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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey 6 Conclusions and Recommendations Previous chapters defined the role of the Geography Discipline in undertaking specific activities to enhance the Survey’s role in geographic research. In this final chapter the committee presents its conclusions and recommendations. These conclusions and recommendations provide perspective and guidance for the USGS as it defines its strategic directions for the Geography Discipline. The essence of the conclusions and recommendations can be distilled into threads that run throughout this report: The Geography Discipline should engage in scientific research. The geographic research throughout the USGS should provide integrative science for investigations of the Critical Zone (i.e., the Earth’s surface and near-surface environment that sustains nearly all terrestrial life [NRC, 2001b, p. 36]; Sidebar 1–1). The Geography Discipline should develop partnerships within the agency and with the broad field of geography outside the agency. The Geography Discipline should develop a long-term core research agenda that includes several projects of the magnitude of The National Map. The Survey’s guiding vision and mission are (USGS, 2000): Vision. The USGS is a world leader in the natural sciences through its scientific excellence and responsiveness to society’s needs. Mission. The USGS serves the nation by providing reliable scientific information to:
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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey describe and understand the earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect quality of life. The connection between geography and the USGS is the Survey’s mission statement. Geography’s interests in hazards research, resource analysis, connections between social and natural science, and integrative spatial methods make the discipline vital to the future success of the Survey. A summary of the committee’s conclusions and recommendations to achieve these contributions is organized according to the original charge to the committee. Specifically, the committee was charged to consider the following areas of concern to the USGS’s Geography Discipline: The role of the USGS in advancing the general state of knowledge of the discipline (geography, cartography, GIScience); The role of the USGS in improving the understanding of the dynamic connections between the land surface and human interactions with it; The role of the USGS in maintaining and enhancing the tools and methods for conducting and applying geographic research; and The role of the USGS in bridging the gap between geographic science, policy making, and management. The components of the charge ask the committee to assess the role of the USGS in scientific activities. One general answer is that the Survey’s role in science is directly determined by the pattern of its culture and behavior: If the Survey conducts cutting-edge research in geography, then its research advances the science; If the Survey does not do cutting-edge research, but develops and disseminates tools and information products that help other researchers do their work, then the Survey indirectly advances the science; If the USGS funds external research by others, it influences the direction of geographic research; or If the USGS uses only the tools, information, and knowledge generated by others to carry out its mission, the Survey is merely a consumer and has no role in furthering the science. The committee concludes that the Survey should follow the first three of these behavior patterns, but that at present the Survey does not exhibit an appropriate balance among them. The committee offers the following specific
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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey conclusions and recommendations to help the USGS achieve a balance among its activities. The recommendations in this chapter are broadly defined; the text of the preceding chapters contains specific and detailed recommendations. ADVANCING THE GENERAL STATE OF KNOWLEDGE IN THE DISCIPLINE The USGS can contribute to geographic knowledge by taking a leadership position in a few important areas of the field addressing the Critical Zone (NRC, 2001b, p. 36; Sidebar 1–1). It is uniquely suited to provide leadership in GIScience and remote sensing, but it can also contribute in other primary areas, including spatial analysis and nature-society interactions. Conclusion: Currently the USGS’s influence is weak in advancing the state of knowledge in general geography (i.e., geographic research other than GIScience) because Survey personnel conducting such research are not sufficiently engaged with geographers outside the Survey (Chapter 2). Recommendation: To advance the state of knowledge in geography in general the USGS should strengthen its connections to the scientific community outside the Survey. These connections will be improved when Survey personnel participate in national geographic organizations and present USGS geographic research at professional geography meetings and in professional journals. Conclusion: The USGS’s influence is weak in advancing the state of knowledge in general geography because geographers at the Survey are limited to cartographic, geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing specialties, largely at the technical level (Chapter 2). Recommendation: The USGS should expand its capabilities in geography beyond the activities of cartographic technicians to include leading-edge geographic research in GIScience, spatial analysis, and nature-society interactions. UNDERSTANDING THE DYNAMICS OF THE LAND SURFACE-HUMAN ACTIVITIES CONNECTION Part of the USGS role in advancing knowledge in geography includes specific contributions related to the Critical Zone. The Survey mission
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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey statement recognizes special responsibilities for hazards resulting from the interaction of society with nature. Conclusion: The USGS manages large amounts of data to assess processes at the nature-society interface and provides a supporting mechanism for responses to natural disasters. Even though the academic field of geography is a significant contributor to the understanding of environmental processes and natural hazards, the Survey does not contribute greatly to the understanding of the vital connection between nature and society through scientific research focused on hazards (Chapter 5). Recommendation: The USGS should continue to exercise national leadership in applied hazards research (including natural, technical, and security hazards) to improve the nation’s explanatory, predictive, and response capabilities. To meet national needs, however, it is incumbent on the Survey to undertake basic research on environmental processes, hazards, and vulnerability, and to include the expertise of geographers and social scientists from within the Survey and through cooperative agreements. Conclusion: The USGS manages and provides a variety of basic data for the nation’s responses to natural and technical hazards. These data and methods of analysis are also applicable to issues related to homeland security, a subject that has many data and research similarities to investigations of natural and technical hazards (Chapter 5). Recommendation: The USGS should implement a homeland security support system founded on the general principles used by the Survey for dealing with natural hazards. MAINTAINING AND ENHANCING GEOGRAPHIC TOOLS AND METHODS Traditionally the USGS maintained and enhanced tools and methods in geography to fulfill the Survey’s role as one of the nation’s primary sources of spatial data. Today it is not enough to supply data. In the digital era the nation requires new knowledge about how to deal with those data through GIScience. Consequently, the Survey’s Geography Discipline should undertake basic research related to spatial data and develop cutting edge technologies in support of innovative geographic products such as The National Map. The role of the USGS should not stop with supplying data; it should
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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey continue with advanced research to develop new tools and methods to convert those data to information and ultimately to knowledge. Conclusion: The USGS manages a national treasure of historic data ranging from maps and remotely-sensed imagery to long-term data collected from biologic, hydrologic, and geologic systems. These historic data are not artifacts valuable only for their curiosity. Rather, they indicate long-term trends in natural systems and baseline measures to assess human influences. Historic data allow the interpretation of present data, but use of the historic information is restricted by several unsolved problems related to access, processing, and analysis (Chapter 3). Recommendation: The USGS should develop projects focused on historic data to address basic geographic research questions related to the accuracy, availability, quality, and scale issues for historical spatial data. Conclusion: The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, raise issues regarding data security, especially for data the USGS manages, including imagery, maps, and water supply data. The Survey’s data management responsibilities are conflicting. On one hand, one of the Survey’s purposes is to make these data widely available; on the other, the federal government has a responsibility to protect data that might be used against the nation. At the USGS four associate directors determine which data to make available within their own disciplines. Because only general guidelines are available, the four associate directors’ restrictions could be inconsistent (Chapter 3). Recommendation: A uniform security policy for spatial data should be developed, and the associate directors should serve as advisors to a single USGS decision maker. To make as much data available as possible the policy should clearly state how the mission of the Survey and the security of the nation should be balanced in making decisions for data management. Conclusion: Although Congress has designated the USGS as the clearing-house for spatial data, other Department of Interior (DOI) bureaus and federal agencies create and use spatial data. The underlying problem is a lack of integration among these geospatial databases (those databases with locational identifiers attached to data entries), which does not serve the scientific and public good. Addressing this problem requires research, standards, and the application of integrating methods (Chapter 3). Recommendation: The USGS is ideally suited to be the lead agency in providing and managing spatial data, and the federal government should
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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey make available resources commensurate with the level of the task. The USGS should play a leading and facilitating role in shaping national policy on geospatial data and developing an interoperable capability that will make it a primary access point for integrated geospatial data in the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies Conclusion: The National Map is a bold vision for the future of the Geography Discipline, with the spatial database of the same name being its most prominent product. Without question the digital era has made the paper topographic map series obsolete for many applications, but The National Map will not become a reality with the present level of knowledge about the tools and methods needed to create the product (Chapter 4). Recommendation: Given the importance of The National Map to the information economy of the future, and the need for further supportive research to accomplish The National Map, the Geography Discipline’s programs—Cooperative Topographic Mapping, Land Remote Sensing, and Geographic Analysis and Monitoring—should receive a level of funding commensurate with the task. Conclusion: Construction and maintenance of The National Map will require a variety of databases, but some are of exceptional priority if The National Map is to succeed. These high-priority datasets will require emphasis in funding and support (Chapter 4). Recommendation: Because of their importance to The National Map, the following datasets should be assigned the highest priority in distribution of resources and in establishing and improving interagency exchanges: orthorectified imagery; digital elevation data; land cover data; biogeographic data; hydrographic data; transportation feature data; and geographic place names. Conclusion: The USGS is effective at creating and managing spatial data, but its role in GIScience is limited and does not include cutting-edge research in geographic information systems or the analysis of the data that the Survey provides to others. The Survey has a weak core research program
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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey in geographic science related to the discipline’s tools and methods (Chapter 4). Recommendation: To achieve the vision and mission of the USGS, the Survey should improve its contributions to geographic knowledge, tools, and techniques by developing the internal capability to address the high-priority subjects of: resolution and scale; delivering vector data to users; standards for spatial data; and spatial statistics and analysis. BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN SCIENCE, POLICY MAKING, AND MANAGEMENT The mission of the USGS includes investigations in the Critical Zone to enhance and protect the quality of life, and contribute to wise development. The Survey already provides valuable service to its partners and clients by supplying spatial data and information, but the appropriate role of the Survey in general and the Geography Discipline in particular includes fundamental research. The integrative power of geographic analysis and the communications power of geographic data can be substantially enhanced through research conducted by the Geography Discipline. Conclusion: The USGS is regionalizing its activities. This development positions the Survey to contribute to regional research and policy activities. To capitalize on this transformation the USGS should conduct substantive research that is explicitly regional, place-based, and integrated, rather than more traditional topically defined biologic, hydrologic, and geologic investigations (Chapter 5). Recommendation: The USGS should strengthen its regional and place-based research (as opposed to topically divided investigations in geology, hydrology, and biology), including extensive involvement with regional research outside the Survey. The USGS should develop the ability to provide integrative regional experts for the nation. Conclusion: The USGS cannot address all problems associated with bridging science, policy, and decision making, but its Geography Discipline can lead research activities in a few priority areas likely to draw upon
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Research Opportunities in Geography at the U.S. Geological Survey existing expertise in the field of geography and improve the bridging function. GIS and remotely-sensed products promote citizen involvement at public meetings by providing a mode of communication between specialist and layperson based on data, while place-based frameworks and decision-support systems allow for experimentation to assist decision makers. Currently, the Survey lacks substantial research capability in these priority areas (Chapter 5). Recommendation: The USGS should assign high priority and substantial resources to fundamental research directed toward: improving citizen involvement in decision making for issues related to natural sciences by creating citizen-friendly geographic interfaces with all the Survey’s primary spatial datasets; expanding the utility and application of place-based science by conducting integrative place-specific research in addition to topical research in individual disciplines; and enhancing the effectiveness of decision-support systems with increased geographic input and more effective map-like products as output. SUMMARY The USGS is reforming and incorporating missions that emphasize its role as one of the nation’s most important natural science research agencies. The Geography Discipline produces valuable spatial data for users ranging from private citizens and corporations to governmental agencies at all levels. The Geography Discipline should now expand its activities to assume its proper role among the other disciplines at the USGS by engaging in fundamental geographic research, investigating the processes and forms that explain the dynamics of location, space, and place. The investment in such research will change the Geography Discipline, but it will pay enormous dividends for the nation by improving the science done in other disciplines, integrating new knowledge and data generated by the USGS and others, reducing losses from hazards, improving management of natural resources, enhancing the quality of life, and aiding in wise development. A strong Geography Discipline with a productive research component will ensure recognition of the USGS as scientifically credible, objective, and relevant to society’s needs.
Representative terms from entire chapter: