and responding to the changes that are currently having such a profound impact on the planet (Part II). The committee also spent time discussing what changes in infrastructure, training, and outreach would allow the geographical sciences to make progress toward answering the 11 questions (Part III).

The Process of Identifying Research Questions

The research questions in Part II of this report came out of a committee effort to consider the major scientific and societal questions of the day related to changes unfolding on Earth’s surface, and then to identify some of the key ways in which the geographical sciences can contribute to addressing those issues. There is, of course, much debate about what qualifies as a major scientific and societal question, but committee discussions identified four (necessarily overlapping) arenas of inquiry that are widely recognized as being of broad significance: (1) how to understand and respond to environmental change, (2) how to promote sustainability, (3) how to recognize and cope with the rapid spatial reorganization of economy and society, and (4) how to leverage technological change for the betterment of society and the environment. The research questions that lie at the heart of this report were chosen because they raise issues of central importance to these arenas of inquiry that the geographical sciences are particularly well positioned to address.

Understanding and responding to environmental change can be greatly enhanced by bringing a geographical perspective to bear on several key questions:

  • How are we changing the physical environment of Earth’s surface?

  • How can we best preserve biological diversity and protect endangered ecosystems?

  • How are climate and other environmental changes affecting the vulnerabilities of coupled human–environment systems?

Promoting sustainability requires addressing questions that probe the geographical dimensions of population change, resource scarcity, and health:

  • How and where will 10 billion people live?

  • How will we sustainably feed everyone in the coming decade and beyond?

  • How does where people live affect their health?

Assessing the impacts of economic and social reorganization can be advanced by raising questions about the changing human geography of the planet:

  • How is the movement of people, goods, and ideas transforming the world?

  • How is economic globalization affecting inequality?

  • How are geopolitical shifts influencing peace and stability?

Making technological change work for the betterment of society and the environment demands consideration of questions about the collection and representation of geographical information:

  • How might we better observe, analyze, and visualize a changing world?

  • What are the societal implications of citizen mapping and mapping citizens?

In broad terms, the contributions the geographical sciences can make to science and society lie in their potential to improve understanding of the extent and causes of the changes unfolding on Earth’s surface, to offer insights into the impacts of those changes, to promote the development of effective adaptation and mitigation strategies in response to those changes, and to facilitate the documentation and representation of Earth’s evolving geographical character. The foregoing research questions are strategic because they speak, in overlapping ways, to these contributions. Looking at changes in the physical environment, settlement and mobility patterns, economic and political arrangements, and the collection and representation of spatial data are all critical to understanding the extent and causes of the changes unfolding on Earth’s surface. Assessing the impacts of those changes requires looking at the impacts of shifting environmental and resource vulnerabilities and evolving demographic, economic, and social patterns. Developing effective adaptation and mitigation strategies necessitates improved understandings, and better visual representations, of changing environmental and social



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