Part 3
Projects & Landmarks
Environment / Landmark


Integrated Carbon Observation System

High precision scientific data on carbon cycle and greenhouse gas budgets to support climate action


The Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) is a distributed Research Infrastructure to generate high-precision data and integrate knowledge on the carbon cycle and greenhouse gas (GHG) budgets and of their perturbations. ICOS conducts long-term observations in three networks – atmosphere, ecosystems, and oceans – as required to understand the present state and extrapolate to the future behaviour of the global carbon cycle and GHG fluxes. ICOS has an increasing role in scientific support of climate policy. The most important technological impact is standardisation. Further technology developments and implementations, related to GHGs, will be promoted by a close integration of research, education and innovation.

The structure of ICOS consists of ICOS National Networks, ICOS Central Facilities, and the ICOS European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) which was established in October 2015. ICOS ERIC manages and oversees the activities and strategic goals, and distributes data and elaborated data products.


The first objective of ICOS is to build a single and coherent data set and to open it for effective access to facilitate research on GHG concentration, related emissions and natural sinks. Data are assimilated in biogeochemical and ecological process models. ICOS aims at establishing a reference standard for the future development of similar integrated and operative GHG observation networks also beyond Europe. The second objective is to provide information for understanding of regional budgets of greenhouse gas sources and sinks, their human and natural drivers, and the controlling mechanisms. ICOS ERIC allows detecting changes in regional greenhouse gas fluxes, early warning of negative developments and the response of natural fluxes to extreme climate events. In order to provide this information ICOS builds National Networks of atmospheric, ecosystem and ocean stations. European level ICOS Central Facilities, are dedicated to collecting and processing the data received from the National Networks and to provide calibration gases or specific analyses. The ICOS ERIC data policy endorses full and open exchange of data, metadata and products that will be made available to the researchers with minimum time delay. It follows general data sharing principles as outlined by GEOSS.

The data and knowledge provided by ICOS ERIC will reduce the uncertainties in Earth System models and in predictions on future GHG concentrations as exploited in the Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


Environmental Research Infrastructures in general, and ICOS in particular, generate important knowledge on our ecological life support systems that provide priceless services. This is particularly evident in the field of GHG: not reaching our safe climate change target level by inadequate mitigation will lead to extremely large societal costs for adaptation and predictable high damages. The investments and running costs needed for a global GHG monitoring and analysis network are marginal compared to these costs and could be easily compensated due to improved effectiveness of the mitigation strategies. Additional benefit will come from detecting and pointing to surprise changes in the earth system and from detecting non-compliance of regions, sectors or countries with the agreed objectives. Furthermore, ICOS GHG observations and outreach activities, have already increased the public awareness and stimulated changes towards green economy and decarbonisation of agricultural, industrial and transport processes.

A substantial impact comes also from the harmonization and standardization of measurements and data formats including improved QA/QC standards and data protocols. These efforts support primarily the research community, but industry and policy makers also benefit from reliable and standardized openly accessible data sets.

legal status
ERIC, 2015
political support
lead country
members countries
The full list of research institutions involved must be found in the website of the RI
Roadmap Entry
Design Phase
Preparation Phase
Implementation/Construction Phase
Operation Start
estimated costs
capital value
116 M€
Not Available
4.3 M€
80 M€
24.2 M€/year

Helsinki, Finland