Oct 20

Coffee Hour with Debanuj DasGupta | Mapping glacial algae | GEOGRAPH highlights grad students


mug shot2

The “mug shot” of speaker Garrett Graddy-Lovelace taken at the end of the October 9 Coffee Hour.  Videos of Coffee Hour lectures are available on The Coffee Hour media channel.  And this Friday at 4 p.m., our Coffee Hour speaker is Debanuj DasGupta.


The video of the October 13 Information Session on Graduate Programs in Geography is available on YouTube.

Gamma Theta Upsilon (GTU), the geography honor society, will hold an induction ceremony on Monday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 pm.

Penn State GIS Day will be held virtually on Thursday, November 12.

AAG is extending its paper abstract submission deadline to November 19, 2020, and also giving Annual Meeting participants more time to register at the current fee levels.


Coffee Hour with Debanuj DasGupta
Queering Geopolitics/Queering Pandemic

Geopolitics can be understood as an analytical category simultaneously for approaching the contemporary world order, as well as to interrogate sexuality and gender identity as it is produced through/with statecraft, and in the striving of sexually marginalized communities to create bodily security. Global governance, international human rights principles have failed to protect transgender cross border migrants. Simultaneously, the present epidemiological initiatives around the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to fully address the impact of the pandemic upon the lives of LGBTQ communities. The containment and prevention of the virus requires spatial strategies such as sheltering, social distancing, and physical isolation. Transgender communities experience physical isolation and unsafety on an everyday basis in home, work, and public spaces. Spatial strategies for containing the virus have created additional burdens on diverse transgender communities globally.


Ocean color satellites reveal glacier algae, insights for climate models

The brownish-grey algae that darken the Greenland ice sheet in summer cause the ice to melt faster, but only recently have scientists measured these blooms in the field, and only at few sites. To measure algal blooms across large regions and understand their effects on melting over time, scientists are now turning to space.

GEOGRAPH highlights

If you missed your printed copy of GEOGRAPH annual newsletter, articles are being added to the department website, and a downloadable PDF is available now. This week’s highlights:

Graduate students emphasize relationships:

World Campus graduate, reservist wins award for geospatial intelligence


Probabilistic forecasting using deep generative models

Alessandro Fanfarillo, Behrooz Roozitalab, Weiming Hu and Guido Cervone
A fundamental problem in Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) is the generation of ensembles to capture the probability of future states of the atmosphere. This research presents a new methodology to generate analogs using deep generative models, an emerging class of deep learning approaches. The goal is to train a deep generative model using a set of historical forecasts and associated observations, and to use it to entirely or partially replace the need to maintain a potentially very large dataset. In this research, this new methodology is compared with the Analog Ensemble (AnEn) approach, a computationally efficient solution to generate analogs. The proposed approach promises to reduce the amount of memory required to produce the probabilistic forecast by several orders of magnitude. Results show that the generative model solution is constant time without performing any search, saving a considerable amount of time even in the presence of huge historical datasets.

Oct 20

Grad Admission Info Session today | GEOGRAPH highlights



Leaves are changing color in this live image capture from the Penn State Arboretum webcam.


TODAY Oct. 13, 4 p.m.:  Information session on graduate program admissions

Oct. 15, noon: Brownbag session on research in the era of COVID-19

AAG Careers and Professional Development Webinar Series  This fall the AAG will pilot two new webinar series as a service to AAG members and the wider geography community. Although the topics focus on issues for geographers navigating their early careers and geography leadership building and growing strong academic programs, these subjects can be insightful for everyone.


Next Coffee Hour is October 23 with Debanuj DasGupta
Queering Geopolitics/Queering Pandemic


GEOGRAPH highlights

If you missed your printed copy of GEOGRAPH annual newsletter, articles are being added to the department website, and a downloadable PDF is available now. This week’s highlights:

From the Head of the Department: Spilling forward to a new kind of fall

Recognition Reception revamp

Award-winning undergraduates: Get involved, challenge yourself

Oct 20

Coffee Hour with Garrett Graddy-Lovelace | Fracking bill study | Wine atlas


cluster mapA five-cluster analysis, with groupings that best matched the manual review of the regulations, was used to qualitatively discern patterns across the states, in the study, “Disclosing Influence: Hydraulic fracturing, interest groups, and state policy processes in the United States,” led by Jenn Baka. Map: Harrison Cole


Alumnus Sid Pandey, who graduated in 2014, was selected as a member of URISA’s Vanguard Cabinet for their 2021–23 cohort.

Alumnus Martin von Wyss, who graduated in 1994, has launched World Wine Regions, worldwineregions.com, an interactive atlas of the world’s wine regions.

Call for Presentations: The 2021 Education Summit @ Esri UC will highlight presentations showing how GIS is being used in education to connect people together and shape our future. The deadline to submit a proposal for your presentation is Oct. 30, 2020.

American Geographic Society September 2020 Newsletter is available.

Upcoming activities in the Department of Geography


Coffee Hour with Garrett Graddy-Lovelace
What Accounts for the Mutual Avoidance between Agricultural Policy & Agrobiodiversity Governance? Colonized Geography 

Agricultural policy encompasses a vast, multi-scalar array of laws, regimes, regulations, politics, supports, and governing paradigms related to food, land use, land tenure, water, trade, infrastructure, research, and more. Seeds appear, but largely in relation to phytosanitary and intellectual property rules. (Labor is also missing.) Dominant agricultural policies, epitomized in the United States Farm Bill, avoid addressing much less supporting agricultural biodiversity as such.


Fracking bill analysis reveals how states may influence each other’s policies

Even though State governments routinely rely upon interest groups to help them as they craft legislation, researchers found that certain peer-leader states, like Pennsylvania and Colorado, have greater influence in shaping states’ fracking policies, in a study led by Penn State Professor of Geography Jennifer Baka.

The study, titled “Disclosing Influence: Hydraulic fracturing, interest groups, and state policy processes in the United States,” revealed two important findings, Baka said.

Four Penn State researchers join the Social Science Research Institute

Louisa Holmes is among the four

Four Penn State researchers have joined the Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse, part of the Social Science Research Institute, including faculty members from the colleges of Engineering, Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Health and Human Development.

The Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse (CCSA) brings together researchers, educators, and practitioners from Penn State campuses to develop and implement effective programs, policies, and practices aimed at preventing and treating addiction and its spillover effects on children, families, and communities.

Daily Collegian
Penn State women’s soccer alumnae use their platform to advocate for social justice

Geography Alumna Britt Eckerstrom quoted

On June 27, the National Women’s Soccer League’s Portland Thorns FC and North Carolina Courage took the field, marking the first return of a North American professional sports league since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.


Historical incidence of mid‐autumn wind storms in New England

Simonson, JM, Birkel, SD, Maasch, KA, Mayewski, PA, Lyon, B, Carleton, AM.
Meteorological Applications
New England has seen a number of mid‐autumn (October–November) wind storms—high‐wind events associated with extratropical cyclones—in recent years that have produced extensive infrastructure damage, raising concerns that these events may become more common in a changing climate. Storms developing at this time of year are unique in that they can have dominant cold‐season characteristics while also being fueled by warm‐season moisture sources (such as the remnants of tropical cyclones) or the result of an extratropical transition. To provide insights on the behavior of such storms, we explore recent storm frequency and intensity by using reanalysis and station‐based meteorological observations onward from 1979. Variables taken into consideration include 10 m wind speed, sea‐level pressure and precipitation. The results do not show a statistically significant increase in the overall frequency of mid‐autumn wind storms nor of their intensity with respect to central pressure or surface wind speeds. However, there is a statistically significant trend toward increasing precipitation accompanying wind storms with maximum 10 m wind gusts greater than 26 m⋅s−1 (58 mph). While stronger high‐wind events tend to be associated with lower central sea‐level pressure values and substantial intensification rates, other factors such as storm tracks and the pressure gradient across the New England region also affect the development and overall impact of storms. This study highlights the variety of elements, such as the background climate conditions, which could potentially increase the risk of wind damage in a warming world.

Spatial patterns of nineteenth century fire severity persist after fire exclusion and a twenty-first century wildfire in a mixed conifer forest landscape, Southern Cascades, USA

Taylor, A.H., Airey-Lauvaux, C., Estes, B. et al.
Landscape Ecology
Context: Spatial patterns of fire severity are influenced by fire-vegetation patch dynamics and topography. Since the late nineteenth century, fire exclusion has increased fuels and recent fire severity patterns may diverge from historical patterns.

Objectives: We used data from a 2008 wildfire burning in a landscape with known nineteenth century fire severity patterns to answer the following questions: (1) Were the spatial patterns of fire severity and fire effects after the 2008 fire similar to those in the late nineteenth century? (2) What factors were most important in controlling spatial patterns of fire severity in 2008?

Methods: Fire severity patterns in the late nineteenth century were identified by Beaty and Taylor (J Veg Sci 18:879, 2001) using dendroecology. Plots were remeasured after the 2008 fire and geospatial layers of vegetation type, topography, fire weather, daily fire extent and fire severity were used to identify controls on 2008 fire severity.

Results: Fire severity in 2008 varied in ways similar to the nineteenth century. Tree mortality and bark char in plots were lowest on lower slopes and southwest facing slopes, intermediate on middle slopes, and highest on upper slopes and northeast slopes. At the landscape scale, vegetation type, elevation, slope aspect, slope position and weather were the variables controlling fire severity.

Conclusions: Spatial patterns of fire severity persisted, despite more than a century of fire exclusion. Our findings suggest that wildfires burning under moderate conditions even with a warming climate can help reduce the fire deficit and promote forest resilience in fire prone landscapes.

Design of a Serious Game to Inform the Public About the Critical Zone

Pejman Sajjadi, Mahda M. Bagher,  Zheng Cui,  Jessica G. Myrick,  Janet K. Swim, Timothy S. White, Alexander Klippel
2020 IEEE 8th International Conference on Serious Games and Applications for Health (SeGAH)
doi: 10.1109/SeGAH49190.2020.9201697
The Critical Zone (CZ), the near surface more portion of the terrestrial Earth is a complex concept that plays a pivotal role in the food-energy-water nexus. Due to its complexity, the concept of the CZ and its components are not well understood by society. Challenges range from imagining the invisible (the soil, rock, and water beneath us) to understanding complex relations between the involved components. To create awareness on a societal level, we have initiated a transdisciplinary project driven by immersive and gaming technologies that allow for an extension of what physical reality offers society about the concept of the CZ. We have developed a serious iVR game that enables learners to have a concrete experience about the CZ, and how natural and human processes affect it.

Sep 20

Coffee Hour with Qiusheng Wu | Resilient margins | Bike week


Eastern Sierra Nevada -Dry forest margins in the western United States may be more resilient to climate change than previously thought if managed appropriately, according to a study published by Lucas Harris and Alan Talyor in Ecosphere. See news story. Image: Lucas Harris.


Jiayan Zhao successfully defended his dissertation on September 21.

Call for maps: Shelter: An Atlas endeavors to map shelter in its myriad contexts and conditions and at all scales of research and geography. As a project of Guerrilla Cartography, Shelter: An Atlas is a non-profit venture and will be financed through crowd-funding and grants. Money raised to fund the project will finance the printing and distribution of a full-color 12” x 12” bound volume.  All maps are due October 31, 2020, 11:59 PM PST. See submission guidelines here

Today, September 22 is National Bike There Day, part of Bike There Week, September 21–27, 2020, promoted by the League of American Bicyclists and Centre Regional Planning Agency.

September 25, the Thinking Spatially symposium will explore the topics of politics and polarization. The symposium is for everyone interested in politics, partisanship, idealism, voting patterns, racism, civil rights, community development, mapping, and more. View the full schedule, featured presenters, and register to attend. 9 a.m.-noon, via Zoom.

Anthony Robinson will serve as a panelist on the topic, “Social Engineering with Data: Disinformation & Destabilization of Geo-Political Order” at The Institute for Computational Data Sciences virtual symposium, “The Data Deluge: Opportunities and Challenges,” on October 22–23. Registration is open.


Coffee Hour with Qiusheng Wu
Using Google Earth Engine for interactive mapping and analysis of large-scale geospatial datasets

Google Earth Engine is a free cloud computing platform with a multi-petabyte catalog of satellite imagery and geospatial datasets. During the past few years, Earth Engine has become very popular in the geospatial community and it has been used for numerous environmental applications at local, regional, and global scales. In this presentation, I will first introduce the geemap Python package (https://giswqs.github.io/geemap) for interactive mapping and analysis with Earth Engine. Then, I will introduce the Earth Engine plugin for QGIS along with 300+ Python examples. Lastly, I will demonstrate how Earth Engine can be used for automated mapping of surface water and wetland inundation dynamics with 1-m resolution aerial imagery and LiDAR data.


Forest margins may be more resilient to climate change than previously thought

A warming climate and more frequent wildfires do not necessarily mean the western United States will see the forest loss that many scientists expect. Dry forest margins may be more resilient to climate change than previously thought if managed appropriately, according to Penn State researchers.


ISMIP6 Antarctica: a multi-model ensemble of the Antarctic ice sheet evolution over the 21st century

Seroussi, S. Nowicki, A. Payne, H. Goelzer, W. Lipscomb, A. Abe-Ouchi, C. Agosta, T. Albrecht, X. Asay-Davis, A. Barthel, R. Calov, R. Cullather, C. Dumas, B.. Galton-Fenzi, R. Gladstone, N. Golledge, J. Gregory, R. Greve1, T. Hattermann, M. Hoffman, A. Humbert, P. Huybrechts, N. Jourdain, T. Kleiner, E. Larour, G. Leguy, D. Lowry, C. Little, M. Morlighem, F. Pattyn, T. Pelle, S. Price, A. Quiquet, R. Reese, N. Schlegel, A. Shepherd, E. Simon, R. Smith, F. Straneo, S. Sun, L. Trusel, J. Van Breedam, R. van de Wal, R. Winkelmann, C. Zhao, T. Zhang, and T. Zwinger.
The Cryosphere
Ice flow models of the Antarctic ice sheet are commonly used to simulate its future evolution in response to different climate scenarios and assess the mass loss that would contribute to future sea level rise. However, there is currently no consensus on estimates of the future mass balance of the ice sheet, primarily because of differences in the representation of physical processes, forcings employed and initial states of ice sheet models. This study presents results from ice flow model simulations from 13 international groups focusing on the evolution of the Antarctic ice sheet during the period 2015–2100 as part of the Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison for CMIP6 (ISMIP6). They are forced with outputs from a subset of models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), representative of the spread in climate model results. Simulations of the Antarctic ice sheet contribution to sea level rise in response to increased warming during this period varies between −7.8 and 30.0 cm of sea level equivalent (SLE) under Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 scenario forcing. These numbers are relative to a control experiment with constant climate conditions and should therefore be added to the mass loss contribution under climate conditions similar to present-day conditions over the same period. The simulated evolution of the West Antarctic ice sheet varies widely among models, with an overall mass loss, up to 18.0 cm SLE, in response to changes in oceanic conditions. East Antarctica mass change varies between −6.1 and 8.3 cm SLE in the simulations, with a significant increase in surface mass balance outweighing the increased ice discharge under most RCP 8.5 scenario forcings. The inclusion of ice shelf collapse, here assumed to be caused by large amounts of liquid water ponding at the surface of ice shelves, yields an additional simulated mass loss of 28 mm compared to simulations without ice shelf collapse. The largest sources of uncertainty come from the climate forcing, the ocean-induced melt rates, the calibration of these melt rates based on oceanic conditions taken outside of ice shelf cavities and the ice sheet dynamic response to these oceanic changes. Results under RCP 2.6 scenario based on two CMIP5 climate models show an additional mass loss of 0 and 3 cm of SLE on average compared to simulations done under present-day conditions for the two CMIP5 forcings used and display limited mass gain in East Antarctica.

The Effects of Visual Realism on Spatial Memory and Exploration Patterns in Virtual Reality

Jiawei Huang and Alexander Klippel
26th ACM Symposium on Virtual Reality Software and Technology (VRST ’20) https://doi.org/10.1145/3385956.3418945
Understanding the effects of environmental features such as visual realism on spatial memory can inform a human-centered design of virtual environments. This paper investigates the effects of visual realism on object location memory in virtual reality, taking account of individual differences, gaze, and locomotion. Participants freely explored two environments which varied in visual realism, and then recalled the locations of objects by returning the misplaced objects back to original locations. Overall, we did not find a significant relationship between visual realism and object location memory. We found, however, that individual differences such as spatial ability and gender accounted for more variance than visual realism. Gaze and locomotion analysis suggest that participants exhibited longer gaze duration and more clustered movement patterns in the low realism condition. Preliminary inspection further found that loco-motion hotspots coincided with objects that showed a significant gaze time difference between high and low visual realism levels. These results suggest that high visual realism still provides positive spatial learning affordances but the effects are more intricate.

Sep 20

Peirce Lewis Obit in Annals | Coffee Hour history | Welcome new post-doc


Kaltura screnshotFriday, Sept. 11 was the kickoff Coffee Hour lecture for the fall 2020 semester.  If you missed it and would like to view the recording of Kaitlin Harbeck’s talk on ICESaT-2 or view any previously recorded Coffee Hour lectures, you can go to the Department of Geography Coffee Hour Channel. Each recent semester of Coffee Hour is saved as a playlist, so you can easily find the speaker or topic of interest.


Mikael Hiestand was quoted in the article, “Introducing Students to Scientific Python for Atmospheric Science,” in the September 2020 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

Welcome to Tatiana Gumucio who has joined as a post-doctoral scholar on Helen Gretrex’s AXA-XL grant on humanitarian weather response in Somalia.


Coffee Hour with Qiusheng Wu is on Friday, September 25, 2020
Using Google Earth Engine for interactive mapping and analysis of large-scale geospatial datasets

Google Earth Engine is a free cloud computing platform with a multi-petabyte catalog of satellite imagery and geospatial datasets. During the past few years, Earth Engine has become very popular in the geospatial community and it has been used for numerous environmental applications at local, regional, and global scales.


Peirce F. Lewis, 1927–2018

by Ben Marsh & Joseph Wood in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers

All geography rests, finally, upon the land. Few geographers have stayed as connected to the land throughout their professional careers as Peirce F. Lewis, few relished the immediacy of being in the field more than he did, and few imbued that deep love into as many students and students-of-students as he was able to. Land is in the very name of the discipline that he championed for over five decades: cultural landscape. That term refers to the world of human experience, “nearly everything we can see when we go outdoors” (Lewis 1979a, 12).

50+ years of Coffee Hour

Fall 2018 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Department of Geography Coffee Hour, weekly socializing and a lecture on Friday afternoons. Although the methods have modernized, Coffee Hour remains true to its purpose, which Peirce Lewis and Wilbur Zelinksy described in a 1987 article in the Professional Geographer as “creating and preserving a sense of intellectual and social community within the department.”


Desktop versus immersive virtual environments: effects on spatial learning

Jiayan Zhao, Tesalee Sensibaugh, Bobby Bodenheimer, Timothy P. McNamara, Alina Nazareth, Nora Newcombe, Meredith Minear & Alexander Klippel
Spatial Cognition & Computation
DOI: 10.1080/13875868.2020.1817925
Although immersive virtual reality is attractive to users, we know relatively little about whether higher immersion levels increase or decrease spatial learning outcomes. In addition, questions remain about how different approaches to travel within a virtual environment affect spatial learning. In this paper, we investigated the role of immersion (desktop computer versus HTC Vive) and teleportation in spatial learning. Results showed few differences between conditions, favoring, if anything, the desktop environment. There seems to be no advantage of using continuous travel over teleportation, or using the Vive with teleportation compared to a desktop computer. Discussing the results, we look critically at the experimental design, identify potentially confounding variables, and suggest avenues for future research.

Automatic detection of volcanic surface deformation using deep learning

Sun, J., Wauthier, C., Stephens, K., Gervais, M., Cervone, G., La Femina, P., & Higgins, M.
Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) provides subcentimetric measurements of surface displacements, which are key for characterizing and monitoring magmatic processes in volcanic regions. The abundant measurements of surface displacements in multitemporal InSAR data routinely acquired by SAR satellites can facilitate near real‐time volcano monitoring on a global basis. However, the presence of atmospheric signals in interferograms complicates the interpretation of those InSAR measurements, which can even lead to a misinterpretation of InSAR signals and volcanic unrest. Given the vast quantities of SAR data available, an automatic InSAR data processing and denoising approach is required to separate volcanic signals that are cause of concern from atmospheric signals and noise. In this study, we employ a deep learning strategy that directly removes atmospheric and other noise signals from time‐consecutive unwrapped surface displacements obtained through an InSAR time series approach using an end‐to‐end convolutional neural network (CNN) with an encoder‐decoder architecture, modified U‐net. The CNN is trained with simulated synthetic unwrapped surface displacement maps and is then applied to real InSAR data. Our proposed architecture is capable of detecting dynamic spatio‐temporal patterns of volcanic surface displacements. We find that an ensemble‐average strategy is recommended to stabilize detected results for varying deformation rates and signal‐to‐noise ratios (SNRs). A case study is also presented where this method is applied to InSAR data covering Masaya volcano, Nicaragua and the results are validated using continuous GPS data. The results confirm that our network can indeed efficiently suppress atmospheric and other noise to reveal the noise‐free surface deformation.

Sep 20

Coffee Hour on ICESat-2 | Bacastow appointed to board | Research on ice and fire


ICESat-2 image

NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) was launched in September 2018 and became the highest-resolution laser altimeter ever operated from space. The satellite is now measuring the height of Earth’s surfaces in remarkable detail. A forested hillside in Mexico is visible in the elevation measurement above, acquired on October 19, 2018, by the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) on ICESat-2. For reference, the orbital path is laid over a natural-color image acquired on January 11, 2017, by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8. Learn more about ICESat-2 at Coffee Hour on Friday, Sept. 11, with our speaker, Penn State Geography alumna Kaitlin Harbeck.


The undergraduate clubs in the Department of Geography, GIS Coalition, Gamma Theta Upsilon, and UnderDoGS are holding combined meetings on Zoom this semester. The next meeting is on Monday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

Alumna Sheryl Kron Larson-Rhodes, who earned a bachelor of science in 1985, received a State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Librarianship. The Chancellor’s Awards are “honors conferred to acknowledge & provide recognition for consistently superior professional achievement & to encourage the ongoing pursuit of excellence.” Larson-Rhodes is among nine librarians from SUNY’s 64 campuses to receive the Chancellor’s Award for the 2019–2020 academic year. She serves as the First Year Experience Librarian at SUNY Geneseo, & among the college departments she supports is (of course!) Geneseo’s Department of Geography, which in 2018 received the Award for Bachelors Program Excellence from the American Association of Geographers.


Coffee Hour with Kaitlin Harbeck
ICESat2 – Measuring the Height of the Earth One Photon at a Time

NASA’s next generation laser altimeter mission, the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2), launched on 15 September 2018, carrying the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) as its sole payload. ATLAS is a photon-counting lidar that directs laser beams (532 nm) at the Earth’s surface, fires a stream of light 10,000 times per second, and measures the distance between the illuminated ground surface and the instrument by precisely measuring individual photon times of flight.


Bacastow appointed to US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation board of directors

Todd Bacastow, teaching professor in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State, has been appointed to the board of directors of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) for a three-year term.

USGIF is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting geospatial intelligence training and education and building a stronger community of interest across industry, academia, government, professional organizations and individual stakeholders. Since 2007, Bacastow has also served as a member of USGIF’s Academic Planning Committee.


Woody plant diversity changes of Abies-Tsuga forests during the natural regeneration of arrow bamboo (Bashania faberi) in the Wolong Nature Reserve

Zhu, T., Jinyan, H., Dian, L., Taylor, A.H., Hemin, Z.
Chinese Journal of Applied and Environmental Biology
DOI: 10.19675/j.cnki.1006-687x.2019.05002
We examined the response of woody plants to internal forest disturbance during subalpine succession and its underlying driving mechanism by comparing changes in woody plant diversity of Abies-Tsuga forests after the flowering and die-back of arrow bamboo (Bashania faberi). We calculated species diversity indices (a-diversity and β-diversity) for the survey data from six fixed plots in the area of the Wolong Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province, from 1984 and 2013 to understand changes in flora and species diversity over time, including the pro-phases and post-phases of the bamboo regeneration and restoration. The results showed that species and the diversity indices of the trees in the Abies-Tsuga forests did not change significantly before or after the regeneration and restoration of arrow bamboo but maintained relatively stable state (P > 0.05). In contrast, species diversity and the importance values of shrubs changed significantly between the pro-phase and postphase of the regenerative and restorative periods, and the species composition and diversity indices of the Abies-Tsuga forests slightly increased (P < 0.05). Variation was seen in woody plant tree diversity patterns, as changes in the tree species of the sample plots below 3000 m above sea level were small, but a significant change was seen in the sample plots above 3000 m above sea level. In contrast, the diversity of shrubs was significantly different among all plots and showed a slight increasing trend. At the same time, there were no significant differences in the tree species diversity of the Abies-Tsuga forests between different sites before or after the regeneration and restoration of arrow bamboo. Shrubs were significantly different with each other during the early stage. Only several plots and several indices were significantly altered during the later stage, and the rest presented no significantly statistical effects. In a word, these results reflect the stability of the species composition in climax communities, the variability of the species diversity of Abies-Tsuga forests during the process of bamboo regeneration and restoration, and the adaptation of diverse types of plants (e.g., tree species and shrubs) to environmental changes. This provides a basis for developing strategies for biodiversity conservation and the ecological restoration of wild giant panda habitats.

Strong Legacy Effects of Prior Burn Severity on Forest Resilience to a High-Severity Fire.

Harris, L.B., Drury, S.A. & Taylor, A.H.
Legacy effects from one disturbance may influence successional pathways by amplifying or buffering forest regeneration after the next disturbance. We assessed vegetation and tree regeneration in non-serotinous Sierra lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. murrayana) stands after a 1984 wildfire which burned with variable severity and again after a high-severity subsequent fire in 2012. The legacy effects of the 1984 fire were amplified; seedlings and saplings were abundant in areas initially burned at low severity (1267 stems ha−1) despite high reburn severity, but regeneration was low in areas twice burned at high severity (31 stems ha−1). Our results suggest that the severity of the 1984 fire may have influenced post-2012 tree regeneration by creating variable fuel loading, which may have affected soils, litter cover and shade after the 2012 fire and therefore affected seedling establishment and survival. A canopy seed bank of unburnt cones from trees killed by the 2012 fire potentially contributed to a strong effect of prior burn severity on regeneration after the 2012 fire despite a lack of serotinous or resprouting tree species, although the influence of this canopy seedbank was likely limited to the year following the fire. Our results suggest that a low- to moderate-severity fire increases forest resilience relative to a high-severity fire even when the next fire burns at high severity.

Quantifying spatiotemporal variability of glacier algal blooms and the impact on surface albedo in southwestern Greenland

Shujie Wang, Marco Tedesco, Patrick Alexander, Min Xu, and Xavier Fettweis
The Cryosphere
Albedo reduction due to light-absorbing impurities can substantially enhance ice sheet surface melt by increasing surface absorption of solar energy. Glacier algae have been suggested to play a critical role in darkening the ablation zone in southwestern Greenland. It was very recently found that the Sentinel-3 Ocean and Land Colour Instrument (OLCI) band ratio R709 nmR673 nm can characterize the spatial patterns of glacier algal blooms. However, Sentinel-3 was launched in 2016, and current data are only available over three melting seasons (2016–2019). Here, we demonstrate the capability of the MEdium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) for mapping glacier algae from space and extend the quantification of glacier algal blooms over southwestern Greenland back to the period 2004–2011. Several band ratio indices (MERIS chlorophyll a indices and the impurity index) were computed and compared with each other. The results indicate that the MERIS two-band ratio index (2BDA) R709 nmR665 nm is very effective in capturing the spatial distribution and temporal dynamics of glacier algal growth on bare ice in July and August. We analyzed the interannual (2004–2011) and summer (July–August) trends of algal distribution and found significant seasonal and interannual increases in glacier algae close to the Jakobshavn Isbrae Glacier and along the middle dark zone between the altitudes of 1200 and 1400 m. Using broadband albedo data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), we quantified the impact of glacier algal growth on bare ice albedo, finding a significant correlation between algal development and albedo reduction over algae-abundant areas. Our analysis indicates the strong potential for the satellite algal index to be used to reduce bare ice albedo biases in regional climate model simulations.

Sep 20

Social justice+outreach | Diaz named to NSF GRFP | Studying movement, COVID-19


mask up pack up

Keeping communities safe will take a collective effort. Help us spread the word to colleagues, family, friends and neighbors by taking a picture wearing a mask, posting to social media, and using the hashtag #MaskUpOrPackUp.


Alumna Lettice Brown of York, Pa., who completed a bachelor of science in geography in 2006, was recently featured in an Allegheny Front story, “Nature Groups Address Environmental Justice in Pennsylvania.”

Mikael Hiestand will speak as part of the fall 2020 Climate Dynamics seminar series, on the topic, “Annual variations in latent and sensible heat fluxes under differing synoptic regimes in the U.S. Corn Belt,” on Sept. 30, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. via Zoom. For more information and link.

Thabiti Willis of Carleton College will speak as part of the African Studies Program fall 2020 speakers series on  “From East Africa to the Persian Gulf: Mapping Journeys of Slavery and Freedom in the Western Indian Ocean Region,” Sept. 9, at 12:30 p.m. All events will be live-streamed on Zoom. Links for the talks will be sent via email in advance of each presentation.

The AAG’s call for papers is now open. Anyone with an interest in geography may submit an abstract of up to 250 words, describing their presentation’s purpose, methods, and conclusions. Find out details on how to submit.

The undergraduate clubs in the Department of Geography: GIS Coalition, Gamma Theta Upsilon, and UnderDoGS are holding combined meetings on Zoom this semester. The next meeting is on Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m.


Students learn the power of collective voice while advocating for justice

Students discovered the power of community voice while working as interns over the summer through a social justice program facilitated by the Penn State Center Philadelphia, a Penn State Outreach service. Jaqueline Saleeby and Mackenzie Flanders both pivoted from their summer projects to assisting in the organization of a virtual symposium for the Penn State community that will be held in September and is focused on racial justice.

18 new NSF graduate researchers join the ranks at Penn State

Geographer Jeremy Diaz is among the new fellows

Eighteen students were named National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) recipients for the 2020-21 academic year.

Faculty funded to study how people’s movement impacts COVID-19 transmission

Nita Bharti, Lloyd Huck Early Career Professor and assistant professor of biology at Penn State, and her collaborator Anthony Robinson, associate professor of geography at Penn State, have been awarded seed funding from the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State to study how monitoring the movement of people can potentially be used as a predictor or early indicator of COVID-19 transmission and guide health policy decisions.


Disclosing Influence: Hydraulic fracturing, interest groups, and state policy processes in the United States

Jennifer Baka, Arielle Hesse, Kate J. Neville, Erika Weinthal, Karen Bakker
Energy Research & Social Science
This paper examines copy-and-paste regulating in hydraulic fracturing (HF) fluid disclosure regulation across US states. Using text analysis, cluster analysis and document coding, we compare HF regulations of twenty-nine states and two “model bills” drafted by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF, an environmental NGO). In contrast to recent studies that have documented ALEC’s widespread influence across policy domains, we find limited evidence of ALEC influence in HF fluid disclosure regulations. Instead, elements of the EDF bill are more prevalent across state regulations. Yet, text similarity scores between states are higher than similarity scores between states and the EDF bill. In particular, Colorado and to a lesser extent Pennsylvania functioned as leader states for other states to follow. This indicates that state-to-state communication was a more influential channel of policy diffusion than interest group model bills in this instance. Future research should better examine processes of information sharing amongst state oil and gas regulators as regulatory text is but one channel of policy diffusion. The cluster analysis also reveals that contiguous states, often within the same shale basins, frequently have different regulations. This finding calls for a reconsideration of the current state-led environmental regulatory framework for HF, which has resulted in a patchwork of regulations across the US. Finally, through the use of novel text analysis tools, this paper adds methodological diversity to the study of policy diffusion within energy policy.

Robust paths to net greenhouse gas mitigation and negative emissions via advanced biofuels

John L. Field, Tom L. Richard, Erica A. H. Smithwick, Hao Cai, Mark S. Laser, David S. LeBauer, Stephen P. Long, Keith Paustian, Zhangcai Qin, John J. Sheehan, Pete Smith, Michael Q. Wang, Lee R. Lynd
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Biofuel and bioenergy systems are integral to most climate stabilization scenarios for displacement of transport sector fossil fuel use and for producing negative emissions via carbon capture and storage (CCS). However, the net greenhouse gas mitigation benefit of such pathways is controversial due to concerns around ecosystem carbon losses from land use change and foregone sequestration benefits from alternative land uses. Here, we couple bottom-up ecosystem simulation with models of cellulosic biofuel production and CCS in order to track ecosystem and supply chain carbon flows for current and future biofuel systems, with comparison to competing land-based biological mitigation schemes. Analyzing three contrasting US case study sites, we show that on land transitioning out of crops or pasture, switchgrass cultivation for cellulosic ethanol production has per-hectare mitigation potential comparable to reforestation and severalfold greater than grassland restoration. In contrast, harvesting and converting existing secondary forest at those sites incurs large initial carbon debt requiring long payback periods. We also highlight how plausible future improvements in energy crop yields and biorefining technology together with CCS would achieve mitigation potential 4 and 15 times greater than forest and grassland restoration, respectively. Finally, we show that recent estimates of induced land use change are small relative to the opportunities for improving system performance that we quantify here. While climate and other ecosystem service benefits cannot be taken for granted from cellulosic biofuel deployment, our scenarios illustrate how conventional and carbon-negative biofuel systems could make a near-term, robust, and distinctive contribution to the climate challenge.

Aug 20

Summer student marshal | Nepal research awarded | Submit UROC projects


milan liuMilan Liu was selected to represent the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences as the student marshal for Penn State’s summer 2020 commencement. Liu graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 grade-point average with a double major in geography and international politics, a minor in Chinese and a certificate in geographic information science. Her faculty marshal was Roger Downs, professor of geography. Image: Courtesy of Milan Liu


Graduate Seminars in geography covering physical geography, human geography, environment–society interactions, and GISciences are being offered for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. Register for fall 2020 semester by August 23.

The 2020 AAG Guide to Geography Programs in the Americas has been published and is available for free to all users at www.aag.org/guide. It also includes an interactive map of geography programs listed within the Guide, which allows users to search and filter programs by, degree type, program specialties, regional focus, and more.

Undergraduate Research Opportunities Connection (UROC) is now accepting applications for research and professional development projects for Fall 2020. 


Milan Liu selected Earth and Mineral Sciences 2020 summer student marshal

Milan Liu was selected to represent the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences as the student marshal for Penn State’s summer commencement, which was held virtually on  Aug. 15.

Liu is graduating summa cum laude with a 4.0 grade-point average with a double major in geography and international politics, a minor in Chinese and a certificate in geographic information science. Her faculty marshal is Roger Downs, professor of geography.

Doctoral candidate’s research explores human, agricultural interactions in Nepal

Marie Louis Ryan, doctoral candidate in Penn State’s Department of Geography, received the Graduate Student International Research Award from the Graduate School for her research exploring human and agricultural interactions in Nepal.

Specifically, Ryan examines how the labor force outmigration of working age men in Nepal’s midhills impacts labor, land use, and the agricultural biodiversity of rice and finger millet — two key crops in the region.

Open education website connects teachers, learners with quality resources

A parent in Philadelphia needs information to help her daughter with a class project on wet weather pollution control in the school yard rain garden.

Elsewhere in the U.S., a furloughed government worker seeks professional development during a shutdown. In Brazil, a woman is interested in learning more about the changing climate, and in Zimbabwe, a GIS technician wants a reliable source of professional information.

They all turned to OPEN.ED, a website hosting high-quality learning materials written by faculty in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. The content, created though the Open Education Resources (OER) initiative launched in 2007 by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) at Penn State, is free for educators and learners under a creative commons license.


Space-Time Patterns, Change, and Propagation of COVID-19 Risk Relative to the Intervention Scenarios in Bangladesh

Masrur, Arif; Yu, Manzhu; Luo, Wei; Dewan, Ashraf
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to be a significant public health threat worldwide, particularly in densely populated countries such as Bangladesh with inadequate health care facilities. While early detection and isolation were identified as important non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) measures for containing the disease spread, this may not have been pragmatically implementable in developing countries due to social and economic reasons (i.e., poor education, less public awareness, massive unemployment). Hence, to elucidate COVID-19 transmission dynamics with respect to the NPI status—e.g., social distancing—this study conducted spatio-temporal analysis using the prospective scanning statistic at district and sub-district levels in Bangladesh and its capital, Dhaka city, respectively. Dhaka megacity has remained the highest-risk “active” cluster since early April. Lately, the central and south eastern regions in Bangladesh have been exhibiting a high risk of COVID-19 transmission. The detected space-time progression of COVID-19 infection suggests that Bangladesh has experienced a community-level transmission at the early phase (i.e., March, 2020), primarily introduced by Bangladeshi citizens returning from coronavirus epicenters in Europe and the Middle East. Potential linkages exist between the violation of NPIs and the emergence of new higher-risk clusters over the post-incubation periods around Bangladesh. Novel insights into the COVID-19 transmission dynamics derived in this study on Bangladesh provide important policy guidelines for early preparations and pragmatic NPI measures to effectively deal with infectious diseases in resource-scarce countries worldwide.

Can Social Media Anti-abuse Policies Work? A Quasi-experimental Study of Online Sexist and Racist Slurs

Diane Felmlee, Daniel DellaPosta, Paulina d. C. Inara Rodis, and Stephen A. Matthews
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World
DOI: 10.1177/2378023120948711
The authors use the timing of a change in Twitter’s rules regarding abusive content to test the effectiveness of organizational policies aimed at stemming online harassment. Institutionalist theories of social control suggest that such interventions can be efficacious if they are perceived as legitimate, whereas theories of psychological reactance suggest that users may instead ratchet up aggressive behavior in response to the sanctioning authority. In a sample of 3.6 million tweets spanning one month before and one month after Twitter’s policy change, the authors find evidence of a modest positive shift in the average sentiment of tweets with slurs targeting women and/or African Americans. The authors further illustrate this trend by tracking the network spread of specific tweets and individual users. Retweeted messages are more negative than those not forwarded. These patterns suggest that organizational “anti-abuse” policies can play a role in stemming hateful speech on social media without inflaming further abuse.

Aug 20

Recognition Reception online | Dowler wins award | Flower Grants

IMAGE OF THE WEEKRecRecscreenshot

The 2020 Department of Geography Recognition Reception website listing award winners, graduates and other notable accomplishments is here:  https://sites.psu.edu/geogrecrec20/


Graduate Seminars in geography covering physical geography, human geography, environment–society interactions, and GISciences are being offered for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. Register for fall 2020 semester by August 23.

The 2020 AAG Guide to Geography Programs in the Americas has been published and is available for free to all users at www.aag.org/guide. It also includes an interactive map of geography programs listed within the Guide, which allows users to search and filter programs by, degree type, program specialties, regional focus, and more.

This map quantifies the Sheetz versus Wawa turf war.

The virtual 2020 Esri Education Summit will be held from August 6 to 7. Registration is complimentary. For more information and to register.

The American Association of Geographers’ annual meeting will have both in-person and virtual aspects in 2021. Attendees including geographers, GIS specialists, environmental scientists, and other leaders will share and discuss the latest in research and applications in geography, sustainability, and GIScience. The meeting will be held from Wednesday, April 7 – Sunday, April 11, and will feature more than 6,900 presentations, posters, workshops, and field trips by leading scholars, experts, and researchers. September 14 is the early bird deadline.


Penn State professor receives AAG award for service to women in geography

Lorraine Dowler, Penn State professor of geography and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, is the 2020 recipient of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Feminist Geographies specialty group’s Jan Monk Service Award.

This award is named in honor of Jan Monk, a past president of AAG, and “recognizes a geographer who has made an outstanding service contribution to women in geography and/or feminist geography.”

Ecology Institute announces grant recipients

Erica Smithwick is director of the Ecology Institute and associate director of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment

The Ecology Institute has awarded 11 proposals from across the University as part of its Flower Grant program, including five projects submitted by faculty at Commonwealth Campuses.

The funds provided by the Flower Grant aim to support ecology research focused across the institute’s five core themes: resilience and adaptation; provision of ecosystem goods and services; ecology at the interface; rapid evolutionary change; and ecological foundations.


Fostering Penetrative Thinking in Geosciences Through Immersive Experiences: A Case Study in Visualizing Earthquake Locations in 3D

Mahda M. Bagher, Pejman Sajjadi, Julia Carr, Peter La Femina and Alexander Klippel
Proceedings of the 6th International Conference of the Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN 2020)
Thinking in and understanding of three-dimensional structures is omnipresent in many sciences from chemistry to geosciences. Current visualizations, however, are still using two-dimensional media such as maps or three-dimensional representations accessible through two-dimensional interfaces (e.g., desktop computers). The emergence of immersive virtual reality environments, both accessible and of high-quality, allows for creating embodied and interactive experiences that permit for rethinking learning environments and provide access to three-dimensional information through three-dimensional interfaces. However, there is a shortage of empirical studies on immersive learning environments. In response to this shortcoming, this study examines the role of immersive VR (iVR) in improving students’ learning experience and performance in terms of penetrative thinking in a critical 3D task in geosciences education: drawing cross-sections. We developed a pilot study where students were asked to draw cross-sections of the depth and geometry of earth-quakes at two subduction zones after visualizing the earthquake locations either in iVR or 2D maps on a computer. The results of our study show that iVR creates a better learning experience; students reported significantly higher scores in terms of Spatial Situation Model and there is anecdotal evidence in favor of higher reflective thinking in iVR. In terms of learning performance, we did not find a significant difference in the graded exercise of drawing cross-sections. However, iVR seems to have a positive effect on understanding the geometry of earthquake locations in a complex tectonic environment such as Japan. Our results, therefore, add to the growing body of literature that draws a more nuanced picture of the benefits of immersive learning environments calling for larger scale and in-depth studies.

A spatial analysis of COVID-19 period prevalence in US counties through June 28, 2020: Where geography matters?

Feinuo Sun, Stephen A. Matthews, Tse-ChuanYang, Ming-Hsiao Hu
Annals of Epidemiology
Purpose: This study aims to understand how spatial structures, the interconnections between counties, matter in understanding COVID-19 period prevalence across the US.
Methods: We assemble a county-level dataset that contains COVID-19 confirmed cases through June 28, 2020 and various sociodemographic measures from multiple sources. In addition to an aspatial regression model, we conduct spatial lag, spatial error, and spatial autoregressive combined models to systematically examine the role of spatial structure in shaping geographical disparities in COVID-19 period prevalence.
Results: The aspatial ordinary least squares regression model tends to overestimate the COVID-19 period prevalence among counties with low observed rates, but this issue can be effectively addressed by spatial modeling. Spatial models can better estimate the period prevalence for counties, especially along the Atlantic coasts and through the Black Belt. Overall, the model fit among counties along both coasts is generally good with little variability evident, but in the Plain states, model fit is conspicuous in its heterogeneity across counties.
Conclusions: Spatial models can help partially explain the geographic disparities in COVID-19 period prevalence. These models reveal spatial variability in model fit including identifying regions of the country where fit is heterogeneous and worth closer attention in the immediate short term.

Seed source pattern and terrain have scale-dependent effects on post-fire tree recovery

Jamie L. Peeler & Erica A. H. Smithwick
Landscape Ecology
Context: Distance to seed source is often used to estimate seed dispersal—a process needed for post-fire tree recovery. However, distance, especially in mountainous terrain, does not capture pattern or scale-dependent effects controlling seed supply and delivery. Measuring seed source pattern (area and arrangement) could provide insights on how these spatial dynamics shape recovery.
Objectives: We tested metrics and investigated how seed source pattern, tree regeneration traits, scale, and terrain interact to shape post-fire tree recovery. Our research questions were: Does seed source pattern outperform distance when modeling tree species presence and regeneration density? If yes, does seed source pattern have scale-dependent or terrain-dependent effects on regeneration density?
Methods: We measured seed source pattern at nested spatial extents around 71 plots and related measurements to local post-fire tree recovery. We used generalized linear models to test metrics and visualize scale-dependent and terrain-dependent effects on regeneration density.
Results: Distance sufficiently modeled presence, but seed source pattern outperformed distance when modeling regeneration density. Relevant spatial extents and relationships were species-dependent. For wind-dispersed species, regeneration was associated with more seed source area and more complex arrangements, but terrain mediated these relationships. For serotinous and resprouting species, regeneration was associated with less seed source area and less complex arrangements, which are consistent with high-severity burn sites that promote recovery.
Conclusions: Seed source pattern supports spatial resilience and interacts with scale and terrain to shape regeneration density. Accounting for these spatial dynamics could help steward forests facing changing fire regimes.

Informal food chains and agrobiodiversity need strengthening—not weakening—to address food security amidst the COVID-19 crisis in South America

Karl S. Zimmerer & Stef de Haan
Food Security
The COVID-19 crisis is worsening food insecurity by undermining informal food chains. We focus on impacts involving the informal food chains that incorporate the resilience-enhancing biodiversity of food and agriculture known as agrobiodiversity. Our analysis addresses how informal food chains and agrobiodiversity are impacted by policies and interventions amidst COVID-19 disruptions. Our methodology relies on research in Peru with a focus on the cites and surrounding areas of Lima, Arequipa, Cusco, Huancayo, and Huánuco. We extend these insights to similar challenges and opportunities across western South America and other word regions. We utilize the four-part Agrobiodiversity Knowledge Framework to guide our examination of agrobiodiversity-related processes that interconnect governance, nutrition, agroecology, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Our results detail three links of informal food chains that are being disrupted and yet can offer resilience. These are food retailing, logistics and transportation, and seed systems. Utilization of the Agrobiodiversity Knowledge Framework cuts through highly complex issues to elaborate key food-security difficulties facing informal systems and how they can be strengthened to provide more resilience. We identify the specific roles of agrobiodiversity in resilience-enhancing processes that need strategic policy and program support. Results identify ways to augment the resilience of informal food chains using agrobiodiversity and the empowerment of social groups and organizations in urban food systems and rural communities. We conclude that the disruptions triggered by the global COVID-19 pandemic highlight the need to use agrobiodiversity as an instrument for resilience in informal food chains.

Jul 20

From the Head | New online MS in spatial data science | VR brings field sites to students


spatial data science imageMore and more companies are using location data from devices like smartphones and tablets to gain insights into choices consumers make. As the volume and complexity of location data increases, the demand for the professionals with the technical skills to leverage these data is also increasing.

A new degree from Penn State, a master of science in spatial data science, aims to address that growing need.


Penn State Geographers Luke Trusel, Manzhu Yu, and Guido Cervone received seed funding from The Center for Security Research and Education for their project “The Arctic in Hot Water: Quantifying Maritime Transport Under Declining Sea Ice and Increasing Geopolitical Tension”

Denise Kloehr received the 2020 Department of Geography Staff Outstanding Service Award.

Hari Osofsky was quoted in the Reuters news article, “Climate battles are moving into the courtroom, and lawyers are getting creative.”

Environment America, Environment Colorado, Environment Florida, Environment Iowa and PennEnvironment are teaming up to put on a virtual climate film festival during July.  For more information and to register.

Graduate Seminars in geography covering physical geography, human geography, environment–society interactions, and GISciences are being offered for the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. Register for fall 2020 semester by August 23.


From the Head: Preparing for fall

There are tremendously geographic and spatial aspects to preparing for a back-to-campus fall at a variety of scales. There is a national and global aspect in places students are coming from when they return and what the coronavirus rates are at their summer residences. There is an almost opposite concern that international students already here who are taking all remote/online coursework may be deported by the federal government—a decision Penn State is studying and challenging.

At a different scale, the classrooms in which we teach have all changed in “size.” Rooms are set at about one-third to one-fifth normal capacity, so popular rooms such as 112 Walker Building—where we hold Coffee Hour talks and large classes—has reduced available seats from 137 to 26. (Classroom capacities are listed on the 25Live website.) In our usual departmental meeting room, 319 Walker Building, capacity shrinks from 35 to 8 people with social distancing in effect.

Yvette Richardson, associate dean; geography’s academic adviser, Jodi Vender; and the registrar set new rooms for all the in-person teaching requests in geography over the past two weeks. I’m pleased to say that 20 of our 37 fall geography courses have some in-person meetings planned (fully in-person, mixed-mode, or hybrid). Some instructors split their class into cohorts to meet with half of the student each day in a new, larger room. We were able to claim 108 Forum Building, which is large enough for the whole GEOG 220 Perspectives on Human Geography class to meet together (its usual 355-seat capacity now accommodates the 54 students with social distancing). If infection rates allow us to feel confident in having instructors and students together, we are ready to meet an uncertain fall.


Penn State launches master’s degree in spatial data science

More and more companies are using location data from devices like smartphones and tablets to gain insights into choices consumers make. As the volume and complexity of location data increases, the demand for the professionals with the technical skills to leverage these data is also increasing.

Here but still ‘there’: Using virtual-reality field trips to enrich education

Classes may have been held remotely during the previous spring semester, but Penn State faculty members found creative ways to bring field trips to their students, even when they couldn’t necessarily bring students out into the field. Two courses in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences employed virtual reality field trips last semester to continue delivering the same high degree of academic quality that Penn State is known for around the world.

“Fully immersive virtual reality, where everything is interactive, is the ideal,” said Alexander Klippel, professor of geography and director of the Center for Immersive Experiences. “But that requires special equipment that would not work in the new remote teaching environment.”


Communal Innovations: Inspiring Neighborhoods of Hope and Advocacy

Rachel A. Smith, Youllee Kim, Stephen A. Matthews, Eleanore D. Sternberg, Dimi Théodore Doudou, and Matthew B. Thomas
Journal of Health Communication
Innovations promise a better future, which may generate feelings of hope and inspire advocacy. Some innovations are more communal in nature: attempting to address a social problem, through community engagement and wide-spread adoption. For such innovations, the social processes that involve collective aspects of community life may play important roles in fostering hope and interpersonal advocacy. This study uses communication infrastructure theory and discrete emotions theory to investigate hope and advocacy within a field trial for a salient, visible, community-bound innovation to reduce transmission of malaria. Heads of households in one community (N = 119) in West Africa were interviewed. Results showed that innovation hope was predicted by appraisals of innovation attributes. Better appraisals of the innovation’s attributes, greater perceived collective efficacy, and recent malaria illness predicted more innovation advocacy. The spatial analysis showed that innovation advocacy was geographically clustered within the community, but hope was not. The implications for theory and practice are discussed.

Patch-scale selection patterns of grazing herbivores in the central basalt plains of Kruger National Park

Cyanne Young, Hervé Fritz, Erica A H Smithwick & Jan A Venter
African Journal of Range & Forage Science
DOI: 10.2989/10220119.2020.1733084
Large herbivores form an essential component in the ecosystem, because of the impact that they have on their surrounding habitat. In this study, we aimed to evaluate some of the mechanisms behind how herbivores select forage at a patch scale. Thirty-six experimental plots were established and fitted with camera traps in Kruger National Park to test forage selectivity by grazers. Plots were manipulated by clearing with a brush cutter and the application of fertiliser. We used generalised linear models to detect trends in probability of occurrence by seven grazing herbivore species using camera trap data. Our results showed that season was a major determinant of species distribution, especially those that are not obligate grazers or feed exclusively in the 0.5 km to 2 km zone from water. We found that most selective feeding occurred in the late wet season when water would be more evenly distributed across the landscape and forage resources close to water would have had the chance to recover from depletion, as a result of dry season use. This has implications for the distribution of artificial water points across the landscape, because areas of reserve forage must be maintained to alleviate grazing pressure close to water.

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