Mar 19

Coffee Hour with Nina Lam | SYWIG day is Thursday | Zimmerer and Baumann get NSF-GSS DDRI


The image shows the students taking part in a mapping activity during the 2018 event. SYWIG day is Thursday, March 21—Supporting Women in Geography’s annual Supporting Young Women in Geography (SYWIG) Day will be held on March 21, 2019. Seventh and eighth grade girls from Centre County middle schools Philipsburg-Osceola and Moshannon Valley will be visiting the department to participate in interactive workshops led by SWIG volunteers covering a range of topics in geography. The event provides a unique opportunity to connect young women in the State College area and bring geography to life through creative activities led by Geography graduate and undergraduate students. Organizers of this year’s event are SWIG officers, Ruchi, Emily, Elham, and Michelle, with a special thanks to Stacey, Jamie, Julie, Jacklyn, Izzy, Elise, Emily, Sam, Erin, Tara, Saumya, Jodi and the office staff. Through this acknowledgment, SWIG endeavors to highlight the extraordinary service of women in the department every day.


Welcome to Mamma Sawaneh, visiting scholar from The Gambia, working with Erica Smithwick this semester.

15th annual Penn State Powwow is scheduled for April 6-7.

The Smith Center is pleased to announce that the twentieth series of the Kenneth Nebenzahl, Jr., Lectures in the History of Cartography will be held at the Newberry Library, Nov. 7 through Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.To register or for more information, please contact Smith Center Program Assistant Madeline Crispell at crispellm@newberry.org or at (312)-255-3575.

Karl Zimmerer and Megan Baumann were recently awarded an NSF-GSS Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement (DDRI) grant. It is titled “Doctoral Dissertation Research: Social-Environmental Feedbacks Between the Use and Governance of Water and Soil in Dryland Irrigation Megaprojects.”


Nina Lam
Are Happiest Cities Most Resilient to Disasters? – Challenges in Community Resilience Assessment

A 2014 report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research ranked American cities according to residents’ “happiness.” The results have surprised many people. This brings to a question that is closely related to resilience and sustainability research: are the happiest cities also most resilient to disasters? The answer to the question relies on how we measure community resilience.

  • Friday, March 22
  • 3:30 p.m. in 319 Walker Building, Coffee and refreshments
  • 4:00 in 112 Walker Building, Lecture
  • Coffee Hour To Go webcast


From Smithsonian.com
Checking In on the Health and Vigor of the Chesapeake Bay

It’s May, 2016, and another drizzly day on the Chesapeake. I’m aboard Hōkūle‘a, the Hawaiian voyaging canoe circumnavigating the globe promoting a message of Mālama Honua, meaning “take care of the Earth.” I joined the crew in Yorktown, Virginia, for nine days of journeying in the Chesapeake Bay area, meeting with local Indian tribes and exploring environmental issues and solutions.

Editor’s Note: The following two articles were printed together in the summer 2018 GEOGRAPH as a package to honor the late Peirce Lewis. If you missed it, the Oct. 2, 2018 Coffee Hour lecture given by Richard Schein (’83g) was also a celebration of Lewis’s life and scholarship. You can view the talk here: http://live-geog.psu.edu/Mediasite/Play/c5740d0b55744ec88abb03e8cdb1a99d1d

Students and colleagues remember Peirce Lewis

An energetic man in his late fifties greeted us by switching off the lights and switching on a slide projector.

“As we plunge into intellectual darkness, let me assure you that after this class, you will never be able to look at the world in the same way again. At least, I hope not.” In spectacles and a khaki field jacket, Peirce Lewis fit everybody’s idea of a geography professor.

“I’m going to show you the cultural landscape of the United States and give you the tools to understand why things are where they are, and how they got to be that way,” Lewis continued. “Then you will show yourselves and me what you have learned by going out there and reading the local landscape yourselves. This first slide . . . “

Making good geographical sense

I have just spent a poignant afternoon browsing my correspondence with Peirce; hours sweet with nostalgia for an acquaintanceship that began when I joined the Penn State geography faculty in 1967 and grew into comradery; hours of sadness that his death brought that relationship to the definitive end.


Analysis of remote sensing imagery for disaster assessment using deep learning: a case study of flooding event

Liping Yang, Guido Cervone
Soft Computing
This paper proposes a methodology that integrates deep learning and machine learning for automatically assessing damage with limited human input in hundreds of thousands of aerial images. The goal is to develop a system that can help automatically identifying damaged areas in massive amount of data. The main difficulty consists in damaged infrastructure looking very different from when undamaged, likely resulting in an incorrect classification because of their different appearance, and the fact that deep learning and machine learning training sets normally only include undamaged infrastructures. In the proposed method, a deep learning algorithm is firstly used to automatically extract the presence of critical infrastructure from imagery, such as bridges, roads, or houses. However, because damaged infrastructure looks very different from when undamaged, the set of features identified can contain errors. A small portion of the images are then manually labeled if they include damaged areas, or not. Multiple machine learning algorithms are used to learn attribute–value relationships on the labeled data to capture the characteristic features associated with damaged areas. Finally, the trained classifiers are combined to construct an ensemble max-voting classifier. The selected max-voting model is then applied to the remaining unlabeled data to automatically identify images including damaged infrastructure. Evaluation results (85.6% accuracy and 89.09% F1 score) demonstrated the effectiveness of combining deep learning and an ensemble max-voting classifier of multiple machine learning models to analyze aerial images for damage assessment.

Jet stream dynamics, hydroclimate, and fire in California from 1600 CE to present

Eugene R. Wahl, Eduardo Zorita, Valerie Trouet, and Alan H. Taylor
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Moisture delivery in California is largely regulated by the strength and position of the North Pacific jet stream (NPJ), winter high-altitude winds that influence regional hydroclimate and forest fire during the following warm season. We use climate model simulations and paleoclimate data to reconstruct winter NPJ characteristics back to 1571 CE to identify the influence of NPJ behavior on moisture and forest fire extremes in California before and during the more recent period of fire suppression. Maximum zonal NPJ velocity is lower and northward shifted and has a larger latitudinal spread during presuppression dry and high-fire extremes. Conversely, maximum zonal NPJ is higher and southward shifted, with narrower latitudinal spread during wet and low-fire extremes. These NPJ, precipitation, and fire associations hold across pre–20th-century socioecological fire regimes, including Native American burning, postcontact disruption and native population decline, and intensification of forest use during the later 19th century. Precipitation extremes and NPJ behavior remain linked in the 20th and 21st centuries, but fire extremes become uncoupled due to fire suppression after 1900. Simulated future conditions in California include more wet-season moisture as rain (and less as snow), a longer fire season, and higher temperatures, leading to drier fire-season conditions independent of 21st-century precipitation changes. Assuming continuation of current fire management practices, thermodynamic warming is expected to override the dynamical influence of the NPJ on climate–fire relationships controlling fire extremes in California. Recent widespread fires in California in association with wet extremes may be early evidence of this change.

Diversity, representation, and the limits of engaged pluralism in (economic) geography

Emily Rosenman, Jessa Looms, & Kelly Kay
Progress in Human Geography
Within geography writ large, and economic geography in particular, there has been increasing interest in ‘engaged pluralism’ – defined by its proponents as lively and respectful engagement across theoretical, methodological, and topical lines – to increase diversity and build mutual respect among scholars. Drawing on feminist and postcolonial scholarship, we offer a sympathetic critique of engaged pluralism, grounded in a review of publishing trends in economic geography. Our findings reveal theoretical inertia around particular topics and paradigms, as well as low rates of publishing participation from women. We close with a discussion of engagement, reciprocity, and meaningful contact.


Mar 19

Coffee Hour with Denice Wardrop | Fair election maps for purple PA | Longer drier fire seasons for CA?


Pine Creek Lizard map detailA detail from the new 2nd Edition of the Pine Creek Lizard Map—Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Purple Lizard Maps was founded by Penn State geography alumnus Michael Hermann (’95).


Gregory S. Jenkins will give a brown bag talk on Wednesday, March 20 on “Natural, Human and Climate Change Drivers in Africa and the Need for Interdisciplinary Research and Communication,” at 12:30 p.m. in 158 Willard Building.

Welcome to Cindy Etchison the new NRT Program Coordinator for Landscape U.

A Penn State study on using VR for second language learning was featured in a news article in Campus Technology.

The Institute for CyberScience is hosting its annual Symposium on April 1, which is free for Penn State faculty, staff, and students (and includes free breakfast and lunch). It’s at the Nittany Lion Inn, and the theme is Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Science and Society. Learn more and register here: https://ics.psu.edu/events/ics-symposium-2019.

Save the date: The Penn State Geography Alumni and Friends Reception during the AAG annual meeting is scheduled for Friday, April 5 at 7:00 p.m. at Lillies. More details to come soon.


Denice Wardrop

Peak Ecological Water and its shift under climate change: case studies from Peru and Pennsylvania

In most watersheds, as withdrawals for human needs increase, the ecological services provided by the same water are in decline. At a certain point, the value of water provided for human use is equal to the value of the ecological services, and beyond this point, ecological disruptions exceed the benefits of increased water extraction; this point is referred to as “peak ecological water.” In addition, the human and ecological benefits may occur at different spatial and temporal scales. Climate change may be shifting the point of peak ecological water in new and unpredictable ways, and two case studies provide insights into how those changes may be context dependent.

  • Friday, March 15
  • 3:30 p.m. in 319 Walker Building, Coffee and refreshments
  • 4:00 in 112 Walker Building, Lecture
  • Coffee Hour To Go webcast


Complex trade-offs persist in drawing fair election maps for purple PA

Penn State Professor Christopher Fowler’s fall 2018 GEOG 421: Population Geography class won first place in the Higher-Ed division of the “Draw the Lines PA” statewide finals in February. For Fowler, the work on how to get better representation in Pennsylvania is just beginning.

Seed grants awarded to projects using Twitter data

Clio Andris is among recipients

Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), in collaboration with the Institute for CyberScience (ICS) and the College of Information Sciences and Technology, has awarded over $100,000 in funding to support six new interdisciplinary teams of Penn State researchers whose work is aimed at developing innovative research programs using Twitter data.

North Pacific jet stream, moisture and fires change with fire suppression

Future conditions in California may include more rain rather than snow during the wet season, longer fire seasons, and higher temperatures leading to drier fire seasons, according to a team of researchers who looked at the historic patterns of the North Pacific Jet, precipitation and fire.


Book Review of A Biography of a Map in Motion: Augustine Herrman’s Chesapeake

Deryck W. Holdsworth
The Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Before Chesapeake City at one end of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal was named in 1839, the plantation site had been known as Bohemia Manor for more than two centuries, under the ownership of Augustine Herrman, a Bohemian who worked for the Dutch West-Indische Compagnie (WIC) in both Amsterdam and later New Amsterdam. Herrman marked its location on his magnificent map Virginia and Maryland as it is Planted and Inhabited this present year 1670. Koot explores the multiple intentions of the Herrman map from its origins as a manuscript initially commissioned by Philip Calvert in 1659 delimiting the boundary between Dutch New Netherlands and colonial Maryland to a far different map printed in London in 1673 as a piece of imperial propaganda celebrating possession of the broader Chesapeake.

Metrics for characterizing network structure and node importance in Spatial Social Networks

Dipto Sarkar, Clio Andris, Colin A. Chapman & Raja Sengupta
International Journal of Geographical Information Science
DOI: 10.1080/13658816.2019.1567736
Social Network Analysis offers powerful tools to analyze the structure of relationships between a set of people. However, the addition of spatial information poses new challenges, as nodes are embedded simultaneously in network space and Euclidean space. While nearby nodes may not form social ties, ties may exist at a distance, a configuration ill-suited for traditional spatial metrics that assume adjacent objects are related. As such, there are relatively few metrics to describe these nuanced situations. We advance the burgeoning field of spatial social network analysis by introducing a set of new metrics. Specifically, we introduce the spatial social network schema, tuning parameter and the flattening ratio, each of which leverages the notion of ‘distance’ to augment insights obtained by relying on topology alone. These methods are used to answer the questions: What is the social and spatial structure of the network? Who are the key individuals at different spatial scales? We use two synthetic networks with properties mimicking the ones reported in the literature as validation datasets and a case study of employer–employee network. The methods characterize the employer–employee as spatially loose with predominantly local connections and identify key individuals responsible for keeping the network connected at different spatial scales.


Feb 19

Coffee Hour with Sara Gergel | Brooks on WOTUS | Spatial patterns in decor


SWIG STEM Satellite

SWIG’s workshop at the Eberly Science College’s annual ENVISION: Stem Career Day for Young Women held on January 26. Their workshop was called, “Seeing Like a Satellite,” and taught participants about land use/land cover change through satellite imagery. Image: Michelle Ritchie


Gregory S. Jenkins will give a talk on Wednesday, Feb. 20 on “Natural, Human and Climate Change Drivers in Africa and the Need for Interdisciplinary Research and Communication,” at 12:30 p.m. in 158 Willard Building.

Center for Landscape Dynamics Grad Award Lightning Talks rescheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 26, noon-1:30 p.m. in 319 Walker Building and the new due date for the Grad Award proposals is March 15.

Two online geospatial program students, Danielle Barlow and Samuel Cook, have been selected as Student Assistants for the USGIF Symposium, the premier event of the geospatial intelligence business and profession, being held June 2-5, 2019, in San Antonio, Texas.

Seth Dixon (’09g) curates a Geography Education ScoopIt topic page.

The University of Toronto is hosting the Geohealth Network Conference: Building Capacity for Health Geography on April 30. For more information and to submit an abstract: https://www.geohealthnetwork.com/

Save the date: The Penn State Geography Alumni and Friends Reception during the AAG annual meeting is scheduled for Friday, April 5 at 7:00 p.m. at LiLLies. More details to come soon.


Sarah Gergel
Synergies between food production and nature protection—what are some ways forward for sustaining landscapes?

Food insecurity is often addressed from an agricultural perspective, yet forests provide important and unique contributions to nutrition in many regions. The contributions of forests to nutrition are quite varied, flowing through surprisingly complex pathways. Furthermore, the extent to which the availability of nutritious forest foods depend on the type, amount, and configuration of forests is largely under-appreciated. Here, we explore some of the ways remote sensing can better characterize forest-nutrition linkages.

  • Friday, Feb. 22
  • 3:30 p.m. in 319 Walker Building, Coffee and refreshments
  • 4:00 in 112 Walker Building, Lecture
  • Coffee Hour To Go webcast


A peek at living room decor suggests how decorations vary around the world

People around the world paint their walls different colors, buy plants to spruce up their interiors and engage in a variety of other beautifying techniques to personalize their homes, which inspired a team of researchers to study about 50,000 living rooms across the globe.

In a study that used artificial intelligence to analyze design elements, such as artwork and wall colors, in pictures of living rooms posted to Airbnb, a popular home rental website, the researchers found that people tended to follow cultural trends when they decorated their interiors.


Trump’s WOTUS: Clear as mud, scientists say

Robert Brooks is quoted.

The Trump administration’s stated goal for a rule defining which wetlands and waterways get Clean Water Act protection: Write a simple regulation that landowners can understand.

“I believe that any property owner should be able to stand on his or her property and be able to tell whether or not they have a ‘water of the U.S.’ on their property without having to hire an outside consultant or attorney,” acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in mid-January.

But scientists who specialize in the study of wetlands and waterways say it’s not that simple.


Inside 50,000 living rooms: an assessment of global residential ornamentation using transfer learning

Xi Liu, Clio Andris, Zixuan Huang, Sohrab Rahimi
EPJ Data Science
The global community decorates their homes based on personal decisions and contextual influences of their larger cultural and economic surroundings. The extent to which spatial patterns emerge in residential decoration practices has been traditionally difficult to ascertain due to the private nature of interior home spaces. Yet, measuring these patterns can reveal the presence of geographic culture hearths and/or globalization trends.

In this work, we collected over one million geolocated images of interior living spaces from a popular home rental website, Airbnb (http://airbnb.com), and used transfer learning techniques to automatically detect the presence of key stylistic objects: plants, books, decor, wall art and predominance of vibrant colors. We investigated patterns of home decor practices for 107 cities on six continents, and performed a deep dive into six major U.S. cities.

We found that world regions show statistically significant variation in decorative element prevalence, indicating differences in geographic cultural trends. At the U.S. neighborhood level, elements were only weakly spatially clustered and found to not correlate with socio-economic neighborhood variables such as income, unemployment rates, education attainment, residential property value, and racial diversity. These results may suggest that American residents in different socio-economic environments put similar effort into personalizing and caring for their homes. More broadly, our results represent a new view of worldwide human behavior and a new application of machine learning techniques to the exploration of cultural phenomena.

Place niche and its regional variability: Measuring spatial context patterns for points of interest with representation learning

XiLiu, Clio Andris, Sohrab Rahimi
Computers, Environment and Urban Systems
In the built environment, places such as retail outlets and public sites are embedded in the spatial context formed by neighboring places. We define the sets of these symbiotic places in the proximity of a focal place as the place’s “place niche”, which conceptually represents the features of the local environment. While current literature has focused on pairwise spatial colocation patterns, we represent the niche as an integrated feature for each type of place, and quantify the niches’ variation across cities. Here, with point of interest (POI) data as an approximation of places in cities, we propose representation learning models to explore place niche patterns. The models generate two main outputs: first, distributed representations for place niche by POI category (e.g. Restaurant, Museum, Park) in a latent vector space, where close vectors represent similar niches; and second, conditional probabilities of POI appearance of each place type in the proximity of a focal POI. With a case study using Yelp data in four U.S. cities, we reveal spatial context patterns and find that some POI categories have more unique surroundings than others. We also demonstrate that niche patterns are strong indicators of the function of POI categories in Phoenix and Las Vegas, but not in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Moreover, we find that niche patterns of more commercialized categories tend to have less regional variation than others, and the city-level niche-pattern changes for POI categories are generally similar only between certain city pairs. By exploring patterns for place niche, we not only produce geographical knowledge for business location choice and urban policymaking, but also demonstrate the potential and limitations of using spatial context patterns for GIScience tasks such as information retrieval and place recommendation.

Examining the Impact of Risk Perception on the Accuracy of Anisotropic, Least-Cost Path Distance Approaches for Estimating the Evacuation Potential for Near-Field Tsunamis

Shannon M Grumbly, Tim G. Frazier, Alexander G. Peterson
Journal of Geovisualization and Spatial Analysis
Coastal hazards that can strike with little or no warning, such as tsunamis, are problematic in terms of population exposure and the threat of loss of life. With projected increases in coastal populations, exposure is likely to increase among these communities. For near-field tsunamis, the evacuation window can be as little as 15 to 20 min, and evacuation can be problematic for numerous reasons, such as population demographics, limited road networks, local topographic constraints, lack of proper education, and
misaligned risk perception of the general populace. It is therefore critical for tsunami evacuation planning and education to be highly effective. To address this need, we employed a participatory mapping approach to explore potential evacuation enhancement by evaluating existing least-cost path pedestrian evacuation models, perception of landscape constraints, and additional risks to nearfield tsunamis in Aberdeen, Washington. Stakeholders were tasked with drawing their understood evacuation routes on maps which were analyzed for approximate time to reach safety and compared to least-cost path pedestrian evacuation models. A quantitative analysis of selected evacuation pathways revealed participants consistently overestimated evacuation
time and did not follow modeled least-cost pathways. The results suggest traditional modeling (e.g., least-cost path and agent-based models) underestimate travel time to safety. Thus, there is a need for additional outreach, notably in communities where traditional evacuation models might create a false sense of security.

Assessing the relative vulnerabilities of Mid-Atlantic freshwater wetlands to projected hydrologic changes

Denice H. Wardrop, Anna T. Hamilton, Michael Q. Nassry, Jordan M. West, Aliana J. Britson
Wetlands are known to provide a myriad of vital ecosystem functions and services, which may be under threat from a changing climate. However, these effects may not be homogenous across ecosystem functions, wetland types, ecoregions, or meso‐scale watersheds, making broad application of the same management techniques inappropriate. Here, we present a relative wetland vulnerabilities framework, applicable across a range of spatial and temporal scales, to assist in identifying effective and robust management strategies in light of climate change. We deconstruct vulnerability into dimensions of exposure and sensitivity/adaptive capacity, and identify relevant measures of these as they pertain to the attributes of wetland extent and plant community composition. As a test of the framework, we populate it with data for three primary hydrogeomorphic wetland types (riverine, slope, and depression) in seven small watersheds across four ecoregions (Ridge and Valley, Piedmont, Unglaciated Plateau, and Glaciated Plateau) in the Susquehanna River watershed in Pennsylvania. We use data generated from the SRES A2 emissions experiment and MRI‐CGCM2.3.2 climate model as input to the Penn State Integrated Hydrologic Model to simulate future exposure to altered hydrologic conditions in our seven watersheds, as expressed in two hydrologic metrics: % time groundwater levels occur in the upper 30 cm (rooting zone) during the growing season, and median difference between spring and summer mean water levels. We then examine the spatial and temporal scales at which each of the components of vulnerability (exposure and sensitivity/adaptive capacity) shows significant relative differences. Overall, we find that relative differences in exposure persist at a very fine spatial grain, exhibiting high variability even among individual watersheds in a given ecoregion. For temporal scale, we find strong seasonal but weak annual relative differences in exposure resulting from a magnification of summer dry‐down combined with winter and spring wet periods becoming wetter. Sensitivities/adaptive capacities show significant differences among wetland types. A comparison between our anticipated hydrologic alterations under climate change and historical changes in hydrology due to anthropogenic disturbance indicates potential shifts in hydrologic patterns that are far beyond anything that wetland managers have experienced in the past.

Immersive Virtual Reality as an Effective Tool for Second Language Vocabulary Learning

Jennifer Legault, Jiayan Zhao, Ying-An Chi, Weitao Chen, Alexander Klippel and Ping Li
Learning a second language (L2) presents a significant challenge to many people in adulthood. Platforms for effective L2 instruction have been developed in both academia and the industry. While real-life (RL) immersion is often lauded as a particularly effective L2 learning platform, little is known about the features of immersive contexts that contribute to the L2 learning process. Immersive virtual reality (iVR) offers a flexible platform to simulate an RL immersive learning situation, while allowing the researcher to have tight experimental control for stimulus delivery and learner interaction with the environment. Using a mixed counterbalanced design, the current study examines individual differences in L2 performance during learning of 60 Mandarin Chinese words across two learning sessions, with each participant learning 30 words in iVR and 30 words via word–word (WW) paired association. Behavioral performance was collected immediately after L2 learning via an alternative forced-choice recognition task. Our results indicate a main effect of L2 learning context, such that accuracy on trials learned via iVR was significantly higher as compared to trials learned in the WW condition. These effects are reflected especially in the differential effects of learning contexts, in that less successful learners show a significant benefit of iVR instruction as compared to WW, whereas successful learners do not show a significant benefit of either learning condition. Our findings have broad implications for L2 education, particularly for those who struggle in learning an L2.

Representing the Presence of Absence in Cartography

Anthony C. Robinson
Annals of the American Association of Geographers
A key cartographic challenge associated with the rise of big data is to show when spatial data observations are missing or to communicate variables that indicate absence. For example, showing where people are tweeting during a disaster might be interesting, but visually identifying where normal signals are missing could in fact highlight the most affected places. Parcel data might be fully present, but attributes of their observations could convey qualities of absence (e.g., abandoned structures). Current geovisualization approaches normally do not show anything at all when data are missing or contain qualities of absence and only in rare cases might use a specific hue to highlight the presence of absence on maps. This work argues that people perceive missingness and absence in a way that is distinct from other spatial data qualities, and we propose a typology of static and dynamic means by which we can draw user attention to the presence of absence. To explore the application of these techniques, I use urban parcel data to visualize patterns of property blight in a Detroit neighborhood. Based on conceptual development and case study application, I propose research challenges to evaluate visual representations of missing and absent information on maps.

Border Thinking, Borderland Diversity, and Trump’s Wall

Melissa W. Wright
Annals of the American Association of Geographers
Donald Trump’s agenda to build a “big” and “beautiful” border wall continues to raise alarms for anyone concerned with social justice and environmental well-being throughout the Mexico–U.S. borderlands. In this article, I examine how the border wall and its surrounding debates raise multiple issues central to political ecological and human geographic scholarship into governance across the organic spectrum. I focus particularly on a comparison of the different kinds of “border thinking” that frame these debates and that provide synergy for those coalitions dedicated to the preservation of diversity throughout the ecological and social landscapes of the Mexico–U.S. borderlands. Key Words: biodiversity, decolonial, feminist, Mexico–U.S. borderlands, neoliberal.


Feb 19

The Miller Lecture with Judith Carney | Virtual learning advances | New solar array


student uses HTC Vive

A student uses HTC Vive to measure the thickness of rock layers at the ChoroPhronesis Lab in Walker Building. The virtual content is synchronized to a desktop screen. Thanks to a push to bring immersive experiences to Penn State, students are increasingly using virtual reality to travel to remote and exotic locations, enhancing traditional learning experiences. See story below. Image: Penn State


Clio Andris will give a talk on “Representing Relationships and Social Life in GIS Models,” Thursday, Feb. 14, 1:30–3:00 p.m., 233B HUB-Robeson Center and streamed online. More details and registration info: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/representing-relationships-and-social-life-in-gis-models-tickets-54942114343.

Chris Fowler’s fall 2018 GEOG 421 class took first place in the Higher Ed division in the “Draw the Lines PA” contest statewide finals.


The Miller Lecture with Judith Carney
Out of Africa: Food Legacies of Atlantic Slavery in the Americas

A striking feature of plantation era history is the number of first-person accounts that credit the enslaved with the introduction of specific foods, all previously grown in Africa. This lecture lends support to these observations by identifying the crops that European witnesses attributed to slave agency and by engaging the ways that African subsistence staples arrived, and became established, in the Americas. In emphasizing the African components of the Columbian Exchange, the discussion draws attention to the significance of the continent’s food crops as a crucial underpinning of the transatlantic commerce in human beings, the slave ship as a means of conveying African crops to the Americas, and the enslaved as active participants in establishing African food staples on their subsistence plots

  • Friday, Feb. 15
  • 3:00 p.m. in 319 Walker Building, Coffee and refreshments
  • 4:00 in 112 Walker Building, Lecture
  • Coffee Hour To Go Webcast


Strategic Plan seed grant advancing immersive learning experiences at Penn State

Cutting-edge virtual ‘field trips’ expanding the boundaries of student learning across the Commonwealth

Imagine a world where space and time do not matter, where it’s possible to witness critical events in the history of the Earth and humankind, or have a sneak peek into the future.

That’s what Penn State researchers, through the help of immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and investments in the University’s infrastructure, are hoping to accomplish with a Penn State Strategic Plan seed grant.

Penn State: Powered by the sun

New partnership will support large-scale, off-site solar panel project in Franklin County, Pennsylvania

Penn State and Lightsource BP announced today (Feb. 5) the development of 70 megawatts of large-scale, offsite solar energy to support the University’s Strategic Plan, which cites stewardship of the planet’s resources as a key priority. The project to install large-scale solar arrays will provide 25 percent of Penn State’s state-wide electricity requirements over a 25-year term, while driving economic development and educational opportunities for the host community.


From Archive, to Access, to Experience––Historical Documents as a Basis for Immersive Experiences

Jiawei Huang, Mahda M. Bagher, Heather Dohn Ross, Nathan Piekielek, Jan Oliver Wallgrün, Jiayan Zhao & Alexander Klippel
Journal of Map & Geography Libraries
DOI: 10.1080/15420353.2018.1498427
Libraries have been the key to preserving culture and historic legacy for centuries. One such treasure cataloged in The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) Libraries is a collection of over 33,000 Sanborn™ Fire Insurance Maps. Originally kept safe in metal drawers, the library has embarked on a journey to digitize this abundance of information, combine it with other media such as photographs, and make it accessible through a web interface. Inspired by these efforts, we accessed this information and took it to the next level. Using state of the art 3D modeling and immersive technologies, we created a historic 3D model and immersive experiences of Penn State, exemplarily for the 1922 campus. The resulting experiences can be accessed through the web but also through head mounted displays (HMDs) and mobile phones in combination with VR viewers such as the Google Cardboard. Additionally, they can be used anywhere in the world or on the campus itself as a way to enable remote and in situ experiences and learning. Immersive experiences let us connect to the past, the present and the future, and as such offer value to digital cultural heritage efforts.

Feb 19

MacEachren honored for teaching | Andris talk on GIS and connection | Wernstedt’s legacy


inverted pyramid

La Pyramide Inversée (The Inverted Pyramid), by architect I.M. Pei, is a skylight in the Carrousel du Louvre underground shopping mall in front of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. It is an upside-down and smaller version of the Louvre Pyramid, also designed by Pei. In the denouement of the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, the camera elaborately moves through the entire glass pyramid from above and then descends beneath the tiny stone pyramid below to reveal a supposedly hidden chamber and the sarcophagus with the remains of Mary Magdalene. Send your photos from field work and travel to geography@psu.edu.


Stacy Levy, award-winning environmental sculptor (You may know her Ridge and Valley Sculpture in the H. O. Smith Botanic Gardens.) will give a talk on “The Shape of Water: An Artist works with Rain, Watershed, and Hydrology,” at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in 101 Agricultural Sciences and Industries Building and streamed online at https://psu.zoom.us/j/250545279. For more information, contact Kathleen Reeder at 863-8690 or kkr1@psu.edu.

Clio Andris will give a talk on “Representing Relationships and Social Life in GIS Models,” Thursday, Feb. 14, 1:30–3:00 p.m., 233B HUB-Robeson Center and streamed online. More details and registration info: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/representing-relationships-and-social-life-in-gis-models-tickets-54942114343.

The Esri Mid-Atlantic User group is planning a one-day meeting on April 26, 2019 at Universities at Shady Grove, Shady Grove, Md. The general format of the meeting will include a plenary presentation in the morning with updates from Esri on the latest technology followed by breakout sessions with user presentations and, weather permitting, outdoor demos of field data collection technology. The organizers are looking for user presentations and one or more outdoor field data collection or other interactive outdoor demo(s) for the afternoon. If you would like to submit a presentation or demo for consideration, please send an abstract and your contact information to Sandy Woiak at Sandra.Woiak@fairfaxcounty.gov by March 1, 2019.

Karen Schuckman, who teaches remote sensing and geospatial technology in the online geospatial education program, was a finalist for the 2019 Lidar Leader Award for Outstanding Personal Achievement.

Qassim Abdullah, who teaches Unmanned Aerial System, photogrammetry, and remote sensing in the online geospatial education program, received the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing Lifetime Achievement Award.

Alan MacEachren has been awarded the 2019 Graduate Faculty Teaching Award. He will be formally recognized at the Faculty and Staff Awards ceremony on Tuesday, Apr. 12, 2019.


No Coffee Hour this week. The next Coffee Hour is The Miller Lecture on February 15 with Judith Carney, Professor of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles. Her talk is titled, “Out of Africa: Food Legacies of Atlantic Slavery in the Americas.” For The Miller Lecture, special refreshments are offered starting at 3:00 p.m. in 319 Walker Building and the lecture begins as usual at 4:00 p.m. in 112 Walker Building.


Science of Connection: Researcher to discuss GIS and connected communities

Interpersonal relationships are an important part of personal and public health, which makes understanding how to cultivate these connections important to improving health.

Clio Andris, assistant professor of geography and Penn State Institute for CyberScience (ICS) associate, will discuss how geographic information systems (GIS) are helping to investigate ways of building communities that foster relationships and social life at the CyberScience Seminar. The session, which is free to the public, will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Feb. 14 at the HUB-Robeson Center.

Wernstedt Fund continues legacy of helping students

Both seasoned researchers and then-budding students remember the late Penn State professor Frederick Wernstedt for his contributions to geography.

Wernstedt, who taught at Penn State from 1952 until 1986, explored the geography of Southeast Asia, an interest borne from his service there during World War II, which resulted in him writing a book that investigated the region’s migration and land use. He compiled information for World Climatic Data, a volume of data from nearly 19,000 stations. He oversaw the Department of Geography’s undergraduate program as an adviser and associate dean from 1972 until his retirement. He was a dedicated educator, receiving the Wilson Award for Excellence in Teaching from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences in 1981.


Dietary transitions among three contemporary hunter-gatherers across the tropics

Victoria Reyes-Garcí, Bronwen Powell, Isabel Díaz-Reviriego, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares, Sandrine Gallois, Maximilien Gueze
Food Security
The diets of contemporary hunter-gatherers are diverse and highly nutritious, but are rapidly changing as these societies integrate into the market economy. Here, we analyse empirical data on the dietary patterns and sources of foods of three contemporary hunter-gatherer societies: the Baka of Cameroon (n = 160), the Tsimane’ of Bolivia (n = 124) and the Punan Tubu of Indonesia (n = 109). We focus on differences among villages with different levels of integration into the market economy and explore potential pathways through which two key elements of the food environment (food availability and food accessibility) might alter the diets of contemporary hunter-gatherers. Results suggest that people living in isolated villages have more diverse diets than those living in villages closer to markets. Our results also suggest that availability of nutritionally important foods (i.e., fruits, vegetables and animal foods) decreases with increasing market integration, while availability of fats and sweets increases. The differences found seem to relate to changes in the wider food environment (e.g., village level access to wild and/or market foods and seasonality), rather than to individual-level factors (e.g., time allocation or individual income), probably because food sharing reduces the impact of individual level differences in food consumption. These results highlight the need to better understand the impact of changes in the wider food environment on dietary choice, and the role of the food environment in driving dietary transitions.


Jan 19

Coffee Hour with Elizabeth Wentz ’97g | GEOG 421 class draws the lines | Comparative GEOINT

IMAGE OF THE WEEKdraw the lines map

Chris Fowler’s fall 2018 GEOG 421 class took 2nd place in the category Higher Ed-Central in the in Draw the Lines PA contest. Judges’ statement: In their extensive outreach to fellow Penn Staters and others, the students in Chris Fowler’s Geography 421 class lived up fully to DTL’s hopes for how mappers might engage with their communities. This group embodies the goal of Draw The Lines: to encourage Pennsylvanians to understand and engage in the legislative redistricting process and foster open discussion and debate about the competing values at play. The class began by assessing their own values, then created a survey and website to assess those of other students. They went to football games and other events to promote the survey, resulting in an impressive 247 responses from nearly every Pennsylvania county. The data showed that the respondents most value competitive districts and the class began to map with this as its to priority. The students presented their results in a nicely produced video essay, which candidly covered their failures, their strategies for dealing with urban vs. rural balance, and the impact of racial makeup on a district’s competitiveness. This winning entry demonstrates a top-notch collaborative and grassroots process, combined with a very decent map.


The orientation/info session for UROC students has bee rescheduled for today, Jan. 29 at 7:45 p.m. in 319 Walker Building.

The African Studies program is hosting a talk on “Morocco as a melting-pot: A case study of the transmission and evolution of knowledge and use of black magic” by Abderrahim Ouarghidi, assistant research professor, Office of International Program. The talk is Wednesday, Feb. 6, 12:30 p.m. in 158 Willard Building.

The Center for Landscape Dynamics is accepting proposals for the 2019 Graduate Research Award. Proposals are due Feb. 22. For more information and to apply http://sites.psu.edu/centerforlandscapedynamics/graduate-training/previous-awardees/graduate-award-opportunity-spring-2019/

Angela Rogers recently passed her qualifying exam for the Ph.D. program in Workforce Education and Development at Penn State.

Alumnus John Frederick (’78) will hold a book signing and reading of his new book Winding Roads: A Bicyclists Journey through Life and America on Tuesday, Feb.12, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library, 526 Main Street, Bellwood, PA 16617. (Snow date Feb. 14).

Alumnus Siddarth Pandey (’14), CSMCCEP, has been promoted to associate. Pandey is an assistant production manager in the geospatial group at Dewberry. He is currently pursuing a masters in professional studies in geographic information systems at the University of Maryland, College Park. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from Penn State, and is a member of the Maryland State Geographic Information Committee.

Alumna Lori Cohn Safer (’79) is President of the Seattle Chapter of the Appraisal Institute 2019, and a Content Reviewer for recently published book Real Property Valuation in Condemnation, Appraisal Institute, 2018.


Elizabeth Wentz ’97g, Dean & Professor, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University
Empowering community resilience through a university-community knowledge exchange

The goal of this presentation is to introduce a Science to Solutions activity at Arizona State University (ASU). ASU’s new Knowledge Exchange for Resilience (KER) aims to build capacity both within the university and to broader civil society to address real, current issues of community resilience. We conceptualize community resilience in broad terms, that is: in terms of people responding to profound social, economic, and environmental change. This might come in the form of shocks (disasters, economic crashes) but more often we look at it in terms of long-term stresses, like from vulnerability to hazards, or chronic poverty. For this, we need better and more accessible data and, more importantly, a better models of working collaboratively.

  • Friday, Feb. 1
  • 3:30 p.m. in 319 Walker Building, Coffee and refreshments
  • 4:00 in 112 Walker Building, Lecture
  • Coffee Hour To Go Webcast


From the USGIF 2019 State and Future of GEOINT Report
Knowing Your Opponent and Knowing Yourself: Lessons from comparing U.S. and Russian geospatial intelligence

By Dr. Todd Bacastow, Penn State; Dan Steiner, Orion Mapping; Stephen Handwerk, Penn State; Dr. Dennis Bellafiore, Penn State; Dr. Greg Thomas, Penn State; and the Penn State Comparative Geospatial Intelligence Seminar

This article speaks to the necessity of a comparative view of yourself and an opponent in GEOINT. We illustrate the need for a comparative approach in education by examining GEOINT in the United States and the Russian Federation (RU). Our example is to illustrate that reliable GEOINT demands knowing both your opponent and yourself. The results of the study are more relevant to GEOINT educational goals and the comparative process than informative of RU GEOINT capabilities since there is little open source and explicit information about RU GEOINT doctrine.

Q&A with Robert Brooks

Robert Brooks retired to emeritus status at the end of August 2018 after 38 years of service at Penn State (25 years as founder and director of Riparia and 15 years in the Department of Geography).

Q: What made you want to become a geographer/ecologist?

A: Ever since I was about 5 years old I’ve been fascinated by the natural world—learning the names of animals and plants; exploring small streams and wetlands; and reading tales from wilderness experiences. My friends and I would look at picture books of animals with maps of far off places, such as Australia and Africa, and memorize the species that lived there. It wasn’t until high school and my camping experiences in Scouting that I learned about ecology as a profession.


Convergent validity of an activity-space survey for use in health research

Shannon N. Zenk, Amber N. Kraft, Kelly K.Jones, Stephen A. Matthews
Health & Place
We explored the validity of a survey measuring activity spaces for use in health research in a racially/ethnically diverse adult sample (n = 86) living in four Chicago neighborhoods. Participants reported on the location and visit frequency of 64 activities and wore a GPS data logger. We assessed the spatial congruence of survey- and GPS-derived convex hull measures and the number of GPS points within 100 m and 1000 m of survey locations. The survey-derived convex hull measures captured a small percentage (median = 35.9%) of the GPS-derived convex hull area. However, most GPS points were located within 100 m or 1000 m of home or reported survey locations (median = 73.4% and 92.6%, respectively).

Where are we now? Re-visiting the Digital Earth through human-centered virtual and augmented reality geovisualization environments

Arzu Çöltekin, Danielle Oprean, Jan Oliver Wallgrün & Alexander Klippel
International Journal of Digital Earth
DOI: 10.1080/17538947.2018.1560986
The original Digital Earth concept, formulated by Al Gore (1998), is essentially a virtual reality system. In this (imagined) system, users are able to freely explore all possible recorded knowledge or information about the Earth though an interactive interface. While we imagine such an interface primarily as visual for now, it can be expected that in the future other senses will be engaged, allowing for even more realistic virtual experiences. Even though ‘realism’ in the experience is desirable (i.e., it feels real), immersive experiences provided by visualization environments can go beyond reality, as they can be enhanced with queryable information. Of course one can also create fictitious experiences and simulations in such environments; including information about possible pasts (e.g., ancient Rome) and futures (e.g., a planned neighborhood); or spaces that we cannot (easily) directly experience (e.g., the Moon, Mars, other far-away spaces, under the oceans, core of the earth, etc.).

Challenges for social flows

Clio Andris, Xi Liu, Joseph Ferreira Jr.
Computers, Environment and Urban Systems
Social and interpersonal connections are attached to the built environment: people require physical infrastructure to meet and telecommunicate, and then populate these infrastructures with movement and information dynamics. In GIS analysis, actions are often represented as a unit of spatial information called the social flow–a linear geographic feature that evidences an individual’s decision to connect places through travel, telecommunications and/or declaring personal relationships. These flows differ from traditional spatial networks (roads, etc.) because they are often non-planar, and unlike networks in operations systems (such as flight networks), provide evidence of personal intentionality to interact with the built environment and/or to perpetuate relationships with others. En masse, these flows sum to illustrate how humans, information and thoughts spread between and within places.

Jan 19

Inwood writes on MLK | GEOGRAPH online | CLD accepts grad proposals


NASA image: SpaceX’s Dragon cargo craft

International Space Station Commander Alexander Gerst watched and took this photo as the SpaceX’s Dragon craft approached. The Dragon cargo craft contained supplies and experiments, including the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI), which will provide high-quality laser ranging observations of the Earth’s forests, among others. The question for geographers is: What coastline is seen below the Dragon craft? Image: ESA/Gerst


An orientation/info session for UROC students will be held on Jan. 24, at 4:30 p.m. in 319 Walker Building.

The GIS Coalition will meet Monday, Jan. 28 at 7:00 p.m. in 229 Walker Building.

The Center for Landscape Dynamics will hold a brown bag lunch on Feb. 12 on “Making Science Relevant: how past graduate awardees of the award connect their research to communities and landscape management,” at noon in 319 Walker Building. The event is a way to learn more about the CLD-Graduate-Research-Award.

The PAC Herbarium has announced its spring workshop series. The first one is Feb. 21, “Forest fairies and princess pines: the club and spikemosses of Pennsylvania.” The workshops take place 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the PAC Herbarium, 10 Whitmore Lab. For more information and to register visit sites.psu.edu/herbarium

EMEX, the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences annual student-run Open House is scheduled for Mar. 23. To learn more visit: www.ems.psu.edu/undergraduate/want-know-more/attend-prospective-student-events/emex


Next Coffee Hour is Feb. 1 with Elizabeth Wentz (’97g) speaking on “Empowering community resilience through a university-community knowledge exchange.” For more information visit: www.geog.psu.edu/event/coffee-hour-empowering-community-resilience-through-university-community-knowledge-exchange


from The Conversation
MLK’s vision of love as a moral imperative still matters

Fifty-one years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the United States remains divided by issues of race and racism, economic inequality as well as unequal access to justice. These issues are stopping the country from developing into the kind of society that Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for during his years as a civil rights activist.

GEOGRAPH newsletter issues now online

The 2018, 2017, and 2016 issues of the GEOGRAPH newsletter are now available on the department website www.geog.psu.edu under News and Events. The 2018 issue is fully available online and the other are available as downloadable PDFs. GEOGRAPH is printed and mailed annually to alumni and friends of the Department of Geography. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, send your postal address to geography@psu.edu under the subject “add GEOGRAPH subscription.” From time to time, articles originally published in the GEOGRAPH will be highlighted here in DoG enews.

Seed grant supports collaborative research in immersive technologies for research and teaching

A trans-disciplinary research team, led by Alexander Klippel, professor of geography and Gosnell Senior Faculty Scholar, received one of 10 seed grants to pilot programs that support Penn State’s 2016–2020 Strategic Plan. The proposal is titled, “Digital Innovation through Immersive Technologies: Establishing New Paradigms for Environmental Decision Support.”

The project primarily supports the thematic priority, Driving Digital Innovation, and also addresses Advancing the Arts and Humanities, Stewarding our Planet’s Resources, and Transforming Education. The goal is to demonstrate the potential that immersive technologies offer for all academic disciplines, but with a focus on environmental communication.


GeoTxt: A scalable geoparsing system for unstructured text geolocation

Karimzadeh M, Pezanowski S, MacEachren AM, Wallgrün JO
Transactions in GIS
In this article we present GeoTxt, a scalable geoparsing system for the recognition and geolocation of place names in unstructured text. GeoTxt offers six named entity recognition (NER) algorithms for place name recognition, and utilizes an enterprise search engine for the indexing, ranking, and retrieval of toponyms, enabling scalable geoparsing for streaming text. GeoTxt offers a flexible application programming interface (API), allowing for customized attribute and/or spatial ranking of retrieved toponyms. We evaluate the system on a corpus of manually geo‐annotated tweets. First, we benchmark the performance of the six NERs that GeoTxt provides access to. Second, we assess GeoTxt toponym resolution accuracy incrementally, demonstrating improvements in toponym resolution achieved (or not achieved) by adding specific heuristics and disambiguation methods. Compared to using the GeoNames web service, GeoTxt’s toponym resolution demonstrates a 20% accuracy gain. Our results show that places mentioned in the same tweet do not tend to be geographically proximate.


Jan 19

Coffee Hour with Lilian Pintea | Dowler to get AAG award | SWIG contest


hot spring

Jiayan Zhao shares this photo of the Travertine Hot Springs in Bridgeport, Ca., One of the places he visited over the holiday break.


It’s not too late to apply for UROC positions this semester—several still have openings. For details, visit the UROC site.

A forum focused on the University’s Strategic Plan and one of its thematic priorities, Stewarding Our Planet’s Resources, will be held at 9 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 21, in Heritage Hall, HUB-Robeson Center. The purpose of the forum is to provide updates on Stewarding Our Planet’s Resources as well as seek input on the direction and focus of the priority. For more information or to register, visit http://www.iee.psu.edu/content/register-stewarding-our-planets-resources-forum

On January 21, 2019, MLK Day, World in Conversation will expand its regular programming by partnering with the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity to offer 60 facilitated dialogues for 600 faculty, staff, administrators, and students. For more information or to register, visit https://worldinconversation.org/mlk/

Gamma Theta Upsilon Geography Honors Society is holding their first general meeting of the semester on Tuesday, January 22 in 110 Walker Building at 7:00 pm.

The 13th International Conference on Military Geosciences will be held in Padova, Italy, June 24–28, 2019. Abstract submission deadline is February 15, 2019. For more information, visit http://militarygeoscience.org/conference-2019/

New grad reps elected: Saumya Vaishnava and Jamie Peeler will join Mark Simpson, Peter Backhaus, and Jiawei (jade) Huang to continue all the work and services for graduate students in the department.


Lilian Pintea, the Jane Goodall Institute
Mapping Forests and Spirits to Secure a Future for People and Chimpanzees

There is a growing torrent of geospatial data on ecosystems, species and threats from a variety of remote sensing, GIS, mobile and cloud platforms. However, we need a standard framework for converting these big data into meaningful, useful and actionable information for decision makers. In this presentation I will use more than twenty years of conservation action planning, village land use planning and participatory action research efforts by the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania and Uganda, to discuss how geospatial technologies interact with traditional knowledge and local decision making processes to support people livelihoods and protect chimpanzees.

  • Friday, Jan. 18
  • 3:30 p.m. in 319 Walker Building, Coffee and refreshments
  • 4:00 in 112 Walker Building, Lecture
  • Coffee Hour To Go Webcast


Lorraine Dowler to receive AAG 2019 Susan Hardwick Excellence in Mentoring Award

The AAG bestows an annual award recognizing an individual geographer, group, or department, who demonstrates extraordinary leadership in building supportive academic and professional environments and in guiding the academic or professional growth of their students and junior colleagues. The late Susan Hardwick was the inaugural Excellence in Mentoring awardee. The Award was renamed in her honor and memory, soon after her passing.

Dr. Lorraine Dowler not only mentors at all levels (early career faculty, her own students, and students that were/are not her own-outside her university), but is a strong advocate for her advisees, the greater student body (undergraduate and graduate), and the AAG community. As mentioned in one of her letters of support, she is committed to the holistic development of her advisees, while another notes that she pays particular attention to the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of those with whom she interacts, especially new faculty learning to balance the demands of academia. Outside of her tireless advocacy for students and colleagues, she continues to advise, research, publish, and contribute to the field of geography. She continues to go over and beyond what is expected.

SWIG Essay Contest call for submissions

The Jennifer Fluri and Amy Trauger 2019 Student Essay and Creative Works Competition is now open! This is the fifth annual competition run by Penn State’s SWIG. We invite undergraduate and graduate students from all institutions and disciplines to contribute using any of a variety of potential formats. Submissions are due March 23, 2019. For more information and to submit your work, visit: sites.psu.edu/swig/the-jennifer-fluri-and-amy-trauger-student-essay-and-creative-works-competition/


Human interpretation of trade-off diagrams in multi-objective problems: Implications for developing interactive decision support systems

Oprean, D., Spence, C., Simpson, M., Miller, R., Bansal, S., Keller, K., Klippel, A. Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences
The growing need for efficient and effective human decision-makers warrants a better understanding of how decision support systems (DSS) guide users to improved decisions. Decision support approaches utilize visual aids to assist decision-making, including trade-off diagrams. These visualizations help comprehension of key trade-offs among decision alternatives. However, little is known about the role of trade-off diagrams in human decision-making and the best way to present them. Here, we discuss an empirical study with two goals: 1) evaluating DSS interactivity and 2) identifying decision-making strategies with trade-off diagrams. We specifically investigate the value of interface interactivity and problem context as users make nine increasingly complex decisions. Our results suggest that problem context and interactivity separately influence ability to navigate trade-off diagrams.


Jan 19

Food-Energy-Water | Paris to Pittsburgh | Research round-up


Jiayan Zhao VR demo at AGU

Jiayan Zhao (right) demonstrates the use of VR technology and the Thrihnukagigur Volcano geology lesson at the Penn State reception during the American Geophysical Union fall 2018 meeting in December.


SWIG will be hosting a workshop from 10:30-11:30 a.m. at the Eberly College of Science annual STEM Career Day for Young Women, “ENVISION: STEM Career Day for Young Women” on Sat., January 26, in the Huck Life Sciences Building. For more information see: https://science.psu.edu/outreach/special-programs/ENVISION/

Zachary Goldberg has reviewed the book, One Straw Revolution, in the Graduate Journal of Food Studies.

SWIG would like to extend a huge thank you to all who contributed to the Centre Safe Holiday Sponsorship Program this year. We raised a total of $300 (far exceeding our goal of $250!) to support the family we were paired with for the program.


Please join us on January 18 for the spring semester opening Coffee Hour featuring Lilian Pintea, PhD, Vice President of conservation science at the Jane Goodall Institute. For genreal information on Coffee Hour, see:


Interdisciplinary research proves essential when working on Food-Energy-Water

Erica Smithwick’s National Science Foundation-funded training grant, Landscape-U, is a component

Penn State researchers from all disciplines are getting involved in the Food-Energy-Water (FEW) nexus. Considering the intricate nature of FEW, many researchers believe that an interdisciplinary approach is critical.

FEW is complex because each facet is critical and is tightly linked to the others. A change in one facet will likely trigger a change in one or both of the others, making solutions more difficult to determine.

Paris to Pittsburgh documentary film by National Geographic

National Geographic Documentary Films distributed Bloomberg Philanthropies’ second film, Paris to Pittsburgh, starting on Wednesday, December 12 in the U.S. and  globally in 172 countries and 43 languages. Paris to Pittsburgh brings to life the impassioned efforts of individuals who are battling the most severe threats of climate change in their own backyards. Set against the national debate over the United States’ energy future — and the Trump administration’s explosive decision to exit the Paris Climate Agreement — the film captures what’s at stake for communities around the country and the inspiring ways Americans are responding.


Capital and conscience: poverty management and the financialization of good intentions in the San Francisco Bay Area

Emily Rosenman
Urban Geography
DOI: 10.1080/02723638.2018.1557465
Social impact investing differentiates itself from traditional investing by claiming to create public social benefits alongside private profits. Globally, municipal governments are increasingly looking to this model to fund urban social services and poverty management. Through a case study of social impact investing in affordable housing in the San Francisco Bay Area, I deconstruct the financial and ideological underpinnings of this model to understand how private profits are drawn from local geographies of impoverishment. Analyzing social impact investing as a poverty politics reveals how it places preexisting, state-subsidized systems of poverty management into social impact investing portfolios, dividing impoverished spaces into new hierarchies of deservingness by incorporating private investors’ visions of what will help low-income tenants. But these processes also fail to subsume social life within housing financed in this manner, as tenant practices subverting those idealized by the state and investors persist alongside the generation of private profits.

In situ measurements of surface winds, waves and sea state in polar lows over the North Atlantic

Andrew M. Carleton
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
DOI: 10.1029/2017JD028079
Polar low (PL) storms are an important feature of the wintertime sub‐synoptic scale atmospheric circulation of middle and higher latitude ocean areas. They can generate hazardous conditions impacting coastal and marine activities like fishing, transport and oil extraction. However, there are few studies available of individual PL systems based on high resolution maritime surface data. Accordingly, the meteorological impacts of 29 PLs have been investigated for the 14 winters 1999‐2013, using in‐situ measurements at 8 stations in the Norwegian and North Seas. On average, the highest wind speed (WS) and significant wave height (SWH) occur following the minimum in sea level pressure (SLP) of the PL, respectively 1 and 3 hours after its passage. The strongest WS averages 17.1 m/s and the highest peak SWH is 6.3 m, but these can reach 31 m/s and 11 m, respectively. PL characteristics of system horizontal extent, propagation speed, and the larger‐scale atmospheric circulation environment, explain the large inter‐case differences. Large, multiple, and fast moving PLs within a meridional circulation environment appear to generate stronger near‐surface winds and higher waves than do small, single and slow moving PLs within a zonal circulation. Multiple systems may have the largest impacts (e.g., SWH > 8 m), although a larger sample size is required to confirm this possibility. The impacts of PLs on sea surface temperature (SST) are quite small and are difficult to interpret separate from the background SST variation. The observed SST decrease may be mainly caused by the cold air outbreak within which the PL is embedded; indeed, a positive SST minus air temperature (AT) anomaly is found during the 24 hours preceding the passage of PL vortices, indicating enhanced low‐level atmospheric instability.

Spatial dynamics of tree group and gap structure in an old-growth ponderosa pine-California black oak forest burned by repeated wildfires

Natalie C. Pawlikowski, Michelle Coppoletta, Eric Knapp, Alan H.Taylor
Forest Ecology and Management
Knowledge of how tree groups and gaps are formed and maintained in frequent-fire forests is key to managing for heterogeneous and resilient forest conditions. This research quantifies changes in tree group and gap spatial structure and abundance of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and California black oak (Quercus kelloggii) with stand development after wildfires in 1990 and 1994 in an old-growth forest in the Ishi Wilderness, southern Cascades, California. Forest demography and tree group and gap structure were quantified by measuring, mapping, and aging trees in six 1-ha permanent plots in 2000 and 2016. Tree recruitment, mortality, and growth were estimated using demographic models and spatial characteristics including gap structure were identified using an inter-tree distance algorithm and the empty space function. Potential fire behavior and effects in 2016 were estimated to determine if the current forest would be resilient to a wildfire in the near future.

Smallholders’ uneven capacities to adapt to climate change amid Africa’s ‘green revolution’: Case study of Rwanda’s crop intensification program

Nathan Clay, Brian King
World Development
Development programs and policies can influence smallholder producers’ abilities to adapt to climate change. However, gaps remain in understanding how households’ adaptive capacities can become uneven. This paper investigates how development transitions—such as the recent adoption of ‘green revolution’ agricultural policies throughout sub-Saharan Africa—intersect with cross-scale social-environmental processes to unevenly shape smallholders’ adaptive capacities and adaptation pathways. Drawing on quantitative and qualitative material from a multi-season study in Rwanda, we investigate smallholder adaptation processes amid a suite of rural development interventions. Our study finds that adaptive capacities arise differentially across livelihood groups in the context of evolving environmental, social, and political economic processes. We show how social institutions play key roles in shaping differential adaptation pathways by enabling and/or constraining opportunities for smallholders to adapt livelihood and land use strategies. Specifically, Rwanda’s Crop Intensification Program enables some wealthier households to adapt livelihoods by generating income through commercial agriculture. At the same time, deactivation of local risk management institutions has diminished climate risk management options for most households. To build and employ alternate livelihood practices such as commercial agriculture and planting woodlots for charcoal production, smallholders must negotiate new institutions, a prerequisite for which is access to capitals (land, labor, and nonfarm income). Those without entitlements to these are pulled deeper into poverty with each successive climatic shock. This illustrates that adaptive capacity is not a static, quantifiable entity that exists in households. We argue that reconceptualizing adaptive capacity as a dynamic, social-environmental process that emerges in places can help clarify complex linkages among development policies, livelihoods, and adaptation pathways. To ensure more equitable and climate-resilient agricultural development, we stress the need to reformulate policies with careful attention to how power structures and entrenched social inequalities can lead to smallholders’ uneven capacities to adapt to climate change.

Livelihood Dynamics Across a Variable Flooding Regime

King, B., Yurco, K., Young, K.R. et al.
Human Ecology
Variability in environmental phenomena such as fire, flooding, and weather-related events can have significant impacts for social and environmental systems and their coupled interactions. Livelihoods systems reliant on the natural environment can be disrupted or eliminated, while associated governance regimes require negotiation to ensure equitable and sustainable management responses. These patterns can be particularly pronounced within areas prone to flooding, as these sites can experience variability in the location, timing, amount, and duration of flooding events. While research within the social and natural sciences has evaluated these dynamics within flooding regimes, the coupled interactions can be underemphasized even though they are integral in producing livelihood systems and possibilities for environmental management. This paper details research conducted from 2011 to 2016 in five villages located in different locations within the Okavango Delta of Botswana. We report the findings from qualitative interviewing and livelihood mapping activities that are integrated with remote sensing analysis to provide concrete empirical detail on the variability of flooding and resulting variations in perception and livelihood responses. The paper demonstrates that flooding dynamics vary at discrete locations and produce diverse perceptions that are tied to livelihood adjustments in place-specific ways. These patterns are also embedded in regional and global processes that have significant implications for household vulnerability within socio-ecological systems strongly impacted by local and distant climatic and hydrological drivers of change.

Augmenting geovisual analytics of social media data with heterogeneous information network mining—Cognitive plausibility assessment

Alexander Savelyev, Alan M. MacEachren
This paper investigates the feasibility, from a user perspective, of integrating a heterogeneous information network mining (HINM) technique into SensePlace3 (SP3), a web-based geovisual analytics environment. The core contribution of this paper is a user study that determines whether an analyst with minimal background can comprehend the network data modeling metaphors employed by the resulting system, whether they can employ said metaphors to explore spatial data, and whether they can interpret the results of such spatial analysis correctly. This study confirms that all of the above is, indeed, possible, and provides empirical evidence about the importance of a hands-on tutorial and a graphical approach to explaining data modeling metaphors in the successful adoption of advanced data mining techniques. Analysis of outcomes of data exploration by the study participants also demonstrates the kinds of insights that a visual interface to HINM can enable. A second contribution is a realistic case study that demonstrates that our HINM approach (made accessible through a visual interface that provides immediate visual feedback for user queries), produces a clear and a positive difference in the outcome of spatial analysis. Although this study does not aim to validate HINM as a data modeling approach (there is considerable evidence for this in existing literature), the results of the case study suggest that HINM holds promise in the (geo)visual analytics domain as well, particularly when integrated into geovisual analytics applications. A third contribution is a user study protocol that is based on and improves upon the current methodological state of the art. This protocol includes a hands-on tutorial and a set of realistic data analysis tasks. Detailed evaluation protocols are rare in geovisual analytics (and in visual analytics more broadly), with most studies reviewed in this paper failing to provide sufficient details for study replication or comparison work.

Dec 18

GTU induction | VR journey to Peru | Prehistoric fires formed grasslands


GTU induction

Fall 2018 inductees into the Gamma Theta Upsilon honor society in geography, Alpha Tau Chapter (left to right): Meg Wieger, Hunter Mitchell, Garrett McKinney, Katie Giesa,Thomas Loughery, Brittany Waltemate (Treasurer), Bryce Buck, Erin Arndt (Secretary), Milan Liu (Vice President), Hope Bodenshatz (President). Inductees not pictured: Marianne Black, Emily Case, Cameron Franz, Joseph Grosso, Tracy Severcool.


Sarah Chamberlain, Rob Brooks, Denice Wardrop, Mike Nassry, and Peter Backhaus planned and participated in a joint meeting of wetland scientists and managers from 13 northeastern states and a tribe in Cooperstown, NY this month.

First-year student Hannah Perrelli is a co-author of the poster “Biomimetic Materials for Regenerative Bone Tissue,” which won the Outstanding Research Potential Award in the 2018 EMS undergraduate poster exhibition.

Jamie Peeler received a National Geographic Support for Women and Dependent Care award to attend the International Association for Landscape Ecology World Congress in Milan, Italy.

Courtney Jackson was selected as an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Minority Ph.D. program scholar.

Welcome Kaitlyn Zigmond who is the work-study for the department for the remainder of fall 2018 and for spring 2019.


Thanks for joining us for the fall 2018 semester of Coffee Hour. Please join us on January 18, 2019 for the spring semester opening Coffee Hour featuring Lilian Pintea.


Open source geospatial analyst position

The Pennsylvania State University Libraries invites applications for the position Open Source Geospatial Analyst within the Digital Scholarship and Data Services department. The Open Source Geospatial Analyst will work as a member of the Donald W. Hamer Center for Maps and Geospatial Information team to support open source software, open data, and web-mapping solutions to spatial problems in research, teaching and learning at Penn State University. S/he will provide expert guidance through one-on-one and small group consultation services, develop and deliver guest lectures and workshops, and will be active in the community of geospatial scholars and professionals at the university.

Geography student’s VR app offers glimpse into Peru study-abroad experience

After growing up in a military family and serving in the armed forces as a young adult, Colin Kelly has lived all over the world — 16 different locations in fact — and has seen many amazing places. But when he visited Peru for the first time, he found himself fascinated with the landscape, people and the connection between them.

Fires fueled spread of grasslands on ancient Earth

Ancient wildfires played a crucial role in the formation and spread of grasslands like those that now cover large parts of the Earth, according to scientists at Penn State and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

A new study links a large rise in wildfires nearly 10 million years ago, in the late Miocene, with a major shift in vegetation on land, as indicated by carbon isotopes of plant biomarkers found in the fossil record. Frequent, seasonal fires helped turn forested areas into open landscapes, and drove the expansion of grasslands, the researchers said.


North American Model of Wildlife Conservation: Empowerment and exclusivity hinder advances in wildlife conservation

Serfass, Thomas L., Robert P. Brooks, Jeremy T. Bruskotter
Canadian Wildlife Biology and Management
We argue that the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAM) as currently promoted is an overly narrow construct, used both to explain how North American wildlife conservation developed historically, and as a prescriptive framework for applying a hunting-focused form of wildlife conservation. We argue both constructs are problematic in that the complexities of traditional and historical roots of wildlife conservation in North America are portrayed inadequately and selectively to overemphasize hunter’s contributions. We raise issues and concerns about the rhetoric used to promote NAM and its associated form of wildlife conservation both within the wildlife profession and to the public. Portrayals of NAM have repeatedly emphasized the important role of hunters and hunting, largely failing to provide attribution for contributions made by other stakeholders or through other forms of interest in wildlife. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation does capture some of the traditional policies and practices within wildlife management in the United States of America (USA), and to some extent Canada, but in our opinion, it has not evolved to fully represent wildlife conservation efforts of the past, nor point the way toward broader, more inclusive approaches to conserve species, communities, and ecosystems into the future. We offer 5 premises with evidence to support our assertions and probing questions as a basis for initiating a call to critically analyze NAM’s structures, functions, and purposes. Briefly, the premises focus on NAM as a hunter/hunting-focused form of wildlife conservation that serves to empower hunters and marginalize non-hunting wildlife conservationists in decision making pertaining to wildlife policy, ultimately hindering development of a more holistic, progressive form of wildlife conservation.

Landscape Indicators and Ecological Condition for Mapped Wetlands in Pennsylvania, USA

Corina Fernandez, James Spayd & Robert P. Brooks
Although landscape indicators are widely used to assess wetland ecological condition, how they capture the spatial arrangement of land cover is not well addressed. We conducted a Level 1 Landscape Assessment to revise strengths and weaknesses of landscape indicators when links to ecological conditions are strong. Wetland sites mapped by the National Wetlands Inventory were defined as 1-km radius circles around centroid points. Forest fragmentation type, road density, Landscape Development Intensity (LDI) index, and percentage of impervious surface were quantified at each site by integrating land cover and road network information. Based on forest cover, 6% of wetland sites scored in the highest ecological category while 45% fit into the lowest one. Results showed high dispersion of data for the impervious surface indicator in the lowest condition category. When comparing LDI and impervious surface under different landscape compositions and configurations, LDI better described distur- bance in agricultural areas where road density was low. Impervious surface better reflected the occurrence of fragmented landscapes at forested areas with high percentage of edge forest cover. In addition, a significant proportion of freshwater wetlands (60%) in the lowest condition category was associated with first-order streams, indicating a wide range of disturbance at some headwater watersheds.

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