data (missions). Thus, the panel’s discussions focused on various kinds of health effects and the Earth environmental factors and contaminants that might contribute to those effects. The discussions also focused on determining which people are at risk, and where and when. Thus, mission recommendations from this panel correspond to those of many of the other panels, in that climate, weather, ecosystems, and water resources, in particular, directly and indirectly affect the range of human health and security issues identified here. This approach led to the following considerations:

  • Setting priorities among the sensors, platforms, or missions essential to human health and security is difficult. The importance of existing and future sensors depends on the environmental health effects that society considers to be of greatest concern, which in turn determines the environmental data that best inform exposure and risk assessments, and efforts to predict and prevent or mitigate health effects.

  • At a minimum, continuity of existing sensors is critical to developing observational and forecast capabilities for most diseases and other health risks. Although environmental links with more direct, short-term health effects are reasonably well understood (e.g., temperature and heat stress or atmospheric pollutants and some respiratory symptoms), many other environment-disease associations involve complex pathways requiring extensive analyses of time series to develop sound predictive associations.

  • Continued research is needed to firmly establish the predictive relationships between remotely sensed environmental data and patterns of environmentally related health effects. Beyond these research needs, preservation of existing sensors (e.g., AVHRR/MODIS, Landsat) will permit continued development and implementation of early warning or detection capacity for some better-understood limits between environmental exposures and health effects.

  • The research agenda of many human health and environmental scientists who analyze remote sensing data and in situ data increasingly involves time-space modeling and statistical analysis of associations, suggesting that federal agencies should vigorously support such efforts. Accordingly, enhanced funding for research on and application of space-based observations to health problems should be an important part of NASA’s and NOAA’s missions to achieve societal benefits.

  • Field evaluation of analytic results and forecasts is important to developing more comprehensive and accurate models of diverse complex environment-disease dynamics. Such efforts may eventually serve as a basis for developing improved observation systems.

  • The need for higher-spatial-resolution data depends on the health problems to be addressed. Exceptions might occur where global transport of risk agents (by water or air plumes or the migration of birds) could be monitored by multiple sensors over large areas. Many health applications of remote sensing data will use data relevant to applications identified by other panels. There is an important synergy between many of the data needs identified by this panel and by other panels.

Overarching Issues

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Thus, human health and security should be thought of in the larger context of multiple factors that affect people through various direct and indirect pathways. The Earth sciences agenda that relates to human health involves at least how environmental factors affect the more limited notion of human health. However, the manner in which those factors help to shape and define social, economic, and psychological aspects of people’s existence also alters their health. Thus, the value of remote sensing data cannot be considered independently of the more encompassing meaning of health and security, nor of data coming from other sources—demographic, occupational, insurance, housing, and other surveys and analyses.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement