The United States Geological Survey: Conducting Geospatial Science for a Changing World
   
         
 

Barbara Ryan (Associate Director for Geography, US Geological Survey National Center, Reston , VA , bryan@usgs.gov )

The USGS has a long history of discovery at the cutting edge of science and technology. Currently the Survey’s primary mission involves conducting science for a changing world. USGS Geography monitors the changes that occur on the land surface using remote sensing, studies the connections between people and those changes, and then provides individuals and society with information they can use to cope with the consequences of those changes.

As all of us in the geospatial and natural resource sciences know, land changes can be very gradual or sudden. They can be natural, such as forest regrowth after a lightning-caused fire or a volcanic eruption, or they can also be caused by human action such as converting forestland to residential land. Sometimes, the consequences of natural processes are significantly magnified because of human action such as when debris flows that might have harmed a forest, now harm a neighborhood. These increasingly common situations create particularly difficult challenges for citizens, emergency services personnel, and land-use planners. Given the dynamic nature of our earth and the increasing human population, the USGS’s Geography Program’s main challenges are:

  • 1) To understand coupled human environmental systems in the face of land change;
  • 2) To deliver pertinent information on the vulnerability and resilience of these systems for decision-making

Geography is a bridging, integrating, and synthesizing science. Geographers combine their talents with scientists in other disciplines to make a difference as we improve people’s ability to prosper as the land changes.

Each of the three Geography programs of the USGS addresses different parts of the geographic knowledge spectrum.

Geographic Analysis and Monitoring (GAM) conducts research to understand the rates, causes, and consequences of landscape change over time and uses that understanding to model change processes for predicting future conditions. The program demonstrates the value of The National Map through case-study applications that concern specific environmental, natural resource, and economic issues.

Land Remote Sensing (LRS) is the Nation's portal to the largest archive of remotely sensed land data in the world. Working with NASA, NOAA, commercial satellite companies, State and local governments, and international programs, the LRS Program collects, maintains, and distributes millions of images acquired from satellite and aircraft sensors. From such images scientists and land managers, both public and private, derive information about natural resources, hazards, and long-term changes to the landscape. Through advancements in data archive and processing technology and through the operation and maintenance of satellites such as Landsats 5 and 7, the LRS Program provides continuous access to worldwide land images that can be used in mankind's effort to sustain the ever-changing Earth. Science Impact is a focused effort to improve and expand the use of USGS science information to support decision-making at the Department of the Interior, other Federal, State, and local government organizations, and by the public.

Science Impact is a focused effort to improve and expand the use of USGS science information to support decision-making at the Department of the Interior, other Federal, State, and local government organizations, and by the public.