web of linkages, feedbacks, reservoirs of material and energy, and chemical interactions. The USGS should lead in contributing to basic scientific understanding of the Critical Zone, especially in creating ways to employ geography’s integrative capabilities. This role is appropriate for a federal agency engaged in natural science information and research.
The committee assessed the geographic initiatives undertaken by other agencies, and it considers the research agenda for geography presented in this report appropriate for a federal natural science agency and complements the work undertaken by other federal natural science agencies. Geographic research at the USGS is important as a service to the nation because the agency is unique in its experience and resources. Geographic issues in the public arena, ranging from the management of public lands and waters to assessment of hazards rely on geospatial data that are largely the product of the USGS. The USGS is the only federal agency that has both (1) a mandate to provide the nation with natural science information and knowledge and (2) a large cadre of specialists in geography, geology, hydrology, and biology.
Geographic research is administratively housed in a number of organizational units at the USGS. Although some geographic research activities are undertaken within the Geography Discipline, other geographic research is conducted within the Biology Discipline (e.g., research into climatic change or scale and pattern in ecosystems), Geology Discipline (e.g., research in epidemiology), and the Water Discipline (e.g., research into river systems). The initiation and conduct of geographic research in the USGS is important in addition to its organizational placement, as geographic researchers is distributed throughout the agency.
Basic and applied research on environmental dynamics has long been a major focus of physical geographers in universities and research institutes (NRC, 1997). Physical geography has most often been concerned with geomorphologic, hydrologic, climatic, biogeographic, and pedologic systems. Research on how natural systems operate, the interactions among them, spatial patterns of forms and processes, and the human influence on these systems are classical themes in physical geography. A major theme in geography has been the study of nature-society interactions. Study of the interactions among these human and natural systems is an emerging opportunity in the more general Earth sciences, because of the importance of human effects on environmental systems and vice versa.