The Earth system and human health are inextricably linked. In this period of widespread and rapid global change, understanding the challenges and opportunities at the intersection of health, geoscience, and the Earth system (broadly termed “geohealth”) has taken on a new level of importance. Scientific discovery and innovation can play a key role in helping humanity understand and respond to environmental, technological, and societal drivers of global changes so as to enable security, prosperity, and positive health outcomes for all.
This American Meteorological Society Policy Program study synthesizes input from the AMS community on the various connections, gaps, and opportunities that currently exist at the geohealth interface. It was carried out in an accelerated time frame in response to a request from the National Science Foundation for rapid community input. Through these community discussions this study identifies: 1) a set of critical throughlines for effective convergence in geohealth research, 2) overarching challenges that currently impede progress, and 3) potential solution areas where significant progress might be made quickly.
- Issues of geohealth are often intricately connected to issues of environmental justice. As such, inclusion, equity, and justice are central to the advancement of and benefit from geohealth science.
- Advances in geohealth science require truly convergent research approaches to provide maximum benefit to society.
- Progress in geohealth requires participation from multiple sectors within disciplines, with important and complementary roles for those in the academic, government, private, and NGO sectors.
- Issues related to climate change are both hugely important and constitute a relatively small fraction of the overall geohealth landscape. In many instances, climate change will amplify and exacerbate existing issues in geohealth.
- Interoperability of data, research, understanding, and applications of knowledge is critically important and currently represents multiple challenges that are limiting progress within geohealth.
Challenges to progress
In gathering input from the geohealth community, several key challenges arose as common themes:
- Funding agencies are not structured to adequately support progress in geohealth science or applications.
- Datasets in both the geosciences and health professions are often incompatible or inadequate to address geohealth research needs.
- The necessary interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary workforce is insufficient.
Each of these challenges is expanded upon in the report and recommendations for addressing components of each, suggested by the experts contributing to this effort, are provided.
Areas for rapid progress
The geohealth professionals contributing to this report covered a wide range of geohealth topics. In addition to identifying overarching challenges that impact most of all areas of the field, the contributors suggested more narrowly focused areas where rapid progress might be possible. The report includes these as examples that might foster productive new avenues for research funding, while recognizing that the rapid nature of this study meant that it could not be exhaustive in its coverage of the field and that a different set of contributors might have provided a much different set of examples.
Spotlight on mental health
From the call for community input and subsequent follow-up, there was an emerging recognition that the connection between the geosciences and mental health is frequently omitted from discussions of geohealth. A special effort was made to provide a spotlight on this facet of geohealth, which shares components of the throughlines and challenges with the broader geohealth community, but has its own special considerations that lead to some additional recommendations specific to the intersection of geosciences and mental health.