1.1 Geoinformatics and Earth Observation for Understanding Human-Environment Processes

Monday, 23 January 2017: 11:00 AM
613 (Washington State Convention Center )
Carolynne Hultquist, Penn State, University Park, PA

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is a global agenda that is inherently linked to processes which occur spatially with human-environment interactions. It is generally agreed upon that the global community should seek to reduce the extent of negative impacts on humans and the environment. However, there are limitations on our local understanding of the extent and long-term processes which create conditions of hunger, poverty, disease, disasters, deforestation, urbanization, and environmental issues. There is knowledge, resources, and willingness in the international community to solve many of these issues in an abstract sense. Yet, conditions are location specific and what works one place is not guaranteed to work (in fact, it will most likely fail) in a different system. There must be critical understanding that human-environment interactions are intrinsically linked; it is obvious that a major earthquake and tsunami in Alaska will likely have much less impact than off the coast of Japan. The major policy struggle of our day is understanding Human-Environment interactions by fusing available data to identify areas of specific needs. Only then can we confidently present policies that should be implemented for the development goals agenda at the national and local levels.

Geoinformatics and Earth Observation can play a prominent role in policy analysis by fusing available datasets of demographics, vegetation, resources, disaster assessments, and the environment. Satellite information is increasingly utilized to observe the Earth at high spatio-temporal resolution and to assess the state of affairs for specific populations. Satellite imagery can be used to classify land cover types and predict trends based on change over time. Nightlight satellite imagery is produced by a unique sensor to see the urban footprint and is used to estimate populations with calculations for economic activity. Social media data has been geographically and textually analyzed to reveal the human activities and concerns of the population in a timely manner useful for disaster response, health assessment, cultural analysis, and the environment. Government and NGO demographic data collections can be used to incorporate census and health data on local populations. Meteorological data for disasters and climate change can serve to reveal predicted risks in certain areas which can be fused with demographic data to understand how vulnerable specific populations are to those risks. Cellular movement data of populations can be used to understand the flow of population for economic activities and to model how contagious diseases might spread along a social network. In addition, citizen science projects provide open data for environmental issues such as water quality, air pollution, and ionized radiation exposure which can be used to assess health risks to populations.

Environmental conditions observed through land use trickle down to effect many aspects of human life. Data driven urban planning can minimize exposure to disasters through building resilient infrastructure and reducing risk to populations through strategic location of services and networks. The creation of urban environments structured around intelligent transportation creates new links to spaces for economic opportunity which minimizes the extent of poverty and provides better access for populations to seek education. The resiliency of the system for natural resources is a critical aspect of management, especially for water that is potable and used by the population for agriculture. Reliable access to natural resources for agriculture has a direct impact on the diversity and quantity of food available to the population which can impact the extent of hunger and decrease health risks from malnutrition. Monitoring changing conditions and the needs of fluctuating populations can serve to direct resources where they are most needed.

The Sustainable Development agenda applies globally and it is not just for developing countries such as with efforts of the Millennium Development Goals. While the thinking of the United Nations is global, real progress is made by pinpointing the specific needs of communities. “Think globally, act locally” may be a cliché phrase, but it is a critical concept so that there is also in depth thinking on how to act so that positive change occurs in the places most needed. Data-driven situational awareness can demonstrate the important of location to increase the societal impact of sustainable development policies.

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