The national observation services (SNO)

Since the 1990s, the INSU has established a labelling process concerning national and often international research support services.

Since 2016, the strategy and structuring of the INSU relative to "National Observation Services" (SNOs), as well as the main principles associated with them, have been described in a context report which reiterates the fact that the SNOs are labelled by the INSU management to answer the needs of long-term documenting of training, evolution, variability of astronomical systems and Earth media, and to encourage progress of knowledge in these fields. It also serves as a reminder that the SNOs have the vocation to provide a service to the scientific community. The decisions to create new SNOs, and to renew, disband or support the evolution of existing SNOs are taken by the INSU management after scientific evaluation by specialized commissions in each of the INSU fields (CSAA, CSOA, CSSIC, CSNO of the TS field).

The INSU has now grouped the SNOs within a collection of "National Actions for Observation" (ANO), with the goal of structuring and steering. This regrouping into an ANO allows the INSU to display a structuring logic that is linked to other national (SOERE, IR and TGIR of the Research Ministry) or international (ESFRI or international organisms) actions, which exist already or are in preparation. These must also enable aims and skills to be shared more effectively between SNOs working in the same field.


Astronomy is structured around national or international means that support scientific research in the different fields of the discipline and are accessible to the French scientific community. The activities that are labelled in the context of service missions in Astronomy cover the construction and operation of instruments and substantial observation and astronomical monitoring resources; production, distribution and maintenance of software; production of large surveys, observational or simulation data; the development of data archiving, and distribution tools, as well as tools for interrogation and manipulation of large bases of heterogeneous data. These service missions, divided into a set of instrumental means, centres of processing and archiving, or national thematic centres, are organized as six National Observation Action Plans (ANO).

ANO-1: Metrology of space and time

The aim of this National Observation Action Plan is to set up and maintain spatial-temporal landmarks. This traditional task of astronomy relies on contractual activities vis-à-vis the State and international agreements with the International Astronomical Union and the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. This National Observation Action Plan has a strong societal reach and is upstream of virtually any astronomical observation. Apart from the development, use and maintenance of instruments, the management and analysis of data, this ANO includes:

  • Carrying out and making units of time, the second and French time available
  • The development of Earthly and celestial reference systems and their connection that allows the measurement and study of the Earth's rotation
  • The publication of astrometric and ephemeris data
  • Spatial geodesy, through the establishment of a vertical reference system

ANO-2: Instrumentation of large observatories on the ground and in space

This National Observation Action concerns the OSU capacity to design and manage projects, implement and ensure the operation of instruments (particularly focal ones) for ground-based research infrastructures and space missions that provide data that is accessible to the whole community. These are heavy resources, open to the entire French community. They have a strong international visibility, and their data is rapidly made public. ANO-2 also relates to the provision of software acquisition and the reduction of data. This National Observation Action is structured into two parts:

  • Instrumentation of telescopes, probes and space observatories
  • Instrumentation of large telescopes and ground interferometers

ANO-3: Observation stations

Astronomers have major national or international resources at their disposal, for which the management is often demanding, and there is no direct return in terms of publications. To recognize the contribution of this service to the community, the project includes:

  • Management of the observation stations
  • Their own instrumental activities
  • The operation of instruments after putting them into service
  • Upstream actions aimed at the qualification and protection of existing and future observation sites, in all spectral windows (optical, radio)

ANO-4: Large-scale surveys, deep probing, and long-term monitoring and support

Large surveys are one of the main sources of data bases in astronomy. This National Observation Action covers the definition and conduct of major observational programmes of an international scale aimed at mapping the sky in different spectral domains, the temporal tracking of objects over long time scales, and the systematic observation of populations of objects. The activities concerned cover the initial preparation, definition, completion of the actual survey, data reduction, archiving and final dissemination. Making the data available to the community in a systematic manner, as rapidly as possible, is the mission of this National observation action.

ANO-5: Centres of data processing, archiving and dissemination

The large ground or space astronomical observatories provide large volumes of data that is made public after a short period of exclusivity. This rapid dissemination to the whole of the community aims to maximize the scientific return of heavy investments. This ANO covers three types of activity – the processing, archiving, and dissemination of data within dedicated structures that possess the necessary expertise and resources. To develop observations, the community may need reference data derived from theoretical calculations, experiments or simulations accompanied by tools needed for their exploitation. The needs may also concern access to digital reference codes.

ANO-6: Monitoring the sun and the Earth's space environment

In the solar wind or the ionized environment of the Earth, Near Earth Objects (NEO) and orbiting debris, along with phenomena produced at the Sun's surface, are likely to affect the performance and reliability of Earth and space devices and systems. This puts human lives or health into danger. Their operational forecasting and systematic monitoring constitute the mission of this ANO which, apart from its societal aspects, has major scientific spin offs, especially those pertaining to the understanding of solar cycles, the physics of relationships between the heliosphere and the Earth, and the dynamics of the spacial environment of the Earth. In addition, long-term monitoring supplies data needed to explore other relationships between the Sun and the Earth, for example such as the potential contribution of the Sun's activity to climate evolution.

Solid Earth

A fundamental aim of research in Earth Sciences is to understand the internal workings of the planet. This generates societal spin offs in terms of risk estimation (natural and anthropic), resource management, and sustainable development. This research relies on perennial physical and chemical observations concerning the natural medium, and they are usually impossible to reproduce in the laboratory. The rarity and brevity of certain phenomena (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions) and the need to continually record certain variables (magnetic and gravimetric fields, chemical composition of water or volcanic systems) over long periods of time confers a specific character on the Earth Science observation systems. The Solid Earth observatories have three kinds of mission:
- Measurement, archiving and study of physical and chemical parameters of Solid Earth
- Understanding and observation of natural and anthropic uncertainties in Solid Earth. Assistance in management of resources and waste products
- An information mission concerning certain hazards (volcanic and seismologic), with the authorities in charge of the management of natural risks

  • ANO-1: Volcanology
  • ANO-2: Seismology
  • ANO-3: Geodesy and Gravimetric Analysis
  • ANO-4: Magnetism
  • ANO-5: Slope instabilities


During recent decades, an international strategy has been established to acquire the data needed for the description of the overall climate system, to analyse the major processes involved and to quantify their role. In this context, certain observations recur in the long-term, more or less frequently. These have become necessary for the study of the dynamics of processes, often with a regional or global vision, but also with a local one. These series of long-term data are acquired by the INSU thanks to National Observation Services destined for the measurement of a limited number of oceanic or atmospheric parameters, as well as the National Instrumented Sites, which group together a wide variety of instruments and atmospheric measurements on a single site. Furthermore, the importance of digital modelling in research has led the INSU to support a limited number of numeric codes of a communal vocation, with the aim of allowing them to remain at the highest level of international competition.

  • ANO-1: Services of monitoring of the atmosphere
  • ANO-2: Services of observation of the ocean
  • ANO-3: Communal digital codes
  • ANO-4: Processing and data archiving
  • ANO-5: National observation sites

Continental surfaces and interfaces

Man's actions are having increasingly serious effects on his environment resulting in problems of transformations, and the vulnerability of the latter under the effects of growing and diversified anthropic pressures. In return, they cause new risks that have to be correctly informed and evaluated to better establish scientifically prevention and remediation policies. The complexity and inertia of the systems considered, together with the strong spatial and temporal variability of climatic and anthropogenic forcings require the long-term acquisition of reliable and spatialized data. This allows the identification of evolutionary trends, the detection of breaks in equilibrium, the capture of exceptional, rare phenomena and ultimately a better understanding and modelling of the different processes involved. One specific aspect of Continental Surfaces and Interfaces concerns the complementary long-term experimental notion that leads to "the manipulation" of certain environmental factors and/or means of occupation of space and exploitation of resources. The fields concerned here are those of the continental biosphere, the pedosphere, the hydrosphere, and their interfaces with the atmosphere and the coastal marine milieu.

  • ANO-1: Critical zone in continental waters
  • ANO-2: Agroecosystems, Biogeochemical Cycles and Biodiversity
  • ANO-3: Coastal and Littoral