Jul 15

Lt. Michael P. Murphy Award | Graduate seminars | Recently published research


KrassyawardpresentGEOINT2015Lt. Michael P. Murphy Award
From left to right: Todd Bacastow, Penn State; Geoffrey Krassy, 2015 Lt. Michael P. Murphy Award Winner; David Alexander, Department of Homeland Security; and Jim Stokes, DigitalGlobe, at the 2015 GEOINT Symposium held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 2015. See full story in this issue. Photo by Erin Long.


  • Sterling Quinn has received the individual GeoForAll: Global Educator of the Year Award for his course “Open Web Mapping.” The awards were announced at the FOSS4G 2015—Europe “Open Innovation for Europe” conference in Como, Italy.
  • Welcome Jia-Ching Chen as an assistant professor of geography. He started on July 1, 2015.
  • Welcome to Melissa Fischer (call her Missy) our new undergraduate administrative assistant. She started on July 15, 2015.


Krassy honored with Lt. Michael P. Murphy Award
Geoffrey D. Krassy was recently honored as the 2015 recipient of the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Award. He was recognized at the GEOINT 2015 Symposium, held June 22–25 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Krassy graduated in December 2014 with a master’s degree in homeland security, geospatial intelligence option, through Penn State World Campus.

Fall (and spring) graduate seminars announced
Graduate students may now register for fall graduate seminars on a variety of topics across all four subfields of geography and also get a sneak peak at spring seminars. “We want to inspire our students to plan their academic year more efficiently,” said Alex Klippel, “so all the seminar information for the year is in one place.” The page will be updated as details are confirmed.

New “Geography Community Resources,” a digital handbook for new students, faculty, and staff, now available online.
The department community handbook has been converted to a digital publication and now resides online. It can be accessed directly by this URL: http://sites.psu.edu/geogcommunity/ or from a link on the department website. The handbook includes useful information for all newcomers on topics including:

  • Facilities and equipment usage
  • Emergency procedures
  • Computing and IT
  • Office supplies and services

If you are a returning community member, please review the information in the handbook and share it with newcomers you advise.


  • Retchless, D. P. and Brewer, C. A. (2015), “Guidance for representing uncertainty on global temperature change maps.” Int. J. Climatology. doi: 10.1002/joc.4408
    Uncertainty in the spatial distribution of projected climate changes can be represented along with the magnitudes of those changes using coincident-bivariate maps. While these maps are popular in climate change assessment reports, limited empirical research has tested which combinations of colour (including variation in the visual variables of hue, lightness, and saturation) and pattern (including variation in the visual variables of size, shape, spacing, orientation, and arrangement) are best suited to mapping projected changes coincident with uncertainty. We evaluate eight coincident-bivariate techniques for mapping global temperature (CMIP5 ensemble using RCP8.5 and RCP4.5 scenarios) and its uncertainty, each using 20-classes: five temperature change classes combined with four uncertainty classes.
  • Harris, Lucas and Taylor, Alan H. (2015) “Topography, Fuels, and Fire Exclusion Drive Fire Severity of the Rim Fire in an Old-Growth Mixed-Conifer Forest, Yosemite National Park, USA.” Ecosystems. doi: 10.1007/s10021-015-9890-9
    The number of large, high-severity fires has increased in the western United States over the past 30 years due to climate change and increasing tree density from fire suppression. Fuel quantity, topography, and weather during a burn control fire severity, and the relative contributions of these controls in mixed-severity fires in mountainous terrain are poorly understood. In 2013, the Rim Fire burned a previously studied 2125 ha area of mixed-conifer forest in Yosemite National Park.
  • Klippel, A., Mark, D. M., Wallgrün, J. O., & Stea, D. (2015). Conceptualizing landscapes: A comparative study of landscape categories with Navajo and English-speaking participants. In S. I. Fabrikant, M. Raubal, M. Bertolotto, C. Davies, S. M. Freundschuh, & S. Bell (Eds.), Proceedings, Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT 2015), Santa Fe, NM, USA, Oct. 12-16, 2015 . Berlin: Springer.
    Understanding human concepts, spatial and other, is not only one of the most prominent topics in the cognitive and spatial sciences; it is also one of the most challenging. While it is possible to focus on specific aspects of our spatial environment and abstract away complexities for experimental purposes, it is important to understand how cognition in the wild or at least with complex stimuli works, too. The research presented in this paper addresses emerging topics in the area of landscape conceptualization and explicitly uses a diversity fostering approach to uncover potentials, challenges, complexities, and pat-terns in human landscape concepts. Based on a representation of different landscapes (images) responses from two different populations were elicited: Navajo and the (US) crowd. Our data provides support for the idea of concep-tual pluralism; we can confirm that participant responses are far from random and that, also diverse, patterns exist that allow for advancing our understanding of human spatial cognition with complex stimuli.
    pdf: http://cognitivegiscience.psu.edu/pdfs/klippel2015conceptualizing.pdf
  • Sparks, K., Klippel, A., Wallgrün, J. O., & Mark, D. M. (2015). Citizen science land cover classification based on ground and aerial imagery. In S. I. Fabrikant, M. Raubal, M. Bertolotto, C. Davies, S. M. Freundschuh, & S. Bell (Eds.), Proceedings, Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT 2015), Santa Fe, NM, USA, Oct. 12-16, 2015 . Berlin: Springer.
    If citizen science is to be used in the context of environmental research, there needs to be a rigorous evaluation of humans’ cognitive ability to interpret and classify environmental features. This research, with a focus on land cover, explores the extent to which citizen science can be used to sense and measure the environment and contribute to the creation and validation of environmental data. We examine methodological differences and humans’ ability to classify land cover given different information sources: a ground-based photo of a landscape versus a ground and aerial based photo of the same location. Participants are solicited from the online crowdsourcing platform Amazon Mechanical Turk. Results suggest that across methods and in both ground-based, and ground and aerial based experiments, there are similar patterns of agreement and disagreement among participants across land cover classes. Understanding these patterns is critical to form a solid basis for using humans as sensors in earth observation.
    pdf: http://cognitivegiscience.psu.edu/pdfs/sparks2015citizen.pdf
  • Klippel, A., Sparks, K., & Wallgrün, J. O. (2015). Pitfalls and potentials of crowd science: A meta analysis of contextual influences. ISPRS Annals of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences.
    Crowd science is becoming an integral part of research in many disciplines. The research discussed in this paper lies at the intersection of spatial and behavioral sciences, two of the greatest beneficiaries of crowd science. As a young methodological development, crowd science needs attention from the perspective of a rigorous evaluation of the data collected to explore potentials as well as limitations (pitfalls). Our research has addressed a variety of contextual effects on the validity of crowdsourced data such as cultural, linguistic, regional, as well as methodological differences that we will discuss here in light of semantics.
    pdf: http://cognitivegiscience.psu.edu/pdfs/klippel2015pitfalls.pdf

Jul 15

Contrails, forest fires in the news | Geospatial excellence | COIL grants | First look at fall events


St. Lucia rainbow - BrooksRDoG

A beautiful rainbow appears to descend into the ocean surrounding St. Lucia, a sovereign island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea on the boundary with the Atlantic Ocean. Send photos from your summer travels to geography@psu.edu. Photo by Rob Brooks.


Doug Miller has been promoted to Senior Scientist.

Kathy Cappelli, undergraduate student with dual majors in geography and journalism, has accepted an internship with Penn State Strategic Communications.

Alumnus Rob Roth (Ph.D. ’11) has an article in Cartographic, Vol. 50, No.2, summer 2015.


Jet contrails affect surface temperatures
High in the sky where the cirrus ice crystal clouds form, jet contrails draw their crisscross patterns. Now researchers have found that these elevated ice cloud trails can influence temperatures on the ground and affect local climate, according to a team of Penn State geographers.

“Research done regarding September 2001, during the three days (following 9-11) when no commercial jets were in the sky, suggested that contrails had an effect,” said Andrew M. Carleton, professor of geography. “But that was only three days. We needed to look longer, while jets were in the air, to determine the real impact of contrails on temperature and in terms of climate.”

 Additional news coverage of this story

Yosemite forest fire example of possible things to come
Forest composition, ground cover and topography are the best predictors of forest fire severity in the Western U.S., according to Penn State physical geographers who also see that the long history of fire exclusion on federal lands leads to uncharacteristically severe burns and potentially changes the dynamics of forests and their recovery.

A hunter’s illegal campfire in Stanislaus National Forest adjacent to Yosemite National Park started what would become the Rim fire, the third largest fire in California history, that burned from August through October 2013. The fire burned about 400 square miles inside and outside Yosemite, with 78 square miles burned on the worst day.

“We would never be able to do an experiment on this, never be able to burn the forest in this way, so this natural experiment is a perfect opportunity to see what happens,” said Alan H. Taylor, professor of geography.

Penn State selected as Center of Academic Excellence in Geospatial Sciences
Penn State was one of a select group of U.S. educational institutions to be named a Center of Academic Excellence in Geospatial Sciences (CAE GS) by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in partnership with the United States Geological Survey (USGS). This recognition cements Penn State’s reputation as a leading provider of geospatial science education, which includes mapmaking, spatial data analysis, visual analytics, remote sensing, geospatial intelligence, homeland security and geographic information systems (GIS). The selected institutions were acknowledged in a ceremony at the 2015 United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) GEOINT Symposium, June 22, at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.

Penn State researchers awarded funding for online learning innovations
Penn State’s Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL) has announced it will fund seven new projects through its Research Initiation Grant program.

The goal of the grant program is to provide seed money for Penn State researchers to gather preliminary evidence in the hope of pursuing external funding for larger studies that enhance teaching and learning through online innovation.

Recently (or soon to be) published

Wu J., Tschakert P., Klutse E., Ferring D., Ricciardi V., Hausermann H., Oppong J., Smithwick E. A. H. (2015) Buruli Ulcer Disease and Its Association with Land Cover in Southwestern Ghana. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 9(6): e0003840. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0003840
Buruli ulcer (BU), one of 17 neglected tropical diseases, is a debilitating skin and soft tissue infection caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans. In tropical Africa, changes in land use and proximity to water have been associated with the disease. This study presents the first analysis of BU at the village level in southwestern Ghana, where prevalence rates are among the highest globally, and explores fine and medium-scale associations with land cover by comparing patterns both within BU clusters and surrounding landscapes.

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