Jan 20

Coffee Hour with Arturo Izurieta | VR usability testing | Solar Farm FEW


VR usability testing

Jiayan Zhao gives instructions to usability testing assistant Yu Zhong, an undergraduate student in the Department of Geography. See the feature story In virtual reality, real problems remain to be resolved. Image: Penn State


The Summer 2019 GEOGRAPH is now available online in downloadable and accessible formats.

Mark Simpson successfully defended his dissertation.

Welcome to Michael Cole, the new department work-study. Cole is a third year student who attended Penn State Abington for two years. Cole is also majoring in Geography.

Welcome to Sarah Gergel, from the University of British Columbia, who will be with us this semester. Her visit is hosted through the Ecology Institute and sponsored by the Huck Sabbatical Fellowship program.

Congratulations to departments of Geography and Material Science and Engineering for having the most Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) make donations on Giving Tuesday.


Arturo Izurieta

Working on an old question: “How many visitors can the Galapagos hold? Finding a sustainable model”

The visitation to natural wonders like the Galapagos Islands poses questions towards its sustainability (natural, social and economic). After a short journey towards the concepts of sustainability and sustainable development and identifying two clear models of influx of tourists to the islands, it is clear the uniqueness of the Galapagos Islands faces the pressures from the increasing number of tourists. Tourism in the Galapagos started in the late 60s and since then, the number of tourists have been growing without thoughtful planning, impacting the dynamics of the so-called Galapagos socio-ecosystem. Should we allow more tourists come to the islands, and if so, what are the possible consequences and effects on the natural capital that attracts the visitors and maintains 30,000 inhabitants in the islands?


In virtual reality, real problems remain to be resolved

Virtual reality is becoming more widespread in gaming, shopping, research, education and training, but is not a perfect match to the real world. Discrepancies create usability problems with accessing virtual tools, or getting distracted, confused, lost or cybersick. Jiayan Zhao, a doctoral student in the Department of Geography in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences and a developer at the Center for Immersive Experiences, is conducting experiments to reduce usability problems and improve the user’s virtual experience.

Student and faculty researchers explore food-energy-water system at solar farm

From the edge of the farm, the completed solar arrays and those under construction seemed to never end. In reality, they occupied only a small area of Pennsylvania land in rural Franklin County, but the arrays possessed a much larger potential, which a group of Penn State faculty and graduate students had traveled two hours to see.

Video: Firescapes in the Mid Atlantic

Wildfires in the Western U.S. dominate the news, but forests in the Mid-Atlantic are just as vulnerable. In this research project, PI Erica Smithwick’s team has been investigating the social barriers and facilitators that influence prescribed fire implementation. The purpose of the video is to provide an educational tool that managers can use when working with communities in their discussions about fire management.

Penn State releases updated strategic plan and resources for unit planning

Institutes of Energy and the Environment and Center for Immersive experiences named among signature initiatives


Spatial Analysis

Matthews, S. A.
in SAGE Research Methods Foundations
doi: 10.4135/9781526421036832531
Rapid advances in the availability of spatial data, new measures, and methods of analysis have generated interest in spatial analysis beyond the traditional academic boundaries of geography and statistics. This uptick in interest is in part driven by a recognition that many contemporary problems are multifaceted and inherently spatial. This entry begins with a focus on fundamental spatial concepts such as location, distance, scale, and dependence to introduce the complexities of working with spatial data. Spatial data are special, most notably that observations in spatial data sets are rarely random and independent of each other, and as such conventional statistical approaches may be inappropriate. Two broad classes of spatial effects—spatial dependence and nonstationarity—have motivated key developments in spatial analysis and the focus here is on methods that promote a better understanding of these effects, spatial econometric and geographically weighted regression models, respectively. Selected emerging methods and themes relating to spatial data and methods are briefly discussed.

Jan 20

Spring Coffee Hour speakers announced | ICDS seed grants | EarthTalks series


Powell, Bronwen, Morroco.

A photo taken on the last day of field work, December 6, 2019, for a project that Bronwen Powell (pictured) and Abderrahim Ouarghidi were working on looking at the impact of irrigation technology change on diet, women’s workloads, and biodiversity in Morocco. It was only in this highest elevation village (Oukaimeden, which is over 2,600m) that there was snow, most of the other lower-elevation villages were just cold and rainy. Photo: Abderrahim Ouarghidi


Doug Miller is on the team that recently won at the TechCelerator pitch competition hosted by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Central and Northern Pennsylvania. The team was awarded a $10,000 investment for their fledgling enterprise, RealForests.

Mahda Bagher passed her proposal defense on January 15.


The first Coffee Hour lecture for spring 2020 will be January 31. Arturo Izurieta, executive director of the Charles Darwin Foundation, will give a talk on Working on an old question “How many visitors can the Galapagos hold? Finding a sustainable model”


Spring speakers for Coffee Hour lecture series announced

The Department of Geography Coffee Hour lecture series resumes on Friday afternoons beginning Jan. 31 through April 24 for the spring 2020 semester on Penn State’s University Park campus.

Institute for Computational and Data Sciences accepting seed grant applications

The Institute for Computational and Data Sciences (ICDS) is accepting applications for its 2020-21 seed grant program that will help fund projects that leverage Penn State expertise to help advance computation- and data-enabled research. Applications will be accepted now through Feb. 3 and awardees will be announced at the 2020 ICDS Symposium, which will be held March 16 and 17.

Spring 2020 EarthTalks series presents science toward solutions

Society faces increasingly complex problems as the world population grows and makes larger demands of the planet’s finite resources. The spring 2020 EarthTalks series, “Societal Problems, EESI Science towards Solutions,” features scientists from Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) and explores the human impacts on the global environment and how to apply this knowledge to decision-making.


Immersive Virtual Field Trips Reader

Alexander Klippel
A compilation of eight research articles on virtual field trips by members of the ChoroPhronesis lab and Center for Immersive Experiences

Wives influence climate change mitigation behaviours in married-couple households: insights from Taiwan

Li-San Hung and Mucahid M. Bayrak
Environmental Research Letters
Mitigating climate change requires collective action of various sectors and on multiple scales, including individual behavioural changes among citizens. Although numerous studies have examined factors that influence individuals’ mitigation behaviours, much less attention has been given to interpersonal influence. Children have been suggested to influence parents’ climate change concerns; however, how the interactions between couples—typically the primary decision-makers in married-couple households—influence each other’s climate change concerns has seldom been discussed. In this study, we surveyed married heterosexual couples to investigate the interdependency of husbands’ and wives’ motivations for behavioural change to mitigate climate change. We found that wives’ psychological constructs, including climate change risk perception, self-efficacy, and gender role attitudes, demonstrated stronger effects on their husbands’ motivation than did husbands’ own constructs on their own motivation, whereas husbands’ psychological constructs did not influence their wives’ motivation. Our results suggest the importance of wives’ role in motivating household climate change mitigation behaviours.

Jan 20

Visiting scholar | CIE updates | Spring UROC projects


heron and photographer

A split photo of subject and photographers from Professor Emeritus Rob Brooks. “Becky took the image of Fenway and me as I took the Green-backed heron photo (in Maine),” Brooks said.


Mark Simpson will participate in a roundtable session on “Using Virtual Reality for Research and Teaching” 11:30 a.m. to noon on Thursday, January 16, in 221 Chambers Building, hosted by the College of Education Technology Committee.

The Center for Climate Risk Management (CLIMA) will hold a seminar on “A nonstationary and non-Gaussian moving average model for solar irradiance downscaling,” 4 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, January 16 in 117 Earth and Engineering Sciences Building with Wenqi Zhang, University of Colorado, Boulder.

The National Park Service is hosting paid internship opportunities in the Bozeman,Montana office this summer. The intern will help gather information to support a water resources climate adaptation workshop for fisheries, hydrology and water quality in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Information about eligibility, application process, and the project.

Carol Bouchard, who received her bachelor’s degree in geography in 1987, got married in October 2019. Her husband Glen works in Las Cruces, New Mexico, while she is caring for her dad full time on Cape Cod. “Penn State gave me the proverbial golden foot in the door when I entered on duty at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (and its predecessor organizations) back in 1989,” Bouchard said.”I retired after a wonderful 30-year career, having visited 135 UN countries.”

Matthew Popek, who earned his bachelor of science in geography in 2009, received his American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) certification during the Fall 2019 cycle.

Supporting Women in Geography (SWIG) surpassed its goal for the 2019 Centre Safe Holiday Sponsorship. SWIG collected $350 ($100 more than the original goal) to spend on the sponsored family, a mother and two teen children.

The Penn State Center for Security Research and Education (CSRE) has announced its spring 2020 grant program to support security-related scholarship and educational programs at Penn State. University faculty and researchers are eligible to apply by Feb. 14, 2020. For the first time, CSRE will offer a $50,000 Impact Grant, a $50,000 Homeland Security Grant, and open-topic grants with maximum awards of $15,000. Applications should be submitted online.

The Thinking Within Symposium will he held March 28, 2020 at the Penn State Pattee Library, University Park campus, Pa.

Mei-Huan Chen and Zachary Goldberg have been selected as new grad reps for the term ending in December 2020. They will be joining current reps Ruchi Patel and Connor Chapman.

Peter Backhaus has been certified as a Wetland Professional in Training (WPIT) by the Society of Wetlands Scientists Professional Certification Program.


The first Coffee Hour lecture for spring 2020 will be January 31. Arturo Izurieta, executive director of the Charles Darwin Foundation, will give a talk on Working on an old question “How many visitors can the Galapagos hold? Finding a sustainable model”


Visiting South African scholar wants to rehabilitate old mines

Is there a way to turn waste into a useful resource and at the same time reduce environmental degradation from closed mines? That’s what visiting South African scholar Nemapate Ndivhuwo wants to find out.

Ndivhuwo visited Penn State during fall semester 2019 from the University of Venda, in Limpopo Province, South Africa, as part of its University Capacity Development Programme.

Penn State’s new Center for Immersive Experiences makes dreams a virtual reality

Have you ever dreamed of traveling to a remote, ancient village in Europe, but never had the time or money? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to perform lung surgery without ever setting foot in a hospital?

With Penn State’s new Center for Immersive Experiences, those experiences are becoming a virtual reality for students and faculty of all disciplines.

Alex Klippel directs the center, located in Pattee Library, which staffs a team of nine developers and five-10 student support workers. Together, they provide technology and learning tools to experience and create virtual reality, augmented reality and 360-degree video.

Related coverage:

UROC for spring 2020

The Department of Geography’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Connection (UROC) program allows undergraduate students to gain valuable research experience and technical skills through collaboration on projects within the department and supervised by faculty and/or graduate students, as well as 1-3 credit hours to apply towards graduation (GEOG 494). This is a valuable resume-building experience for undergraduate students and can be beneficial for both future employment and graduate school.

The following projects have openings for Spring 2020:

  • Project SP20a: Mapping post-fire tree cover using object-based image analysis
  • Project SP20b: The Lived Experience of Environmental Change: Centre County Snapshots
  • Project SP20c: Mapping irrigation districts in Tolima, Colombia


Growing Season Synoptic and Phenological Controls on Heat Fluxes over Forest and Cropland Sites in the Midwest U.S. Corn Belt

Hiestand, M.P. and A.M. Carleton
Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology
Spatial variations in land use/land cover (LULC) in the Midwest U.S. Corn Belt — specifically, deciduous forest and croplands—have been suggested as influencing convective rainfall through mesoscale circulations generated in the atmosphere’s boundary layer. However, the contributing role of latent and sensible heat fluxes for these two LULC types, and their modulation by synoptic weather systems, have not been determined. This study compares afternoon averages of convective fluxes at two AmeriFlux towers in relation to manually-determined synoptic pressure patterns covering the nine growing seasons (1 May to 30 September) of 1999-2007. AmeriFlux tower US-Bo1 in eastern Illinois represents agricultural land use —alternating between maize and soybean crops—and AmeriFlux tower US-MMS in south-central Indiana represents deciduous forest cover. Phenologically, the latent and sensible heat fluxes vary inversely across the growing season, and the greatest flux differences between cropland and deciduous forest occur early in the season. Differences in the surface heat fluxes between crop and forest LULC types vary in magnitude according to synoptic type. Moreover, statistically significant differences in latent and sensible heat between the forest and cropland sites occur for the most frequently-occurring synoptic pattern of a low-pressure system to the west and high pressure to the east of the Corn Belt. The present study lays the groundwork for determining the physical mechanisms of enhanced convection in the Corn Belt, including how LULC-induced meso-scale circulations might interact with synoptic weather patterns to enhance convective rainfall.

Reorganization of atmospheric circulation between 1400-1700 CE as recorded in a South Pole ice core

Elena V. Korotkikh, Paul A. Mayewski, Andrei V. Kurbatov1, Daniel A. Dixon, Andrew M. Carleton, Kirk A. Maasch, Jefferson C. Simões, Michael J. Handley, Sharon B. Sneed, Douglas Intron
Earth and Space Science Open Archive
Here we present an ~2000 year high-resolution glacio chemical record from the South Pole. Significant changes in chemical concentrations, accumulation rate, stable water isotopes and deuterium excess records are captured during the period ~1400-1700 CE, indicating a reorganization of atmospheric circulation that occurred in two steps: ~1400-1425 CE and ~1650-271700 CE. Major declines in dust and SO42-concentrations are observed ~1400 CE suggesting poleward contraction of the southern circumpolar vortex and potential intensification of westerly air flow, accompanied by a sea ice decrease in the Weddell Sea and potentially also in the Indian sector of the Southern Ocean. The changes in stable water isotopes, deuterium excess,NO3-31concentration and accumulation rate characterize a second shift in atmospheric reorganization between 1650-1700 CE,reflecting increased marine air mass intrusions and subsequent reduction of the katabatic winds, and a shift to a colder moisture source for South Pole precipitation. These internally consistent changes involving atmospheric circulations and sea ice conditions are also in line with those identified for the recent period, and include associations with the large-scale teleconnections of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Southern Annular Mode (SAM).

The landscape-scale drivers of herbivore assemblage distribution on the central basalt plains of Kruger National Park

Young, C., Fritz, H., Smithwick, E., & Venter, J.
Journal of Tropical Ecology
The distribution and abundance of herbivores in African savannas are constrained by interactions between abiotic and biotic factors. At the species-level, herbivores face trade-offs among foraging requirements, vegetation structure and the availability of surface water that change over spatial and temporal scales. Characterizing herbivore requirements is necessary for the management of the environment in which they occur, as conservation management interventions such as fencing and artificial water provision consequently have effects on how herbivores address these trade-offs. We tested the effects of environmental attributes on the probability of presence of herbivore functional types at different distances to water in the Satara section of Kruger National Park over the period of a year. Hypotheses about species’ relative distribution and abundance were developed through a literature review of forage and water availability constraints on feeding preference and body size of herbivore. We expected strong seasonal relationships between vegetation biomass and quality, and biomass of water-dependent herbivores with increasing distance to water. Our analyses of herbivore distribution across the region confirmed broad-scale descriptions of interactions between forage requirements and water availability across a set of species which differ in functional traits.

The value of being there: toward a science of immersive virtual field trips

Klippel, A., Zhao, J., Oprean, D. et al.
Virtual Reality
With immersive experiences becoming a medium for mass communication, we need pedagogies as well as scientific, evidence-based design principles for immersive learning. To foster evidence-based designs of immersive learning, we detail an empirical evaluation of a geosciences field trip, common in undergraduate education across numerous disciplines. The study builds on a previously proposed research framework in which we detailed a basic taxonomy of virtual field trips distinguishing between basic, plus, and advanced immersive virtual field trip experiences. The experiment reported here expands the original evaluation of basic field trips into the realm of plus versions using pseudo-aerial 360∘ imagery to provide embodied experiences that are not possible during the actual field trip. We also refined our original experimental design placing a stronger focus on the qualitative feedback elicited from the students. Results show an overwhelmingly positive response of students to virtual field trips with significantly higher-valued learning experience and enjoyment. Furthermore, the introduction of pseudo-aerial imagery (together with higher image resolution) shows a significant improvement in the participants spatial situation model. As contextualizing and spatially grounding is essential for place-based learning experiences, plus versions of virtual field trips have the potential to add value to the learning outcome and immersive virtual field trip experience. We discuss these encouraging results as well as critical feedback from the participants, such as the absence of touch in virtual experiences, and lay out our vision for the future of immersive learning experiences across environmental sciences.

Neighborhood Walkability and BMI Change: A National Study of Veterans in Large Urban Areas

Elizabeth Tarlov, Abigail Silva, Coady Wing, Sandy Slater, Stephen A. Matthews, Kelly K. Jones, Shannon N. Zenk
Objective: Improving neighborhood walkability has been proposed as a policy intervention to reduce obesity. The objective of this study was to evaluate longitudinal relationships between neighborhood walkability and body weight among adults living in large urban areas.
Methods: In this retrospective longitudinal study of United States military veterans using Department of Veterans Affairs health care, Veterans Affairs clinical and administrative data (2007‐2014) were linked to environmental measures constructed from public (2006‐2014) and proprietary (2008‐2014) sources, and linear regression models with person fixed effects were used to estimate associations between walkability and BMI among 758,434 men and 70,319 women aged 20 to 80 years in 2009 to 2014.
Results: Neighborhood walkability was associated with small reductions in BMI. Effects were most pronounced among men aged 30 to 49 and 50 to 64. For women, differences were largest in the two youngest age groups, 20 to 29 and 30 to 49, though only estimates for all women combined were statistically significant. For women aged 30 to 49, effect sizes grew when the sample was limited to those who remained in the same neighborhood during the entire follow‐up period.
Conclusions: Investments in the built environment to improve walkability may be a useful strategy for weight control in some segments of the adult population.

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