Presidential Address

International Association of Geodesy

XII. IUGG General Assembly, Birmingham, UK, July 18-31, 1999

By Klaus-Peter Schwarz


Distinguished Guests,

Friends and Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Opening Session of the IAG General Assembly here in Birmingham. It is at General Assemblies where the many facets of geodetic research become visible and interactions between geodetic and geophysical research become more pronounced. My welcome goes therefore, first of all, to you as researchers who, over the past four years, have contributed in one way or other to our discipline.

A special welcome goes to the past IAG presidents who are present at this meeting: Helmut Moritz (1979-83), Ivan I Mueller (1987-91), Wolfgang Torge (1991-95) and to the award winners who will be honored later on this morning: Torben Krarup, the recipient of the Levallois Medal, Veronique Dehant, the winner of the Bomford Prize, and Cheinway Hwang, this year's winner of the IAG Young Author Award.

It is the 22nd General Assembly of the IUGG, and the 35th of the IAG when counting from its beginnings in 1864. These quadrennial events mark time for the IAG as an organization. We look back on achievements and forward to challenges. We also remember those who have gone before us and who have shaped this organization which we are proud to represent. May I ask you to stand to pay your respects to those who served the IAG as officers and who died during the past four years:

Isetan Hazay, Hungary in 1995

Attalah M.Wassef, Canada in 1995

Guy Bomford, UK in 1996

Erik Tengström, Sweden in 1996

Yuri D. Boulanger, Russia in 1997

Stanislaw Krynski, Poland in 1997

Tauno J. Kukkamäki, Finland in 1997

Svend Saxov, Denmark in 1998

Rudolf Sigl, Germany in 1998

Hermann van Gysen, S. Africa in 1998

Luman Wilcox, USA in 1999

Three former IAG presidents - Bomford, Boulanger, Kukkamäki - where among those who passed away during this period. Let us honor their memory.

When I checked the records I was surprised to learn that one has to go back all the way to 1909, i.e. to a time before the IUGG was formed, to find England as a host of an IAG General Assembly. There was one in Edinburgh in 1936, but considering the results of the last election in Scotland I felt that declaring Edinburgh to be an English city would clearly be a political statement. So let me thank our English colleagues for taking the initiative to invite us to an unambiguously English city and to show us at the same time that Birmingham is much more than a reminder of the industrial revolution. I want to mention specifically Allan Dodson and Paul Cross for their work on our behalf.

To summarize the accomplishments of four years in 20 minutes is bound to be incomplete.. What you will see and hear are highlights of four years in the life of the IAG, not a detailed record of all the fascinating and interesting research that took place. For details, I would ask you to consult the Section reports.

When the Executive met for the first time in November 1995, a few months after the Boulder General Assembly, it started a broad discussion on the future direction of the IAG by looking at the following questions:

What is the role of the IAG? (Scientific super-structure; catalyst; honest broker; provider of geodetic products?)

Does the IAG have (or need) a distinct profile?

Which major research questions in geodesy remain unsolved?

Which global projects would result in major geodetic progress?

What are functional models of international scientific cooperation?

Are strengths and weaknesses of the IAG due to its structure?

Which alliances are strategic for IAG?

The result of the initial discussion was the identification of four priority areas of IAG activity:

• Research

• Education

• Developing countries

• Services and communications.

A fifth priority emerged out of the ongoing discussions in the Executive Committee and came to the forefront during the past two years. It has to do with the

• Structure of the IAG.

I will order my presentation around these priority areas and will make brief remarks on the first three and the last. The fourth priority, services and communications, will be presented in detail in the Secretary General’s report and in the report of the Editor-in-chief of the Journal of Geodesy presented later in this session.

IAG Research 1995-99

The three general IAG research priorities that emerged from the discussion in the first executive meeting in Copenhagen were:

• Identify the focus of IAG research for the next decade

• Strongly support any initiative that may lead to a high-resolution satellite gravity mission

• Investigate the potential advantages of an ‘IUGG Fundamental Reference and Calibration Network’.

The first priority acknowledges the fact that the definition of a research focus for IAG may not be as simple as it was in the past. Over the years, IAG has continuously extended the scope of its research. While during the first hundred years of IAG history the extensions were incremental and did not result in a change of the underlying methodology, this has changed fundamentally during the last forty years. Geodesy today is a very different and far more complex scientific enterprise than forty years ago. Those of us who lived through this change have been very fortunate because there were interesting challenges all across the spectrum of geodetic research activities. Because of the unprecedented growth of these activities, there is the danger, however that the major goals of geodetic research are becoming blurred and that no meaningful focus exists anymore to which all the different research activities can contribute. By formulating the first objective, the Executive wanted to start a thinking process, which would eventually lead to a clearly defined focus for IAG research.

After the initial discussions in November 1995, a major step forward in this direction was made at the Potsdam meeting in April 1997. At this meeting, R. Rummel presented a proposal for a Global Integrated Geodetic and Geodynamic Observing System (GIGGOS) that incorporates many of the current activities and relates them to a common framework. Starting from this concept, he outlined the direction of future geodetic research. The proposal emphasized that the adoption of such a concept would not only give a focus to IAG research, but would also result in a much higher visibility of the IAG contribution to Earth Sciences in general. After some lively discussion, the Executive agreed to consider this proposal at its next meeting after more details had been made available. The proposal was further discussed at the Section II symposium in Munich in 1998. It resulted in a resolution to the Executive Committee recommending that a broad-based discussion on this concept and its implications for the IAG structure should be started at the General Assembly in Birmingham. The Executive, at its meeting in March 1999 in Paris, concurred with the intent of this resolution. Three sessions of the IAG-G6 symposium on Wednesday next week (July 28) have been reserved to (1) analyze the current structure as represented by Sections, Commissions and Special Study Groups, to (2) review the research contributions of the Services affiliated with IAG, and to (3) discuss alternative structures for IAG research. We invite all of you to participate in these discussions and especially in the panel discussion on Wednesday afternoon.

The second priority recognizes the difference in accuracy that currently exists between the various methods of global positioning (SLR, VLBI, GPS) on the one hand and the methods of global gravity field and geoid determination on the other. One obvious reason for the lower accuracy in gravity field approximation is the lack of dedicated satellite missions for gravity field research. Such missions would result in a much more consistent global resolution of the gravity field than is available today. In 1995, when this discussion started, no mission in this area had been approved. The role of the IAG in promoting such missions can only be supportive, using its credibility as a scientific organization to make the case to the space agencies involved. This has been done to the extent possible by many individuals working within IAG as well as by myself as the president. The situation at this point in time is much more promising than it was back in 1995. There is the realistic possibility that three dedicated gravity missions may be launched within the next five to six years and that we actually may be entering a decade of potential field satellite missions. At this point, two of these missions are scheduled to go ahead and the decision on the third one will be made towards the end of this year. If all three missions are successful, our knowledge of the Earth’s gravity field will change dramatically and research in this area will advance by leaps and bounds.

The third research priority is more exploratory in nature. In the past, the collocation of different measurement systems on the same fundamental stations has provided valuable information that would not have been obtained by operating individual observational networks. With the growing interaction between the geosciences, the idea of establishing an ‘IUGG Fundamental Reference and Calibration Network’ was a natural outgrowth of this past experience. A small working group consisting mainly of CSTG members under the chairmanship of G. Beutler was charged to look into this question and to recommend whether or not IAG should take the leadership in organizing such a network. After meeting a number of times, the committee reported back to the Executive at the Potsdam meeting in 1997 and recommended that a specific effort in this area was not required. An International Space Geodetic Network (ISGN) exists already as a combination of all space geodetic techniques and is well suited to take over the tasks planned for the IUGG network. The addition of different measurement systems, such as seismic and magnetic data, was unlikely to add essential information. The Executive decided to follow this recommendation and to not promote such a special network.

IAG Section Research 1995-1999

During the reporting period the Sections through their Commissions, Special Study Groups and Services were the IAG bodies in which major advances in geodetic research were accomplished. They will be highlighted in the brief reports of the Section Presidents later on in this session and will be discussed in detail in the reports presented in the IAG symposia G1 to G5, later this week. To give a flavor of the accomplishments, I would like to mention a few as examples, without any claim to completeness.

The active role of IERS in defining and implementing a global reference frame and the emergence of GPS as a major tool to accomplish frame realization at regional and local scales due to advances made in modeling, techniques, and quality control.
The SIRGAS project which exemplified how a reference network for a whole continent can be established in a relatively short time, given the information base provided by Services such as IGS and IERS and the cooperation between the different countries in this part of the world.
EUREF and EUVN which are the ongoing efforts in Europe to integrate classical network information with space geodetic data. This work, done under the auspices of Commission X, is exemplary for countries considering such action because it provides insight into the effort required and the gain achieved.
The active role of Commission VIII, commonly known as CSTG, in coordinating the different space techniques used for geodesy and geodynamics. It has led to a proposal for new IAG Services in SLR and VLBI to be decided upon at this meeting. It also has resulted in a major international project exploring the potential of GPS/GLONASS integration.
The continuing efforts of the Wegener Commission to use space and terrestrial methods for the solution of regional geodynamics problems in Europe and similar efforts, such as Geodyssea, in other parts of the world.
The publication of the new Global Geopotential Model EGM96 by NASA/OSU/NIMA after comprehensive testing of alternative solutions by a working group of the IAG Geoid Service. It was exemplary in showing the contribution IAG can make to such an effort.
The coming of age of airborne gravimetry as a method of high-resolution local geoid determination and as a potential tool for resource exploration.
The advances made in using GPS for the remote sensing of the atmosphere and the potential impact of such techniques on science and every day life.
The successful efforts to use multiresolution techniques as an analysis tool in geodesy.
The work performed by SSG 4.176 on Temporal Variations of the Gravity Field, which is exemplary for its interaction with other groups working in the field and its high level of participation.
The increasing activity of the Services in providing research products free of charge to the geodetic and geodynamic community while continuing their role as international data providers. In this context the high visibility of IGS in the GPS user group must be specifically mentioned. It is the only link many users have to IAG and its Services.

There are many other achievements that will be mentioned in the Section Highlights given later on and in the reports to be published in the Travaux. Since most of the accomplishments mentioned above were the result of a team effort, no individuals have been named. However, the vision and the drive of many who were involved in these projects is one of the great assets of IAG. Without such leaders we would not be where we are today.

IAG Educational Activities 1995-99

Two priorities were defined in 1995 in the area of education and training:

Develop an overall strategy for IAG educational activities and coordinate them globally
Develop a plan for IAG-approved graduate courses at the Ph.D level and make them available worldwide.

International Summer Schools have been conducted by IAG since 1973 when the first of them, held in Ramsau, Austria, had a formative influence on many who are active in IAG today. Since then, Summer Schools have been an acknowledged, albeit a somewhat spontaneous activity of IAG. They were organized by interested individuals and concentrated on research topics of current interest. In recent years, the demand for a different type of summer school, which presents the current status in areas of rapid technological advance (GPS, Geoid), has been increasing. The character of such schools is perhaps best described as advanced training courses with a considerable amount of hands-on experience. In contrast to the research-oriented Summer Schools, they are offered on a more regular basis. Since the overall activity in this area has been steadily increasing, it was felt that IAG should take the initiative in developing a concept for a broad offering of such schools and for coordinating and promoting them on a world-wide scale. The first IAG Vice-President, F. Sanso, declared his willingness to spearhead such an effort.

Since 1995, nine such schools have taken place, of which three had a research focus, three a training focus and the remaining three were somewhere in between. The majority of these courses were held in Europe, with only two being organized in other parts of the world, one in South America, the other one in Indonesia. There were plans for other schools outside Europe, which unfortunately had to be cancelled because of economic or organizational difficulties.

In terms of a general strategy for the coordination and promotion of such schools, the discussion is still in flux. At this point it is clear that IAG will conduct such schools only upon invitation. This invitation may come from one or several countries that agree to be responsible for the local organization. IAG selects a team of lecturers making maximum use of qualified individuals in the specific geographic area where the school takes place. Once approved by the Executive, promotion and financial support will be available from IAG.

The idea behind the second priority is to make the best use of specific expertise available in a larger region to offer a variety of graduate-level courses of high quality to PhD students in that region. IAG would accredit these courses as being of PhD-level quality and the academic centers would form a loose association and would recognize course and research work done at different centers for credit. A related idea was that a student who completed such a program would in some way be accredited as an ‘IAG-scholar’. Because education is in general a national, and in some cases even a provincial mandate, the difficulties of creating an international degree are obvious. However, it seemed to be worthwhile to explore the idea in the context of the EU and its emphasis of defining consistent degree requirements. A subcommittee of the EC was formed to explore this question. Its final report has not yet been delivered.

IAG in Developing Countries 1995-99

Four priorities were identified in IAG's interaction with developing countries:

Restructure the IAG Committee on Developing Countries (CDC) by regions
Improve the communication between the CDC and the IAG Executive
Use a major portion of the IAG Fund to provide financial support to promising young scientists from developing countries to attend IAG activities
Publish the CDC newsletter in the IAG section of the Journal of Geodesy

Although the 'Internationale Erdmessung' was formed more than hundred years ago, the center of IAG activities is still in Europe. To give but one example, the number of IAG-sponsored meetings that took place during the reporting period was thirty-two. Twenty-two of them were held in Europe, two in North America, and eight in the rest of the world. Although some of these eight were major IAG meetings (Rio and Tokyo), the fact remains that IAG is simply not visible in many of the developing countries. To change this, the actions above were proposed.

The proposal to restructure the IAG Committee on Developing Countries by regions was made by the delegates from those countries at the Boulder meeting. It was felt that geodetic work in South America, Africa, and South-East Asia was too different to be meaningfully discussed in a group composed of delegates from all these countries. In addition, travel costs for a committee working on a global scale would simply be prohibitive and thus prevent a consistent functioning of the committee. It was therefore decided to work with smaller committees on a regional to continental scale and to delegate one representative for each region as contact person to the IAG. To give voice to the concerns of different regions, the First Vice-President of the IAG, Fernando Sanso, was asked to be the direct contact to the regional representatives. The concept worked very well in South America where SIRGAS had prepared the ground for cooperation, and where the IAG Scientific Assembly in Rio focussed some of the efforts. It also had a good start in South-East Asia where cooperation had been initiated through the Tropical Summer School. The economic downturn in the region put some of the planned activities on hold; as the situation starts to stabilize, this activity will start again. Despite the good participation of African countries in Boulder, a corresponding Committee for Africa has so far not been established, despite major efforts by the Executive Committee.

To provide young scientists in these regions with the funds to attend IAG-sponsored meetings, it was decided that most of the IAG Fund (voluntary contributions) and a part of the IAG budget would be used for this purpose. This clearly is a long-term investment, which is made with a very small financial base, and it remains to be seen how successful it will be. Cooperation with some of the major national and international research institutions working in some of these regions might provide much better leverage for the rather limited IAG funds. The IAG Fund is currently overextended and your support of these efforts and your generosity will certainly be appreciated. The idea to publish the CDC Newsletter as part of the IAG Newsletter in the Journal of Geodesy has unfortunately not let to any practical results. After the untimely death of A. Wassef, nobody has been willing to coordinate this effort.

Restructuring the IAG

The discussions about the research focus of the IAG soon expanded into a discussion on whether or not the current structure adequately supports IAG research goals. Currently, IAG research goals are de facto defined by Section research. This produces a tendency to compartmentalize research and to obscure the view for the global forces that are driving geodesy today. Since the Section structure goes essentially back forty years, when terrestrial methods completely dominated geodesy, it appears to be high time to review the structure in terms of the fundamental change that has taken place since then. Modifying Section titles and changing Section goals may not be enough to take into account the fact that space methods today pervade all of geodesy and are a major part of the research done in the Sections. These methods have changed the geodetic emphasis from local and regional problems to global problems. Not in the sense that global problems are the only ones that matter, but in the sense that global, regional, and local problems can all be solved in the same consistent framework and often with the same observational procedures. They have also made it very obvious that a new level of integration of all geodetic techniques is required. The question therefore is whether the current structure of IAG gives the best support to the major problems facing geodesy today.

The development of the Services over the last few years seems to indicate that there are weaknesses in the Section approach which hinder IAG to be as effective in research as it could be. Many of the Services, which grew out of IAG, are now affiliated with FAGS and serve a much wider science spectrum than IAG. In the case of IERS where numbers are available, only about one third are traditional geodetic users. In the case of IGS, the user group has a spectrum that is considerably wider than even the geosciences. This indicates that geodetic products are in demand by a much larger group than that encompassed by IAG. To restructure IAG in such a way that more of these users would become interested in participating in IAG activities would therefore be worthwhile considering. This would require a stronger involvement of the Services in IAG decision making.

Another indicator that IAG research may be too much confined by the Section structure becomes apparent when looking at the program of this meeting. IAG is involved in 13 Inter-Association and Union Symposia, as opposed to five Section and one Association symposia. The reason for this is that, in addition to the three or four Inter-Association symposia proposed by IAG, more than double that number was proposed by other Associations who wanted IAG involved in the topics discussed. This again indicates that the effect of geodetic research is positively recognized outside our self-imposed boundaries. If IAG wants to represent all forces driving geodesy today, the current structure should be examined. This examination will be driven by IAG research priorities. Thus, the question of a new IAG structure is closely linked to the question of an IAG research focus discussed earlier.

The Executive has discussed these questions over the past few years. At this point opinions on an appropriate IAG structure differ widely, but there seems to be a general agreement that looking at these questions seriously and with an open mind will be beneficial to the IAG. It was therefore decided that a discussion of this question should start at this meeting and should be as broad based as possible. All of you are invited to join this discussion on Wednesday next week and to express your opinions in the panel discussion which will be part of this program. We will look at both the research focus and the structure question. It is hoped that in this way a process can be initiated which will lead to a clear proposal in about two years' time. We invite you to be part of this process.

Concluding Remarks

Let me close this address by expressing my sincere thanks to all members of the Bureau and the Executive Committee. They have been far more than an administrative body and have personally contributed to many of the achievements that I have outlined earlier. May I ask you to express your appreciation by a round of applause while all the members of the Bureau and Executive stand. I would also like to extent these thanks to those of you who contributed to the work of the IAG by working on Commissions, Services, Special Study Groups, Committees, the Council and on the Editorial Board. IAG can only survive if this voluntary work continues. I hope that the challenges that are facing geodesy during the coming decade will make you want to be involved in this work.