Former Secretariat Director of the Intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) in Geneva, Switzerland
Under Barbara J. Ryan’s leadership, millions of satellite images and other Earth
observation data have been made available to the general public at no charge, allowing
scientists, planners and policy makers to make better-informed decisions on problems
that transcend political boundaries. Her work addresses critical issues in agriculture,
biodiversity, climate change, disaster planning, energy, health and water.
From 2012 to 2018, Ryan was the Secretariat Director of the Intergovernmental Group
on Earth Observations (GEO) in Geneva, Switzerland, an organization comprised of 104
Member States, including the European Commission, and 126 international scientific,
technical and development partner organizations.
While at GEO, Ryan worked to integrate Earth observation systems from around the
world into a single, comprehensive system that uses coordinated data to understand how
environmental factors impact human life. Like Ryan’s career body of work, the system
helps guide decision makers toward better agricultural, energy and land-use decisions.
After graduating from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland with a degree
in geology in 1974, Ryan joined the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the
nation’s largest civilian mapping agency. She became an expert in groundwater
contamination and eventually was selected as staff assistant to the Department of the
Interior’s top official for water and science issues.
Ryan advanced steadily in the USGS, earning master’s degrees in geography from the
University of Denver and in civil engineering from Stanford University along the way. As
associate director for geography at the USGS, she was responsible for the agency’s
remote sensing, geography and civilian mapping programmes, including the Landsat
satellites. It was during this time she led the effort to change the decade-old Landsat
data policy to full and open, an action resulting in more than 84 million scenes being
downloaded globally to date.
Ryan has served as chair of the international Committee on Earth Observation Satellites
(CEOS), which coordinates information from more than 100 civilian satellite missions,
and in 2008, became director of the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO’s) space
programme. Ryan has been awarded an honorary doctorate of science degree from her
alma mater, SUNY Cortland. She was recently named an Honorary Fellow of the
American Geographical Society, and in 2017, was one of 10 global Leaders to be named
to the Geospatial World Forum’s Hall of Fame.