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The primary goal of the Coastal Module of the Global Terrestrial Observing System is to detect, assess and predict global and large-scale regional change associated with land-based, wetland and freshwater ecosystems along coasts.

The coastal zone contains a wide variety of ecosystems that are both important ecologically and highly valued by humans. Biodiversity and productivity are often high, and the processing of energy and materials links terrestrial ecosystems with marine waters and the atmosphere. A significant portion of the human population resides in the coastal zone or uses its resources. Some of the most densely populated areas on earth are along the coast, positioned with high vulnerability to natural disasters.

The coast presents a particular challenge to assessing global change. The discontinuity between the land and ocean provides complexities that challenge the efforts of global observing systems. There is a clear need for information about the coastal zone from an integrated socio-ecological perspective within the observing system framework.

This plan for the Coastal Module of GTOS (C-GTOS) describes the strategic design for a mature observing system and identifies ways to implement that strategy during the initial phase of the programme.

The plan recognizes the need to develop the observing system into a mature and sustainable programme through a series of achievable products. C-GTOS has the following goals:

Early efforts by the panel of scientific experts participating in the C-GTOS workshops focused on (i) definitions of the "coast" and factors that affect differences in definitions and (ii) the selection of appropriate analytical frameworks for choosing critical indicators and assessment tools. Because of the complexity of the environment and the different needs of perceived users, it was decided not to rely on a single definition of the coastal zone, but to maintain definitional flexibility. Potential users variously define the coastal zone in terms of four criteria: (i) management units; (ii) human use dynamics; (iii) area of extent, and (iv) ecosystem functionality. These categories helped structure the design of the plan. The central framework is the Driver-Pressure-State-Impact-Response, which focuses on the interrelationship between human society and environmental issues.

The structure of C-GTOS reflects its interface with the Coastal Module of the Global Ocean Observing System, other research and observing system programmes, and the proposed coastal theme of the Integrated Global Observation Strategy (IGOS). Potential users were identified with consideration of those proposed by the Coastal Module of GOOS. Users, or stakeholders, drive the development of C-GTOS. They are the sources of interest in the issues and variables, the recipients of products from the observing systems and, in some cases, the providers of the observations and financial support.

Observing systems require both field (in situ) and remote sensing (satellite and aerial photography) data collected on an ongoing basis. Experts at the workshops selected global and large-scale regional themes and identified a suite of variables and indicators for each. These variables and indicators include (i) human dimensions, land use, land cover and critical habitat alteration; (ii) sediment loss and delivery; (iii) water cycle and water quality and (iv) effects of sea level change, storms and flooding.

Data are harmonized, developed into various information products and communicated to users. At each of these steps, the use of existing and proposed information systems and frameworks is required. The plan identifies these needs, necessary policies and future actions, as well as some first phase implementation products that address data requirements. The GTOS Terrestrial Environmental Monitoring Sites (TEMS) project is one of the information systems identified as central to the identification and cataloguing of data and to the communication of information. TEMS is envisioned as requiring major enhancement to accommodate the needs of C-GTOS. Considerable effort has been made to identify needed enhancements. Many C-GTOS information products will require the distribution and use of geographic information products via the Web, as well as the use of cost-effective PC-based software. C-GTOS will build on existing Web-based information systems such as GeoNetwork of the Food and Agriculture Organization and PC-based products that will also extend information management capacities in developing countries. The volume of data required for C-GTOS and the need to convert those data into information products will require access to advanced informatics techniques and significant capacity development. The information products can be used by stakeholders for policy- and decision-making, and their feedback will provide further information on C-GTOS user needs, in turn providing opportunities for modifications in data collection.

The first phase of C-GTOS will build on a set of readily achievable products that are designed to provide tests of concept for the observing system. These products were chosen based on the needs of the programme and representation of the aforementioned topics of concern. The first phase implementation products are titled as follows:

Both initial implementation and development of the mature system have a number of components. Milestones and timelines are proposed for each of the components associated with initial implementation. Beyond these targets, several programmatic elements are required for the development of a mature system. First, it is important to evaluate existing and needed capacity and training in information management, data processing and interpretation (modelling tools), and outreach (including the TEMS and GTOS Web sites). Second, C-GTOS must establish a number of components essential to effective implementation, including a user advisory group, the ability to perform measurements, training and capacity building, product delivery, linkages to other global observing systems and assessments and sustainable funding. Third, the activities of C-GTOS must be integrated with policy and management processes to improve coastal decision-making and resource management. Finally, maintaining programme quality over time will require a process of review and assessment of outcome measures and performance indicators.

Ultimately, the mature C-GTOS is envisioned as being fully interactive and complementary with the coastal activities of GOOS and GCOS. This integration is being fostered through the joint participation of scientific experts involved in the development of the GTOS Coastal Module, and coastal observations within both GOOS and GCOS. In particular, through the development of the integrative Coastal Theme for IGOS. The mature system will require considerable development of capacity in many ways because of the complexity of the landscape and issues of the coast. The approach described in this plan builds on success of priority products to generate the capability, goodwill and enthusiasm of the international community to support a mature observing system.

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