This will require development of improved technologies for high-resolution data generation and display.
Before it will be possible to take advantage of the considerable power of modern spatial analysis techniques, a number of issues associated with data access will need to be addressed. Improved coordination between agencies that collect health data will be required, and health data from the different agencies and offices will need to be merged and made available in formats that are compatible with GIScience analysis. Existing restrictions on obtaining geographically specific health data, while important for maintaining privacy, severely inhibit effective predictive and causal analysis. To address this, it will be necessary for all data collected by federal, state, and county agencies to be geocoded and geographically referenced to the finest scale possible, and artificial barriers to spatial analysis resulting from privacy concerns need to be modified to ensure that the enormous power of modern spatial analysis techniques can be applied to public health issues without affecting privacy.
Although important gains have been made within individual funding agencies toward support for interdisciplinary research, a dearth of collaboration and funding between agencies has restricted significant scientific discovery at the interface of public health and earth science. The committee suggests that, for there to be substantial and systemic advances in interdisciplinary interaction, a formal multiagency collaboration support system needs to replace the existing ad hoc nature of collaborations and funding support. Despite wariness about proposing yet another bureaucratic structure, the committee believes that a multitiered hierarchical management and coordination mechanism could provide a structure by which the relevant funding agencies would be encouraged to interact for improved communication and collaboration.
The synergies from interdisciplinary interactions provide the basis for innovative and exciting research that can lead to new discoveries and greater knowledge. As both the researchers, and the agencies that fund their research, seek to increase support for interdisciplinary research, the time is right for the earth science and public health communities to take advantage of the opportunity to promote true collaboration—there is no doubt that society will ultimately derive significant health benefits from the increased knowledge that will derive from research alliances.
The interface between the earth sciences and public health is pervasive and enormously complex. Collaborative research at this interface is in its infancy, with great potential to ameliorate the adverse health effects and enhance the beneficial health effects from earth materials and earth processes. The earth science and public health research communities share a responsibility and obligation to work together to realize the considerable potential for both short-term and long-term positive health impacts.