phones linked to the sensors via Bluetooth. The complete data collection chain was tested, from training to data access for exploitation. This included user manuals for metadata collection, deployment in representative areas, frequent collection of data, transmission and storage into the GROW platform.

The physical robustness of the sensors was evaluated by stress testing over winter; the sensor measurement quality was evaluated in lab conditions and against high quality sensors in the field; and an initial comparison with Sentinel-1 was completed. Data collection protocols and tools were developed and tested for the soil sensors, and other key soil and land parameters collected through citizen science observations and experiments. The GROW data platform was built for scalability, with new soil sensor types in mind. An ecosystem of services for sensor data collection was developed and steps taken to integrate to Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). Front end services include the GROW social platform and GROW app. Information services include visualisations of local climate and soil condition, and a growing advice service built on integrated algorithms and an Edible Plant Database.

An original contribution of GROW was the use of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to scale rigorous citizen science. These methods enabled GROW to build committed, highly engaged communities in Europe who were active in creating, sharing and utilising observations of land and soil. GROW applied professional sensing protocols into the low-cost IoT domain and delivered high quality crowdsourced data. For the first time crowdsourced in-situ data have been used to validate satellite soil moisture products. Operational prototype information services have been piloted for use in agriculture and climate forecasting. GROW also worked with artists to illuminate CO concepts and stimulate ideas.

GROW demonstrated that the CO concept and system can deliver widespread uptake, robust science and societal impact. Awarded the Land and Soil Management Award 2019, and acclaimed by the Jury, ""the best example for future significant sustainability projects aiming at soil health."" Named first in the EC's annual GEO Plenary statement on the major developments in Earth Observation in 2019."
Communities and intermediary organisations have been empowered to create collaborative data, knowledge and action around environmental and societal challenges, local and global. A large and transdisciplinary community of citizen scientists has been built across international boundaries. Social innovation exponentially increased where shared practices were adapted to fit regional contexts and local issues. GROW pioneered the use of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to scale rigorous citizen science in a CO.

The deployment of a massive sensing network and the significant amount of open, quality-controlled data extends the in-situ segment of Copernicus and the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). GROW data is available to the GEOSS community in a consistent and compatible format, and has been integrated in the International Soil Moisture Network. The GROW high-density clusters of low-cost sensors can represent variability at satellite pixel-scale, and the gridded product provides a robust scalable model that performs similarly well in larger and smaller areas and across different timespans. This improves Earth Observation capabilities at the European level.

GROW enhances the ground-truthing of satellite products – average soil moisture calculated from all low-cost sensors in one satellite pixel results in much better accuracy than using the most representative or high-quality sensor (for both coarse and high-resolution products). With unprecedented spatial coverage within GROW, we could evaluate for the first time the spatial consistency of high-resolution satellite soil moisture products against in-situ measurements. More accurate knowledge of the spatial and temporal patterns of soil moisture can improve the quality of a number of applications, ranging from crop yield estimation to drought monitoring, from weather and climatic predictions to landslide forecasting.

GROW enables the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) to better achieve sustainable soil management in Europe. GROW has helped thousands of people become resilient regenerative food growers. Surveys demonstrate increased uptake in regenerative practices among people accessing GROW services. GROW operational prototype services enable farmers and land managers to interrogate dynamic spatial patterns of soil moisture, and manage their use of resources and crops with great precision.

GROW set out with an ambitious goal, to take COs into the mainstream. This lofty ambition itself has spread and become a part of the wider narrative for COs in Europe, taken up by the coordination and support project, WeObserve. GROW has created a thriving, sustainable Citizens' Observation ecosystem, and GROW communities and data practices have been sustained after the project ended.
GROW Observatory strap line
GROW Leaf brand
GROW Impacts
GROW Farmer and family