A simple but dramatic synthesis of research directed to these four questions is a video developed by geographers at the U.S. Geological Survey. In the video, topographic maps, satellite imagery, land-use maps, and digital terrain models are linked in a dynamic depiction of urbanization in the San Francisco Bay Area between 1850 and 1990 (see Plate 9). The same representational tools are currently being linked to a prototype urban growth model so that analysts can investigate what human occupance of the bay area might look like in 200 years.
Geographic research contributions to the science of spatial representation include work on the classification of geographic entities and visual representations of data reliability (see Sidebar 5.12). Geographers are also linking cognitive and digital representations of space—for example, as part of an interdisciplinary effort to understand the interaction between human spatial cognition and way finding. One component of this research focuses on visually impaired populations (Golledge, 1991), work that has implications for the guidance of robotic vehicles. Additional basic research has addressed such issues as scale effects in spatial cognition, ways in which orientation and direction information is handled in memory, development of configurational (i.e., maplike) understanding, and the ability of visually impaired people to use configurational knowledge to determine shortcuts or take detours around obstructions.
By way of example, this chapter has illustrated how geography's perspectives and techniques contribute to understanding key issues in science and strengthen what science offers to the resolution of critical societal problems. The potential for further contributions is significant. For instance, a powerful tool for integrating a variety of dynamic processes to anticipate possible futures is the description of "future geographies"—maps of evolving patterns of change, related to real places and the concerns of those who live there (see Sidebar 5.13).
If geography is to increase its contributions to scientific understanding, however, both geography and the other sciences need to develop more productive partnerships that combine their unique perspectives and approaches to problem solving. Geography itself needs to be engaged more often in research activities that embrace and pursue broader contributions to science, at least partly by showing a greater concern for critical research problem definition by the larger research community. The family of sciences, in turn, needs to be better informed about geography and how its perspectives can contribute to scientific understanding. Both of these priorities call for increased interactions between geographers and their counterparts in other sciences: increases in quantity, quality, diversity, and orientation to critical issues.