Integrated Carbon Observation System
General Info


Helsinki, Finland

legal status




TThe Intergrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) is a distributed European research infrastructure (RI) producing high-precision data on greenhouse gases. It provides highly standardised and open data from 180 measurement stations across 16 European countries. The stations observe greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere as well as carbon fluxes between the atmosphere, land surface and oceans. Thus, ICOS is rooted in three domains: Atmosphere, Ecosystem and Ocean. Overall, ICOS community consists of more than 500 scientists in Europe and beyond. More than 80 renowned universities or institutes are a part of the ICOS community which has also strong connections to colleagues and operators outside academia. ICOS RI facilitates research to understand the carbon cycle and to provide necessary information on greenhouse gases. ICOS-based knowledge supports policy- and decision-making to combat climate change and its impacts. ICOS is the European pillar of a global greenhouse gas observation system. It promotes technological developments and demonstrations related to greenhouse gases by linking research, education and innovation. Entered the ESFRI Roadmap in 2006, ICOS established the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) in 2015. ICOS is fully operational. ICOS data are integrated into major global data systems and networks and meet the needs of international requirements, principles and agreements. ICOS Thematic Centres and Central Laboratories are established as centres of excellence in their domains and provide stable support for European and international networks. The ICOS data are available near-real-time, fully open and compliant with FAIR principles at the ICOS Carbon Portal. Beyond the data provision, the ICOS Carbon Portal provides computational services to scientists to analyse the data and to run models on greenhouse gas fluxes. ICOS represents a strong European community of institutions investing into in situ observations, and it has established itself as an organisation from which relevant stakeholders seek advice. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has identified ICOS as a blueprint for its Global Greenhouse Gas Watch (G3W) initiative. ICOS acts as a mediator between the greenhouse gas science community and the agencies that work on national inventories and the global stocktake. ICOS drives technical developments in order to improve analytical capacities, supporting industry partners to fulfil its high-quality needs. Within the ensemble of ENVRI, ICOS is a strong European building block and supporter of a recently established global RI on ecosystem research. This role, the benefits of ICOS to science and society, and an increased number of member countries have resulted in obtaining stable and sufficient resources to further sustain and develop the RI.
Total Investment 130 M€ Design 2,2 M€ Preparation 4,3 M€ Implementation 125 M€ Operation 34,8 M€/year Project Landmark 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 2022 2024 2026 2028 2030 2032 2034 2036 2038 RM06 RM08 RM10 RM16 RM18 RM21 LA24
Roadmap Entry
as project: 2006
as landmark: 2016
Total investment
130 M€
Design Phase
2,2 M€
Preparation Phase
4,3 M€
Implementation Phase
125 M€
Operation start
34,8 M€/year
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 loss and damage as well as for adaptation. ICOS facilitates frontier research and delivers advanced services for excellent science. The climate science supported by ICOS increases the capacity of European policy to address the challenges related to the climate crisis. ICOS provides scientific evidence for knowledge-based decisions. ICOS data supports the European Green Deal, the European Climate Law with its short-term ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% until 2030 as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations at global level. ICOS improves the quality, spatial resolution and time-series length of greenhouse gas observations in several ways: ICOS enables the combination of diverse datasets from various countries and across the Atmosphere, Ecosystem and Ocean domains, and provides financial stability for the operation of measurement stations, extending the time horizons from often project-based funding to a more long-term model. A substantial impact comes also from the harmonization and standardization of measurements and data formats including improved QA/QC standards and data protocols. ICOS’ impact is also amplified by its role as the analytics and synthesis service provider for the wider scientific community. 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.
The core service of ICOS RI is access to high quality, standardised, reliable and comparable data on GHG through the Carbon Portal. The quality of the data available is guaranteed by harmonised practices in the operations at ICOS Thematic Centres and in the Carbon Portal data services used in data processing. These include, for example, Quality Assurance and Quality Control. Virtual services also include DOI minting. The Carbon Portal also provides services for data analysis. Direct access to ICOS sites e.g. for experiments is restricted since it would disturb the observations. However, ICOS sites provide access to test additional instruments or to install instruments for calibration and validation of satellite observations. The biennial ICOS Science Conference is a hub for presenting the outcomes and impacts of observations. It also functions as a development, prioritisation and mediator forum and offers the possibility to connect scientists with industry representatives. ICOS RI also offers services related to calibration of gases, and borrow spare instruments. Remote services entail uniform laboratory services related to flasks and soil samples. ICOS provides a large spectrum of communication and dissemination services, the most important one the annual bulletin ‘FLUXES’ that informs agencies, policy makers and the broader public on recent trends from greenhouse gas observations as well as specific topics at the interface between science and policy, e.g. on scientific sound certification of carbon dioxide removals or successful climate action in cities.
S S H D I G I T E N E H & F P S E
ICOS collaborates with the Community of other Environmental Research Infrastructures (ENVRI) to provide comprehensive data for environmental research. This has recently resulted in the ENVRI-Hub providing FAIR data from the ENVRI community within the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC). The ENVRI cooperation promotes a clearer picture of the European landscape, sharpen the core competences of each RI and develop cross-RI services. The current ENVRI Community brings together 27 European Research Infrastructures that are studying different aspects of the Earth system. Fifteen of them are listed on the latest edition of the ESFRI Roadmap, which means they are very advanced in their operations and the services they offer. Many of the ICOS measurement stations are co-located with Research Infrastructures such as eLTER EMSO, or ACTRIS. Co-location, shared protocols and harmonized data management processes, the development of multi-RI-services are key to ensure synergies between RIs in an increasingly complex landscape. To improve the cooperation ICOS participates with other RIs in many research projects (e.g. ICOS Cities, GEORGE, ENVRINNOV, IRISCC, RITrain+, ERIC Forum) that strengthen RI-to-RI-collaboration. This cooperation in projects goes beyond the ENV domain to social sciences and the health and food sector. ICOS also plays a crucial role in the ERIC FORUM project as the partner leading the development of the future platform for common resources. As one of the oldest ERICs, ICOS can share with younger RIs a lot of lessons learned.