IMAGE OF THE WEEK
Todd Bacastow was the commencement speaker at the U.S. Army
Sergeants Major Academy graduation on Monday, June 8. See related story: Army selects Penn State as partner for new educational fellowship program
Azita Ranjbar is traveling to South Africa to participate in Antipode’s 5th Institute for the Geographies of Justice.
Elizabeth (Libby) Wentz (Ph.D. ’97) has been appointed dean of social sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.
Please give us your input: Communications survey
The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) is conducting a survey to inform our communications strategy. We need your input and insights. Please take a few minutes to complete this short survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EMScommunications.
Why are we conducting this survey? Communications play an important role in conveying the essence and value of an organization. EMS has begun a comprehensive effort to refresh our communications strategy. This strategic communications Initiative will include an examination of current communications materials and messaging across all platforms, provide multiple avenues for stakeholder input, and identify opportunities for greater effectiveness and consistency in our communications. This survey will help inform that process.
Geography APG holds networking event
The Department of Geography Affiliate Program Group (APG) held a networking event and organizational meeting at The Penn Stater Conference Center on June 15, 2015, in conjunction with the Pennsylvania GIS Conference.
Zelinsky tribute published in the Annals
Wilbur Zelinsky was a prodigious scholar of immense influence on the discipline of geography. He was guided as geographers have always been guided: to explore the unknown, something he did in his own unique and exuberant way. He died quietly on May 4, 2013, in his ninety-second year, after practicing geography passionately for seven decades, starting as a map draftsman during World War II and writing books right up until his death. Not only was he intellectually gifted, Wilbur was also a fine musician and a person who cared deeply about relationships, literature, the arts, and social justice. He was colorful, quirky, romantic, genuine—salt of the earth, without pretense—and pretty funny, too.
Travel Note 5: Frontier towns, impacts, and good-byes
We said our good-byes to the rainforest after our last sampling event and a sunset trip to the canopy tower. The sampling was done after watching the harpy eagle chick, and occurred in a new wetland type for me, a sartenjales. It was basically the tropical version of a headwater stream; small channels lazily looping here and there, sitting on top of a layer of clay, dominated by a sub canopy palm (Bactris riparia) whose fronds reach only to eight or ten feet, with four-inch black, sharp spines along the trunk. A mini palm swamp, thick with vines and ground-level ferns, it was steamy and warm, and provided a great bookend to the wetland field work that the class had done, since they began in the high altitude peat bogs two weeks before. They ended up sampling three wetland types: the bofedales, the palm swamp, and the small stream area. They have gotten very competent at the methane samplings, as well as cheerily trying to get multiple sediment cores in unforgiving environments. The sediment-coring device consists of a long plexiglass tube to which you attached a rather substantial head with a handle and a water evacuation valve. The root density alone is enough to discourage mere mortals from pursuing cores, but at this site the clay provides a second challenge—the tube sticks and groans and refuses to budge. This is when you recruit the two largest students to each hang on one end of the handle, and watch them jump up while spinning and try to drill the coring tube further (it’s generally entertaining and effective). After multiple muddy attempts, they succeed.
A trip up a canopy tower is a journey to an extraordinary world, and when it happens at sunset it takes on another dimension. A rainforest is generally organized by human eyes into six layers: the ground layer (lower than one foot), herbaceous layer (three feet), immature layer (ten feet), understory, or lower canopy (30 feet), upper canopy (60–100 feet), and emergent (130–240 feet). The canopy tower is a series of stacked stair sections, about five feet by five feet square, bolted together, one on top of the other, until it reaches approximately 100–120 feet. The whole thing tends to wobble a bit nervously as you ascend, allowing you to take your time and observe the passing layers of the forest (or that’s what you generally tell yourself). Once you reach the top, you pop up through a door in the platform and generally catch your breath because you suddenly feel as if you know what it is like to fly above the dense, 100-foot high carpet of the canopy. The air is surprisingly dry, far different than the humidity of the forest floor, and you are almost giddy with the light (less than one percent of light reaches the forest floor; 75 percent is captured by the upper canopy). The emergent trees (e.g., Brazil nut, ironwood, kapok) pop out of the top of the canopy like the heads of the tallest kids in your grade-school class, and they can be surprisingly covered in blooms that were invisible from the forest floor; the only clue might have been a few withered flowers on the trail far below. The kapoks are in bloom now, so imagine looking into the large, umbrella shaped top that emerges from the carpet of green, densely covered in large pink blooms; you can also pick out the bowling ball-sized bolles (these each hold 12–15 nuts and shells) along the branches of the Brazil nut trees.They really are two worlds; the biological churning below, where the heat and humidity reinforces the tight recycling of nutrients in the famously poor soil (dead vegetation decomposes extremely quickly, and the nutrients are taken up almost immediately by the shallow roots of the trees), and the light and dry open space above the never-ending canopy, interrupted only by the wide and brown meandering band of the river. Parrots can dot the treetops (I saw yellow-crowned ones), the macaws fly in loud and raucous pairs, toucans flit here and there (yes, there are plenty of brown and gray birds, too, but they don’t inspire many adjectives).
There were lots of photos in the dying light, then we hurried down the stairs and back on the trail to the lights of the lodge. The last morning in the rainforest is one that I try to pay special attention to. As the light just begins and the shapes of the forest begin to be discerned (remember that one wall of your room is open to the forest) you can generally hear the howler monkeys establishing territories; they are totally unforgettable, since their calls sound like a hurricane wind in the distance, a powerful, deep-toned, long whoosh. You can hear them up to six miles away, so imagine the decibel level when they are close. Next come the dusky titi monkeys, which are comfortable being in the trees right outside of your room; their calls are similar to the monkey impressions that you did as a child, tittering and chattering and chasing one another through the trees. There were three troops this morning, calling and yabbering to one another at various points around the lodge complex. Finally it is time to crawl out from under your mosquito net one last time, pad across the hardwood floor to your bathroom, and sometimes you get to greet a small rodent who is trying to get into your suitcase. It’s quite a bittersweet moment.
We headed off to Puerto Maldonado, a literal frontier town (locals actually call it “Wild West”) and the closest thing to understanding the American gold rush that I will ever encounter. When Rick and I first came here in 2003, it had no paved road, the center of town was a sleepy and ragged square, only ferries could get you from one side of the Madre de Dios to the other, and the center of activity was a relatively small market where you could find fruits and vegetables, medicinal plants from the rainforest, and the evidence of a resourcefulness that I lacked (e.g., sandals made of recycled tires, booths where shoes were re-soled). Once the InterOceanic Highway arrived, the city began to grow at a dizzying rate (estimates are that the current population is around 75,000, more than double what it was three years ago), but it remains raw and ragged, relative to other cities in Peru. To stand on the street corner across from the market now is to witness a hundred motos (either a motor scooter, motorcycle, or a three-wheeled motorcycle rickshaw taxi) buzzing and tooting down the mayhem of mud streets (the taxis are recognized by their yellow-vested drivers), schoolchildren in their uniforms on their way to school, via foot and motor scooter (my personal best observation was a motor scooter with a father and three sons), dogs everywhere, the market now exploded into a maze of booths covering an entire block, where miners stock up on dried llama meat, rubber boots, and T-shirts. A replica of the Golden Gate bridge, painted bright orange, connects one bank to the other (completed in March 2012) and lines of gold shops sport balances in glass cases for weighing the treasure of the river. Puerto Maldonado has seen booms related to a series of resource extractions: rubber, then logging, then gold mining. The 450 percent increase in the price of gold over the last 10 years, coupled with the TransOceanic Highway, have conspired to turn boom into explosion, but not all boats seem to be floating higher. Much of the wealth of Puerto Maldonado is reported to come from illicit sources (i.e., illegal gold mining and logging); it is easy to imagine that there is tremendous money-laundering going on between gold, timber, and cocaine. But the other side of Puerto Maldonado is its position as the gateway to the rainforest, because it is here where the Madre de Dios and the Tambopata meet, and you begin your travels to the research stations and ecolodges that dot both rivers. We bookend our travels to the rainforest here, and stay in a comfortable hotel named Cabana Quinta. We spent one day participating in a wonderful project that teaches schoolchildren to assess stream health, developed by a partnership between Stroud Water Center and Amazon Center for Environmental Education and Research. It’s called the Leaf Pack Project, and has children place packs of leaves in mesh bags and anchor them in local streams. The kids then retrieve the bags about 4 weeks later, pick out the bugs, identify them, and calculate a stream health index. I’m just happy that our students performed relatively well, and we managed to have one non-science major fall in love with entymology after seeing a stonefly case under a microscope. Magnification is magic!
And then we came to the last two days in Lima, finalizing the class project (carbon neutral travel options for ecotourists) and getting ready to present our findings to the co-owner of Rainforest Expeditions, the large tourism company that runs the series of ecolodges in which we stayed on the Tambopata River. As all such group ventures go, the final 24 hours was something to behold, as somewhat bleary-eyed students straggled into breakfast after a long night of number-crunching and slide preparation. Here are some insights gained:
• Our inventory of our trip yielded a carbon expenditure of approximately 1.5-2.0 tons of CO2 per person over a 3.5 week period. The average American has a carbon footprint of 14 tons of CO2 per year, the average European has one of 11 tons CO2 per year. The recommendation for a sustainable lifestyle is 2 tons of CO2 per year, posing a challenge for the rest of my year. I suggest going to www.footprintnetwork.org, you can calculate your own and form a plan for reducing it.
• 24 percent of ecolodge guests were extremely concerned about their footprint, according to the survey that the students designed and administered.
The student’s own experience yielded a number of specific recommendations for Rainforest Expeditions concerning opportunities for increased awareness and offset options such as reforestation projects.
The presentation was well received, and Kurt Holle taught us much about the tourism business (it’s all about the details, and the largest impact of eco-tourism is the protection of habitat). We couldn’t have chosen a better client and project. And so then it was eventually off to the airport, for good-byes to the Andes, to the rainforest, to Peru, to each other. It will take months for Joe and me to process what we learned from the students, and it will take them days, months, and even years to process what Peru taught them. I hope that they will sometimes imagine the howler monkeys at dawn, the feel of the forest, the clarity of the Andes, the complexity and inter-relatedness of the issues, the taste of the potatoes, the din of the market and Puerto Maldomado, the intercultural nature of the country. But we have missed peanut butter, brewed coffee, hamburgers, the sound of English, our family and friends. We will see you soon.
Recently (or soon to be) published
DeBerry, D. A., S. J. Chamberlain, and J. W. Matthews. 2015. Trends in Floristic Quality Assessment for wetland evaluation. Wetland Science and Practice 32:12-22.
Over the past two decades, much has been written about the use of bioassessment tools to evaluate wetland condition. Interest in bioassessment has originated from a need to establish parameters for “biological integrity” in wetland ecosystems, whether for scientific research, natural areas assessment, inventory and monitoring, or in response to regulatory mandate. On the latter point, the need has been, in part, a reaction to Clean Water Act directives to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” (33 U.S.C. §1251). For wetland scientists and managers, identifying a sampling focus for chemical or physical integrity (e.g., dissolved oxygen, temperature) has been a much more straightforward task than finding adequate methods for measuring biological integrity, an ambiguous concept that defies precise definition (Cronk and Fennessy 2001). This puts scientists and managers in the difficult position of attempting to express a qualitative construct (biological integrity)in measurable or quantitative terms.
Barrett A. Lee, Stephen A. Matthews, John Iceland, and Glenn Firebaugh. “Residential Inequality: Orientation and Overview” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science July 2015 660: 8-16, doi:10.1177/0002716215579832
Where people live reflects and affects their position in society. This tenet is implicit in the American Dream, which promises access to desirable homes, neighborhoods, and communities for those willing to work hard enough. As recent events remind us, however, effort alone does not guarantee fulfillment of the dream. Natural disaster, recession, mortgage foreclosure, and escalating (and plummeting) housing prices are among the forces that have already thwarted residential aspirations in the United States during the new century. The difficulty that many immigrants to the nation face in achieving their housing and neighborhood goals is another current concern. Over a longer period, the discriminatory practices of real estate agents and lenders, preferences for neighbors similar to oneself, marked income inequality, and government policies and programs have perpetuated spatial divides by race and class.