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UC Santa Barbara
Department of Geography
UC Santa Barbara
Department of Geography
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UC Santa Barbara Geography / News & Events / Department News

May 26, 2015 - A Showcase for Research

Hundreds of undergraduates displayed their research projects at the 2015 Undergraduate Research Colloquium. The following description is from The UCSB Current, dated May 20, 2015 and with the title above:

“More than 200 UC Santa Barbara undergraduates took advantage of the opportunity to display their research prowess at the 2015 Undergraduate Research Colloquium held in Corwin Pavilion. The projects covered a wide variety of research, from the impact of sundowner winds in Santa Barbara to game mechanics in online language learning platforms, among many others.

The colloquium included judging in the Emeriti Association Undergraduate Research Awards competition. The awards covered three disciplines: humanities and fine arts; physical science, math, and engineering; and social sciences and psychology. In addition, the Undergraduate Research Colloquium Activities (URCA) featured the first URCA Slam, with 15 undergraduate students making five-minute presentations about their research to a panel of UCSB faculty members. The top three students received prizes of $750 for first place, $500 for second place, and $250 for third.”

Geography Professor Leila Carvalho proudly notes that Sophia Macarewich, a sophomore majoring in Geography, tied for first place in the URCA Slam: “Anyone attending the Slam will recognize that students participating in this competition are amazingly professional. I was deeply impressed by their performance and capacity to communicate their research in 4 minutes. Not many senior scientists would be able to do the same great job!

Sophia has been my undergraduate research assistant and URCA grant awardee for the past year. She examined in detail changes in frequency and intensity of extreme offshore winds locally known as "sundowners." These events are characterized by late afternoon-to-early evening episodes of downslope surface gusty winds accompanied by rapid increase in temperature and decrease in relative humidity. Gale winds, relative humidity of less than 10%, and temperatures above 85F, even in the winter, are not uncommon during these events. Sundowner events have played a significant role in the evolution of all major fires that frightened Santa Barbara, such as the Painted Cave Fire (1990), the Great Gap Fire (2008), the Teahouse Fire (2008), the Jesusita Fire (2009), among others, and are consequently of major concern for the National Weather Service (NWS) and City Fire Department."

"Sophia examined 14 years of data and showed that frequency of these events has increased in recent years, with the greatest contribution from winter and spring seasons. She has been working in collaboration with the NWS who provided the data. There is strong evidence that these events significantly impact evapotranspiration, potentially reinforcing drought conditions in the county. The next step of her research is to further evaluate the impact of these extreme events over land and also how these offshore winds can affect coastal circulation. Sophia's passion, dedication, and perseverance will certainly continue opening new frontiers for a successful career and demonstrate the potential of our students to significantly contribute to science. Congratulations, Sophia!”

Geography Professor Jennifer King pointed out that several of the undergraduate presenters were Geography majors or majors in closely related fields, “including Beatrix Jimenez who participates in my group and did her work for this symposium with Josh Schimel's lab (Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology). Another of my students, Rachel Scarlett, also presented a poster.”

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Photo Credit: George Foulsham, The Current
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Professor Carvalho, left, with undergraduate Sophia Macarewich who presented her research on sundowner winds in Santa Barbara. Photo Credit: Geography Professor Charles Jones
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Beatrix Jimenez explains her research to Bruce Tiffney, dean of the College of Creative Studies and professor in the Department of Earth Science. From The Current article; photo credit: George Foulsham
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Rachel Scarlett is majoring in Environmental Studies and Chemistry and is a McNair/Edison Scholar who is mentored by Geography Professor Jennifer King.

May 26, 2015 - UCSB Researchers Join Forces to Study Impacts of Refugio Oil Spill

UCSB researchers from several different departments have joined forces and combined their expertise to help assess the potential impacts of the recent Refugio oil spill. The following are extracts relating to the Department of Geography from an article on the subject, written by Andrea Estrada and Shelly Leachman for The UCSB Current, posted May 22, 2015, and titled “Expert Response”:

A large group of UCSB scientists, researchers, and engineers have responded to the oil spill by pooling their considerable expertise. Working often in collaboration with one another, they are gathering and providing myriad data and observations to agencies such as the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System, which is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s response team. Their research is likely to help inform ongoing response and cleanup efforts.

UCSB geographer and marine scientist Libe Washburn is part of a research effort monitoring real-time surface currents and plume trajectory via high-frequency radar. “We have a network of equipment along the coast, and Wednesday we installed some of our equipment out near Gaviota,” he said. “This is a new site that we added to improve our coverage and our ability to track the oil movement.”

Also seeking to shed light on how and where the oil might move are David Siegel, professor of Geography and director of the UCSB’s Earth Research Institute, and project scientist Leonel Romero. Their research has examined land-ocean interactions in the Santa Barbara Channel to determine how material from coastal streams makes its way into the ocean. “Our focus has been to figure out how coastal streams mix their materials into the ocean,” Siegel said. “We’re taking the same approaches and applying them to a point release just off Refugio Beach.”

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Libe Washburn, right, geographer and marine scientist, with colleague Ed Romero, who's describing their research. Photo Credit: George Foulsham; from The Current article
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Leonel Romero is an Assistant Project Scientist in the Earth Research Institute. He received his PhD in Oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography and joined ERI in 2011.

May 23, 2015 - Katie Maynard Wins Margaret T. Getman Service to Students Award

Katie Maynard, a UCSB Sustainability Coordinator who is based in the Department of Geography, has received a prestigious Margaret T. Getman Service to Students Award for 2014-2015. The annual awards are named for the former UCSB Dean of Student Residents, Margaret T. Getman, and they recognize university staff, faculty, and departments that have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the general growth and development of students and quality of student life. The nominees and recipients will be honored with a reception on Wednesday, June 5th at 9am, at the Student Affairs divisional meeting in Corwin Pavilion (source).

Katy was a College of Creative Studies Biology student at UCSB from 2001-2005, and she has served as a UCSB Sustainability Coordinator, currently based in the Geography Department, since that time. When asked to describe her current duties, Katie commented: “As a sustainability coordinator, my job in the broadest sense is to help the university itself to become a sustainable community, one that is in balance with nature and where we are ensuring that we can meet the needs of future generations. We are fortunate at UCSB to have several staff who are working on sustainability. My particular focus within this effort is to empower students to become sustainability leaders, engage faculty in campus sustainability efforts, and to connect the academic, co-curricular, and operational divisions of the university.”

“I am also the Event Manager for the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference (CHESC). CHESC highlights cutting-edge research, as well as case studies with proven successes in curriculum development, operational programs, and community partnerships. This unique event is jointly organized by independent private colleges, California Community Colleges, California State Universities, and the University of California, creating the opportunity for dialogue across institutions. Of the approximately 1,000 attendees, about 1/3 of the attendees of this conference are student leaders. I do a lot of work reaching out to student leaders to encourage them to present at the conference and to share their best practices. I also work with students to set up policy discussions with them and key stakeholders during the event. I also play key roles on the following committees: 1) Co-chair of the UCGFI Sub-Committee on Food Accessibility and Security for UC Students, 2) Project Director, UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative Climate Action Champion Program, 3) Staff to the UC Global Food Initiative (UCGFI) Coalition, and 4) Staff to the Academic Senate Sustainability Work Group.”

Katie considers The Sustainability Internship Program to be one of her most successful efforts in terms of contributions to the campus community: “I currently directly advise 28 students in internships where they are developing professional skills, gaining leadership opportunities, and making meaningful changes on campus. I also advise (or co-advise) several student-run organizations, including Isla Student Collective (previously named Student Food Collective/Food Cart Working Group), Feel Good SB, Plastic Solutions, ECOalition, Educating Leaders for the Future, the Interactive Campus Map Sustainability Team, LabRATS, and PACES. I also advise the student fellows and interns selected through President Napolitano's UC Global Food Initiative and UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative.”

Katie goes on to note that she works with students through a variety of ways, including but not limited to internships, coalition efforts with activists, and as an advisor/mentor: “In the past year, I have also partnered with the Edible Campus Project (a coalition between Associated Students (AS) Department of Public Worms, AS Food Bank, and UCSB Sustainability) to get approval to grow food on campus that can be distributed through the AS Food Bank. This is a good example of how I have helped students navigate the university's policies and approval process. I helped to secure approval from Environmental Health and Safety, Campus Landscaping, the Campus Architect, the University Center, etc. I also helped the students to secure funds from a high profile donor. I see my role as helping to enable students with creative ideas to be successful through providing them resources and guidance.”

Katie’s interactions with students have impacted her personally and professionally: “Students inspire me! I love the creative ideas and the energy that students bring to a conversation. They keep staff moving at a healthy pace and remind me to constantly reach for more ambitious goals. I also appreciate that students keep me accountable to goals that our programs have set publically and to the expectations that students have of the university. Matt St. Clair from UC Office of the President often says in his speeches that students are our conscience. That resonates with me.”

As for the Getman Award, Katie states” “I am honored to be nominated for this award. The UCSB community supports student leadership in so many ways! I experienced this as a student at UCSB and continue to experience this as a staff member supporting students.” Needless to say, the Department of Geography is proud to host Katie. The department - and all those involved with sustainability at UCSB - salutes Katie for her outstanding contributions and commitment to the quality of life on our campus and for spreading the good word nationally.

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Geography staff member Katie Maynard, the UCSB Sustainability Coordinator and Event Manager of several UC, CSU, and CCC Sustainability Conferences. Katie attended UCSB as a student and started a sustainability organization on campus. The UCSB faculty at the time liked her organization’s mission so much that they let her write her own job description upon graduation, and she began working in the Geography Department as a Sustainability Adviser in 2005.
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Katie takes a hands-on approach to sustainability. Here, she’s getting down and dirty with vermicomposting. “Sustainability,” the issue of whether or not the human life support system on earth can continue indefinitely, became a buzz word during the environmental movements of the 1960s when popular books such as Rachel Carson’s "Silent Spring" linked the health of the environment directly to economic development. Concerns about sustainability issues have increased dramatically over the years and have resulted in the formation of numerous national and international think tanks and groups devoted to the subject. The University of California now has a system-wide “green” building and clean energy policy, and UCSB was the first of the UC schools to have an active sustainability group on campus. This year, “The Princeton Review's Guide to 353 Green Colleges: 2015 Edition” ranked UCSB as the greenest public university in the USA.

May 23, 2015 - Grad Student Sarah Harris Wins Award at California Geographical Society Conference

UCSB Geography graduate student Sarah Harris took third place in the Graduate Paper Abstract competition at the 69th Annual Conference of the California Geographical Society that was held May 1-3, 2015 at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. The conference featured “excellent research, exemplary cartography, educational workshops and, perhaps best of all, world-class fellowship for geographers from around the Golden State and beyond” (source).

Sarah’s abstract was titled “Characteristics of atmospheric rivers impacting southern California”: Throughout southern California (SCA) annual precipitation occurs from few storms per season and the landscape is prone to rainfall-induced hazards, therefore, changes to storm frequency or intensity may dramatically impact the region. Accurate precipitation forecasts are difficult to determine as rainfall is affected by phenomena such as atmospheric rivers (ARs). ARs are channels of water vapor that are associated with high-intensity precipitation along coastal regions due to orographic forcing. Characteristics of ARs impacting North America’s western coast are investigated through composite analyses. AR events are identified using the output from an AR identification algorithm. Composites of atmospheric characteristics are created for varying regions of landfall prior to, on the day of, and after AR landfall. ARs impacting SCA display different plume characteristics and wave train patterns throughout the AR life cycle compared to ARs that landfall further north suggesting that ARs impacting SCA differ in initiation mechanisms and structural qualities.

Editor’ note: Hats off to Sarah and many thanks to alumnus Zia Salim (PhD 2014), now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at Cal State Fullerton, for bringing the above to our attention.

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Sarah, 2nd from left, was one of three graduate students selected for the best paper abstract presentation award. Sarah is a PhD candidate in the UCSB Department of Geography, and her advisors are Bodo Bookhagen and Leila Carvalho. Photo credit Tiffany Seeley.

May 22, 2015 - Oldest-Known Stone Tools Pre-Date Earliest Known Hominins

“Scientists working in the desert badlands of northwestern Kenya have found stone tools dating back 3.3 million years, long before the advent of modern humans, and by far the oldest such artifacts yet discovered. The tools, whose makers may or may not have been some sort of human ancestor, push the known date of such tools back by 700,000 years; they also may challenge the notion that our own most direct ancestors were the first to bang two rocks together to create a new technology.”

“The discovery is the first evidence that an even earlier group of proto-humans may have had the thinking abilities needed to figure out how to make sharp-edged tools. The stone tools mark "a new beginning to the known archaeological record," say the authors of a new paper about the discovery, published today in the leading scientific journal Nature” (source).

Abstract: Human evolutionary scholars have long supposed that the earliest stone tools were made by the genus Homo and that this technological development was directly linked to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands. New fieldwork in West Turkana, Kenya, has identified evidence of much earlier hominin technological behaviour. We report the discovery of Lomekwi 3, a 3.3-million-year-old archaeological site where in situ stone artefacts occur in spatiotemporal association with Pliocene hominin fossils in a wooded palaeoenvironment. The Lomekwi 3 knappers, with a developing understanding of stone’s fracture properties, combined core reduction with battering activities. Given the implications of the Lomekwi 3 assemblage for models aiming to converge environmental change, hominin evolution and technological origins, we propose for it the name ‘Lomekwian’, which predates the Oldowan by 700,000 years and marks a new beginning to the known archaeological record.

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Tool unearthed at excavation site. Credit: MPK-WTAP
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The finds were made in the desert badlands near Lake Turkana, Kenya. Many other important discoveries of fossils and artifacts have been made nearby. Credit: West Turkana Archaeological Project

May 22, 2015 - Update on Oil Spill at Refugio State Beach

The following is an advisory from Pam Lombardo, UCSB Acting Associate Vice Chancellor, Administrative Services, emailed to the campus community on May 21, 2015:

We are writing to update our community on the most recent news concerning the spill and the efforts to contain and clean up the oil and to share links to additional information.

The U.S. Coast Guard working with federal, state and local agencies continues to oversee the response efforts and has set up an Emergency Operations Center in Santa Barbara County facilities. A website (http://www.refugioresponse.com/) has been created where official updates will be posted. University administrative personnel are participating and assisting in the coordination of the response and many of our researchers are assisting with the monitoring and response efforts.

Early today, the City of Goleta announced that the City is restricting access to beaches northwest of our campus to keep access open for responders and clean-up crews. Refugio and El Capitan beaches, which yesterday were closed by County Public Health officials, remain closed.

To ensure access to official responders and to protect wildlife, UC Santa Barbara is temporarily closing access to the area around Coal Oil Point until further notice. We will continue to monitor the spill and may need to restrict access to or close additional beaches based on the movement of the oil.

The Coast Guard is directing questions related to volunteering to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (https://calspillwatch.dfg.ca.gov/). Note that the CDFW is NOT requesting the public’s assistance to help with oil spill response operations at this time. They are working with the University of California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s staff and pre-trained volunteers, and the CDFW’s Natural Resource volunteers for oiled animal recovery and transport. They ask that people refrain from picking up oiled wildlife, as doing so can cause more harm than good. They advise that the best way to assist is to report oiled wildlife by calling 877-UCD-OWCN (823-6926).

We will continue to share any campus-related updates as appropriate.

More information and updates about the spill can be found at the following links:

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The Refugio Oil Spill was an oil spill that occurred just north of Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, California on May 19, 2015. According to the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management, the spill was caused by a buried Plains All American Pipeline pipeline that ruptured. Preliminary reports estimated the amount of oil spilled to be approximately 21,000 U.S. gallons (500 barrels). This estimate was later revised to over 105,000 U.S. gallons (2,500 barrels). More than 20,000 U.S. gallons (480 barrels) of crude oil is estimated to have spilled into the ocean. Despite being much smaller in scale, environmentalists claim this accident may have more severe consequences on the coastal ecosystem than the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, as it affected the Gaviota coast, a region with a Mediterranean climate considered unique for its biodiversity (Wikpedia: Refugio Oil Spill as of May 22, 2015. NB: Information may change rapidly as the event progresses, and initial news reports may be unreliable.)
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Crude oil washes up on Refugio State Beach. Ibid.
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Authorities were responding to an apparent oil slick in the ocean off Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County on May 19, 2015. (Credit: KTLA)

May 20, 2015 - How Climate Change Is Making California’s Epic Drought Worse

The following article is by Professor Emerita Catherine Gautier, posted May 20, 2015 with the title above:

California is undergoing a record-setting drought that began in 2012, the worst in at least 1,200 years. It can be seen in many ways: most of the freshwater reservoirs are drying up, crops are wilting in the fields, and groundwater is rapidly depleting.

Whatever definition is used for drought, based on meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, or socioeconomic references, all the indicators are showing an extreme situation due to particularly warm and dry conditions. Last year had the lowest calendar-year precipitation on record, leading to acute water shortages, groundwater overdraft to replace the missing rain, critically low stream flow and high wildfire risk.

California and other southwestern states have suffered through multi-year droughts in the past, but how does climate change figure into what’s happening now? Can scientists separate the effect of rising greenhouse gas levels on the current drought from other factors? To answer these questions, we need to consider the meteorological forces that drive California’s weather. California’s winter precipitation normally comes from east-traveling North Pacific storms, which are guided by the strong river of wind known as the jet stream. Year-to-year variations in precipitation are affected by a number of factors, including the El Niño cycle of warming Pacific Ocean temperatures as well as long-term oscillations in climate that cause natural variability over decades or hundreds of years. Also at play are normal short-term changes in the atmosphere and the effect of long-term climate change.

Droughts are caused when there is a substantial reduction in the number of precipitation-carrying Pacific storms to reach the West Coast. They are blocked by a region of persistently high atmospheric pressure, called an upper-level ridge (see figure 1). This ridge of high pressure directs the jet stream toward a much more northerly track. The result is that most precipitation systems miss California, with some of them going as far north as British Columbia and Alaska.

In 2013 and 2014, the sea surface temperature in the North Pacific was unusually high, which created the conditions for a persistent high-pressure ridge and thus dryness over California. In addition, reduced Arctic sea ice is associated with warmer surface temperature in the Pacific and reduced rain and snowfall in the western part of the US from the northward shift in the storm track.

Persistent high pressure causes a descending motion of air, known as subsidence, which leads to a lack of cloud cover and eventually hotter temperatures on land. And with higher surface temperatures, soils dry as more water evaporates into the air. Higher temperatures combined with somewhat reduced precipitation – sometimes called “warm droughts" – play a critical role in reducing water availability. In the case of California, precipitation this winter fell in the form of rain instead of snow in the Sierra mountains due to high temperatures. Snowpack is critical because it stores water and releases it slowly. Thinner snowpack means less water stored on the ground for use in the summer. So even a normal precipitation amount but fallen in the form of rain means less water is available.

California has experienced sustained droughts in the past. For instance, during the medieval warming period between 900 and 1330 AD, extensive and persistent mega-droughts occurred in western North America. Paleoclimate studies using proxy records such as tree rings indicate that severe drought periods happened during periods of higher temperatures.

The magnitude of the deficit in precipitation from shifting atmospheric conditions in today’s drought is not so unusual compared with past observations. However, there is also a background of unusually high temperature nowadays, clearly exceeding that of the medieval warming period. So this is a double whammy for the hydrological balance: less precipitation and more evaporation and transpiration, or water evaporation through plants, due to the warm air.

So the present drought raises at least two questions: first, is this record-breaking 21st-century drought related to anthropogenic climate change, and second, has long-term warming altered the probability that precipitation deficits will yield extreme drought in the future? Detecting and attributing observed or projected impacts to man-caused climate change is not an easy task. But there is some supporting evidence from improving numerical climate models and the record of several diverse meteorological and hydrological events already happening, including heat waves, flooding or droughts. Nevertheless, direct causal relationship is nearly impossible to establish in a complex system such as the climate system because interactions and feedbacks all but erase what appear to be causal links.

Still, statistical analysis of past data can help by providing the likelihood of occurrence of particular events. Also, scientists can run climate model experiments that include only natural variability and then include manmade factors, such as greenhouse gases. These tools serve to highlight and distinguish the dominant mechanisms responsible for particular air circulation characteristics.

These climate model simulations show that the extreme and persistent circulation patterns that have caused droughts on the West Coast this century are due to anthropogenic external forces, not natural causes. For instance, in the case of the persistent region of high pressure – nicknamed the “ridiculously resilient ridge“ – the likelihood of an event as observed in every 420 years!

Studies suggest that climate change might give rise to a new climate regime, one in which the years of low precipitation will be accompanied by warm conditions, creating the aforementioned “warm drought.” This prediction suggests a growing risk of unprecedented drought in California, and the western United States in general, driven primarily by warmer temperature, reduced snowpack, and late spring and summer soil moisture, even without significantly drier precipitation patterns. All of this means that sustaining water supplies in parts of the Southwest will be a challenge this year – and in the future.

Editor’s note: Many thanks to Research Support Staff member Pete Peterson for bringing this material to our attention.

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A broken paddle on parched earth, one result of four years of drought in California. Robert Galbraith/Reuters. From Gautier’s article
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Figure 1. A persistent high-pressure weather pattern, nicknamed the NOAA. Click to enlarge. Ibid.
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Uvas Reservoir in Santa Clara County more than a year ago, before another year of dry weather. Ian Abbott/flickr, CC BY-NC. Ibid.
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Professor Emerita Catherine Gautier received a Doctorat d'Etat from the University of Paris (Physics and Meteorology) in 1984 and joined the UCSB Department of Geography in 1990. Her special interests include global radiation and water, El Niño, clouds, aerosol and climate, global remote sensing, and Earth System Science Education. Gautier was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2011, and she retired in 2013.

May 20, 2015 - Our Existential Relationship with Inflatable Globes

The following excerpts are from an article titled “From Disc to Sphere” which was published by Volker M. Welter, a professor in the UCSB Department of the History of Art and Architecture:

Today, barely an Earth Day celebration takes place during which the participants do not pass an inflatable globe over their heads in order to express a symbolically renewed relationship with the earth. The iconology of this symbol can be traced back both to photographs of Earth taken during NASA’s various missions to outer space, and to our attempts to comprehend our environment with the help of maps and globes.

Chronologically, however, inflatable earth balls preceded such imagery and became the first symbol that 1960s environmentalism adopted in order to act out a new existential relationship with the earth. While playing with an inflatable globe seemingly promoted this emerging sensibility, the motif—man playing with the earth—in fact recalls earlier images from the history of modernity’s relationship to the planet.

Globes are one way of representing the earth. Initially of rather small size, large-scale spheres from the nineteenth century onwards allowed for more direct forms of encounter. Insofar as they too adopt a bird’s eye view, aerial and outer-space photographs can be considered an extension of maps. Yet all three differ in regard to their ontological implications for man’s relationship with Earth. Some postmodern critiques notwithstanding, maps did aim at understanding the spaces they depicted. Maps not only made these previously uncharted terrains available to explorers, adventurers, and armchair travelers, but, crucially, their initial creation often relied on someone physically traversing the spaces that were subsequently represented.

Just over one hundred years passed between the first camera image of a section of the earth, photographed by Nadar from a balloon in 1858, and the extraterrestrial views of segments of our planet taken by the US satellite Explorer VI in August 1959. In between, hot air balloons offered views of Paris, reconnaissance kites allowed for glimpses into enemy trenches during the Great War, and in World War II, airplanes achieved the same.

The instant visual overview that photographs of the earth offer suggests usefulness comparable to that of maps. Yet, in the words of art-historian-turned-geographer Denis Cosgrove, though “intensely geographical,” such images are not, therefore, “cartographic image[s]”—while maps represent in an abstract manner, high altitude, aerial, and extraterrestrial photographs offer a more direct, if unusual, depiction of reality.

The increasing ability of later twentieth-century man to view the earth from ever further away in outer space constitutes another qualitative shift, this time from viewing parts of the planet to seeing the whole. Gazing at the entire globe from outer space no longer means looking down, but back from a distance. The height of the former viewpoint is measurable with regards to a base, usually the surface of the planet; the act of measuring establishes, together with gravity, a clear sense of above and below. The loss of this grounded dimension in gravity-free outer space means that height morphs into mere distance between objects, such as spaceships full of astronauts and planets like the earth. Consequently, outer-space travel initiated, according to philosopher Günther Anders, a process of “spatial distancing from the earth” that gradually revealed our planet as “an ownerless celestial body, the flotsam of the universe,” while accompanying outer-space photographs illustrated man’s “cosmic eccentricity” as an accidental bystander somewhere in space.

As Stewart Brand began to ponder in early 1966 the ideas that eventually crystallized in the Whole Earth Catalog, he started selling little white buttons that asked: “Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the Whole Earth yet?” Crucial is the adjective whole, as Brand explained in a later essay, for “the earth [is] curved … closed on itself.” This fact, while knowable in the abstract, had not up until then been visible to the inhabitants of the planet; thus, he continued, “people perceived the earth as flat and infinite, and that ... was the root of all their misbehavior.” Changing such erroneous perception required the holistic expansion of man’s consciousness, to fully grasp “that it [Earth] was curved, think it, and finally feel it.” Subsequently, Brand conceived “a six-foot diameter canvas and rubber pushball of the type he had played with in Army boot-camp training. This one [was] painted with continents, oceans, and cloud swirls.”16 This first “earth ball” was created in 1966 for the New Games, an initiative that aimed at channeling human aggression into noncompetitive and peaceful tournaments. In short, two years before an image of the entire earth was featured in 1968 on the cover of the Whole Earth Catalog’s inaugural issue, Whole Earth environmentalism had already adopted as its symbol an inflatable globe that mimicked the earth as seen from outer space rather than being a three-dimensional model of a two-dimensional world map.

Having thus taken possession of the planet by inflating it, earth balls were thrown around, rolled up and down hills, and had to endure hirsute hippies throwing themselves at and over them as everyone welcomed “the chance to play with the planet, whether … pushing, passing or throwing it; kicking or hugging it; on top, beneath, or against it.” This may have been a joyful and novel interaction, but the ease with which the earth was turned into a toy firmly roots this motif in modernity.

Considering that extraterrestrial travel had catapulted man into spatial dimensions so vast as to be unfathomable, this reaction may astonish. Yet, one response to the expansion of human experience, argues Anders, was to reign in the newly accessible universe by drawing it back into an orbit that was solely defined by the scale of the human mind and body. This focus on human spatiality is why it was not the Lunar Orbiter I photograph of the whole earth published in 1966 but instead a near-identical one, taken two years later from Apollo 8, that acquired fame as the iconic “earthrise” image. This was, first of all, because it was astronauts, and not a satellite, who took the photograph; more importantly, however, the earthrise image was at some point flipped ninety degrees, a move that shifted the moon from its upright position at the right edge of the frame to a horizontal one that grounded man again in relation to a recognizable horizon.

Editor’s note: Many thanks to Professor Dan Montello for suggesting this material.

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“Earthrise,” photographed by Apollo 8 on 12 December 1968. According to NASA, “this view of the rising Earth … is displayed here in its original orientation, though it is more commonly viewed with the lunar surface at the bottom of the photo.” From the Cabinet publication.
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A still from Robert Frank’s film Liferaft Earth, 1969. The film, which was made at the request of Stewart Brand to document the hunger show protest in Hayward, California, shows the large earth ball around which protesters danced, practiced yoga, slept, and bathed. Ibid.
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The first ever photograph of an “earthrise” (25 August 1966, Lunar Orbiter I). When published by the New York Times the next day, the newspaper remarked, “Horizontal orientation lines were added to the picture after it was received by a tracking station near Madrid.” Ibid.
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Cover of the Whole Earth Catalog, March 1970, illustrated with a collage showing the editorial team enjoying a volleyball game with an earth ball. Courtesy Canadian Centre for Architecture. Ibid.
Image 5 for article titled "Our Existential Relationship with Inflatable Globes"
New Games Festival, Perkasie, Pennsylvania, 1980. The New Games Foundation sold this type of ball (which had a canvas exterior and heavy-duty vinyl bladder interior) with only the continents outlined, so that the image of the earth’s surface had to be painted by hand. The game being played here is called Orbit. Participants would form a circle, with one player in the center, all holding the earth ball aloft. The center participant would try to push the ball outside of the circumference of the circle, while those on the edges would try to keep it within the circle. As with all New Games, there was no scoring system or competitive goal to Orbit. Photo Lee Rush. Ibid.

May 18, 2015 - Which Is Most Valuable: Gold, Cocaine, or Rhino Horn?

“Many of the world’s largest herbivores — including several species of elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, and gorillas — are in danger of becoming extinct. And if current trends continue, the loss of these animals would have drastic implications not only for the species themselves, but also for other animals and the environments and ecosystems in which they live, according to a new report by an international team of scientists.” Stuart Wolpert, in an article written for the University of California Los Angeles newsletter, posted May 14, 2015 with the title above, goes on to say:

The study, which was co-authored by Blaire Van Valkenburgh, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, was recently published in the open-access online journal Science Advances. One of the critical factors behind the disturbing trend is the tremendous financial incentive for poachers to sell animal parts for consumer goods and food. For example, rhinoceros horn is more valuable by weight than gold, diamonds, or cocaine, said William Ripple, the study’s lead author, a distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry. (Bloomberg News reported in 2014 that the price of rhino horn in Asia has approached $60,000 per pound.)

Said Van Valkenburgh: “Decades of conservation efforts are being reversed by the entrance of organized crime into the ivory and rhino horn markets.” The study also found that:

  • Between 2002 and 2011, the number of forest elephants declined by 62 percent.
  • From 2007 to 2013, the number of rhinoceroses poached skyrocketed from 13 per year to 1,004 per year.
  • More than 100,000 elephants — one-fifth of the world’s wild savannah elephant population — were poached between 2010 and 2012.

“If this were to keep up, there would be very few or no savannah elephants in 10 years, and no African rhinos in 20 years,” Van Valkenburgh said.

Van Valkenburgh said even the researchers were surprised to find that 60 percent of species in the study — animals the size of reindeers and larger — are now considered to be threatened. “I certainly was taken aback by the data,” she said. “For some of the largest animals, such as elephants and rhinos, it is likely a matter of a few decades before they are extinct — and no more than 80 to 100 years for the rest of the large herbivores. Even though an individual elephant or rhino might persist in the wild somewhere in Africa, they will be functionally extinct in terms of their impact on the ecosystem.”

The scientists studied 74 species of wild herbivores that weigh an average of 220 pounds at adulthood. Their conclusion: “Without radical intervention, large herbivores (and many smaller ones) will continue to disappear from numerous regions with enormous ecological, social, and economic costs.”

The study notes that during the Pleistocene Epoch, which ended about 11,700 years ago, there were more than 40 species of herbivores in which adults weighed 2,200 pounds or more, but today there are only eight such species. The extinction of these “mega-herbivore” species has dramatically affected Earth’s ecosystems, the researchers write. For example, large herbivores are the primary source of food for predators and scavengers, and their trampling and consumption of plants influence the ways that vegetation grows. And humans, especially in developing regions, rely on large herbivores for food: It is estimated that 1 billion people rely on wild meat for subsistence.

For the species analyzed in the study, today’s two largest threats are hunting by humans and habitat change. Other key factors include growing human populations and increased competition with livestock. The authors write that the latter has been a particular threat in developing nations, where livestock production tripled between 1980 and 2002. As a result, one of their proposals for addressing the crisis is creating financial incentives for people who live near the animals’ habitats to protect the animals, so it becomes more lucrative to safeguard the animals than to poach them.

The scientists also emphasized the need for social marketing and environmental education campaigns as tools to drive down demand for animal products as food and consumer goods. (They noted that a social media campaign featuring retired NBA player Yao Ming appeared to help save shark populations by reducing demand for shark fin soup in his native China.)

“Large herbivores, and their associated ecological functions and services, have already largely been lost from much of the developed world,” the scientists write. “Now is the time to act boldly, because without radical changes in these trends, the extinctions that eliminated most of the world’s largest herbivores 10,000 to 50,000 years ago will only have been postponed for these last few remaining giants.”

Image 1 for article titled "Which Is Most Valuable: Gold, Cocaine, or Rhino Horn?"
A study found that one-fifth of the world’s wild savannah elephant population was poached between 2010 and 2012. From the UC article; photo credit: Blaire Van Valkenburgh
Image 2 for article titled "Which Is Most Valuable: Gold, Cocaine, or Rhino Horn?"
Ecoregion lists for each species were obtained using the IUCN Red List species range maps and are based on the ecoregions where each species is native and currently present. From the Science Advances article.
Image 3 for article titled "Which Is Most Valuable: Gold, Cocaine, or Rhino Horn?"
The total number of herbivore species in each family is shown after each family name. Individual threatened species by family include Elephantidae: African elephant (VU), Asian elephant (EN); Hippopotamidae: hippopotamus (VU), pygmy hippopotamus (EN); Hominidae: eastern gorilla (EN), western gorilla (EN); Tapiridae: Malayan tapir (VU), Baird’s tapir (EN), lowland tapir (VU), mountain tapir (EN); Suidae: Philippine warty pig (VU), Oliver’s warty pig (EN), Visayan warty pig (CR), Palawan bearded pig (VU), bearded pig (VU); Rhinocerotidae: Indian rhinoceros (CR), Javan rhinoceros (CR), Sumatran rhinoceros (CR), black rhinoceros (CR); Equidae: Grevy’s zebra (EN), mountain zebra (VU), African wild ass (CR), Przewalski’s horse (EN), Asiatic wild ass (CR); Cervidae: sambar (VU), barasingha (VU), Père David’s deer (EW), white-lipped deer (VU); Camelidae: bactrian camel (CR); Bovidae: Indian water buffalo (EN), gaur (VU), kouprey (CR), European bison (VU), wild yak (VU), banteng (EN), takin (VU), lowland anoa (EN), tamaraw (CR), mountain nyala (EN), scimitar-horned oryx (EW), mountain anoa (EN), Sumatran serow (VU), walia ibex (EN). Ibid.
Image 4 for article titled "Which Is Most Valuable: Gold, Cocaine, or Rhino Horn?"
Ecoregion lists for each species were obtained using the IUCN Red List species range maps and are based on the ecoregions where each species is native and currently present. Ibid.
Image 5 for article titled "Which Is Most Valuable: Gold, Cocaine, or Rhino Horn?"
Proximate threats faced by large herbivores globally. Threats faced by each species were categorized using information in the IUCN Red List species fact sheets. The total adds up to more than 100% because each large herbivore species may have more than one existing threat. Ibid.

May 16, 2015 - Nation's beekeepers lost 40 percent of bees in 2014-15

According to a public release by the University of Maryland, summer bee losses have eclipsed winter losses for the first time on record:

Beekeepers across the United States lost more than 40 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2014 to April 2015, according to the latest results of an annual nationwide survey. While winter loss rates improved slightly compared to last year, summer losses--and consequently, total annual losses--were more severe. Commercial beekeepers were hit particularly hard by the high rate of summer losses, which outstripped winter losses for the first time in five years, stoking concerns over the long-term trend of poor health in honey bee colonies.

The survey, which asks both commercial and small-scale beekeepers to track the health and survival rates of their honey bee colonies, is conducted each year by the Bee Informed Partnership in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). A summary of the 2014-2015 results is available upon request prior to May 13, 2015; thereafter the results will be added to previous years' results publicly available on the Bee Informed website.

"We traditionally thought of winter losses as a more important indicator of health, because surviving the cold winter months is a crucial test for any bee colony," said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and project director for the Bee Informed Partnership. "But we now know that summer loss rates are significant too. This is especially so for commercial beekeepers, who are now losing more colonies in the summertime compared to the winter. Years ago, this was unheard of."

Beekeepers who responded to the survey lost a total of 42.1 percent of their colonies over the course of the year. Winter loss rates decreased from 23.7 percent last year to 23.1 percent this year, while summer loss rates increased from 19.8 percent to 27.4 percent. Among backyard beekeepers (defined as those who manage fewer than 50 colonies), a clear culprit in losses is the varroa mite, a lethal parasite that can easily spread between colonies.

Among commercial beekeepers, the causes of the majority of losses are not as clear. "Backyard beekeepers were more prone to heavy mite infestations, but we believe that is because a majority of them are not taking appropriate steps to control mites," vanEngelsdorp said. "Commercial keepers were particularly prone to summer losses. But they typically take more aggressive action against varroa mites, so there must be other factors at play."

This is the ninth year of the winter loss survey, and the fifth year to include summer and annual losses in addition to winter loss data. More than 6,000 beekeepers from all 50 states responded to this year's survey. All told, these beekeepers are responsible for nearly 15 percent of the nation's estimated 2.74 million managed honey bee colonies.

The survey is part of a larger research effort to understand why honey bee colonies are in such poor health, and what can be done to manage the situation. Colony losses present a financial burden for beekeepers, and can lead to shortages among the many crops that depend on honey bees as pollinators. Some crops, such as almonds, depend entirely on honey bees for pollination. Estimates of the total economic value of honey bee pollination services range between $10 billion and $15 billion annually.

"The winter loss numbers are more hopeful especially combined with the fact that we have not seen much sign of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) for several years, but such high colony losses in the summer and year-round remain very troubling," said Jeffery Pettis, a senior entomologist at U.S. Department of Agriculture and a co-coordinator of the survey. "If beekeepers are going to meet the growing demand for pollination services, researchers need to find better answers to the host of stresses that lead to both winter and summer colony losses."

Image 1 for article titled "Nation's beekeepers lost 40 percent of bees in 2014-15"
"Pollinationn" by Louise Docker - http://www.flickr.com/photos/aussiegall/6105263663. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pollinationn.jpg#/media/File:Pollinationn.jpg
Image 2 for article titled "Nation's beekeepers lost 40 percent of bees in 2014-15"
This map shows "2014-2015 Honey Bee Colony Loss by State." Credit: Bee Informed Partnership/University of Maryland/Loretta Kuo
Image 3 for article titled "Nation's beekeepers lost 40 percent of bees in 2014-15"
This is the "Annual and Winter Honey Bee Loss by Year" graph. Credit: Bee Informed Partnership/University of Maryland/Loretta Kuo
Image 4 for article titled "Nation's beekeepers lost 40 percent of bees in 2014-15"
Foragers coming in loaded with pollen on the hive landing board. Wikipedia: Honey bee; photo credit: "Honeybee02". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia -
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