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Contributions of Land Remote Sensing for Decisions about Food Security and Human Health: Workshop Report 1 Introduction Remotely sensed observations from aircraft and satellites record images of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. Analyses of these data reveal changes in the Earth’s land cover, sea surfaces, temperature, and many other terrestrial, marine, and atmospheric variables. Remotely sensed data have the potential to provide spatial information crucial for addressing some of the most challenging issues related to society’s health and well-being. Today, remotely sensed data, combined with other types of data, are routinely applied to address some of these challenges based on decades of scientific development and operational experience. Weather forecasting is an excellent example of such application. In contrast, remotely sensed observations of the land surface are not routinely applied to decisions about human welfare, although the potential for usefulness is great. Human welfare is defined in this report as the health and well-being of all humans. Factors affecting human welfare include human and ecosystem health, resource availability, and social and economic stability. Understanding the linkages between human welfare and land cover is progressing at a rapid pace. For example, the relation between land surface characteristics, habitat, and disease vectors at multiple spatial scales has advanced over the last decade. Responses of land productivity to land use and climate variability are revealing insights into the vulnerabilities of human populations to food insecurity. As scientific understanding progresses, so does the potential for applying land remote sensing in operational systems to support decision making about human welfare. Considerable scientific and institutional obstacles must first be addressed,
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Contributions of Land Remote Sensing for Decisions about Food Security and Human Health: Workshop Report however. Integration of remote sensing with other environmental and socioeconomic data is one such obstacle. WORKSHOP OBJECTIVES The National Research Council (NRC) formed an ad hoc committee to organize and conduct a two-day workshop on the contributions of land remote sensing to human welfare decisions. The workshop featured presentations and discussions on the contributions of remotely sensed data to land use and land cover change analyses and on ways to use physical, biological, and social characteristics of particular locations to support decisions about human welfare. The topics covered at the workshop included (1) considerations of the effective use of remote sensing, in combination with other types of data, to forecast the 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 that arise from the integration of disparate data (e.g., data collected from ground, aircraft, and satellite platforms at different temporal and spatial scales and socioeconomic data obtained through administrative and other sources) 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 an initial step, the workshop focused on two aspects of human welfare to which land use and land cover remotely sensed data could make major contributions: (1) human health and (2) the vulnerability of human populations to food insecurity due to climate change, land degradation, and other ecological factors. 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. Other human welfare issues—such as disaster management, conservation, and national security—are no less important but were not directly addressed. The committee posed the following questions to workshop participants to stimulate discussion of the challenges and opportunities for applying remote sensing to decisions on human health and food security: What factors can enhance the effectiveness of remotely sensed data of land use and land cover in decision support systems for human welfare? What are the lessons learned from successful and unsuccessful examples of previous applications?
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Contributions of Land Remote Sensing for Decisions about Food Security and Human Health: Workshop Report What are the scientific and institutional impediments to applying remotely sensed data of land use and land cover in decision support systems on human welfare? What are the key issues for data availability and integration with other data sources, such as socioeconomic data? What are important steps for improving coordination between scientists who interpret land remote sensing data and decision makers who potentially benefit from the remote sensing data and derived products? PREVIOUS NRC WORK The workshop built on previous National Research Council studies that resulted in publications encouraging the development and funding of remote sensing applications that benefit human welfare. The publication Earth Observations from Space: History, Promise, and Reality (NRC, 1994) provided a bibliography of more than 300 publications on remote sensing topics as well as a roadmap of the U.S. remote sensing program and can be considered a starting point in terms of identifying remote sensing applications. Other NRC studies on remote sensing include Prospects for Developing Countries (NRC, 1997), Supporting Research and Data Analysis (NRC, 1998b), Assessment of Mission Size Trade-offs (NRC, 2000a), Ensuring a Climate Record (NRC, 2000b), The Role of Small Satellites (NRC, 2000c), National Spatial Data Infrastructure Partnership Programs (NRC, 2001), Toward New Partnerships in Remote Sensing (NRC, 2002a), Transforming Remote Sensing Data into Information and Applications (NRC, 2002b), and Using Remote Sensing in State and Local Government (NRC, 2003b). In addition, the report People and Pixels (NRC, 1998a) directed attention to social concerns related to collection and analysis of remotely sensed data. The report Down to Earth (NRC, 2003a) summarized the importance and applicability of remotely sensed data for sustainable development, and drew upon experiences in African countries to examine how future sources and applications of geographic data could provide reliable support to decision makers as they work toward sustainable development. INTENDED IMPACT OF WORKSHOP Decisions are being made by the U.S. government about the future of the nation’s remote sensing capabilities. In January 2004, President Bush announced the New Vision for the Nation’s Space Exploration Program. An anticipated result is the development of new space-based technologies that will benefit mankind in the same way we now benefit from the more than 1,300 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other U.S. space-based technologies now in commonplace application.
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Contributions of Land Remote Sensing for Decisions about Food Security and Human Health: Workshop Report Such technologies contribute to U.S. industry, improve quality of life, and help save lives (White House, 2004). It is timely for scientists of various disciplines to identify areas of great need and to determine how space-based capabilities can best benefit humanity. This workshop was held to identify areas in Earth sciences research that have resulted in socioeconomic applications, specifically in the realm of food security and human health. As of this writing, a separate NRC Committee on Earth Science and Applications from Space is conducting a “decadal” study to generate consensus recommendations from the Earth and environmental science and applications community regarding a systems approach to space-based and ancillary observations, research, and related operational programs. The decadal study is unique in that it looks into a range of Earth science systems research and applications that are linked to societal objectives. This report attempts to provide information that will be relevant and useful to the decadal study committee in formulating recommendations for future research in Earth and space sciences. STRUCTURE OF WORKSHOP The workshop was structured around the two major human welfare issues selected by the organizing committee for particular focus: human health and food security. The first morning of the workshop consisted of plenary presentations on these topics. For each issue, an overview presentation was followed by case studies from the perspectives of both scientists producing information from remotely sensed data and practitioners using the information for decisions about human welfare. The plenary session was followed by concurrent breakout sessions on each of the two topics. The first breakout sessions addressed the opportunities and challenges for land remote sensing. The subsequent break-out sessions addressed data availability and integration with other data sources from the user perspective. Each breakout group produced a summary of key points presented in the final plenary session. The workshop focused the discussions on land remote sensing, yet it is noteworthy to mention that human welfare also benefits from ocean, ice, and atmosphere remote sensing. Ocean remote sensing contributes heavily to climate research and El Niño monitoring, and coastal remote sensing has direct applications to fisheries, oil spill mitigation, search and rescue, and coastal recreation. While these applications undoubtedly impact human welfare, the workshop’s statement of task limited the discussions to land-based remote sensing technologies, and the absence of such discussion does not indicate its lack of relevance.
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Contributions of Land Remote Sensing for Decisions about Food Security and Human Health: Workshop Report FINDINGS This report summarizes the major points and ideas presented at the workshop. The report is based on background papers, presentations, and reports from the breakout sessions, with input from the organizing committee. Workshop participants did not address in detail the technical issues arising from integrating disparate data types into decision support systems that address human welfare, but the workshop committee did prepare a bibliography of references dealing with this topic (Appendix B). The information in this report is intended to be useful for other NRC committees and panels involved with recommending future research priorities in the Earth and space sciences. The issues addresses by workshop participants are also applicable to social scientists and policy makers regarding the importance of continual communication between remote sensing scientists and decision makers on human welfare.
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