Experts in geospatial information, public health, human migration and water, energy and food systems gathered at the Geo-Resolution conference at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Sept. 28, to talk about the impacts of climate change and how geospatial technology can be used to better understand and mitigate climate change impacts.
The conference, which also focused on growing the geospatial workforce in St. Louis and beyond, was co-hosted by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and Saint Louis University. Approximately 450 people attended the conference; another approximately 350 people participated in the conference virtually from across the world.
At the conference, ESRI founder and CEO Jack Dangermond said humans are at a “profound moment” in history and that humans’ work to address climate change is “the most important work on the planet”.
The conference’s goal of bringing together minds from many different disciplines to address this common problem is invaluable, Dangermond said.
“It’s going to take all of us — our best science, our best technology, our best design thinking, in order to figure this out,” Dangermond said.
NGA Director Navy Vice Adm. Frank Whitworth said that because climate change has been a topic of much debate, NGA has “a special responsibility” to ensure the data NGA is providing on climate change is accurate, to build trust with both the scientific community and the public as the United States begins to tackle the challenges that come with climate change.
Michael C. Morgan, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, echoed the need for a “common understanding” of trust in climate change data. Morgan also said NOAA’s ability to take effective action to address climate change depends on access to and plans based on geospatial and many other forms of data.
A “fusion of knowledge” created by all sorts of data — and powered by the experts that collect, distill and explain the data — can provide humans the understanding required to address complex issues related to climate change, said NGA’s Anthony Nguy-Robertson, research and development scientist, during a panel on the impacts of freshwater access and supply due to climate change.
Geo-Resolution is a “perfect” venue for collaboration among people with different kinds of expertises — geographers, demographers, sociologists — to solve problems caused by climate change, NGA human geographer Caitlin Flanagan said during a panel on human migration.
The conference also included panels on the impact of climate change on health, energy and food; and keynotes by Holden Thorp, editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals, and Joseph Mascaro, science strategy and programs director of Planet Labs.
Academic experts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Virginia, Washington University in St. Louis, Penn State University, the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, Saint Louis University and more participated in the panels. Industry experts included those from Planet, Climate LLC, GISetc and ISciences; government participation, in addition to NGA and NOAA, included the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Experts from nonprofits included those from the International Institute St. Louis, the United State Geospatial Intelligence Foundation and the Danforth Plant Sciences Center.
Also at the conference, Whitworth discussed the value of the agency’s collaborations with the geospatial community in St. Louis. He said he sees in St. Louis a powerful “fusion” of academic, civic and industry efforts to build a geospatial community in St. Louis. NGA has a key role to play in that community, he said, and is well-situated to do so, with its new facility opening in 2026 in north St. Louis. “I’ve already started using St. Louis as example for other communities” who are looking to foster geospatial development, he said. “It’s very clear this will succeed.”
He emphasized St. Louis’ role in the agency’s drive to develop a more diverse workforce and praised the agency’s collaboration with Harris-Stowe State University, a historically black college and university located near the new campus in St. Louis, to develop geospatial talent among HCBU students in St. Louis and nationwide.
“Representing the demographics of America as we defend America is the right thing to do,” Whitworth said.
As different viewpoints and perspectives make NGA geospatial intelligence analysis all the more richer, he said.
Andrew Hayden, director of the NGA College, also emphasized the value of a diverse workforce during a panel on developing geospatial talent.
“The world is complex,” he said. “NGA needs a diversity of thought to answer questions from different approaches and perspectives and “come up with new questions we haven’t anticipated yet.”
Hayden said exposure to GIS and other geospatial technology early in students’ academic journeys helps introduce students to geospatial career opportunities.
“Make it real to them,” he said. “Get them excited about learning about their world.”
He also said curiosity is a common trait among the agency’s best geospatial analysts, and when a student can combine natural curiosity with geospatial exposure early on, it’s a winning recipe for a successful and rewarding career at NGA and for the agency’s success it its mission.
For more information about Geo-Resolution 2022 and a full recording of the conference and recordings of individual sessions, visit https://taylorgeospatial.org/georesolution/.