Through much of the twentieth century geography at the USGS came to be synonymous with and virtually limited to mapping. Now the Survey faces challenges that result from three kinds of fundamental change. First, print maps have become much less important as end products for USGS while new digital products are increasingly important, resulting in a demand for an entirely new approach. Second, geography has changed as an academic discipline outside the Survey. Offering new perspectives on geography could contribute to the mission of the USGS. Third, the roles of the USGS have become more rich and complicated, as well as more strongly directed toward processes at the Earth’s surface, necessitating a reassessment of priorities for the Geography Discipline.
From an operational standpoint geography is an integral part of the USGS’s past and its present. During the early years of the Survey geologists and hydrologists worked closely with geographers. After a period of relatively little geographic activity at the Survey, geography is again a significant component of USGS activities. With the identification of the Geography Discipline at the USGS as an institutional partner with the Geology Discipline, Water Discipline, and Biology Discipline, geographic contributions in the future will likely be much more prominent. Selection of geographic research priorities will define the nature of geography’s involvement in the reformed Survey. The following chapters explore these priorities in three general groupings: geographic data management, GIScience, and land surface-society interactions.