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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

August 21, 2014 - Heat Islands Cooking U.S. Cities

Rising temperatures threaten public health and are tied to higher levels of ozone air pollution. The following is a Press Release by Climate Central:

Urbanization and climate change are teaming up, turning up the heat in cities faster than rural areas. These hotter urban temperatures raise the risk for dangerous ozone air pollution, according to a new report, "Summer in the City," from Climate Central, a research and journalism organization.

With 80 percent of Americans living in metro areas, these urban heat islands, where city temperatures are much hotter than surrounding rural areas, could cause serious health issues for millions of people. Heat is the No.1 weather-related killer in the U.S., and the hottest days, particularly days over 90°F, are associated with high levels of air pollution that can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and other serious health impacts.

“Climate change is warming the entire planet, rural and urban areas alike,” said Alyson Kenward, lead author of the report. “But thanks to the dual action of urbanization and climate change, cities are not just hotter, they are getting hotter faster: 45 of 60 cities we analyzed were warming at a faster rate than the surrounding rural land.”

Climate Central’s analysis of government temperature records since 1970 for 60 cities found: 1) Cities have many more searing hot days each year; since 2004, 12 cities averaged at least 20 more days a year above 90°F than nearby rural areas. 2) Single-day urban temperatures in some metro areas were as much as 27°F higher than the surrounding rural areas; on average, across all 60 cities, the maximum single-day temperature difference was 17.5°F. 3) In 50 of 51 cities with adequate data, increasing heat was statistically correlated with more ozone air pollution; higher urban temperatures caused by climate change and urban growth are undermining hard won improvements in air quality and public health.

The top 10 cities with the most intense urban heat islands, measured as the greatest difference in average temperatures between urban and rural areas over the entire summer, were: Las Vegas (7.3°F), Albuquerque (5.9°F), Denver (4.9°F), Portland (4.8°F), Louisville (4.8°F), Washington, D.C. (4.7°F), Kansas City (4.6°F), Columbus (4.4°F), Minneapolis (4.3°F), and Seattle (4.1°F). Nights are warming even faster than days, with an average 4°F urban-rural difference at night, compared with the average difference in daytime temps of 2.5°F, across all cities analyzed.

“Urban heat islands have hotter days, far hotter nights, and more extremely hot days each summer than adjacent rural areas,” Kenward said. “Without greenhouse gas reductions, cities will continue to get hotter, with potentially serious consequences.” The report contains data and rankings for all 60 cities.

Image 1 for article titled "Heat Islands Cooking U.S. Cities"
Urban heat measured by satellite in Los Angeles, CA (Climate Central article). “An urban heat island (UHI) is a metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas due to human activities. The phenomenon was first investigated and described by Luke Howard in the 1810s, although he was not the one to name the phenomenon. The temperature difference usually is larger at night than during the day, and is most apparent when winds are weak. UHI is most noticeable during the summer and winter. The main cause of the urban heat island effect is from the modification of land surfaces, which use materials that effectively store short-wave radiation. Waste heat generated by energy usage is a secondary contributor. As a population center grows, it tends to expand its area and increase its average temperature. The less-used term heat island refers to any area, populated or not, which is consistently hotter than the surrounding area” (Wikipedia: Urban heat island)
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Correlation between higher temperatures and higher ozone levels in Los Angeles (Climate Central article)

August 20, 2014 - From Mermaids to Megalodon: Another Mockumentary by The Discovery Channel

In 2012, Animal Planet (a branch of Discovery) aired a TV show called “Mermaids: The Body Found.” It was a documentary-style show that “paints a wildly convincing picture of the existence of mermaids, what they may look like, and why they’ve stayed hidden...until now,” according to the show’s press Web page. Indeed, it says, “Mermaids: The Body Found makes a strong case for the existence of the mermaid...Though the filmmakers acknowledged that the film is science fiction, for many people it was indeed ‘wildly convincing’” (source).

The show was so convincing that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration felt obliged to make the startling assertion on its Ocean Facts page that “no evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.” “Why would NOAA bother to pour cold water on mermaids? After all, there are many mythical things that the government doesn’t explicitly deny exist. The United States Bureau of Mines doesn’t issue statements clarifying that no dragons or trolls have been discovered in underground caves or mines, for example” (Ibid. and see the September 12, 2012 news article, “It’s Official: NOAA Finds No Evidence of Mermaids).

The Discovery Channel pulled the same shenanigan in 2013, this time regarding monster sharks during its celebration of “shark week.” “There have been numerous eyewitness accounts of huge sharks throughout history and also various illustrations of gigantic washed up sharks, even some photographs. One photograph in particular which stirred up a lot of controversy was an image that was presented in a Discovery Channel documentary (which was fictional) showing the dorsal and caudal (tail) fins of a shark next to a submarine, spanning a whopping 64 foot. The image was fabricated. The documentary was in fact a "mockumentary," which was stated in a very small disclaimer at the end. Plus, 64 foot (almost 20 meters) is larger than the estimates of the entire body size of megalodons! This was only dorsal fin to tail! The “scientists” that appeared in this documentary, entitled “Megalodon - The Monster Shark Lives,” were also actors. Sorry” (source).

In 2014, Discovery re-aired "The Monster Shark Lives," along with a new one-hour program, "Megalodon: The New Evidence," and an additional fictionalized program entitled "Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine," resulting in further backlash from media sources and the scientific community (source; also see “Shark Week Is Lying Again: Megalodon Is Definitely Extinct”).

Will NOAA again take the bait? Stay tuned. After all, even that august body admits that less than 5% of the earth’s oceans have been explored.

Article by Bill Norrington

Image 1 for article titled "From Mermaids to Megalodon: Another Mockumentary by The Discovery Channel"
Artistic impression of a megalodon pursuing two Eobalaenoptera whales. Megalodon (from Ancient Greek, meaning "big tooth") is an extinct species of shark that lived approximately 28 to 1.5 million years ago, during the Cenozoic Era (late Oligocene to early Pleistocene). C. megalodon is regarded as one of the largest and most powerful predators in vertebrate history and likely had a profound impact on the structure of marine communities. Fossil remains suggest that this giant shark reached a maximum length of 14–18 metres (46–59 ft) and also affirm that it had a cosmopolitan distribution. Scientists suggest that C. megalodon looked like a stockier version of the great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias (Wikipedia: Megalodon)
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Photoshopped image purporting to show a giant shark swimming past German submarines. Photograph: Sharkzilla/Discovery Channel.
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Discovery's Mission Statement: "To satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people's lives by providing the highest quality content, services, and products that entertain, engage, and enlighten." Right…

August 20, 2014 - Alumnus Ralph Dubayah Heads NASA Project to Monitor Forest Carbon from ISS

The following is a University of Maryland news release, dated August 1, 2014 and titled “UMD/NASA Goddard Instrument to Fly on Space Station: Technology Enables U.S. to Monitor Forest Carbon from Space Station”:

NASA has selected a proposal developed by the University of Maryland and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) for a new instrument that will join a growing suite of technologies deployed on the International Space Station (ISS), providing key observations about the Earth's environment. The new instrument will provide unprecedented observations of the Earth's forests and their response to changes in climate and land use.

"GEDI will provide the first global data set on forest structure sufficient to accurately map forest above-ground carbon. These data can then be used to estimate the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere that occurs from forest loss, say through fire, and the sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere as forests grow," said UMD Department of Geographical Sciences Professor Ralph Dubayah, the Principal Investigator of the project.

The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) Lidar will use a system of laser beams to map the three-dimensional structure of vegetation, including canopy heights, over a range of biomes including the temperature forests of North America, and tropical regions where rapid deforestation is occurring. GEDI offers scientists the means to answer key questions, including: 1) How has deforestation contributed to atmospheric CO2 concentrations? 2) How much carbon will forests absorb in the future? 3) How will habitat degradation affect global biodiversity?

"By far, the largest uncertainties in the global carbon cycle concern the net impact of forest disturbance and subsequent regrowth on atmospheric CO2. Without these data, we cannot accurately predict future global warming, nor its consequences, such as sea-level rise. Nor can we accurately project the impact of potential policy actions to mitigate warming, such as planting trees or reducing deforestation," Professor Dubayah said.

Forest loss is also driving habitat degradation and erosion of biodiversity. "We are only now beginning to understand the relationship of canopy structure, how the leaves and branches are arranged vertically, to habitat quality and biodiversity," Dubayah said. "For example, many avian species have strong preferences for certain types of forests, such as those with little understory. What happens when we disturb these forests or the climate regime changes? We have very little data on vertical canopy structure globally and therefore we are limited in our ability to answer such questions. GEDI Lidar will provide billions of canopy profiles from which we can deepen our understanding of how habitat degradation drives the loss of biodiversity, and how we may mitigate its impacts."

GEDI will be completed in 2018 for a cost of $94 million. Upon deployment on the ISS, data from GEDI will be used create a variety of products, including canopy height and structure, forest carbon and its changes. In addition, these data will be used drive global ecosystem models to assess the impacts of changes in land use on atmospheric CO2 under various future climate scenarios.

Professor Dubayah said the GEDI team is confident their investigation will have a significant impact on U.S. environmental policy both domestically and abroad. "On a national policy level, GEDI strongly informs U.S. participation in international climate frameworks and treaties such as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation [Redd+]," Dubayah said. "And for the first time, GEDI also provides the United States with a mechanism to monitor forest carbon from space that can be used to help verify potential treaty accordances, such as those which make payments to countries who preserve their forests and related resources."

The GEDI UMD/NASA team has unique technological capability and experience to make these urgently needed measurements with the required fidelity and resolution. They further have a long and extensive background in observing and modeling forest and vegetation dynamics. Dubayah is an expert in using lidar remote sensing observations to characterize forest ecosystem structure to better understand the carbon cycle, habitat quality, and biodiversity and has led numerous such investigations from sub-orbital platforms throughout his career. He is joined at UMD by Co-Investigators, including Professors Matt Hansen, George Hurtt, and Research Assistant Professor Anu Swatantran.

GSFC is the world lead in laser-based remote sensing for both Earth and planetary science and will be responsible for constructing and delivering the instrument, under the guidance of Deputy PI J. Bryan Blair and others. GSFC earth scientists will also participate in the development of the mission and analysis of the science data.

The GEDI team includes Co-Investigators from Woods Hole Research Center, Woods Hole, Massachusetts; the U.S. Forest Service, Ogden, Utah; and Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. GEDI additionally has formal collaborations in place with the German Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Massachusetts Boston, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International.

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

Image 1 for article titled "Alumnus Ralph Dubayah Heads NASA Project to Monitor Forest Carbon from ISS"
Ralph Dubayah received his BA from UC Berkeley and his MA and PhD from UCSB (PhD 1991; Dozier was Chair and Frank Davis, David Simonett, and Terry Smith were on his committee). “My main areas of interest are ecosystem characterization for carbon modeling, habitat and biodiversity studies, land surface energy and water balance modeling, spatial analysis and remote sensing science. A common goal of my research is to develop and apply emerging technologies of spatial data acquisition and analysis, especially lidar remote sensing and computational methods, to address environmental issues at policy-relevant scales. I have been an investigator for numerous NASA projects, including two Interdisciplinary Science Investigations (IDS), on the use of remote sensing for hydrological and ecosystem modeling. I was the principal investigator of the Vegetation Canopy Lidar (VCL), a NASA mission to measure the three-dimensional structure of the Earth’s forests. I have served on various national and international organizations, including the Remote Sensing Committee of the American Geophysical Union, the NSF Geography and Regional Science Panel, and the Research Advisory Committee for the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). I am an Associate Editor for the Journal of Geophysical Research (Biogeosciences), on the Editorial Boards for Remote Sensing of Environment and Remote Sensing. I currently chair the Ecosystem Structure Working Group for NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology program and co-chair the Science Study Group for NASA's DESDynI mission.
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The International Space Station on 23 May 2010 as seen from the departing Space Shuttle Atlantis during STS-132 (Wikipedia: International Space Station)

August 20, 2014 - Meet Nicole McCoy, Our New Graduate Program Assistant

I am thrilled to be in the Geography department, serving students! I came to UCSB in 2010 with a new career path in mind, along the lines of student affairs management, and everything is falling into place. I started out at the Biomolecular Science and Engineering program as the graduate program assistant (GPA), and six months later, I took on an additional position as the GPA for Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology. I thoroughly enjoy working with graduate students and am grateful to continue in that role in Geography!

Before coming to UCSB, I was a GIS professional for almost 20 years. I received my BA in Geography with an emphasis in natural resource management from Central Washington University, WA. My first job in my field was as a GIS technician for Kittitas County Conservation District in Ellensburg, WA where I did a lot of cool things in the GIS world. In 2002, I moved to Santa Barbara with my husband, teenage son (at the time), dog, and cat (all crammed in a U-Haul) to be close to my husband’s family and to make a go of it in what I refer to as “vacation land.” I continued my career in GIS for the County of Santa Barbara at URS Corporation (Goleta), then with Dudek (environmental consulting), and, finally, with my own business, until my new career at UCSB unfolded.

I have become more involved on campus through service on the Chancellor’s Staff Advisory Council and through the Gaucho U professional development program, where my cohort is coordinating a campus-wide event called “Concerts on the Green” for staff and faculty. In my spare time, I have volunteered at the Ty Warner Sea Center as a docent since 2006. Nothing brings me more joy than sharing nature with people of all ages, especially children. For fun, I thoroughly enjoy live music; all outdoor activities; family and friend get-togethers; good food, beer, wine; and all life has to offer!

Editor’s note: It’s an honor to have someone with Nicole’s expertise, experience, and enthusiasm as our new Graduate Program Assistant / Student Programs Manager. Stop by and welcome her to the Department!

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Nicole McCoy is the new Graduate Program Assistant / Student Programs Manager for the UCSB Department of Geography
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Nicole even has her name on a coke bottle!

August 13, 2014 - Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report Cause for Concern

The following is a Media Release by the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre, dated August 13, 2014, and with the title above:

The release of the 5 year Great Barrier Reef Outlook report and the final Strategic Assessment Report indicate that we have a long way to go to address declining reef health and avoid UNESCO listing the reef as World Heritage in Danger in 2015. The outlook report sends a clear and concerning message for Australia, stating that “Even with the recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009, and is expected to further deteriorate.” Banning new dredging and dumping in the World Heritage area can help increase resilience to threats such as climate change.

Speaking after the release of the reports, Cairns and Far North Environment Centre (CAFNEC) Marine Programs Coordinator Josh Coates said: “These reports confirm what we already know – that our reef is in decline and we must take action to prevent further damage.” “Climate change is a key threat and we need to ensure the resilience of the reef to cope with change.”

“One key thing we can do straight away is to address poor water quality by putting a ban on new dredging and dumping for port expansions in the World Heritage Area. This is particularly true for dredging outside of identified major priority ports, such as for the proposed Cairns shipping development project.” “It is also important that we avoid repeating the mistakes that have caused reef decline, such as poorly regulated mining or badly planned agricultural developments, in the still relatively healthy northern section of the reef.”

“What is required is a serious investment in the future of the reef to protect our environment and the tourism and other industries that rely on good reef health. We need investment on the scale of what we are spending to fix up the Murray River – billions, not millions, to reduce the threats such as catchment pollution, coastal development, and poor fishing management.”

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Satellite image of part of the Great Barrier Reef adjacent to the Queensland coastal areas of Airlie Beach and Mackay. The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef system, composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,300 kilometers (1,400 mi) over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometers (133,000 sq mi). The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms. This reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. It supports a wide diversity of life and was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981. CNN labeled it one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Queensland National Trust named it a state icon of Queensland (Wikipedia: Great Barrier Reef)

August 12, 2014 - California Drought Intensifies Need to Manage Groundwater Effectively

“Between climate change, population growth, urbanization, chronic overuse of freshwater resources, and many other factors, we are heading towards one parched planet. In fact, the U.N. anticipates that 47 percent of the world's population could be living under severe water stress by 2050. Agriculture is a big piece of the puzzle. Worldwide, over 90 percent of the water humans consume each day is attributable to food production – the numbers are mind-boggling. For example, a pound of corn needs about 108 gallons of water, a pound of cheese takes about 600 gallons of water, and a pound of beef clocks in a whopping 1,800 gallons of water to produce. In the United States, agriculture accounts for around 80 percent of the water we use each year” (source).

Here in California, 2013 was the driest year on record, and Governor Jerry Brown declared an official statewide drought on January 17, 2014 and appealed to Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 20%. Initial lack of compliance with Brown’s appeal, multiple forest fires, dwindling water reserves, and fading hopes that an El Nino will develop are turning 2014 into another record drought year for the state.

As of early August, almost 60% of California is suffering “exceptional drought,” the most severe on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s five-point scale. About 82% of the state is in “extreme drought,” while 100% is now in “severe drought.” “State and local agencies are taking a broad suite of actions to combat drought and assist areas in greatest need. Local water agencies throughout California are calling for increased water conservation, with mandatory restrictions on water use and even rationing in place in some areas. As of Aug. 7, at least 93 local water agencies have implemented some form of mandatory restrictions / conservation, while at least 130 are calling for voluntary increased conservation in response to the drought and Gov. Jerry Brown's call for all Californians to reduce water use” (source).

Parts of California did get some rain at the beginning of August, but the overall effect on the drought was inconsequential. “Reasons that California’s rain did not provide substantial drought relief included: 1) a lack of widespread coverage of the heaviest showers, 2) the fact that heavy showers mostly fell outside California’s key watershed areas in the Colorado River basin and the Sierra Nevada, and 3) the fact that the high runoff rate of the heaviest rain did not allow for significant percolation into drought-parched soils. Despite the cooler weather and showers, California’s rangeland condition remained steady (70% very poor to poor on August 3). Similarly, topsoil moisture (80% very short to short) and subsoil moisture (85% very short to short) were unchanged from the previous week. Across the northern tier of California, several wildfires—including the 30,000- to 40,000-acre Eiler and Bald fires—remained active in early August” (source).

“Agriculture consumes about 80 percent of all delivered water in the most-populous U.S. state. California’s 80,500 farms and ranches supply everything from milk, beef, and flowers to some of the nation’s largest fruit and vegetable crops, including almonds, avocados, and strawberries. The drought gripping the state that supplies half the fruits, vegetables, and nuts consumed in the U.S. has led federal and state providers to curtail the water they distribute to California’s farmers. That’s prompted districts representing growers to buy and sell for escalated prices from other parts of the state as thousands of acres go unplanted. The drought threatens to boost produce costs that are already elevated following a December frost, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. The price of fresh fruit is forecast to rise as much as 6 percent this year, the department said last month. Dairy products, of which California is the biggest producer, may rise as much as 4 percent” (source).

Lack of surface water has forced farmers to rely more on groundwater. “In what would be the most significant water law passed in California in nearly 50 years, lawmakers in Sacramento are working with Gov. Jerry Brown on a landmark measure to regulate groundwater pumping for the first time. With an Aug. 31 deadline until the end of the session and billions of dollars at stake, negotiations among farmers, environmentalists, cities, and elected officials are reaching a crescendo. Although landowners who want to divert water from reservoirs and rivers have been required to get a permit from the state since 1914, farmers and cities who tap underground aquifers — California’s largest water source — can pump as much as they want, when they want and with almost no oversight or limits. As a result, decades of intense pumping have dropped water tables dangerously low in places such as the San Joaquin Valley and Paso Robles. Scientific studies show the ground is sinking in many hard-hit areas and that aquifers are at risk of running dry” (source).

The other side of the coin, according to a UC Davis report, is that “the 2014 drought will result in a 6.6 million acre-foot reduction in surface water available to agriculture. This loss of surface water will be partially replaced by increasing groundwater pumping by 5 million acre-feet. The resulting net water shortage of 1.6 million acre-feet will cause losses of $810 million in crop revenue and $203 million in dairy and other livestock value, plus additional groundwater pumping costs of $454 million. These direct costs to agriculture total $1.5 billion. The total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion, with a total loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs” (source).

The UC Davis report quoted above concludes that “California is surviving the drought this summer because it is using its water “bank account” — groundwater. The problem for the state is that nobody knows how big that bank account is because California is the only Western state that doesn’t measure its groundwater. About 5.5 million acre-feet of the 6.6 million acre-foot loss in surface water is made up for with groundwater pumping, which means that the state is really only feeling a water loss of about 1 million acre-feet, or enough to fill roughly 543,089 Olympic swimming pools.”

“But groundwater pumping comes at a cost to farmers — $454 million statewide — mainly because of the electricity required. It’s anybody’s guess how long that use of groundwater can go on for because the state doesn’t know how much groundwater is being used, preventing the state from managing its groundwater effectively, according to the report. The report calls on the state of California to more effectively manage groundwater and allow it to replenish in wet years. But when the next wet year will come is anybody’s guess, because there’s more than a 50 percent chance that the drought will drag on at least another year, Lund said” (source).

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U.S. Drought Monitor depiction of drought conditions in California as of August 5, 2014. Created by Brad Rippey, U.S. Department of Agriculture
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A comparison of the drought conditions in California one year apart, from April 2, 2013, to April 1, 2014. In 2013, only half the state was in drought conditions; by 2014 nearly all of it was. Credit: Climate Central
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The chance of El Niño has decreased to about 65% during the Northern Hemisphere fall and early winter. Source: CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/ National Centers for Environmental Prediction/ National Weather Service and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, 7 August 2014
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Figure from UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling, Water Advisory #1, February 3, 2014. Cumulative groundwater losses (cubic km and million acre-ft) in California’s Central Valley since 1962. The red line shows data from USGS calibrated groundwater model simulations from 1962-2003. The green line shows satellite-based estimates of groundwater storage losses produced by the UCCHM at UC Irvine. Background colors represent periods of drought (white), of variable to dry conditions (grey), of variable to wet conditions (light blue) and wet conditions (blue). Groundwater depletion mostly occurs during drought; and progressive droughts are lowering groundwater storage to unsustainable levels. After Figure B9 from USGS Professional Paper 1766. USGS data courtesy of Claudia Faunt. Satellite data courtesy of NASA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
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Farmers in the southern San Joaquin Valley rely on groundwater during a drought. The water level in many wells there has dropped more than 3 meters (10 feet) in the last year. Cities in metropolitan Southern California also lean on groundwater in dry years. Image courtesy of California Department of Water Resources

August 07, 2014 - Rosetta Arrives At Comet Destination

The following is an article on the European Space Agency’s web site, dated August 6, 2014 and with the title above:

After a decade-long journey chasing its target, ESA’s Rosetta has today become the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a comet, opening a new chapter in Solar System exploration. Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and Rosetta now lie 405 million kilometres from Earth, about half way between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars, rushing towards the inner Solar System at nearly 55 000 kilometres per hour.

The comet is in an elliptical 6.5-year orbit that takes it from beyond Jupiter at its furthest point, to between the orbits of Mars and Earth at its closest to the Sun. Rosetta will accompany it for over a year as they swing around the Sun and back out towards Jupiter again.

Comets are considered to be primitive building blocks of the Solar System and may have helped to ‘seed’ Earth with water, perhaps even the ingredients for life. But many fundamental questions about these enigmatic objects remain, and through a comprehensive,in situstudy of the comet, Rosetta aims to unlock the secrets within.

The journey to the comet was not straightforward, however. Since its launch in 2004, Rosetta had to make three gravity-assist flybys of Earth and one of Mars to help it on course to its rendezvous with the comet. This complex course also allowed Rosetta to pass by asteroids Šteins and Lutetia, obtaining unprecedented views and scientific data on these two objects.

“After ten years, five months and four days travelling towards our destination, looping around the Sun five times and clocking up 6.4 billion kilometres, we are delighted to announce finally ‘we are here’,” says Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director General. “Europe’s Rosetta is now the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet, a major highlight in exploring our origins. Discoveries can start.”

Today saw the last of a series of ten rendezvous manoeuvres that began in May to adjust Rosetta’s speed and trajectory gradually to match those of the comet. If any of these manoeuvres had failed, the mission would have been lost, and the spacecraft would simply have flown by the comet.

“Today’s achievement is a result of a huge international endeavour spanning several decades,” says Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. “We have come an extraordinarily long way since the mission concept was first discussed in the late 1970s and approved in 1993, and now we are ready to open a treasure chest of scientific discovery that is destined to rewrite the textbooks on comets for even more decades to come.”

The comet began to reveal its personality while Rosetta was on its approach. Images taken by the OSIRIS camera between late April and early June showed that its activity was variable. The comet’s ‘coma’ – an extended envelope of gas and dust – became rapidly brighter and then died down again over the course of those six weeks. In the same period, first measurements from the Microwave Instrument for the Rosetta Orbiter, MIRO, suggested that the comet was emitting water vapour into space at about 300 millilitres per second.

Meanwhile, the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer, VIRTIS, measured the comet’s average temperature to be about –70ºC, indicating that the surface is predominantly dark and dusty rather than clean and icy. Then, stunning images taken from a distance of about 12 000 km began to reveal that the nucleus comprises two distinct segments joined by a ‘neck’, giving it a duck-like appearance. Subsequent images showed more and more detail – the most recent, highest-resolution image was downloaded from the spacecraft earlier today and will be available this afternoon.

“Our first clear views of the comet have given us plenty to think about,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist. “Is this double-lobed structure built from two separate comets that came together in the Solar System’s history, or is it one comet that has eroded dramatically and asymmetrically over time? Rosetta, by design, is in the best place to study one of these unique objects.”

Today, Rosetta is just 100 km from the comet’s surface, but it will edge closer still. Over the next six weeks, it will describe two triangular-shaped trajectories in front of the comet, first at a distance of 100 km and then at 50 km. At the same time, more of the suite of instruments will provide a detailed scientific study of the comet, scrutinising the surface for a target site for the Philae lander.

Eventually, Rosetta will attempt a close, near-circular orbit at 30 km and, depending on the activity of the comet, perhaps come even closer. “Arriving at the comet is really only just the beginning of an even bigger adventure, with greater challenges still to come as we learn how to operate in this unchartered environment, start to orbit and, eventually, land,” says Sylvain Lodiot, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft operations manager.

As many as five possible landing sites will be identified by late August, before the primary site is identified in mid-September. The final timeline for the sequence of events for deploying Philae – currently expected for 11 November – will be confirmed by the middle of October.

“Over the next few months, in addition to characterising the comet nucleus and setting the bar for the rest of the mission, we will begin final preparations for another space history first: landing on a comet,” says Matt. “After landing, Rosetta will continue to accompany the comet until its closest approach to the Sun in August 2015 and beyond, watching its behaviour from close quarters to give us a unique insight and realtime experience of how a comet works as it hurtles around the Sun.”

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Comet on 3 August 2014. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 3 August from a distance of 285 km. The image resolution is 5.3 metres/pixel. Copyright ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
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Comet activity on 2 August 2014. Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko activity on 2 August 2014. The image was taken by Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera from a distance of 550 km. The exposure time of the image was 330 seconds and the comet nucleus is saturated to bring out the detail of the comet activity. Note there is a ghost image to the right. The image resolution is 55 metres per pixel. Copyright ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
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Arriving at a comet: NavCam animation 6 August. This animation (on the page) comprises 101 images acquired by the Navigation Camera on board ESA's Rosetta spacecraft as it approached comet 67P/C-G in August 2014. The first image was taken on 1 August at 11:07 UTC (12:07 CEST), at a distance of 832 km. The last image was taken 6 August at 06:07 UTC (08:07 CEST) at a distance of 110 km. Copyright ESA/Rosetta/Navcam
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Signal of Rosetta arrival at comet 67P. A drop in thruster temperature signals that the Rosetta spacecraft has arrived at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a 10-year journey through space. Released 06/08/2014 11:37 am. ESA
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Rosetta arrives at comet - Artist impression of ESA's Rosetta approaching comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The comet image was taken on 2 August 2014 by the spacecraft's navigation camera at a distance of about 500 km. The spacecraft and comet are not to scale. Copyright: Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Comet image: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM
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Artist’s impression of the Philae lander, on a transparent background. Copyright ESA/ATG medialab

August 06, 2014 - UCSB Geography Alumnus Tracks Giant Kelp from Space

The following article is from The UCSB Current, written by Julie Cohen, posted July 31, 2014, and titled “Tracking Giant Kelp From Space”:

Citizen scientists worldwide are invited to take part in marine ecology research, and they won’t have to get their feet wet to do it. The Floating Forests project, an initiative spearheaded by scientists at UC Santa Barbara and UCLA, is calling on would-be researchers to examine 30 years of satellite photographs of coastal kelp-dominated areas around the globe to help identify their various sizes and locations.

In collaboration with colleagues at UCSB, Jarrett Byrnes, a former postdoctoral scholar at the campus’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), is trying to determine whether and how climate change is impacting giant kelp forests. To accomplish this, he needs to identify the green patches of kelp forest that appear in photos taken from space. Because of the sheer number of images — 100,000 in all —Byrnes and his team are soliciting assistance from the general public.

In the satellite photos, taken between 1983 and 2013, giant kelp forests appear as little green blobs in a big blue ocean. “What people are actually seeing is the kelp forest canopy floating on the surface of the water,” Byrnes said. “Computers have trouble distinguishing between sea foam and kelp forest, but to the human eye, it’s easy to see the difference.”

As a result, Byrnes and UCSB alumnus Kyle Cavanaugh, an assistant professor in UCLA’s Department of Geography, developed Floating Forests for exactly this purpose. The project will launch Aug. 7, with participants focusing on approximately 10,000 images from California and Tasmania. Once these images are classified, additional sets from other locations will be added.

Identifying the kelp forests is simple: Click to get a new photo, circle the kelp and submit the result to the research team. Floating Forests was created in collaboration with Zooniverse, a citizen science Web portal owned and operated by the Citizen Science Alliance (CSA). Projects supported by CSA have involved tracking wildlife on a preserve and counting galaxies.

Giant kelp, which requires colder water to thrive, provides habitat for otters, fish, urchins and crustaceans. “Giant kelp is an incredible species,” Byrnes said. “It can grow up to a foot or two a day and forms these huge, beautiful redwood-like forests. If a forest is just recovering from a storm, swimming through it is like trekking through thick dense jungle.”

The NASA Landsat images that Byrnes and Cavanaugh have collected of kelp canopies floating on the ocean’s surface could tell scientists a lot about how kelp forests have fared through the past three decades of climate change. “Our first effort will be an examination of changes in global area coverage of the giant kelp canopy,” explained Byrnes, now an assistant professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Boston and former principal investigator of an NCEAS working group called Global Impacts of Climate Change on Kelp Forest Ecosystems. With the kelp forest in the images isolated, Byrnes and his colleagues will analyze the results to help estimate how much total carbon over time across the globe is locked up in giant kelp.

Visitors to the Floating Forests website will see thousands of images from giant kelp forests in Chile, South Africa and other coastlines around the world. The researchers said they hope the project will help regular people engage with marine ecology and issues around climate change.

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Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) can grow up to a foot or two a day and forms huge redwood-like forests. Photo Credit: Santa Barbara Coastal Long Term Ecological Research project
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Taken from space, this NASA Landsat image shows giant kelp (in green) between the two points of land.
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This screen shot shows the giant kelp in the previous image after it has been marked by a citizen scientist.
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Alumnus Kyle Cavanaugh received his PhD in Geography at UCSB in 2011 (Dissertation: "Variability of giant kelp forests in southern California: a remote assessment of kelp biomass and the drivers of kelp dynamics"; Advisor: David A. Siegel). From 2012-2014, he was a postdoctoral researcher at Brown University and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and he recently accepted a tenure track position in Geography at UCLA. Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution
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Jarrett Byrnes received his PhD in Population Biology at UC Davis in 2008

August 05, 2014 - Greetings From Our New Chair, Dan Montello

As of July 1, 2014, Professor Dan Montello took over as Chairperson of the Department of Geography at UCSB. He succeeds Professor Dar Roberts. Dan joins the rest of the department in thanking Dar for the able leadership and generous service he provided for 4+ years. Dan is the 11th Chair since David Simonett led the effort to create the modern Department of Geography in the mid-1970s. A few thoughts from the new Chair:

“Salutations to the friends and family of UCSB Geography in this, my first missive as Chair. I am honored and excited and a bit apprehensive. Just what I think one should feel before embarking on something one really wants to go well. It’s how I often feel before I lecture or give a talk at a conference or some other setting. Those feelings don’t guarantee my success, but I have found over 30 years that their absence pretty much ensures a flat and uninspired performance. So as far as my emotions go, I think my start as Chair is auspicious.

One of the first questions someone asked me after I was elected to serve as Chair, about 5 and a half months before starting in the role, was ‘What’s your goal as Chair?” The question surprised me a little. It’s an obvious question, but I had not thought about it before then. Quickly, however, a first answer came to me. DO NO HARM. The healthcare worker’s oath became my own. Maintain the department’s reputation for academic excellence and make sure that reputation continues to be deserved. Keep our resources at least stable and spend them wisely and fairly. Keep our department innovative and focused on interesting and important research issues. Maintain collegiality among faculty, staff, and students (even including me!).

But as these thoughts ran through my mind, I realized that maintaining the status quo—even when it is one of quality and accomplishment—would not be ambitious enough. Hence, I began to develop ‘kicked-up goals’ (Bam!), a process of development that is ongoing. I hope to enhance our department’s academic excellence and more strongly communicate its relevance to the university and to society. I wish to promote academic fairness and balance. I want to promote faculty hires and faculty affiliations in other departments that will keep strong areas strong and strengthen areas that are not so strong but deserve to be. I aim to encourage more intellectually diverse and profound course offerings, and protect the wonder and humanity of the classroom experience at its best. I intend to foster interaction among our faculty (including our Affiliates), staff, and students, and to nurture stronger relationships with our Alumni. I especially mean to foster more interaction with our undergraduate students, bolstering their feeling of belonging to the department. Of course, I plan to increase our appeal to undergraduates at UCSB who haven’t yet discovered what a great major Geography is. All three of our majors (BA, BA with GIS, BS in Physical Geography) are intellectually stimulating and employable, and both existing and potentially new students need to know this. I want to advance an even more positive morale in the department. Geography can be fun!

To these ends, I ask you to let me know your thoughts. Ask questions, provide opinions, make observations, even kvetch—as long as your kvetch includes something constructive.”

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Dan plays the pirate with the two previous Chairs, Dar Roberts and Oliver Chadwick. He suspects he may be the one drinking from the bottle before his service is over!
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Dan usually grills tri-tip and other delectables at the department BBQs in Fall and Spring. He has gotten much use out of his swanky custom-made apron.
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Why not? To commemorate 50 years of life on Earth as he had known it, Dan and his assistant, M. V. Gray, explored the natural and human landscapes of the Valley from October 23 to 25, 2009. Death Valley is most known for its elevation, or lack thereof. At its lowest spot (Badwater Basin), it drops down to –282 feet (–86.0 meters) below sea level.

August 05, 2014 - Search for the Source of Siberian Sinkholes

The following is a article posted July 30 by staff writer Tanya Lewis with the title "Odd Cause of Gaping Siberian Holes Possibly Found":

A trio of mysterious gaping holes in northern Siberia has spawned many theories about the craters' origin, but scientists have suggested some concrete explanations. In mid-July, reindeer herders stumbled across a crater that was approximately 260 feet (80 meters) wide, on the Yamal Peninsula, whose name means "end of the world," The Siberian Times reported. Since then, two new chasms — a 50-foot (15 m) crater in the Taz district and a 200- to 330-foot (60 to 100 m) crater in the Taymyr Peninsula — have also been reported. Neither aliens nor meteorites caused the strange cavities, as some had speculated, but the true explanation could be exciting nonetheless. Russian scientists have launched an investigation to find out more.

Helicopter video footage of the first hole shows it is surrounded by a mound of loose dirt that appears to have been thrown out of the hole. "My personal opinion is it's some type of sinkhole," said Vladimir Romanovsky, a geophysicist who studies permafrost at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Sinkholes are pits in the ground formed when water fails to drain away. The water likely came from melting permafrost or ice, said Romanovsky, who has spoken with the Russian scientists investigating the site. But whereas most sinkholes suck collapsed material inside, "this one actually erupted outside," he told Live Science. "It's not even in the [scientific] literature. It's pretty new what we're dealing with," he added.

Early on, polar scientist Chris Fogwill of the University of New South Wales, in Australia, suggested the first hole was created by the collapse of a pingo, a large, earth-covered mound of ice that usually forms in Arctic and subarctic regions. Kenji Yoshikawa, an environmental scientist also at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said he also thinks that a drained, collapsed pingo pond is the most likely explanation for the Yamal Peninsula pit. In Alaska, similar pingos exist in the Northern Seward Peninsula and near the city of Nuiqsut.

But Romanovsky said the hole doesn't look like a typical collapsed pingo; such features usually form from larger mounds that slowly cave in over a period of decades, with all the material falling inside. From the photo of the Yamal crater, "it's obvious that some material was ejected from the hole," Romanovsky said. His Russian colleagues who visited the site told him the dirt was piled more than 3 feet (1 m) high around the hole's edges.

The crater's formation probably began in a similar way to that of a sinkhole, where water (in this case, melted ice or permafrost) collects in an underground cavity, Romanovsky said. But instead of the roof of the cavity collapsing, something different occurred. Pressure built up, possibly from natural gas (methane), eventually spewing out a slurry of dirt as the ground sunk away. Anna Kurchatova, a scientist at the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Center in Russia, made a similar observation to The Siberian Times.

The photo of the crater rim shows some vegetation that does not appear freshly grown, which suggests the hole may be several years old, Yoshikawa said. Romanovsky said it might be more recent, but investigators will need to look at archived high-resolution satellite images to pin down exactly when the crater appeared. And many other questions remain: If a sinkhole erupted material, why is the hole's border so round and even? Would there be enough gas to fuel such an eruption, and where did such gas come from?

This part of Siberia contains deep gas fields, and it also contains a lot of small lakes, which formed between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago when the climate was warmer, Romanovsky said. Perhaps these odd holes developed in the same way that sinkholes did, but later expanded. Domes of natural gas also exist in the United States, located east ofthe Sagavanirktok River in Alaska's North Slope Borough. The development of permafrost sinkholes could be one indication of global warming, Romanovsky. "If so, we will probably see this happen more often now."

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Explanations for the origin of the three enormous holes have included everything from meteorites, aliens, and fracking to secret tests of a new tunnel-boring device, a man-made prank, and an explosive cocktail of methane or shale gas suddenly exploding. This photo is of the big crater near Bovanenkovo gas field. Photo credit: Andrey Naumenko, 'Yamal-Region'
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This new crater in the Taz district, near the village of Antipayuta, has a diameter of about 15 metres. Photo credit: Google maps, press service of the Governor YaNAO
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The third crater and hole is in the Taymyr Peninsula, to the east of Yamal, in Kransoyark region. It was accidentally discovered by local herders, inhabitants of the northern village of Nosok. The funnel is a perfectly formed cone, say locals who are mystified at how it was formed. Its depth is estimated at between 60 and 100 metres and its diameter - more than four metres. The herders almost fell into the hole which lies on a pasturing route. They took pictures of the hole which were sent to scientists at the Norilsk Taimyr Explorers' Club. Experts - geologists, ecologists, and historians - have not come to a consensus about the origin of the funnel, say reports in the region. Photo credit: Google maps, Local residents
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Locations of the three holes (
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