Expert Report

Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences (2010)

Topics:

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Earth's surface has been in constant flux throughout time, but in recent decades the pace and extent of human-induced changes has reached unprecedented levels. 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 occurring.Increasingly, innovation in the geographical sciences is advancing our knowledge of place-based environmental change, sustainability, and the impacts of a rapidly changing economy and society. Over the past few years, geographic information has become more accessible through dynamic maps and imagery of the Earth's surface, and geographic concepts have opened up new understandings of the evolution of places and landscapes, and the causes and consequences of geographic variations.

At the request of the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Geographic Society, and the Association of American Geographers, the National Academies established a committee to identify research initiatives that take advantage of recent technological advancements, inspire continued innovation in the geographical sciences, and advance understanding of the major issues facing Earth. In this report, eleven strategic directions are outlined to focus research and leverage new technologies to harness the potential that the geographical sciences offer.

Report Interview

Prof. Dawn Wright Discusses the National Research Council Report, Understanding the Changing Planet: Strategic Directions for the Geographical Sciences

A recent interview of Dawn Wright, professor of geography and oceanography at Oregon State University, who served on the National Research Council’s Committee on Strategic Direction for the Geographic Sciences in the Next Decade.

Key Messages

  • A major theme in the geographical sciences will be how to understand and respond to environmental change and the human role in these changes
  • Geographical research should follow eleven strategic directions in order to take advantage of recent technological advancements, inspire continued innovation, and advance understanding of the major issues facing Earth.
  • Leveraging technological advances will allow scientists to better observe, analyze and visualize the changing world, leading to new insights for the betterment of society and environment
  • The geographical sciences could help recognize and cope with the rapid reorganization of economy and society
  • With Earth’s population growing rapidly, the geographical sciences could help promote sustainability