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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12860.
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Understanding the Changing Planet

Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences

Committee on Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences in the Next Decade

Board on Earth Sciences and Resources

Division on Earth and Life Studies

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS

Washington, D.C.
www.nap.edu

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12860.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
500 Fifth Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations contained in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsors (the National Science Foundation, the Department of Interior U.S. Geological Survey, the National Geographic Society, and the Association of American Geographers). Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. government. Supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. BCS-0631200; by the Department of Interior U.S. Geological Survey under Award No. 07HQGR0157; and by the National Geographic Society under Award No. 2007-0923.

International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-15075-0

International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-15075-2

Library of Congress Catalog Number: 2010926480

Additional copies of this report are available from the

National Academies Press,

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Cover: Nighttime lights of the world, courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Copyright 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12860.
×

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering and Medicine


The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.


The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.


The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.


The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.


www.national-academies.org

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12860.
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COMMITTEE ON STRATEGIC DIRECTIONS FOR THE GEOGRAPHICAL SCIENCES IN THE NEXT DECADE

ALEXANDER B. MURPHY, Chair,

University of Oregon, Eugene

NANCY COLLETON,

Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Arlington, Virginia

ROGER M. DOWNS,

Pennsylvania State University, University Park

MICHAEL F. GOODCHILD,

University of California, Santa Barbara

SUSAN HANSON,

Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts

VICTORIA LAWSON,

University of Washington, Seattle

GLEN MACDONALD,

University of California, Los Angeles

FRANCIS J. MAGILLIGAN,

Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire

WILLIAM G. MOSELEY,

Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota

COLIN POLSKY,

Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts

KAREN C. SETO,

Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

DAWN J. WRIGHT,

Oregon State University, Corvallis

National Research Council Staff

MARK D. LANGE, Study Director (from July 2009)

CAETLIN M. OFIESH, Study Director (until July 2009)

JASON R. ORTEGO, Research Associate (from November 2009)

JARED P. ENO, Research Associate (until July 2009)

TONYA FONG YEE, Senior Program Assistant

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12860.
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GEOGRAPHICAL SCIENCES COMMITTEE

WILLIAM L. GRAF, Chair,

University of South Carolina, Columbia

LUC E. ANSELIN,

Arizona State University, Tempe

WILLIAM A. V. CLARK,

University of California, Los Angeles

CAROL P. HARDEN,

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

CALESTOUS JUMA,

Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

JOHN A. KELMELIS,

Pennsylvania State University, University Park

VICTORIA A. LAWSON,

University of Washington, Seattle

SUSANNE C. MOSER,

Susanne Moser Research & Consulting, Santa Cruz, California

THOMAS M. PARRIS,

ISciences, LLC, Burlington, Vermont

NORBERT P. PSUTY,

Rutgers University, Sandy Hook, New Jersey

DAVID R. RAIN,

George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

National Research Council Staff

MARK D. LANGE, Associate Program Officer

JASON R. ORTEGO, Research Associate

TONYA E. FONG YEE, Senior Program Assistant

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12860.
×

BOARD ON EARTH SCIENCES AND RESOURCES

CORALE L. BRIERLEY, Chair,

Brierley Consultancy, LLC, Highlands Ranch, Colorado

KEITH C. CLARKE,

University of California, Santa Barbara

DAVID J. COWEN,

University of South Carolina, Columbia

WILLIAM E. DIETRICH,

University of California, Berkeley

ROGER M. DOWNS,

Pennsylvania State University, University Park

JEFF DOZIER,

University of California, Santa Barbara

KATHERINE H. FREEMAN,

Pennsylvania State University, University Park

WILLIAM L. GRAF,

University of South Carolina, Columbia

RUSSELL J. HEMLEY,

Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D.C.

MURRAY W. HITZMAN,

Colorado School of Mines, Golden

EDWARD KAVAZANJIAN, JR.,

Arizona State University, Tempe

LOUISE H. KELLOGG,

University of California, Davis

ROBERT B. McMASTER,

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

CLAUDIA INÉS MORA,

Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico

BRIJ M. MOUDGIL,

University of Florida, Gainesville

CLAYTON R. NICHOLS,

Department of Energy, Idaho Operations Office (Retired), Ocean Park, Washington

JOAQUIN RUIZ,

University of Arizona, Tucson

PETER M. SHEARER,

University of California, San Diego

REGINAL SPILLER,

Frontera Resources Corporation (Retired), Houston, Texas

RUSSELL E. STANDS-OVER-BULL,

Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Denver, Colorado

TERRY C. WALLACE, JR.,

Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico

HERMAN B. ZIMMERMAN,

National Science Foundation (Retired), Portland, Oregon

National Research Council Staff

ANTHONY R. DE SOUZA, Director

ELIZABETH A. EIDE, Senior Program Officer

DAVID A. FEARY, Senior Program Officer

ANNE M. LINN, Senior Program Officer

SAMMANTHA L. MAGSINO, Program Officer

MARK D. LANGE, Associate Program Officer

LEA A. SHANLEY, Postdoctoral Fellow

JENNIFER T. ESTEP, Financial and Administrative Associate

NICHOLAS D. ROGERS, Financial and Research Associate

COURTNEY R. GIBBS, Program Associate

JASON R. ORTEGO, Research Associate

ERIC J. EDKIN, Senior Program Assistant

TONYA E. FONG YEE, Senior Program Assistant

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Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12860.
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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).

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12860.
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planet, but concepts and tools of the geographical sciences are essential components of the multidisciplinary task of unraveling the complexities of the changes Earth is confronting.

Geographical inquiry encompasses approaches ranging from the scientific to the humanistic, and this report’s concern with the former end of the spectrum should not be seen as an effort to devalue nonscientific approaches, for the latter have fostered valuable insights into the geographical diversity of the planet and the human–environment dynamic. Rather, the focus on the geographical sciences comes in response to the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies’ charge to assess the ways in which the community of geographically oriented scientists can effectively contribute to an understanding of the changes that are remaking the planet. In approaching its work, the committee that produced this report did not adopt a narrow definition of science, however. Instead, the committee evaluated various research endeavors that seek to advance applied and theoretical understanding based on the systematic analysis or assessment of empirical data and information.

This report is substantially different from previous NRC assessments focused on geographical research. Earlier studies focused on the character and perspectives of the discipline of geography (NRC, 1965; Taffe et al., 1970). More recently, Rediscovering Geography (NRC, 1997) sought to highlight what the discipline of geography had to offer at a time of rapidly rising interest in geographical ideas and to consider how geography might respond to that interest. That report was written principally “for the broad audience that is curious about geography’s new place in a national spotlight” (NRC, 1997: 15).

This report, in contrast, is written against the backdrop of the emergence of a rapidly growing, interdisciplinary community of scientists that is drawing on a variety of geographical perspectives and techniques. The approaches that these geographical scientists employ include spatial analysis (often making use of GIS and related technologies), remote sensing, geographical visualization, numerical and analytical modeling, and deductive analysis based on spatial data and assessments of linkages among and between places. The central concern of this report is to assess how the array of approaches and techniques of the geographical sciences might be most effectively deployed in the effort to address major social and environmental questions. It is important to emphasize that the goal of the report is not to provide an overview of the geographical sciences or to offer an analysis of successes and challenges. Instead the goal is to elucidate key contributions the geographical sciences can make to the task of confronting some of the most pressing, contemporary large-scale scientific questions of the day.

The audience for the report, then, is twofold. On the one hand, it is written for researchers and scholars in a position to develop and advance the geographical science enterprise over the coming decade. On the other hand, it is aimed at scientifically literate people, including policy makers, who can benefit from an understanding of what the geographical sciences have to offer and who can help sustain and promote geographically grounded efforts to understand life on Earth in the 21st century.

In developing this report, the committee relied on NRC studies, other published reports and literature, and the experience and expertise of its members. The committee also solicited input from the broader community in three ways: first, in the form of presentations at the committee’s open meetings; second, in a public panel session at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG); and third, from a Web-based questionnaire written by the committee, designed to gather community input on the committee charge. The committee used the community input to shape its discussion of potential research questions, and the research questions that resulted reflect the themes of the input.

The committee held three open meetings. The first was in Washington, D.C., at the National Academy of Sciences, where the committee heard from the sponsoring agencies and organizations, reviewed its task, and charted a course for the study. The second meeting was in Irvine, California, at the Beckman Center, where the committee heard presentations from invited guests and reviewed the community input it had received. Between the first and second meetings, the committee held its public panel session at the AAG meeting, which consisted of seven invited presentations (see Appendix C) and a question-and-answer session with the audience. The public panel session speakers spanned the range of the geographical sciences and were invited for their

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12860.
×

expertise as well as their broad thoughts on the study charge. The committee held its third meeting in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, at the Jonsson Center, where it reviewed and discussed the draft research questions. The fourth and final meeting was a closed meeting at the University of California, Los Angeles, where the committee reviewed and finalized the draft report.

The committee is grateful for the input it received. As broad as the committee’s expertise was, it could not expect to cover every area of importance to the report. As a result, the committee requested contributions from several researchers to key areas of the report: Yuko Aoyama, Michael Emch, Colin Flint, Geoffrey Jacquez, John Logan, W. Andrew Marcus, Sara McLafferty, and Joseph Oppong. The committee also would like to thank the individuals who made presentations at committee meetings and the AAG panel session: Tom Baerwald, Patrick Bartlein, Daniel Edelson, Mark Ellis, Cindy Fan, Rachel Franklin, Geoffrey Jacquez, Bruce Jones, David Maguire, Susanne Moser, Laura Pulido, Doug Richardson, David Rigby, Paul Robbins, Chris Shearer, Eric Sheppard, Daniel Sui, and Ken Young. The committee also received many responses to its Web-based questionnaire and would like to thank the following individuals for their input, as well as those who contributed anonymously: Tony Abbott, John Agnew, Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen, Oliver Belcher, Denise Chavez, Anne Chin, Kevin Czajkowski, Bernadette de Leon, Martin Doyle, Steven Driever, Stuart Elden, Philippe Foret, William Graf, Carol Harden, John Harrington, Jr., Douglas Herman, John Hatzopoulos, Marlene Jackson, Daryl Jones, Gerry Kearns, Joseph Kerski, Miles Logsdon, David Maguire, Richard Marston, Patricia McDowell, Amy Mills, Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne, David Paschane, Jonathan Phillips, Chris Pringle, Jeffrey Smith, Seth Spielman, Dawn Youngblood, and Paul Zellmer.

Finally, the committee and I are deeply grateful to staff members of the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources of the NRC for facilitating the study from inception to conclusion. We are particularly indebted to our initial study director, Caetlin Ofiesh, who was a constant source of help and encouragement during the preparation of the first draft of this report. We are also grateful to Ms. Ofiesh’s successor, Mark Lange, who helped to bring this study to completion. Our study directors were ably assisted by Jared Eno and Jason Ortego, who provided invaluable assistance on a range of research and editing matters. We are also grateful for the administrative assistance of Tonya Fong Yee. Finally, we would like to express our gratitude to Tony de Souza, the Director of the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources. His commitment to this study was evident throughout the process, and we all benefited from his regular participation in our deliberations.


Alexander Murphy, Chair

February 2010

Suggested Citation:"Front Matter." National Research Council. 2010. Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12860.
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Acknowledgments

This report was greatly enhanced by input from participants at the workshop and public committee meetings held as part of this study. These presentations and discussions helped set the stage for the committee’s fruitful discussions in the sessions that followed.

This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Research Council’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their participation in the review of this report:


John Agnew, University of California, Los Angeles

Bernard Bauer, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

Anthony Bebbington, University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Maeve Boland, Colorado School of Mines, Golden

Patricia Gober, Arizona State University, Tempe

Gerard Rushton, University of Iowa, Iowa City

Billie Turner, Arizona State University, Tempe


Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Dr. William A.V. Clark, University of California, Los Angeles, and Dr. Farouk El-Baz, Boston University. Appointed by the National Research Council, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.

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From the oceans to continental heartlands, human activities have altered the physical characteristics of Earth's surface. With Earth's population projected to peak at 8 to 12 billion people by 2050 and the additional stress of climate change, it is more important than ever to understand how and where these changes are happening. Innovation in the geographical sciences has the potential to advance knowledge of place-based environmental change, sustainability, and the impacts of a rapidly changing economy and society.

Understanding the Changing Planet outlines eleven strategic directions to focus research and leverage new technologies to harness the potential that the geographical sciences offer.

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