Jun 19

Academic promotions and awards | Forests and carbon | Wet CA winter yields more wildfire


Michelle Ritchie and Lee KumpMichelle Ritchie receives the George H. K. Schenck Teaching Assistant Award from Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Lee Kump at the annual Wilson Awards Banquet held this spring.


Mahda Bagher passed her Comprehensive Exam.

Phil Dennison (‘97) has been appointed chair of the Department of Geography at the University of Utah.

The following is a list of academic promotions for tenured and tenure-line faculty members at Penn State, effective July 1:

  • Guido Cervone, Lorraine Dowler, and Brian H. King, have been promoted to professor.
  • Anthony Robinson has been promoted to associate professor.

The following geographers were recognized at the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences annual Wilson Awards Banquet:

  • Erica Smithwick received the Wilson Award for Excellence in Research.
  • Alexander Klippel received the E. Willard and Ruby S. Miller Faculty Fellowship.
  • Michelle Ritchie received the George H. K. Schenck Teaching Assistant Award.
  • Andrew Patterson received the Ellen Steidle Achievement Award.
  • Joseph Grosso received EMSAGE Laureate status.


South African forests show pathways to a sustainable future

Native forests make up 1 percent of the landscape in South Africa but could play a key role in reducing atmospheric carbon and identifying sustainable development practices that can be used globally to counter climate change, according to a Penn State researcher.

“As we think about pathways for reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, one of the available approaches is to use the natural world as a sponge,” said Erica Smithwick, professor of geography and director of the Center for Landscape Dynamics at Penn State.

From the Washington Post
Wet California winter is a boon for skiers and water supply. But it brings a threat: Wildfires.

Alan Taylor is quoted

This early June morning is Boyd Shep­ler’s birthday, No. 66, and he is spending it in a classic California way: a few hours of skiing in a snowflake-filled morning, then a round of golf in the dry afternoon sun.

The snow here in the Sierra Nevada is epic, packed into a base that is more than double the historical average for early summer. Here on Mammoth Mountain, the ski lifts will be running into August. At lower altitudes, a spring of atmospheric rivers and hard rain has filled the state’s once-languishing reservoirs.


Immersive Learning in the Wild: A Progress Report

Alexander Klippel, Danielle Oprean, Jiayan Zhao, Jan Oliver Wallgrün, Peter LaFemina, Kathy Jackson, Elise Gowen
In: Beck D. et al. (eds) Immersive Learning Research Network. iLRN 2019.
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 1044)
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-23089-0_1
Immersive technologies have entered the mainstream. To establish them firmly in educational curricula requires both practical and empirical assessments that ultimately lead to best practice and design recommendations. We report on a study that contributes to both. To enrich geoscience education, we developed an immersive virtual field trip (iVFT) that we evaluated in previous small-scale studies. In order to make it accessible to larger audiences we (a) developed a version of the iVFT for mobile devices (Oculus Go); and (b) used an evolving public VR infrastructure at The Pennsylvania State University. The results of an empirical evaluation are insightful in that they show that system characteristics are only partially predicting learning experiences and that required mainstream adoption, that is, making immersive experiences mandatory for all students in a class, still has its challenges. We discuss the results and future developments.

Climate, Environment, and Disturbance History Govern Resilience of Western North American Forests

Paul F. Hessburg, Carol L. Miller, Nicholas A. Povak, Alan H. Taylor, Philip E. Higuera, Suan J. Prichard, Malcolm P. North, Brandon M. Collins, Matthew D. Hurteau, Andrew J. Larson, Craig D. Allen, Scott L. Stephens, Hiram R. Huerta, Camille S. Rumann, Lori D. Daniels, Ze’ev Gedalof, Robert W. Gray, Van R. Kane, Derek J. Churchill, R K. Hagmann, Thomas A. Spies, Sean A. Parks, C. A. Cansler, R T. Belote, Thomas T. Veblen, Michael A. Battaglia,Chad Hoffman, Carl N. Skinner and Hugh D. Safford
Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2019.00239
Resilience and resistance concepts have broad application to ecology and society. Resilience is an emergent property that reflects the amount of disruption a system can withstand before its structure or organization uncharacteristically shift. Resistance is a component of resilience. Before the advent of intensive forest management and fire suppression, western North American forests exhibited a naturally occurring resilience to wildfires and other disturbances. Using evidence from ten ecoregions, spanning forests from Canada to Mexico, we review the properties of these forests that reinforced those qualities. We show examples of multi-level landscape resilience, of feedbacks within and among levels, and how conditions have changed under climatic and management influences. We highlight geographic similarities and differences in the structure and organization of historical landscapes, their forest types, and in the conditions that have changed resilience and resistance to abrupt or large-scale disruptions. We discuss the regional climates’ role in episodically or abruptly reorganizing plant and animal biogeography, and forest resilience and resistance to disturbances. We give clear examples of these changes and suggest that managing for resilient forests is a construct that is strongly dependent on scale and social values. It involves human community adaptations that work with the ecosystems they depend on and the processes that shape them. It entails actively managing factors and exploiting mechanisms that drive dynamics at each level as means of adapting landscapes, species, and human communities to climate change, and maintaining core ecosystem functions, processes, and services. Finally, it compels us to prioritize management that incorporates ongoing disturbances and anticipated effects of climatic changes, to support dynamically shifting patchworks of forest and nonforest. Doing so will make these shifting forest conditions and wildfire regimes more gradual and less disruptive to individuals and society.

Harnessing the power of immersive virtual reality – visualization and analysis of 3D earth science data sets

Jiayan Zhao, Jan Oliver Wallgrün, Peter C. LaFemina, Jim Normandeau & Alexander Klippel
Geo-spatial Information Science
DOI: 10.1080/10095020.2019.1621544
The availability and quantity of remotely sensed and terrestrial geospatial data sets are on the rise. Historically, these data sets have been analyzed and quarried on 2D desktop computers; however, immersive technologies and specifically immersive virtual reality (iVR) allow for the integration, visualization, analysis, and exploration of these 3D geospatial data sets. iVR can deliver remote and large-scale geospatial data sets to the laboratory, providing embodied experiences of field sites across the earth and beyond. We describe a workflow for the ingestion of geospatial data sets and the development of an iVR workbench, and present the application of these for an experience of Iceland’s Thrihnukar volcano where we: (1) combined satellite imagery with terrain elevation data to create a basic reconstruction of the physical site; (2) used terrestrial LiDAR data to provide a geo-referenced point cloud model of the magmatic-volcanic system, as well as the LiDAR intensity values for the identification of rock types; and (3) used Structure-from-Motion (SfM) to construct a photorealistic point cloud of the inside volcano. The workbench provides tools for the direct manipulation of the georeferenced data sets, including scaling, rotation, and translation, and a suite of geometric measurement tools, including length, area, and volume. Future developments will be inspired by an ongoing user study that formally evaluates the workbench’s mature components in the context of fieldwork and analyses activities.

Jun 19

Tea Time | Climate change research | Alumni news


color wheel cheesecake

Cindy Brewer gave a Tea Talk on “Systematizing Cartographic Design” on May 9 at the University of Oregon, Department of Geography, hosted by alumni Carolyn Fish (’08,’18g) and Bill Limpisathian (’15,’17g). As part of the refreshments, a color wheel cheesecake was served.


Rachel Passmore (’14) graduated last month from Columbia University with her Master of Public Health (MPH) degree. She is the incoming Project Director for a two-year NIH funded study on developmental disabilities in the Bronx at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Captain Katherine Meckler (’14), USAF,  is the winner of the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Award in Geospatial Intelligence.

The Centre County Planning & Community Development Office is seeking applicants for a position of Senior Planner 1 – Agricultural Preservation Coordinator.

Marie Louise Ryan received the Society of Woman Geographers Evelyn L. Pruitt National Fellowship for Dissertation Research.


Marching for climate change may sway people’s beliefs and actions

Americans have a long tradition of taking to the streets to protest or to advocate for things they believe in. New research suggests that when it comes to climate change, these marches may indeed have a positive effect on the public.

Eastern forests shaped more by Native Americans’ burning than climate change

Native Americans’ use of fire to manage vegetation in what is now the Eastern United States was more profound than previously believed, according to a Penn State researcher who determined that forest composition change in the region was caused more by land use than climate change.


Carbon stocks and biodiversity of coastal lowland forests in South Africa: implications for aligning sustainable development and carbon mitigation initiatives

Erica A.H. Smithwick
Carbon Management
DOI: 10.1080/17583004.2019.1620035
Indigenous forests represent South Africa’s smallest biome, yet they are critical spaces for aligning sustainable development goals with carbon mitigation activities and conservation. The objectives of this study were to quantify the productivity and biodiversity of coastal lowland forests in the Dwesa Cwebe nature reserve in the Eastern Cape Province and characterize how estimates differed among alternative allometric equations. Using a complete tree census across six plots in the reserve, a total of 1489 trees were inventoried in 2011 and again in 2016. Aboveground tree carbon averaged 99.8 Mg C ha−1 (range 77.2–126.9 Mg C ha−1) using locally derived equations and 214.6 Mg C ha−1 using generalized equations. Tree aboveground net primary productivity averaged 1041.8 g C m−2 y−1. Forty-eight tree species were identified, including many species important to the livelihoods of local communities for medicinal, ceremonial, and other provisioning services. Overall, this study shows that current conservation activities are concomitant with high tree productivity and high levels of C stocks and biodiversity, including species of local and regional significance. Sustaining forest productivity and biodiversity in the future will be critical for maintaining ecosystem services and enhancing stewardship of forest resources in the region.

2000 years of North Atlantic-Arctic climate

Jeffrey D. Auger, Paul A. Mayewski, Kirk A. Maasch, Keah C. Schuenemann, Andrew M. Carleton,
Sean D. Birkel, Jasmine E. Saros
Quaternary Science Reviews
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.05.020
The North Atlantic-Arctic boundary is highly variable due to the transports of heat and moisture through the Gulf Stream and polar jet stream. The North Atlantic storm track generally follows the Gulf Stream and terminates near southeast Greenland and Iceland as the Icelandic Low. The Icelandic Low is the main driver of the North Atlantic Oscillation, particularly during winter months as the baroclinic zone expands to lower latitudes, correlating with temperature and precipitation in many areas around the North Atlantic. Understanding how atmospheric circulation, temperature, and precipitation changes in this region is important to build robust projections of how these variables will change, especially under natural and anthropogenic forcings. Here, climate proxies correlating to the Icelandic Low, summer air temperature, and annual precipitation build an understanding of how these variables changed over the last 2000 years. Through the natural climate shifts of this period — Roman Warm Period, Dark Ages Cold Period, Medieval Climate Anomaly, and Little Ice Age — it is shown that storm frequency decreases as temperature increases and the Icelandic Low increases in pressure (i.e., becomes weaker). However, these climate changes are not simultaneous, and their amplitudes are not similar across the region. Keeping regionality rather than a pan-Arctic average better explains natural variability of each sub-region and how each sub-region has evolved climatically due to anthropogenic forcings of greenhouse gases.

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