Preface

We are living in an era of receding glaciers, accelerating loss of species habitat, unprecedented population migration, growing inequalities within and between nations, rising concerns over resource depletion, and shifting patterns of interaction and identity. These phenomena are changing Earth’s geography—altering the character and organization of the planet’s surface and the relationships that exist among its peoples and environments. At the same time, we are in the middle of an explosion in the availability and use of geographical information. From the screens of our personal computers to the dashboards of our cars, spatial information abounds. Geographic information systems (GIS)—and the analytical tools for using these systems wisely—now play a fundamental role in the provision of emergency services, transportation and urban planning, environmental hazard management, resource exploitation, military operations, and the conduct of relief operations. In the years ahead, geographical tools and techniques will be of vital importance to the effort to monitor, analyze, and confront the unprecedented changes that are unfolding on Earth’s surface

The foregoing circumstances explain why Stanford ecologist Hal Mooney has suggested that we are living in “the era of the geographer”1—a time when the formal discipline of geography’s long-standing concern with the changing spatial organization and material character of Earth’s surface and with the reciprocal relationship between humans and the environment are becoming increasingly central to science and society. One significant marker of the relevance of geographical analysis is the growing number of scientists from other disciplines who employ geographical concepts and techniques in their work, including archaeologists, economists, astrophysicists, epidemiologists, biologists, geologists, landscape architects, and computer scientists. Their collective work has engendered a transdisciplinary geographical science. Understood in these terms, geographical science is not restricted to the discipline of geography; many geographers are involved, but increasingly so are individuals from other scientific fields and professions. To be a geographical scientist is to be concerned with reciprocal links between people and nature, as well as the spatial analysis and representation of the flows of mass, energy, people, capital, and information that are shaping, or have shaped, the evolving character of Earth’s biophysical and human environment.

This assessment of strategic directions for the geographical sciences reflects the rapid growth of the geographical sciences and the urgency and importance of their applications. What are the most important geographical questions that deserve attention, and what are some of the most promising geographical approaches and analytical tools for tackling those questions? How can we mobilize a community of scientists to develop and use geographical perspectives and tools most effectively to contribute to the effort to understand and respond to a changing planet? These questions are at the heart of this report. Geographical approaches and techniques alone are not sufficient to address the sweeping changes that are remaking the

1

Personal communication between Hal Mooney and Tom Wilbanks (verified February 12, 2009).



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