The GEO Geohazard Supersites and Natural Laboratory initiative

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Stefano Salvi

Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Italy

The EPOS Newsletter issue 02
October 2016 | Article 02

The Geohazard Supersites and Natural Laboratory initiative (GSNL) is a voluntary international partnership established in 2010 within the Group on Earth Observation (GEO), aiming to improve, through an Open Science approach, geophysical scientific research and geohazard assessment in support of Disaster Risk Reduction.

The GSNL goal is pursued to promote broad international scientific collaboration and open access to a variety of space- and ground-based data, focusing on areas with important scientific challenges and high seismic/volcanic risk levels: the Supersites and the Natural Laboratories.

Over these special focus areas a joint effort is carried out: several of the world's  space agencies grouped under the Committee for Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) provide satellite imagery at no cost for scientific use, the local geohazard monitoring agencies provide open access to ground-based data, and the global scientific community exploits these data to generate state of the art scientific results, which are openly shared in digital format.

Three types of Supersites are recognized:

  • Permanent Supersites, which are stable areas, where long-term monitoring and scientific investigations are carried out,
  • Natural Laboratories, similar to Permanent Supersites, but larger and affected by several hazard types,
  • Event Supersites, more localized areas affected by large earthquakes or volcanic eruptions over which, for a time period of several months, data sharing and scientific investigations are concentrated.

Supersites are established through a community-driven process in which the data providers take the commitment to openly share their data, and are selected based on the relevance of the scientific problems and on their likely capacity to promote direct societal benefits.

The following Event Supersites were established, providing scientific access to restricted or licensed data.


  • Wenchuan, 2008 – EO data: ESA – In situ data: seismic
  • Haiti, 2010 – EO data: ESA, JAXA – In situ data: seismic,  SM GPS
  • Chile, 2010 – EO data: ESA, JAXA – In situ data: seismic, SM GPS & CGPS
  • Yushu, 2010 – EO data: ESA – In situ data: seismic
  • Sierra El Major, 2010 – EO data: ESA – In situ data: seismic, SM GPS & CGPS
  • Tohoku-oki, 2011 – EO data: ESA, JAXA, DLR, ASI– In situ data: seismic, CGPS
  • Van, 2011 – EO data: ESA, DLR – In situ data: seismic, SM GPS & CGPS
  • Napa Valley, 2014 – EO data: ASI, ESA, DLR, CSA
  • Gorkha, 2015 – EO data: ASI, ESA, DLR, CSA

Volcanic eruptions:

  • Eyjafjallajökul, 2010 – EO data: ESA - In situ data: seismic,  SM GPS
  • Sinabung, 2014 – EO data: ASI, CSA

The following Permanent Supersites are active or under approval at the time of writing:

Permanent Supersite


Coordinator institution

Date established

Hawaiian volcanoes, USA

Michael Poland

USGS, Hawai, USA

October 2012

Icelandic volcanoes, IS

Freysteinn Sigmundsson, Kristin Vogfjord

University of Iceland and IMO Reykjavik, Iceland

November  2013

Mt.Etna volcano, IT

Giuseppe Puglisi

INGV, Catania, Italy

April 2014

Campi Flegrei & Vesuvius volcano, IT

Sven Borgstrom

INGV, Naples, Italy

April 2014

Marmara Fault, TR

Semih Ergintav

KOERI, Istanbul, Turkey

April 2014

Ecuadorian volcanoes, EC

Patricia Mothes

IGEPN, Quito, Ecuador

October 2014

Taupo volcanic zone, NZ

Nico Fournier, Ian Hamling

GNS Science, Lower Hutt, New Zealand

October 2014

Corinth Gulf and Ionian Islands, GR

Alexandros Savvaidis

ITSAK, Athens, Greece

To be formally established in November 2016

San Andreas Fault, USA

Charles Wicks

USGS, Menlo Park, USA

To be formally established in November 2016


The coordination of each Supersite is normally carried out by a researcher belonging to a local geohazard scientific institution. The latter should have an operational role in providing authoritative geohazard information to support end-users and decision makers at a national level. This organizational structure ensures that the new scientific knowledge generated by the global scientific community is rapidly taken up by the national stakeholders to benefit hazard assessment, disaster monitoring and response actions.

For each of the Supersites or Natural Laboratories, the specific objectives of GSNL are:

  1. to enable the global scientific community open, full and easy access to a variety of space- and ground-based data;
  2. to promote advancements in geohazard science;
  3. to report scientific results relevant to geohazard assessment, supporting science-based decision-making in Risk Management activities;
  4. to innovate technologies, processes, and communication models, enhancing the full sharing of knowledge and research results, promoting global scientific collaboration and capacity building in geohazard science;

The entire partnership contributes to these goals, using for the most part in-kind resources or funding obtained at national level. The GSNL initiative is actively lobbying to attract larger funding resources to the specific areas and improve the efficiency of resource spending through a better scientific collaboration.

In Europe, thanks to the strong support of the Commission to GEO activities, a research call aiming to implement the Supersite concept, was issued under the 7th Framework Programme.

Three large research projects were then carried out in 2013-2016 and supported the improvements of specific monitoring networks and data sharing infrastructures for the Mt.Etna, Campi Flegrei/Vesuvius, Iceland and Marmara Fault Supersites. These European Supersites are part of the EPOS Integration Plan and the associated research integration participate to the implementation of Thematic Core Services (TCS) in Volcano Observations and Near Fault Observatories.

EPOS is indeed a GEO participating organization, since it contributes in supporting data integration on adoption of open Science Commons, and implementation of sustainable Research Infrastructures (RIs).

Future  issues of this newsletter will describe their achievements in this respect.