5
Research on Land-Surface and Society Interactions

The USGS vision and mission statements point the agency toward an expanded role in data management (Chapter 3) and GIScience (Chapter 4). An additional dimension of more general research for the USGS’s Geography Discipline emerges from the agency’s vision and mission statements. The following topics are primary and secondary priority research opportunities for the USGS:

Primary

  • Environmental resources and systems; and

  • Natural, technological, and security hazards.

Secondary

  • Urban dynamics;

  • Regional and place-based research; and

  • Bridging science, policy, and decision making.

This chapter describes the nature of USGS contributions to each of these research lines and explores potential activities that could contribute new knowledge and build bridges among science, policy, and decision making.

The interplay between human and natural systems, the subject of this chapter, occurs most commonly at and near the earth’s surface, a portion of the earth environment characterized as the Critical Zone (NRC, 2001a; Sidebar 1–1). Processes in the Critical Zone include human population growth, increasing demands on physical and biological resources, and declining health of environmental systems. The natural systems also pose risks for human society in the form of landslides, floods, coastal erosion, and a host of other hazards. The Critical Zone is the dynamic interface between the solid earth, the hydrosphere, and the atmosphere, connected by a complex



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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey 5 Research on Land-Surface and Society Interactions The USGS vision and mission statements point the agency toward an expanded role in data management (Chapter 3) and GIScience (Chapter 4). An additional dimension of more general research for the USGS’s Geography Discipline emerges from the agency’s vision and mission statements. The following topics are primary and secondary priority research opportunities for the USGS: Primary Environmental resources and systems; and Natural, technological, and security hazards. Secondary Urban dynamics; Regional and place-based research; and Bridging science, policy, and decision making. This chapter describes the nature of USGS contributions to each of these research lines and explores potential activities that could contribute new knowledge and build bridges among science, policy, and decision making. The interplay between human and natural systems, the subject of this chapter, occurs most commonly at and near the earth’s surface, a portion of the earth environment characterized as the Critical Zone (NRC, 2001a; Sidebar 1–1). Processes in the Critical Zone include human population growth, increasing demands on physical and biological resources, and declining health of environmental systems. The natural systems also pose risks for human society in the form of landslides, floods, coastal erosion, and a host of other hazards. The Critical Zone is the dynamic interface between the solid earth, the hydrosphere, and the atmosphere, connected by a complex

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey web of linkages, feedbacks, reservoirs of material and energy, and chemical interactions. The USGS should lead in contributing to basic scientific understanding of the Critical Zone, especially in creating ways to employ geography’s integrative capabilities. This role is appropriate for a federal agency engaged in natural science information and research. The committee assessed the geographic initiatives undertaken by other agencies, and it considers the research agenda for geography presented in this report appropriate for a federal natural science agency and complements the work undertaken by other federal natural science agencies. Geographic research at the USGS is important as a service to the nation because the agency is unique in its experience and resources. Geographic issues in the public arena, ranging from the management of public lands and waters to assessment of hazards rely on geospatial data that are largely the product of the USGS. The USGS is the only federal agency that has both (1) a mandate to provide the nation with natural science information and knowledge and (2) a large cadre of specialists in geography, geology, hydrology, and biology. Geographic research is administratively housed in a number of organizational units at the USGS. Although some geographic research activities are undertaken within the Geography Discipline, other geographic research is conducted within the Biology Discipline (e.g., research into climatic change or scale and pattern in ecosystems), Geology Discipline (e.g., research in epidemiology), and the Water Discipline (e.g., research into river systems). The initiation and conduct of geographic research in the USGS is important in addition to its organizational placement, as geographic researchers is distributed throughout the agency. PRIMARY PRIORITIES Environmental Resources and Systems Basic and applied research on environmental dynamics has long been a major focus of physical geographers in universities and research institutes (NRC, 1997). Physical geography has most often been concerned with geomorphologic, hydrologic, climatic, biogeographic, and pedologic systems. Research on how natural systems operate, the interactions among them, spatial patterns of forms and processes, and the human influence on these systems are classical themes in physical geography. A major theme in geography has been the study of nature-society interactions. Study of the interactions among these human and natural systems is an emerging opportunity in the more general Earth sciences, because of the importance of human effects on environmental systems and vice versa.

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey Three general research issues emphasizing the spatial aspects of environmental systems, or the interaction of society with those systems, are exemplified by: Climate change; Scale and pattern in ecosystems; and Integrated studies of rivers systems. Climate Change Over the next 50 to 100 years climate change will affect many if not all environmental and human systems. Possible manifestations of climate change include not only shifts in climate regime (temperature and precipitation) but also increased climate variability and increased frequency of extreme events such as hurricanes, droughts, and severe winter storms. Using the past as key to the future is a fundamental tenet of climate change research. Understanding past climate change on a decade-to-century time scale is an important component of the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program (NRC, 1999a). However, relatively little research has been done so far on the influence these climatic changes have on other environmental systems on the decade-to-century time scale. Physical geographers in general and USGS geographers in particular can contribute to the understanding of the impacts of climate change on other Critical Zone environmental systems. As with the study of climate the study of impacts of climate change will depend on exploitation of historical data. The results of historical studies can complement investigations of current processes. The U.S. Global Change Research Program has already proposed a number of key questions that are ripe for USGS contributions (USGS, 2001a). The USGS should assign high priority to investigations of the following major questions: How do ecosystems respond to multiple stresses, such as combined climate change and human impacts? Given that climate changes of the past 300 years have occurred at the same time as rapid human modifications to ecosystems and land surface, what have been the relative and specific effects of climate change versus the effects of human activities? How will climate change affect biological diversity and ecosystem function? How will the spatial distribution of terrestrial species and biomes affect their biological and spatial responses to climatic change, and

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey what are the implications for forestry, biodiversity, and endangered species? How will climate change affect aquatic habitat and aquatic biodiversity? How will climate change affect water supply and quality, including contaminant transport? How will climate change affect geomorphic systems, including rivers and their floodplains, glaciers, coastal erosion, and the activity of sand dunes and wind-borne dust? How will abrupt climate change or increased extreme weather events affect processes that lead to natural hazards, such as landslides, floods, and wildfires? The exploration of these questions depends on the use of historical geographic data and a spatial integrative approach that should characterize the research activities of the Geography Discipline. Scale and Pattern in Ecosystems Examples of significant USGS projects with important geographic components include wildland fire analysis and the study of invasive non-indigenous species. These projects show the importance of geographic scale and pattern in ecosystem analysis. Over the last five years wildland fires have taken a large toll on ecosystems and the built environment, and have caused considerable economic disruption. Such losses are likely to increase because people are constructing more and more buildings in and near wildland areas, including developments of second homes. Additional questions for further USGS geographic investigation include: How does human landscape modification (primarily through roads, structures, and vegetation modification) influence the scale of wildland fires? How can wildland fire hazard maps, currently at 1-km resolution, be revised to improve resolution and include more data so they are useful for fire management? What scale of analysis can most efficiently meet prediction needs? The study of invasive non-indigenous species also has strong geographic components (USGS, 2001b). An estimated 6,500 non-native plants and

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey animals have become established in the United States, and some have had major impacts on ecosystem composition and dynamics. Invasive species impose substantial economic costs on agriculture, fisheries, forestry, water quality, and recreation. Prominent examples of costly non-indigenous species are red fire ants in the southern United States, Africanized honeybees, tamarisk in many western river systems, kudzu in the southeast, and cheat-grass in the western rangelands. The Geography Discipline should collaborate with other disciplines in addressing the following research questions on non-indigenous species: What are the mechanisms, rates, and spatial patterns of spread of invasive non-indigenous species? How do human activities contribute to the spread of non-indigenous species? How does the spatial pattern of natural and human-dominated landscapes affect the spread of non-indigenous species? Which landscape characteristics advance the spread of non-indigenous species, and which characteristics inhibit them? The committee observes that studies of wildland fire and invasive species have essential geographic components, and the Geography Discipline should collaborate with relevant program areas within the USGS and with other federal agencies. River Systems The Geography Discipline has the potential to make direct contributions to and collaborate with others in river system analysis. River systems are important as water sources for human use, transportation, and hotspots of biodiversity. Because so much human activity tends to be concentrated along rivers, conflicts between human use, water quality, and ecological health are common. Many organizations inside and outside government are addressing these issues, but our scientific knowledge base is inadequate to inform current management and restoration actions. Construction and development projects move ahead without a clear understanding of their full implications. Interdisciplinary research on rivers, with geographers’ participation, includes investigations into their interactive hydrologic, sedimentologic, chemical, and ecological processes. Key questions for future USGS river research include the following:

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey What are the spatial interactions among fluvial processes, riparian vegetation, surface and subsurface flow, and human impacts? How do these interactions vary in different regions and types of rivers? How is water quality affected by spatial variation in human and natural processes? How are the physical, biological, and chemical integrity of rivers influenced by land uses near channels and in watersheds? How do ecological patterns and geographic variability affect the opportunities and costs for aquatic and riparian restoration? The Geography Discipline should play a pivotal role in research on river systems at the USGS as an integrator of hydrologic, biologic, geologic, and geographic data, information, and knowledge. Knowledge of the geographic variation of control and response variables in river systems is key to understanding the behavior of the systems and their responses to human influences. Hazards Research: Nature, Technology, and Security An emerging emphasis within the USGS is the application of its data on Earth environments and Earth processes to analyze hazards and related issues. This newly developing emphasis on nature-society relationships has been a classic theme in geography outside the USGS for a century (Chapter 2), suggesting a convergence of the research agenda of the USGS and that of the broader geographic discipline. Professional geographers continue to make important research contributions regarding natural, technological, and disease hazards. Likewise, geographic analyses and geographic data are essential to maintaining and strengthening national security. Natural Hazards The systematic study of natural hazards in the United States originated with the work of geographer Gilbert White and his students and colleagues (e.g., Burton et al., 1978). Geographers investigate natural and technological hazards by exploring the complicated relationships between society and the natural environment with natural science data that is often collected and archived by the USGS. The mission statement of the USGS clearly states the agency’s interest in hazards research. Two examples illustrate how the Geography Discipline should participate in the investigations of natural hazards: the specific case of coastal hazards

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey and the more general issue of vulnerability. Rising sea levels and accelerated coastal erosion have placed increasing numbers of citizens at risk (Heinz Center, 2000). At the same time human activities such as estuarine dredging, damming of coastal rivers, and construction on sensitive beach areas have created additional complications. Human occupation of coastal areas has stressed ecological communities, including endangered species. The USGS has a long-standing interest in coastal areas from the standpoints of monitoring and research and has developed partnerships with other agencies and programs that have responsibility for coastal zone science and management, for example, NOAA’s National Ocean Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the FEMA. The Coastal and Marine Geology Program of the Geology Discipline is a comprehensive effort to understand the geologic processes that underlie all environmental systems at the continent-ocean interface (NRC, 1999b). The Biology Discipline is becoming more involved in coastal research and the Water Discipline plays a significant role through its monitoring and research on rivers that feed fresh water and sediment to the coastal zone. The Geography Discipline should also be involved by serving as an integrator of data, information, and knowledge, and as an authority on the spatial aspects of the coastal system. A more general example of research potential for the Geography Discipline is the emerging science of vulnerability that focuses on the susceptibility of coupled human-environmental systems to perturbations (Cutter, 2001). Understanding vulnerability, as well as resistance to hazards, is based on multidisciplinary, place-based approaches that should be facilitated by the organization and mission of the USGS. Examples of the vulnerability of human systems to unusual or extreme events include the sensitivity of urban areas to earthquakes and floods. An example of successful human adaptation to hazards is the large-scale agricultural systems of south Florida that are largely resistant to severe hurricane damage (NRC, 1999b). The Geography Discipline should participate in the active development of vulnerability science, because geography has an array of powerful integrative tools that are well designed to deal with regional-scale science and management problems. Outside the agency NOAA, the NSF, and the Department of Energy (DOE) actively promote vulnerability research, and they are candidates for partnerships with the Geography Discipline. Technological Hazards and Public Health Technological hazards relate to the built infrastructure and disposal of waste products, such as toxic and radioactive materials. The study of

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey technological and natural hazards includes assessment of risk and emergency management. Technological hazards represent undesirable outcomes of human actions in the Critical Zone. The Geography Discipline, with its focus on the Critical Zone, should make substantial contributions to research that explains the occurrence of technological hazards, defines their distribution, and creates successful responses. The USGS should strengthen science to improve public health and safety. The USGS currently works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to better understand environmental factors that influence the geographic distribution of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus in the United States. Research to determine environmental factors that affect the location of disease vectors, identify changing patterns of vector populations and their habitats, and relate these patterns to human activity improve the nation’s ability to predict and control vector-borne diseases. The spread of disease and disease vectors frequently relates to human activity and human alteration of the environment, so geographic researchers should contribute their experience at the interface of nature and society to strengthen this important research element. The Geography Discipline should contribute to epidemiological studies by providing the spatial framework and understanding of spatial processes that explain the spread of diseases. The combination of medical expertise from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with the geographic expertise in the Geography Discipline could produce powerful predictive models for decision makers. The USGS has a unique opportunity to explore disease, as it relates to geologic and biologic barriers and pathways. Homeland Security Homeland security is a new challenge for the Geography Discipline (though geographers outside the USGS have contributed to civil defense planning). Increased awareness of threats to our homeland has placed new demands on our knowledge of geographic patterns and processes. Often the most basic geographic information, such as DEMs, is important for public and private agencies that deal with these threats. Planning responses to attacks on individual sites requires accurate knowledge of location and setting. For example, after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the Geography Discipline supplied users with 115,000 maps and several thousand remotely sensed images. At a larger scale an understanding of the geographic characteristics of resource distribution systems (i.e., for water, natural gas, oil, electricity) can aid in responses to

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey system failures. The USGS has a critical role to play in response to security threats, not only by supplying descriptive data and maps but also in the analysis of these products. The National Map, when it becomes a reality, should serve as the basic data and knowledge source for responses. Often scientific generalizations that apply to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes also apply to terrorist attacks. For example, it is not possible to prevent or predict earthquakes, so as a nation we emphasize preparedness and the ability to supply quick relief in the form of information, transportation, rescue, and emergency services, followed by a redistribution of resources. The same general approach is called for in the aftermath of terrorist attacks, yet much of our focus is on prevention. The Geography Discipline should explore the parallels among these various hazards and design research to improve the national response to potential attacks. The USGS should implement a homeland security support system founded on the general principles used by the agency for dealing with natural hazards. The Geography Discipline should assume responsibility for being the nation’s primary provider of geospatial data for homeland security, with plans to support the expedited provision of data in times of need. SECONDARY PRIORITIES Urban Dynamics Urban areas are home to three-fourths of the U.S. population and an even larger fraction of the nation’s economic activity. The rapid growth of cities in areas that were once sparsely populated, the expansion of urban population and activities into rural areas, and the widening social and economic divisions within cities have sharpened the issue of urban sustainability (NSF, 2000). Urban sustainability focuses on the questions such as: Can the nation’s land, water, and biological resources sustain the lives and livelihoods of an increasingly urbanized population? What are the long-term consequences of current urban development patterns? These questions highlight the need for research on the processes of urban growth in the United States, and on the impacts of urban growth on people and environments. The Geography Discipline activities in urban matters include extensive databases and the Urban Dynamics project. The Urban Dynamics Project contributes to geographic research on urban growth and change. Aimed at analyzing land use change in and around urban areas and the environmental consequences of rapid urbanization, the Urban Dynamics project represents a shift of focus for the USGS. Throughout most of its history the USGS neglected urban areas. The Urban Dynamics project generates maps showing

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey the expansion of urbanized areas at the expense of surrounding rural land uses. The maps generated by the Geography Discipline lead to the next level of science, modeling processes and change revealed by the map data. Urban modeling requires understanding human and environmental processes that affect the observed changes at various geographic scales. Most urban dynamics models used by the Urban Dynamics project (e.g., Clarke and Gaydos, 1998) incorporate a limited set of processes and constraints, such as slope and access to transportation, while ignoring the powerful social and economic forces that drive urban land use change (Knox, 1994). These processes can be linked to the shifting patterns of employment, infrastructure, services, and environmental resources. Although social and economic forces fall outside the USGS’s traditional domain, accurate modeling of land use change and prediction of its environmental effects requires knowledge of such human forces. It is unlikely that the Geography Discipline will be able to develop a strong social and economic science component: therefore, the USGS should develop partnerships with researchers at universities and at federal, state, and tribal agencies. Science in the Urban Dynamics project is predicated on a three-step process: create the data through mapping, model the processes revealed using GIScience, and predict future changes in the geography of U.S. cities using the models. The project, however, has achieved only the first step in this progression. The Geography Discipline has successfully collected the necessary data, but now it should proceed with the research involved in modeling and prediction to serve its clients. Effective prediction of urban change will require substantial input from social scientists in the urban research community. The Geography Discipline should also explore development of other similar mapping and research projects for other non-urban domains. Regional and Place-Based Research The recent reorganization of the USGS facilitates the development of integrative research to address multidisciplinary, integrative regional and place-based issues. The reorganization aids investigations at geographic scales defined by areas that are smaller than a USGS administrative region but may span parts of two or more states. This scale of analysis is regional, as traditionally defined within the discipline of geography. Regions defined on the basis of environmental or socioeconomic systems do not respect state boundaries, so the regional perspective is entirely appropriate for a federal science agency such as the USGS. The boundaries of the Critical Zone are apolitical.

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey The regional perspective has a long tradition in geography. Geographic questions about regions focus on defining them and understanding the differences and interactions among them. They also concentrate on understanding how cultural, economic, and environmental processes interact within discrete areas of the earth’s surface. The geographer’s interest in regions and regional studies declined from the 1960s through the 1980s, but revived in the 1990s. Place-based studies are effective in using the empirical qualitative data about people, societies, and their institutions, and at allowing identification of causes of events in specific places that do not conform to broad generalizations (Johnston, 1997). Broad and abstract generalizations about human societies intended to apply to most or all places have been unsuccessful because regional diversity persists even as capitalism, mass media, and globalization serve as homogenizing agents. Human geographers therefore have advocated a focus on place or “locality” in studying the interactions among political, social, and economic activities and structures. Many environmental, economic, and political problems occur at the regional scale level, making the region a particularly effective spatial scale for study. A region may, however, contain multiple cultures and communities of interest; moreover, regions interact with and are influenced by larger-scale processes. At the same time as human geographers’ interest in regions revived, other disciplines began adopting the region as a useful scale of analysis. Biologists and biogeographers, for example, define hierarchical systems of ecoregions, which are used widely in natural resource management (e.g., Abell et al., 2000; Omernik, 1987). Hydrologists use river basins as natural units of study to analyze water quality and water quantity problems. Legal and political challenges in natural resource policy have resulted in a move toward large bioregional assessments intended to provide a scientific basis for policy. Since 1990 federal, state, and local agencies have undertaken major bioregional assessments for management. Examples of defined management regions include the interior Columbia River Basin, the Sierra Nevada region in California and Nevada, the Everglades region of South Florida, and the southern California desert region. The USGS also undertakes regional studies, which the agency calls focus areas. The USGS Central Region, for example, has identified five focus areas: Mountain West, Desert Southwest/U.S.-Mexico Border, Gulf Coast and Lower Mississippi, Missouri/Middle Mississippi, and the Great Plains. The USGS shift to a more regional structure has created new place-based, interdisciplinary research opportunities. In the USGS Central Region, for example, place-based research has focused on urban areas and has integrated all the agency’s disciplines. Study areas include the urban corridor

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey along the east face of the Rocky Mountain Front Range, St. Louis-Kansas City-Omaha, Albuquerque, and Dallas-Ft. Worth. Urban growth and land use changes in these regions present challenges in providing natural resources such as gravel and aggregate, in protecting air and water quality and wildlife habitat, and in coping with natural hazards. Other USGS administrative regions are also shifting toward place-based approaches. A high-priority regional research challenge in the Western Region is the integrated study of multiple natural hazards in the Pacific Northwest. The Western Region has also established an integrated science plan to study a set of rapidly growing urban areas (Tucson, Sacramento, Seattle, and Anchorage). Even before USGS’s structural change geographers in the Eastern Region were involved in large integrated ecosystem research projects focusing on the Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades. The USGS Place-Based Studies program, established in 1995, seeks to provide objective-integrated science for managers seeking to restore natural functions and values of resources and the environment. The Place-Based Studies program began with two ecosystems—the San Francisco Bay and Delta, and South Florida— and added several others between 1995 and 1999. In each place research issues are generally focused on human influence on species and biodiversity, but emphasize the effect of water-quality decline on species. The USGS’s Biology Discipline offers other examples of integrative regional research in its national status and trends reports (LaRoe et al., 1999; Mac and Opler, 1999) and the Land Use History of North America project. The USGS should undertake three efforts to improve its regional and place-based geographic research. First, the Geography Discipline should learn how such research is conducted by the EPA in its Water and Watersheds program and by the NSF in its Biocomplexity Initiative. Second, Geography Discipline researchers should increase their interactions with academic geographers in professional meetings. Third, USGS researchers should extend their isolated regional studies to include comparisons between and among regions. As an ultimate objective USGS researchers should strive to become the integrative regional experts for the nation. Bridging Science, Policy, and Decision Making All the research topics identified in this chapter, as well as many aspects of geographic data and GIScience defined in Chapters 3 and 4, represent USGS activities that could build links among science, policy, and decision making. The most important arenas in which the agency should employ its expertise are the expansion of public involvement in decision making and the development of decision-support systems.

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey Expanding Public Involvement in Policy Making Policy making increasingly involves many participants, including private citizens. Many policy decisions are made at regional and local levels as a result of decentralization of government during the last decade. Decentralization or devolution of policy making requires that the local communities receive adequate scientific information, in accessible form, to be able to make informed decisions. Community-based environmental management, for example, requires community-level data (Wondolleck and Yaffee, 2000). Most of the locally useful geography data and information are created and archived at the federal level. It is the responsibility of the Geography Discipline to deliver the right data and information to its regional clients in a timely fashion. The trends toward decentralization and spatial disaggregation are dramatically increasing the demand for environmental data. Both the USGS and the EPA have been leaders among federal agencies in providing environmental information, much of which is now available on the Web. One key feature that makes these data useful for local decision making is the ability to search for data geospatially, using a map interface. However, despite apparent successes, challenges remain. How successful are these interfaces for users at various levels of expertise? Are different interfaces needed for some users? What simple analysis tools can or should be added to these data delivery systems? These questions should drive Geography Discipline research that can improve the dissemination of data and information to public users. Decision-Support Systems The development of links between scientific research and policy making presents a unique set of challenges, because scientific questions and findings are usually laden with complexity and detail. Decision makers often need generalizations, conclusions, or direct statements. Typically, scientists believe that the complexity of natural systems, as revealed through research, is an important lesson. An accurate portrayal of research results thus should not oversimplify complexity or abstract from it extensively, but for the decision maker simpler is easier, if not better. In a similar vein, scientists are often reluctant to predict outcome of specific actions or policy decisions because scientific results are frequently characterized by uncertainty. In some natural systems, such as the atmosphere, responses to external perturbations may exhibit a threshold response or a shift between very different states, so differences in predictions may

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey involve the identification of discrete states rather than simple changes in degree along a continuum of responses. By contrast policy makers usually want simple, direct statements of the likely outcome of a specific policy. Decision-support systems offer a valuable tool to bridge the complexity gap between researchers and decision makers. Decision-support systems are computer software tools that portray the dynamics of social and natural systems (Jankowski et al., 1997). Effective decision-support systems incorporate and display the data necessary for prediction and modeling. An important characteristic of decision-support systems is the capacity to display model results and predictions in ways that policy makers can clearly understand and evaluate. Invariably decisions about the environment have geospatial implications, therefore, decision-support systems have a GIS component, although the decision-support system is more than a GIS. Decision-support systems provide alternatives for multiple users to examine; however, they do not make decisions—people make decisions. The USGS has produced several successful examples of decision-support systems. The Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination Group (GeoMAC) is a decision-support system used by wildfire managers to manage and allocate resources for suppressing wildfires. It is a mapping tool USGS scientists developed in collaboration with the DOI and other agencies, including the National Interagency Fire Center. Developed in 2000–2001, it was used successfully to manage firefighting support in the Rocky Mountains during the extreme fire season of the summer of 2000. It allowed fire managers to anticipate rates of spread and identify critical locations where firefighting forces could be strategically placed. A second example of a successful decision-support system developed by USGS is the Habitat Needs Assessment Query Tool for the upper Mississippi River. Users of this tool can assess the impact of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ activities on aquatic organisms and migratory waterfowl. The USGS should pursue a number of research questions related to development of decision-support systems. How can data access be made more efficient and rapid? How can these systems be configured to handle larger and more diverse datasets as they are brought into geospatial form? Qualitative data are important in describing natural systems, as well as human systems. How can models use qualitative data in combination with quantitative data, and how can analysis and display of qualitative data be improved? How do policy makers typically use data and systems, and how can user interfaces be improved to fit the ways people make decisions?

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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey How can the flexibility of decision support systems be increased, so that a broader range of questions and types of scenarios can be posed? How can decision support systems be made more accessible and easier to use, so that these participants can use them effectively? Geographic data often provide the mechanism for effective integration in complex projects or problems. Therefore, the Geography Discipline should lead integrative research on natural science and decision-support systems for the Critical Zone. SUMMARY The Geography Discipline contributes to the improvement of the quality of life of the nation’s citizens by providing the data, information, and knowledge to deal with environmental resources, urban change, hazards, regional and place-based issues, and linking science with policy and decision making. The Geography Discipline excels at data management, the descriptive first step in science. The Geography Discipline also provides value-added components to convert the data to useful information. The Geography Discipline should not attempt to undertake research in all areas of geography but should focus on those topics close to its mission and those investigations that have a strong component of natural science. The Geography Discipline should now progress to the next steps in science: cutting-edge modeling and prediction that provide knowledge required by decision makers.

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