Feb 17

Coffee Hour schedule | The Tea Institute | MOOCs with FutureLearn


Devin Yeatman takes a short break after a burnout operation during the September 2012 Mustang Complex, a fire in the Bitterroot Mountains on the Idaho-Montana border.

Devin Yeatman takes a short break after a burnout operation during the September 2012 Mustang Complex, a fire in the Bitterroot Mountains on the Idaho-Montana border. Photo by Josh Tereszkiewicz.

Alumni mini-profile: Devin Yeatman earned his B.S. in 2007 and has worked as a firefighter with the Nature Conservancy and Chena, Alaska hotshot crew.  He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Natural Resources at the University of Idaho,  analyzing the pre-fire vegetation conditions around houses that were involved in major wildfire events to explore the relationship between vegetation surrounding a home and whether it burns or not. Yeatman remains active in the University of Idaho’s prescribed fire program on the university’s experimental forest and with local partners like the U.S. Forest Service. He plans to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail this summer with his fiancée.


  • Catherine and Thomas Lauvaux are delighted to announce the birth of their son, Robin Amédée on Feb. 7, 2017.  Everyone is doing well.
  • Please submit your nominations for department awards for outstanding teaching or research assistant. All nominations should be saved as a single file by the faculty member writing the letter of support and emailed to the awards committee chair at csfowler@psu.edu. The due date for nominations is March 17.


Coffee Hour schedule announcement
Due to Spring Break, March 5–11, there will be no Coffee Hour on March 3 or March 10. The next Coffee Hour will be March 17. The speaker will be Roger Downs, the Ruby S. and E. Willard Miller professor of geography in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Remainder of the spring 2017 Coffee Hour schedule:

  • March 24 Antoinette WinklerPrins, NSF Program Director of Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) DDRI
  • April 14 The Miller Lecture with Anthony Bebbington, Higgins Professor of Environment and Society and Professor of Geography, Clark University
  • April 21 tbd

Remember, if you missed a talk, you can view the archived webcast on Mediasite.

Geography undergraduate researches tea plantation loss through Tea Institute
For Zongjun Li, a junior majoring in geography at Penn State, the chance to explore real-life opportunities with his degree is what drives him as an undergraduate student.

“It’s important to me to take the knowledge from our textbooks and bring it to life out in the real world,” Li said.

Raised in Guangzhou, China, Li, who is majoring in geographic information science (GIS), has always been fascinated by the applications of the geography major.

Penn State to offer MOOCs on FutureLearn online learning platform
Penn State will begin offering massive open online courses through FutureLearn, the United Kingdom’s leading MOOC platform, as part of the organization’s launch in the United States.

Penn State’s first two MOOCs with FutureLearn will be offered in the spring and will be taught by renowned faculty members in their fields. Richard Alley, a world-renowned climate scientist and Evan Pugh University Professor of Geosciences, will teach “Energy, the Environment and our Future.” Anthony Robinson, assistant professor of geography, will teach “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution.”


Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of Active Lions: A Campaign to Promote Active Travel to a University Campus
By Melissa Bopp, Dangaia Sims, Stephen A. Matthews, Liza S. Rovniak, Erika Poole, Joanna Colgan
In American Journal of Health Promotion
Access: https://doi.org/10.1177/0890117117694287
To outline the development, implementation, and evaluation of a multistrategy intervention to promote active transportation, on a large university campus. The Active Lions campaign aimed to increase active transportation to campus for all students and employees. The campaign targeted active transport participation through the development of a smartphone application and the implementation of supporting social marketing and social media components. Component-specific measures included app user statistics, social media engagement, and reach of social marketing strategies. Overall evaluation included cross-sectional online surveys preintervention and postintervention of student and employee travel patterns and campaign awareness.

Short-term photovoltaic power forecasting using Artificial Neural Networks and an Analog Ensemble
By Guido Cervone, Laura Clemente-Harding, Stefano Alessandrini, Luca Delle Monache
In Renewable Energy
Access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2017.02.052
A methodology based on Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) and an Analog Ensemble (AnEn) is presented to generate 72-hour deterministic and probabilistic forecasts of power generated by photovoltaic (PV) power plants using input from a numerical weather prediction model and computed astronomical variables. ANN and AnEn are used individually and in combination to generate forecasts for three solar power plants located in Italy. The computational scalability of the proposed solution is tested using synthetic data simulating 4450 PV power stations. The NCAR Yellowstone supercomputer is employed to test the parallel implementation of the proposed solution, ranging from 1 node (32 cores) to 4450 nodes (141,140 cores). Results show that a combined AnEn + ANN solution yields best results, and that the proposed solution is well suited for massive scale computation.

Feb 17

Coffee Hour with Charles Twardy | Summer internships | Health benefits of parks


A 360-degree VR image of the renovated GeoVISTA center in Walker Building. Place your cursor over the image, hold down the mouse button, and move around to see the perspective change.



Coffee Hour with Charles Twardy: Data Science for Search and Rescue
Lost-person search is a mystery with a deadline. After 24 hours lost in the wilderness, your survivability drops by 20%. Searches happen one at a time, but nationally they consume thousands of hours and millions of dollars per year. Most of the expense is borne by ~5% the searches. These massive, extended searches would benefit from proper application of Bayesian search theory, developed in WW2 and used successfully by the Navy and Coast Guard for the past 70 years. I will discuss the unique challenges in wilderness search, and the progress made since 2000 due to the worldwide collection of lost-person data. I’ll discuss spatial probability maps for lost-person behavior, survival curves lost persons, and empirical and theoretical detection profiles, and the prospects for Bayesian search management.

  • Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m.
  • The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m.
  • Coffee Hour to go webcast
  • Next time: March 17 with Roger Downs

Measuring and improving the impact of parks on health
Geographer Brian King  is a member of the working group
A team of Penn State researchers is helping the National Park Service measure and improve its impact on people’s health. According to Derrick Taff, assistant professor of recreation, park, and tourism management (RPTM) in the College of Health and Human Development, although many people think parks provide health benefits, there is very little empirical evidence to support that notion.

Summer Internships Announced
• Capital Resource Conservation and Development Area Council
(Capital RC&D), a regional non-profit organization seeks three or more GPS assistants to accompany county survey teams and enter and manage data for the 2017 Pennsylvania Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Roadside Crop Residue/Cover Crop Transect Survey. More information PDF

• The Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission is the official Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the ten-county region including the City of Pittsburgh and the counties of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Washington and Westmoreland. SPC is seeking interns (May-August) for various transportation planning projects including traffic counting, transport modeling, traffic operations studies, freight planning, safety studies, pedestrian and bicycle planning, data collection and related activities. The work environment will vary for different projects. Most positions will include both indoor and outdoor assignments. More information PDF


Microclimate and Local Climate
By Andrew M. Carleton
In Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research: February 2017, Vol. 49, No. 1, pp. 187-188.
Access: http://www.aaarjournal.org/doi/full/10.1657/AAAR0049-1-book1
Microclimate and Local Climate represents a unique approach to the study of climate at its most fundamental level: it considers the physical processes of radiation and energy, moisture, and momentum exchanges at and near Earth’s surface to be common to—and to interact across—both the microscale (“centimeters to meters”) and the local, or topographic, scale (from ∼10 m to 1 km). The spatial-scale context is fundamentally geographic, as befits the academic heritage of the authors, and Earth’s physical and living environments are treated as a closely coupled system throughout the book. The subject matter draws upon concepts not just from physical geography and climatology, but also from a wide range of cognate disciplines: meteorology, biology and ecology, hydrology, environmental physics, biogeochemistry, soil science, and statistics. Moreover, this book has direct application and relevance to those same disciplines and to others, such as agriculture, forestry, landscape architecture and urban design, environmental history, and, I would argue, even the history and philosophy of science. The authors synthesize a large number of published studies, both recent and historical (i.e., pre-2000!), to comprehensively provide detail on the physical processes of micro- and local-scale climates, the associated spatial patterns, the implications for humans, and recent and anticipated future changes.

Feb 17

Coffee Hour with Alfred Kalyanapu | WPSU’s women in science | Dowler elected AAG councilor


Larsen Ice Shelf

The Larsen Ice Shelf is situated along the northeastern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the fastest-warming places on the planet. In the past three decades, two large sections of the ice shelf (Larsen A and B) have collapsed. A third section (Larsen C) seems like it may be on a similar trajectory, with a new iceberg poised to break away soon. Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.


  • Lorraine Dowler was elected as a national councilor for the American Association of Geographers.


Coffee Hour with Alfred Kalyanapu: Flood Modeling in the 21st Century: Dealing with Challenges and Making Advances
On average 196 million people in more than 90 countries are exposed to flooding each year, while in the United States (US) by 2005, flood damages increased to USD 6 billion per year, causing managing these risks crucial for future growth. Addressing this flood risk needs modeling and simulating rainfall-runoff processes and floods, but it is a challenging task due to many sources of uncertainties. Computer models have been used to simulate floods for more than four decades, typically modeled in a one-dimensional (1D) fashion due to computational restrictions and ease of use for most modeling applications. However, 1D approach has significant limitations for simulating floods especially in urban areas.

  • Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m.
  • The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m.
  • Coffee Hour to go webcast 
  • Next time: February 24 with Charles Twardy

Local women in STEM-related professions to be highlighted in new WPSU web series
Carolina Pulido, a quality engineer, tests her company’s software in five different languages. Erica Smithwick, a geography professor, has traveled around the world conducting research on the environment.

The two are among the five women featured in a new video series through WPSU Penn State that promotes local women working in science, technology, engineering and math professions.

WPSU Penn State’s “Women in Science Profiles”  aims to inspire young women to enter STEM-related fields while dispelling misconceptions about STEM professionals and their lives.

Scholar’s Program offers discussion opportunities for Black History Month

The Alliance for Education, Science, Engineering and Development in Africa (AESEDA) and the Department of African American Studies at Penn State are sponsoring the Black History Month PSU Scholar’s Program.

Four panel discussions, highlighting scholarship by Penn State faculty members of African descent, will take place from Feb. 16 to 22 in Foster Auditorium of Pattee Library on the University Park campus.


Fire Disturbance, Forest Structure, and Stand Dynamics in Montane Forests of the Southern Cascades, Thousand Lakes Wilderness, California, USA
By Bekker Matthew F. , Taylor Alan H.
In Écoscience 2010 v.17 no.1 pp. 59-72pp. 14
Access http://dx.doi.org/10.2980%2F17-1-3247
We examined tree diameter, age structure, and successional trends in 100 montane forest plots to identify the effects of variation in the return interval, severity, and extent of fires on forest structure and dynamics in the southern Cascade Range, California. We classified 100 forest plots into 8 groups based on stand structural characteristics. Median point fire return intervals were shortest in lower montane mixed conifer and Jeffrey pine——white fir stands (13––25 y) and upper montane red fir——white fir stands (14.5––19.5 y), intermediate in lodgepole pine stands (50––76.5 y), and longest in high-elevation red fir——mountain hemlock stands (100 y). Fire severity was mainly moderate to high in all forest structural groups except red fir——mountain hemlock. In the late 19th century, large, mostly high-severity fires burned through all forests. Fire extent varied among structural groups, burning from 13% to 85% of plots in a group on average. Stands differed in composition, but size and age structures were similar across structural groups, with few trees > 100 y old and peaks of establishment between 1895 and 1955 for all groups except red fir——mountain hemlock. Distinct pulses of tree recruitment followed the most recent (1883, 1885, 1889, 1918) large and mainly high-severity fires. Suppression of fire since 1905 has increased understory density of shade-tolerant, fire-intolerant species and caused forest compositional shifts, particularly in lower-elevation Jeffrey pine——white fir and mixed conifer stands, and lodgepole pine stands on well-drained sites. Structural or compositional change is less pronounced in upper montane red fir——white fir and red fir——mountain hemlock forests. The combination of gently sloping terrain with few fire breaks, extensive, moderate- to high-severity fires in all forest types and gradient positions and fire suppression has promoted homogenization of forest structure that may lead to large and severe fires in the future.

A search for food sovereignty: Seeding post-conflict landscapes.
By Zimmerer, Karl
In ReVista: Harvard Review of Latin America 26 (2): 32-34
Displaced persons in post-confict Societies throughout Central and South America have been finding an unusual source of  support: seed networks of food-growers who seek to strengthen agricultural projects and urban gardens.  These seed networks have operated successfully to strengthen independent food production, known as food sovereignty, in other parts of the world. For example, the 15th Garden, a Syrian-European network, supports the seed networks to provide food in war-torn Syria. The seeds can be regrown in the future, both amid the current conflict and eventually in the post-conflict phase. Food-growers then can continue to obtain the needed seeds through their own cultivation as well as personal exchanges and local markets. Displaced Syrians are also active in the 15th Garden seed networks. Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia offer other well-known examples where vigorous networks have been integral to the seeding of post-conflict landscapes.


Feb 17

Coffee Hour with Jenni Evans | Income and risk inequalities | MGIS alumni focus


Miscanthus, a grass native to subtropical and tropical areas of Africa and southern Asia, growing in the Power Plant garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. USDA

PAC Herbarium is offering a workshop on February 9 on “Grasses, Sedges and Rushes, Oh My!” 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in 13 Whitmore Lab. This photograph shows Miscanthus, a grass native to subtropical and tropical areas of Africa and southern Asia, growing in the Power Plant garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.this summer. USDA photo by Bob Nichols.


  • Kim Thomas has accepted our offer of the assistant professor position in Environment and Society.
  • Guido Cervone won $9000 for his proposal to University of Split – Penn State Collaboration Development Fund. And he is coauthor of an article, “Analysing the influence of African dust storms on the prevalence of coral disease in the Caribbean Sea using remote sensing and association rule data mining,” published last month in the International Journal of Remote Sensing.
  • Melissa Wright and Yitian Zhai are the editors of, “Difference: Sexual, Cultural and Universal,” issue 19 of theory@buffalo interdisciplinary journal.


Coffee Hour with Jenni Evans: Getting to know the Institute for CyberScience (ICS) and Exploring Cyber-Hurricanes
The Institute for CyberScience is one of Penn State’s five pan-university, interdisciplinary institutes. ICS was formed in 2012 and is currently going through an increasingly rapid evolution. A brief overview of current and emerging ICS initiatives will be presented before turning to research that utilizes the ICS cyberinfrastructure: an examination of the physics of tropical cyclones, in particular to improve understanding of their development and 5-10 day forecasts of these systems.

Grad student examines links between housing, income and hazard risk
An aerial view of some communities can reveal stark income inequalities: Boundaries at the edges of hills, valleys, streets or other features separate high-income from low-income neighborhoods. In some places in the U.S., like Houston, Texas, those same boundaries mark a drastic difference in risk for natural disasters, like flooding.

“Low-income people in the Houston-Galveston region are being concentrated in areas that are most susceptible to impacts from natural disasters,” says Travis Young, a doctoral student in geography at Penn State.

Penn State Online Geospatial Education Alumni Focus: Meredith Moore
Ever wonder how people are applying the skills they learn through the GIS Certificate or MGIS program, and how these programs are affecting careers? Alumni Focus will highlight stories so you can learn more about the applications of these degrees, and GIS careers in general.

Our first Alumni Focus is with Meredith Moore, who earned her MGIS with Penn State this past fall. Congratulations to Meredith! Here is her story of how her “investment in our program has paid off” (her words).


Mountain Ecology, Remoteness, and the Rise of Agrobiodiversity: Tracing the Geographic Spaces of Human–Environment Knowledge
By Karl S. Zimmerer, Hildegardo Córdova-Aguilar, Rafael Mata Olmo, Yolanda Jiménez Olivencia & Steven J. Vanek
In Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Volume 107, 2017 – Issue 2: Mountains
Access: DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2016.1235482
We use an original geographic framework and insights from science, technology, and society studies and the geohumanities to investigate the development of global environmental knowledge in tropical mountains. Our analysis demonstrates the significant relationship between current agrobiodiversity and the elevation of mountain agroecosystems across multiple countries. We use the results of this general statistical model to support our focus on mountain agrobiodiversity. Regimes of the agrobiodiversity knowledge of scientists, government officials, travelers, and indigenous peoples, among others, interacting in mountain landscapes have varied significantly in denoting geographic remoteness. Knowledge representing pre-European mountain geography and diverse food plants in the tropical Andes highlighted their centrality to the Inca Empire (circa 1400–1532). The notion of semiremoteness, geographic valley–upland differentiation, and the similitude-and-difference knowledge mode characterized early Spanish imperial rule (1532–1770). Early modern accounts (1770–1900) amplified the remoteness of the Andes as they advanced global ecological sciences, knowledge standardization, and racial representations of indigenous people as degraded, with scant attention to Andean agriculture and food.

Agro-environmental Transitions in African Mountains: Shifting Socio-spatial Practices Amid State-Led Commercialization in Rwanda
By Nathan Clay
In Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Volume 107, 2017 – Issue 2: Mountains
Access: DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2016.1254019
Agricultural commercialization has been slow to take hold in mountain regions throughout the world. It has been particularly limited by challenges of mechanization, transportation access, and governance. Efforts at green-revolution style development have met with persistent failures in highland sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural systems are often finely tuned to complex and dynamic social–ecological contexts. In Rwanda, a mountainous country in east central Africa, development efforts have long aimed to transition away from largely subsistence-based production that relies on high labor input toward commercial farming systems that are rooted in capital investment for marketable goods. Since 2005, Rwanda’s land policy has become increasingly ambitious, aiming to reduce the 85 percent of households involved in agriculture to 50 percent by the year 2020. The country’s Crop Intensification Program (CIP) compels farmers to consolidate land and cultivate government-selected crops. Although state assessments have touted the productivity gains created through the CIP, others speculate that households could be losing access to crucial resources. Research from both sides, however, has focused squarely on the CIP’s immediate successes and failures without considering how households are responding to the program within the context of the complex and variable mountain environment.

Validating Safecast data by comparisons to a U. S. Department of Energy Fukushima Prefecture aerial survey
By Mark Coletti, Carolynne Hultquist, William G. Kennedy, Guido Cervone
In Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, Volume 171, May 2017
Access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvrad.2017.01.005.
Safecast is a volunteered geographic information (VGI) project where the lay public uses hand-held sensors to collect radiation measurements that are then made freely available under the Creative Commons CC0 license. However, Safecast data fidelity is uncertain given the sensor kits are hand assembled with various levels of technical proficiency, and the sensors may not be properly deployed. Our objective was to validate Safecast data by comparing Safecast data with authoritative data collected by the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U. S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) gathered in the Fukushima Prefecture shortly after the Daiichi nuclear power plant catastrophe. We found that the two data sets were highly correlated, though the DOE/NNSA observations were generally higher than the Safecast measurements. We concluded that this high correlation alone makes Safecast a viable data source for detecting and monitoring radiation. Keywords: Safecast; Volunteered geographic information; Fukushima Daiichi; Data validation

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