May 20

Alum’s book on homelessness | Virus dashboards rely on GIS | Student maps marine traffic


Shown above is a partial view of Harrison Cole’s map, “Finding Refuge in Prince William Sound” published on visionscarto.net This map is a snapshot of marine traffic during the busiest months of 2017, which shows the paths of over 1,000 unique vessels and many thousands of trips. While minimizing damage to the environment is an important factor when considering a PPOR, the continued use of Prince William Sound as a high-volume thoroughfare both by oil tankers as well as other marine vessels means that damage to the environment will remain a matter of course rather than an exceptional tragedy.


Manzhu Yu received a seed grant from the Institute for Computational and Data Sciences for her project, “Utilizing geometric deep learning to predict the rapid intensification of tropical cyclones”

Esri is holding a Teaching with ArcGIS Notebooks Webinar on Thursday, May 21, 2020, at 10:00 a.m. (PDT) to learn how to teach with ArcGIS Notebooks in higher education and the options available to incorporate it into your curriculum. Topics include: Introducing ArcGIS Notebooks; Using Notebooks in ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, and ArcGIS Enterprise; Best practices, useful resources, and a case study. For more information and to register

Spring 2020 graduate Joseph Nadonley accepted employment as a GIS Production Analyst for Fugro Earthdata, Inc. His primary responsibilities will revolve around the development of their ROAMES Power project.

The May 2020 issue of the Newsletter of the American Association of Geographers (AAG) is available.


How the Streets Got So Mean

When Don Mitchell was a master’s student in geography at Penn State in the late 1980s, he came across a newspaper article on homelessness that struck him. Homelessness was surging in many U.S. cities — from 1984 to 1987 the number of people living on the streets almost doubled — and the article attempted to explain the trend by looking into the characteristics of those experiencing homelessness: age, race, gender, work history, drug or alcohol abuse. That didn’t seem like a satisfactory approach to Mitchell.

The Software That’s Powering All the Coronavirus Dashboards

With roughly a zillion different sources out there for coronavirus information, experts and authorities are rapidly iterating on ways to best present useful information to the public. Are deaths spiking, or is the curve flattening? How is the virus moving around, and how can it be stymied? To collate all of this information, many groups are leaning on geographic information system (GIS) software. It’s often used by governments and large businesses that need to account for changes in the physical world, usually meaning disaster preparedness and mitigation, as well as monitoring public infrastructure, such as plotting the location of 911 calls.


Carbon isotope ratios in tree rings respond differently to climatic variations than tree-ring width in a mesic temperate forest

Stockton Maxwell, Soumaya Belmecheri, Alan H. Taylor, Kenneth J. Davis, Troy W. Ocheltree
Agricultural and Forest Meteorology
Determining the response of forest growth and productivity to climate variability is crucial for understanding and modeling forest carbon sequestration in mesic temperate forests. Most tree-ring analyses have used monthly climate data. Daily climate data may be more appropriate to use in the determination of tree-ring response to climate because cell division, enlargement, and thickening occur during discrete periods of the growing season. We analyze annual tree-ring width and δ13C from Tsuga canadensis (1992–2012) at ten sites in the northeastern US to test the null hypothesis that tree-ring width and δ13C respond similarly to critical climate periods using daily climate data and linear regression. There was a significant difference in the climate response of ring width and δ13C. Precipitation predicted both δ13C and ring width with the highest r2 and greatest level of significance overall. δ13C integrated climate over longer periods of the year (and previous year) than ring width at most sites. δ13C showed a more consistent seasonal signal across sites for each climate variable than ring width. Our work provides a new perspective on the response of annual tree growth and δ13C to climatic variability that can inform ecosystem productivity, carbon cycle, and earth system models.

Virtual reality for student learning: Understanding individual differences

Ping Li, Jennifer Legault, Alexander Klippel, Jiayan Zhao
Human Behaviour and Brain
DOI: 10.37716/HBAB.2020010105
Virtual reality (VR) is emerging as a rapidly developing technology that holds significant promises to impact student learning. In this review, we focus on the features of this technology regarding levels of immersion and interaction and individual differences in cognitive characteristics of VR learners. We attempt to parse the specific technological features that enable effective learning and examine how students mentally process these features. While VR helps to create situated learning conditions, its theoretical significance lies in its ability to provide perception-action enabled experiences to the learner, and it is these experiences that lead to positive behavioural and brain outcomes compared to traditional methods of learning. Our discussion highlights the understanding of VR learning with respect to individual differences, especially in spatial abilities of the learner, and how variability in spatial abilities might impact both spatial learning and language learning.

May 20

Geography’s transition to remote learning | Last EarthTalks for spring semester | VR research roundup


poster detail

Zhuolai Pan, majoring in Earth sciences with a minor in geography and advised by Luke Trusel, won first place in the Undergraduate Exhibition Physical Sciences category for his presentation on “Dynamics of supraglacial lake drainage on Amery ice shelf, East Antarctica.” Abstract: Surface meltwater lakes can destabilize ice shelves through the process of hydrofracture, thereby reducing their buttressing effect and causing sea level to rise. Here, we present remotely sensed observations of repeated, rapid drainages of a ~4.3 km2 supraglacial lake on Amery ice shelf. We describe lake evolution and volume variations using ultra-high-resolution (~0.5 m) optical imagery and digital elevation models. Our research aims to advance the understanding of surface melt on ice shelf stability. A detail of his poster is shown.


Hannah Caudill and Chanel Lange-Maney have been elected as the two new Grad Reps for the coming year.

Michelle Ritchie published a book review of Breakpoint: Reckoning with America’s Environmental Crises in The Northeastern Geographer.

Jenn Baka accepted an invitation to join the editorial board of The Annals of the American Association of Geographers, one of the world’s foremost geography journals.

The article, “Fine‐scale spatial homogenization of microbial habitats: a multivariate index of headwater wetland complex condition” by Jessica B. Moon, Denice H. Wardrop, Erica A. H. Smithwick, and Kusum J. Naithani, published in Ecological Applications in October 2018, is among the top 10 percent most downloaded papers among work published between January 2018 and December 2019. https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1816

Brendan Collins, who earned his MGIS in 2011, founder of spatial data science company, makepath, is supporting COVID-19 battling efforts behind-the-scenes. He teamed up with Safegraph, a company providing the CDC and over 1000 organizations with data to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a data previewer he created to show operating POI in New York City (and the top 10 cities in the US). makepath, also just published a guide on open source spatial analysis tools for Python.

The AAG has set up a new COVID-19 Resource Hub, open to all AAG members, to help facilitate communication and knowledge-sharing within our community during the pandemic. Members can use the platform to share resources and data; seek research collaborations and information; connect to colleagues across subdisciplines; and support one other during this pandemic. Log in to join.

A webinar on “Working Remotely with Geospatial Data and Mapping Projects” will be held on Friday, May 15 at 3 p.m., hosted by Tara Anthony, GIS Specialist in the Donald W. Hamer Center for Maps and Geospatial Information

Guerrilla Cartography is hosting an Atlas in a Day Challenge on Friday, May 15 at 9 p.m. PDT. Cartographers from around the world will have slightly less than 24 hours to make a map on the theme to complete the 24-hour Atlas in a Day (AIAD) Challenge.

An EarthTalks panel “Green futures: Energy education in a post-COVID-19 world,” will be held 4 p.m. Monday, May 18. Susan Brantley, director of the Earth and Environmental System Institute, and Lee Kump, John Leone Dean in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, will lead a panel discussion on the future of energy education. Panelists include Jennifer Baka, assistant professor of geography; Seth Blumsack, professor of energy policy and economics and international affairs; Mike Loudin, former head of geoscience workforce development at ExxonMobil and a dedicated proponent for diversity in geosciences and energy education; Kevin Smith, CEO for the Americas, Lightsource BP; and Sanjay Srinivasan, head, John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering. The talk is free and open to the public. View via Zoom at https://psu.zoom.us/j/594342606


Challenge met: Geography department transitions to remote teaching and learning

Within days of the University’s shift to remote learning, faculty, instructors and teaching assistants in the Department of Geography moved 35 resident instruction courses into remote delivery mode to teach 1,947 students.

Online, residential students join together to study sustainability

They attend Penn State from many different locations, but that didn’t stop a diverse group of students from joining together to tackle sustainability challenges.

Undergraduate students from across Penn State’s campuses, including Penn State World Campus, worked side by side as part of a three-semester course sponsored by the College of Earth and Mineral Science’s Center for Advanced Undergraduate Study and Experience (CAUSE), designed to promote undergraduate research.


Extended realities – How changing scale affects spatial learning

Zhao, J., Simpson, M., Wallgrün, J. O., Sajjadi, P., & Klippel, A
2020 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces Abstracts and Workshops (VRW https://conferences.computer.org/vr-tvcg/2020/pdfs/

Investigating the relationship between the human body and its environment is essential to understand the process of acquiring spatial knowledge. However, few empirical evaluations have looked at how the visual accessibility of an environment affects spatial learning through direct experiences. To address this gap, this paper extends research on geographic scale (ground vs. pseudo-aerial perspectives) by incorporating active exploration in a human study. Results indicate that only low spatial ability participants benefit from the pseudo-aerial perspective in terms of spatial learning. In contrast, high spatial ability participants make more efficient use of the normal ground perspective.

Learning in the field: Comparison of desktop, immersive virtual reality, and actual field trips for place-based STEM education

Zhao, J., LaFemina, P. C., Carr, J., Sajjadi, P., Wallgrün, J. O., & Klippel, A.
2020 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces (VR)
Field trips are a key component of learning in STEM disciplinessuch as geoscience to develop skills, integrate knowledge, and prepare students for lifelong learning. Given the reported success of technology-based learning and the prevalence of new forms oftechnology, especially with immersive virtual reality (iVR) entering the mainstream, virtual field trips (VFTs) are increasingly being considered as an effective form of teaching to either supplement or replace actual field trips (AFTs). However, little research has investigated the implications of VFTs in place-based STEM education, and empirical evidence is still limited about differences between students’ learning experiences and outcomes in VFTs experienced on desktop displays and field trips experienced in iVR. We report on a study that divided an introductory geoscience laboratory course into three groups with the first two groups experiencing a VFT either on desktop (dVFT) or in iVR (iVFT), while the third group went on an AFT. We compared subjective experiences (assessed via questionnaires) and objective learning outcomes for these groups. Our results suggest that, although students reported higher motivation and being more present in the iVFT group, they did not learn more compared to those in the dVFT group; both VFT groups yielded higher scores for learning experience and perceived learning outcomes than the actual field site visit. These findings demonstrate positive learning effects of VFTs relative to AFTs and provide evidence that geology VFTs need not be limited to iVR setups, which lead to considerable equipment costs and increased implementation complexity. Discussing the results, wereflect on the implications of our findings and point out future research directions.

CZ investigator: learning about critical zones through a VR serious game

Sajjadi, P., Bagher, M. M., Cui, Z., Myrrick, J., Swim, J. K., White, T. S., & Klippel, A.
2020 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces Abstracts and Workshops (VRW) https://conferences.computer.org/vr-tvcg/2020/pdfs/
The critical zone (CZ) plays a pivotal role in the food-energy-water nexus, yet in its entirety, it is not well understood by society. Challenges range from imagining the invisible (from bedrock to soil) to understanding complex relations between the involved components. We have launched a transdisciplinary project driven by immersive technologies that allow for an extension of what physical reality offers society about the concept of CZ. We have developed a VR serious game that enables learners to have a concrete experience about what a CZ is, and how natural and human processes affect it.

Immersive place-based learning – An extended research framework

Klippel, A., Zhao, J., Sajjadi, P., Wallgrün, J. O., Bagher, M. M., & Oprean, D.
2020 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces Abstracts and Workshops (VRW) https://conferences.computer.org/vr-tvcg/2020/pdfs/
At Kelvar 2019, we introduced a research framework for immersive virtual field trips (iVFTs) as a key element of immersive place-based learning. Organizing our research in this framework has been highly successful. We will be documenting outcomes of our research guided by this approach here, both as a conceptual extension of the original framework and through discussing three new studies that complement our existing empirical studies aimed at providing an evidence-based basis for assessing immersive learning. We believe in and strongly argue for the necessity of such a framework as we witness for the first time in the history of immersive technologies opportunities for comprehensive studies of immersive place-based learning, given the accessibility of the technology and the growing need for an evidence-based foundation. In detail, to assess the value of immersive experiences for learning, we argue for the necessity to compare them to traditional media such as desktop environments; correspondingly, we extended the framework to include non-sensing media. We conducted several new studies (both submitted and still unpublished work) that fill in gaps such as comparing desktop versus immersive VFTs, comparing Oculus GO versus Quest, and we describe our first experiences with moving immersive learning into the category of advanced iVFTs using both simulations and gamification as potential advantages of immersive technologies. We critically reflect on the results and lay out an agenda for future research on immersive place-based learning.

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