Summary

Analyses of remotely sensed observations from aircraft and satellite provide information regarding changes in the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, including changes in land cover, sea surfaces, temperatures, and many other terrestrial, marine, and atmospheric variables. Remotely sensed data can provide spatial and temporal information necessary to address some of the most challenging issues related to society’s health and well-being. Although remotely sensed data are combined with other data types for purposes such as weather forecasting, remotely sensed observations of the land surface are not routinely applied to decisions about human welfare.

This report summarizes a two-day workshop on the contributions of land remote sensing to human welfare decisions. The National Research Council, at the request of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, organized an ad hoc committee to plan the workshop. The committee’s charge was to conduct a workshop on the contributions of remotely sensed data to land use and land cover change analyses and on ways to use the physical, biological, temporal, and social characteristics of particular locations to support decisions about human welfare. Topics covered were to include (1) how to effectively use remote sensing, in combination with other types of data to forecast ecological and social repercussions of changes in land use and land cover; (2) usefulness of land remote sensing for improving human welfare; (3) technical issues of integrating disparate data (e.g., different remote sensing platforms at different temporal and



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Contributions of Land Remote Sensing for Decisions about Food Security and Human Health: Workshop Report Summary Analyses of remotely sensed observations from aircraft and satellite provide information regarding changes in the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, including changes in land cover, sea surfaces, temperatures, and many other terrestrial, marine, and atmospheric variables. Remotely sensed data can provide spatial and temporal information necessary to address some of the most challenging issues related to society’s health and well-being. Although remotely sensed data are combined with other data types for purposes such as weather forecasting, remotely sensed observations of the land surface are not routinely applied to decisions about human welfare. This report summarizes a two-day workshop on the contributions of land remote sensing to human welfare decisions. The National Research Council, at the request of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, organized an ad hoc committee to plan the workshop. The committee’s charge was to conduct a workshop on the contributions of remotely sensed data to land use and land cover change analyses and on ways to use the physical, biological, temporal, and social characteristics of particular locations to support decisions about human welfare. Topics covered were to include (1) how to effectively use remote sensing, in combination with other types of data to forecast ecological and social repercussions of changes in land use and land cover; (2) usefulness of land remote sensing for improving human welfare; (3) technical issues of integrating disparate data (e.g., different remote sensing platforms at different temporal and

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Contributions of Land Remote Sensing for Decisions about Food Security and Human Health: Workshop Report spatial scales, ground-based scientific data, and socioeconomic data) into decision support systems that address human welfare; and (4) trends in research and data availability that enable decision support systems and processes to use remotely sensed land data. As focal points for the workshop, the committee selected two aspects of human welfare in which remotely sensed environmental conditions play a key role: human health and food security. These two aspects were selected to represent a range of existing experience within the scientific and policy communities on the applications of remote sensing. The application of remote sensing to food insecurity is relatively mature. Application to human health has received less attention and research efforts are beginning to emerge. The ability of land remote sensing to identify variables such as land cover, responses of vegetation to climate variability, and locations of human infrastructure provides critical information in forecasting and determining appropriate responses to disease outbreaks, food shortages, and other consequences for vulnerable populations. Applications of land remote sensing to monitor crop yields, enable precision agriculture, and identify impending food shortages in developing countries offer successful examples. The use of remote sensing data for human health is not as advanced as for food security beyond a few case studies, although workshop participants believe the potential is great. Workshop participants identified three themes that, if fostered, would help realize the potential for the application of land remote sensing to decisions about human welfare. Integration of spatial data on environmental conditions derived from remote sensing with socioeconomic data. The success of using land remote sensing in human welfare decisions rests on the ability to integrate remote sensing data with socioeconomic information. In the human health domain, for example, the integration of socioeconomic information, such as locations and vulnerabilities of human populations and access to infrastructure, with environmental conditions, such as habitats for disease vectors and potential disease outbreaks, is key to providing information that is effective in generating response strategies. The research community is only at the beginning stages of achieving this integration. Integration involves communication across disciplines to consider the full range of ecological and socioeconomic factors affecting human welfare, data collection that facilitates merging multiple types of data, and tools such as geographic information systems (GIS) to combine data sets. Communication between remote sensing scientists and decision makers to determine the effective use of land remote sensing data for human welfare issues. Successful application of remotely sensed data to human welfare issues depends on several factors, including cooperation between remote sens-

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Contributions of Land Remote Sensing for Decisions about Food Security and Human Health: Workshop Report ing, natural, and social scientists and decision makers. From the remote sensing side, successful application depends on correctly identifying what variables on the Earth’s surface require measurement for human welfare applications. Perspectives on the information needs from officials who ultimately use the information are equally important to the perspectives of remote sensing scientists in generating the information. Communication that allows multiple perspectives in determining information needs is critical to the effective use of remote sensing. Acquisition, archiving, and access to long-term environmental data (both past data and data to be collected) and development of capacity to interpret these data. Workshop participants agreed that maintenance of the continuity of current satellite coverage monitoring environmental conditions over extended time frames is most important to the realization of any potential in applying land remote sensing to human welfare. Access to affordable data is a key constraint for the underlying research to develop applications and the applications themselves. Capacity in interpreting data has advanced considerably but remains a key constraint. Workshop participants developed short- and long-term priorities to determine data needs and develop the ability to implement decision-making strategies. Short-term (five-year) priorities include gaining an understanding of ecological processes and their interactions with disease occurrences or food security issues; fusing cultural data with other types of remotely sensed data into GIS layers; developing risk-based decision-making strategies to enable appropriate action given available data; and enabling data access at reasonable cost. Long-term (10-year) goals include developing an end-to-end system to support human welfare applications, including collection, analyses, and application of data in decision making. Such a system could include a global environmental database containing multi-scale, multi-temporal data, accessible to all for surveillance, monitoring, and prediction. Algorithms to process data, produce relevant GIS layers, and provide robust predictive models for biodiversity, agriculture, health, poverty, and environmental changes through time could be developed as part of the end-to-end system. Finally, a means to link model outputs to the formulation of policies that improve human welfare needs specific attention. Because of the nature of the workshop charge to consider specific technical issues of integrating disparate data types into decision support systems that address human welfare, the committee thought that providing a compilation of the relevant technical literature would be more appropriate than a detailed discussion at the workshop. Workshop participants agreed this topic is vital for improving the effectiveness of decision support systems, although discussion did not address data formats, software, sensor

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Contributions of Land Remote Sensing for Decisions about Food Security and Human Health: Workshop Report platforms, and other highly technical issues. A bibliography of resources on this topic is included as Appendix B. The workshop underscored the large, unrealized potential of the use of land remotely sensed data to a range of human welfare issues that, if developed, could parallel the significant advances in the use of remotely sensed data in the Earth sciences and global climate research in the past several decades.