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Geospatial Frontiers in Health and Social Environments

In connection with the AAG Initiative for an NIH-Wide GIS Infrastructure, the AAG received a competitively awarded grant from NIH's cross-cutting OppNet Program for an R13 proposal entitled Geospatial Frontiers in Health and Social Environments. This funding supported a series of three scientific symposia to examine the possibilities and challenges for health-and-environments research that are associated with innovative developments in the fields of geography and GIScience. Senior project personnel included: Michael Goodchild, Douglas Richardson, Mei-Po Kwan, Jonathan Mayer, and Sara McLafferty. Each symposium was organized for a 1½ day period, and limited to approximately 25 leading geographers, GIScientists, biomedical scientists, public health researchers, and senior NIH officials to encourage interactive dialogue.

The first two symposia were held in April 2012 and July 2012. The April symposium focused on the theme of Spatiotemporal Analysis for Health Research. The July symposium focused on the theme of Enabling a National Geospatial Cyberinfrastructure for Health Research. The third symposium, held in June 2013, had the theme Synthesis and Synergy: Towards a Shared Vision. The final symposium served as a capstone to the project, building on the first two symposia. An innovative research agenda to enhance the integration and sophistication of GIScience-based approaches in health and environments research has been prepared.

For more information about NIH and its Basic Behavioral & Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet), please visit

About the April 2012 Symposium: Spatiotemporal Analysis for Health Research

The first interdisciplinary research symposium on Spatiotemporal Analysis for Health Research was held April 27-28, 2012 on the campus of Howard University in Washington, DC. Participants included high-level officials from NIH and leading researchers drawn from geography, GIScience, biomedical science, public health research, computer science, and other social and behavioral sciences. The symposium agenda included research presentations and active discussions of key research, technical and policy challenges.

The past decade has seen major advances in methods to analyze health and environmental information over space and time and to explore the implications of people's everyday activity patterns for a host of health-related issues, including environmental exposures and access to social and healthcare resources. These methods increasingly rely on real-time monitoring devices such as GPS-enabled cell phones and exposure monitors. Building knowledge about health from data that are spatially distributed, and subject to varying degrees of uncertainty, presents a series of opportunities and challenges that will be addressed in this symposium.

The following are examples of the principal questions relevant to the April 2012 symposium:

  • What are the main research challenges in collecting and analyzing real-time GPS data?
  • What is the best temporal scale for representing and analyzing a particular dynamic phenomenon that optimizes the tradeoff between analytical refinement and analytical difficulties?
  • What is the best spatial scale that optimizes the trade-off between accuracy of the analytical results and protection of individual privacy?
  • How can meaningful patterns be derived from massive amounts of multidimensional spatiotemporal data collected by location-aware technologies?
  • How can we define and operationalize geographic context in relation to the dynamic trajectories of people’s daily lives?
  • How can existing spatiotemporal modeling methods and computational algorithms be improved?
  • What conceptual and analytical perspectives hold the greatest promise for major breakthroughs in the future?

Related Documents: July 2012 Symposium (Enabling a National Geospatial Cyberinfrastructure for Health Research)


Related Documents: June 2013 Symposium (Synthesis and Synergy: Towards a Shared Vision)