Coffee Hour with Marla Lugo Perez and Cecilio Ortiz Garcia | Helping Arctic communities | Climate conference


Sunset in Lassen Volcanic National Park

August sunset near Penn State geography field team (Lucas Harris, Sam Black, Alex Nawn, Alan Taylor) campsite in Lassen Volcanic National Park, California. Photo: Alan Taylor.


Plan to attend the Geography Fall Welcome Picnic on September 14. For more information and to RSVP go to:

Jennifer Baka was appointed to the Environmental Justice Advisory Board for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) starting in January 2020.


Coffee Hour with Marla Lugo Perez and Cecilio Ortiz Garcia

Understanding Hurricane Maria: Disaster Response as Transition Management

The generalized claims about the inadequacies of the governmental response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, at both the local and federal levels, highlight a simple but often overlooked fact: disasters do not occur in a vacuum, neither societies that experience them are “blank canvases” or “clean slates” from which the reconstruction starts from scratch. From macro level abstractions such as the governance limbo brought by PROMESA, to the very concrete experience of uncommunicated communities that were required by the FederalEmergency Management Agency (FEMA) to file claims online, disaster response and recovery in Puerto Rico reveals the multilevel complexities of disasters that transcend the organizational misalignments often documented in the disaster literature. We suggests that disaster response still suffers, to this day, from a myopic view of disasters. Disasters are still being treated as discrete events to which societal institutions must respond to and recover from by reinstating equilibrium, often understood as pre-event conditions. We propose that disaster response and recovery should be understood as transition management tools to reach a new resilient and more sustainable state. Models such as the multilevel perspective (MLP) and the sustainable transitions often used to examine socio-technical and socio-ecological transformations, can help us better understand the alignment or misalignment of preparedness, response,recovery and mitigation related policies and activities. These models can also help us visualize much needed policy interventions that mitigate vulnerabilities and decrease disaster. In fact, this paradigmatic change invites us to redefine the very concepts of vulnerability and resilience understanding the value judgments that these often carry.

  • Friday, September 13, 2019
  • Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m.
  • Lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m.


Helping Alaskan coastal communities adjust to global warming

Bronwen Powell is on the team

Alaskan coastal Indigenous communities are facing severe environmental changes that threaten to irrevocably damage their way of life. A $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will allow Penn State researchers to assist local communities with foreseeable environmental challenges and work towards building more resilient communities.

The project, “Pursuing Opportunities for Long-term Arctic Resilience for Infrastructure and Society,” or POLARIS, is funded through NSF’s new “Navigating the New Arctic” program, which will establish a network of platforms and tools across the Arctic to document and understand the Arctic’s rapid biological, physical, chemical and social changes.

Climate conference to feature Penn State researchers Sept. 16-18

Erica Smithwick is participating

More than 20 Penn State researchers are participating in the upcoming climate solutions conference Research to Action: The Science of Drawdown. Overall, more than 70 speakers will be presenting at the event, which will take place Sept. 16-18 at the Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center.


Visualizing Natural Environments from Data in Virtual Reality: Combining Realism and Uncertainty

J. Huang, M. S. Lucash, M. B. Simpson, C. Helgeson and A. Klippel
2019 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces (VR), Osaka, Japan, 2019
doi: 10.1109/VR.2019.8797996
Understanding complex scientific data visualizations in 2D can be challenging. Virtual Reality (VR) provides an alternative, combining realistic 3D representations with intuitive, natural interactions with data through embodied experiences. However, realistic 3D representations and associated immersive experiences are prone to misrepresentations as they are selectively representative and often leave little room for abstraction. This is particularly challenging for topics such as modeling natural environments where users value realism. We discuss the causes and categories of potential misrepresentations in VR with a particular focus on scientific visualization. We contextualize our discussion by presenting an application prototype that translates ecological model output data into a high-fidelity VR experience that allows users to walk through forests of the future. We also designed and implemented two methods to display uncertainties in high-fidelity VR environments: A multi-scenarios approach to provide users access to alternative scenarios, and a slide-and-show approach to view the environment within the confidence interval.

Visualizing Ecological Data in Virtual Reality

J. Huang, M. S. Lucash, R. M. Scheller and A. Klippel
2019 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces (VR), Osaka, Japan, 2019
doi: 10.1109/VR.2019.8797771
Visualizing complex scientific data and models in 2D can be challenging. The result can be hard to interpret and understand for the general audience, and the model accuracy hard to evaluate even for the experts. To address these problems, we created a workflow that translates data of an ecological model, LANDIS-II, into a high-fidelity 3D model in virtual reality (VR). We combined ecological modeling, analytical modeling, procedural modeling, and VR, to allow users to experience a forest in northern Wisconsin (WI), United States, under two climate scenarios. Users can explore and interact with the forest under different climate scenarios, explore the impacts of climate change on different tree species, and retrieve information from a 3D tree database. The VR application can be used as an educational tool for the general public, and as a model checking tool by researchers.

Warping Space and Time-Reviving Educational Tools of the 19th Century

A. Klippel, J. O. Wallgrün, A. Masrur, J. Zhao and P. LaFemina
2019 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces (VR), Osaka, Japan, 2019
doi: 10.1109/VR.2019.8797897
xR has the potential to warp both space and time. We demonstrate this potential by designing a mixed reality application for mobile devices for the Penn State’s Obelisk, a historic landmark on the main Penn State campus that artistically reveals the geological history of Pennsylvania. Our AR application allows for placing a model of the Obelisk on any surface, interacting with the individual stones to reveal their geological characteristics and location of excavation, and changing to an immersive VR experience of this location based on 360° imagery. Originally conceptualized as a teaching tool for the School of Mines, our xR application revives the Obelisk’s long forgotten mission and allows educators to integrate it once more into the curriculum as well as creatively expand its potential.

Research Framework for Immersive Virtual Field Trips

A. Klippel, J. Zhao, D. Oprean, J. O. Wallgrün and J. S. Chang
2019 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces (VR), Osaka, Japan, 2019
doi: 10.1109/VR.2019.8798153
Virtual field trips have been thought of and implemented for several decades. For the most part, these field trips were delivered through desktop computers and often as interactive but strictly two-dimensional experiences. The advent of immersive technologies for both creating content and experiencing places in three dimensions provides ample opportunities to move beyond the restrictions of two dimensional media. We propose here a framework we developed to assess immersive learning experiences, specifically immersive virtual field trips (iVFTs). We detail the foundations and provide insights into associated empirical evaluations.

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