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

October 05, 2015 - Alumna Julie Dillemuth Is the Subject of the Member Spotlight of the NCGE

Alumna Julie Dillemuth (PhD 2008) has been selected at the subject of the National Council for Geographic Education’s “Member Spotlight” for October 2015. Read on:

My first encounter with the NCGE was visiting the website to order The People’s Guide to Spatial Thinking by Diana Stuart Sinton, Sarah Bednarz, Phil Gersmehl, Robert Kolvoord, and David Uttal. I poked around the site and realized that this was a professional society I needed to join!

I am a children’s author, and one of my goals is to fill a neglected but critical niche in the children’s book market: picture books with spatial themes. It’s an alternative career for a geography PhD for sure, but now, nearly six years in, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’m thrilled to announce that my debut picture book just came out! Lucy in the City: A Story About Developing Spatial Thinking Skills is for 4- to 8- year-olds, published by Magination Press (see more here. There is a free K-3 Teacher’s Guide, too!).

As a geographer, my area of expertise is spatial cognition, or how we understand the world around us and use concepts of space for problem solving. It wasn’t until graduate school that I even learned that cognitive and behavioral geography was a field within the discipline. Yet people spend a great deal of their day thinking spatially and using spatial skills, consciously or not. Without spatial awareness we wouldn’t be able to navigate our toothbrush around our mouth or our car around town, pack a suitcase or backpack so that everything fits, sketch a map or a diagram, move a couch through a doorway, or communicate with spatial language and metaphors. Some activities that call upon spatial thinking skills we can do easily without a second thought, but others — that couch defying the doorway, the map or diagram worth a thousand words — can be more of a challenge; frustratingly so for some people.

As seems to be the case for many NCGE members, I wasn’t a geographer from the get-go. I found my way to geography through archaeology. I went to Yale University for a BA in archaeological studies, and became interested in landscapes and landforms, where people chose to live and why, and using satellite imagery and GIS as tools to learn more about people’s relationship to their environments. I absolutely loved archaeology: the thrill of digging, in all its painstaking detail, site mapping, and analyzing artifacts. There was just one problem, for me: the lack of certainty that comes with interpreting the surviving clues from past people and cultures. I could never truly know what had happened at a site, what life had been like there in ancient or even historic times, especially since my interpretations came through the lens of my own time and place. As somebody who had always been plagued with perfectionistic tendencies, this aspect of studying the past troubled me.

Enter geography. I was happy to discover that as a geographer I would be able to ask those same interesting questions about people and their relationship with the earth: the landscape, resources, significant places, but in the present time, with living people. Empirical evidence! (Which, yes, still involves interpretation, but not to the same degree.)

I headed to graduate school at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Although I thought I might study how sand moves along the Pacific coast and how people interfere with that, Keith Clarke got me interested in cartography, Dan Montello, Reg Golledge, and Mary Hegarty got me thinking about spatial cognition, and an exciting National Science Foundation IGERT Fellowship with a media arts and technology theme had me considering a context of new technologies. These interests triangulated to a research focus on how people read and use digital maps for navigation. I incorporated my curiosity about imagery and GIS in testing imagery-as-maps (aerial photos) versus traditional maps for my master’s thesis. For my dissertation, I investigated how people deal with maps for decision-making and wayfinding when they are on the small displays of cell phones or GPS devices.

Part of my research involved how people learn an environment, or make mental maps, and that extended to an interest in how spatial skills develop. I was impressed reading about experiments that tested infants’ and children’s spatial thinking, including research that considered exposure to spatial concepts and language (check out the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center SILC for a wealth of information in this area). I also learned that most children are not formally taught spatial thinking concepts, and even worse, can pick up “spatial anxiety” from a parent or teacher who doesn’t feel confident in his or her spatial abilities. Early experiences, or lack thereof, with spatial concepts and language can impact math and science learning later in school, and even play a role in a person’s career choice.

In 2009, a year after completing my PhD, I got the idea of writing a rhyming story for kids that would have spatial language in every sentence. It was about a day in the life of a baby, and I thought that through repeated readings parents might memorize some of the short, rhyming couplets and recite them to their child during daily activities, thereby increasing children’s exposure to spatial language. I started scribbling in a notebook, having fun coming up with rhymes and taking my character through her day with an abundance of prepositions and other positional words.

I had always wanted to write, but had never gotten very far with the bits of novels and screenplays I had started at various points in my life, and it had never crossed my mind to consider a career in writing. But suddenly, this story just flowed out of my head, beginning to end. Then it occurred to me: what if I could help lay the foundations for spatial thinking skills in kids through fun, engaging stories? In writing for children, picture books in particular, I discovered a genre that really clicked with me - short manuscripts (average is 500 words) and straightforward plots (not as complicated as novels). Soon I had more story ideas, and the more I wrote, the more I enjoyed it; although the more I investigated the industry and how to get published, the more I realized how much I had to learn and how grueling the process could be. But I was ready to get serious about writing. I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and started learning about the craft of writing for children and about the publishing industry. I finally felt that this was what I wanted to spend the rest of my career-life doing. Around the same time, I attended a talk by David Uttal (Professor at Northwestern Univ. and SILC researcher), who presented evidence that spatial skills can be taught and can improve with training. So my books could potentially make a difference!

In 2011 I became a mom, which gave me the courage to quit my job to be home with our baby and to focus on my writing. In 2012, I submitted a story to the Highlights Magazine Fiction Contest, and I was stunned and overjoyed to get a phone call a few months later telling me I won! More valuable than the cash prize and engraved bowl was the confidence boost and validation that came with seeing my story in print. I was a writer. I could write stories. Award-winning stories! This could be a viable career.

The following year, spatial development expert Nora Newcombe (Professor at Temple Univ. and SILC Principal Investigator) visited Santa Barbara and I met with her to talk about spatial themes for picture books. She loved my ideas and suggested that Magination Press, the children’s division of American Psychological Association (APA) Publishing, might be a good fit for my stories. I wasn’t so sure, from seeing all the books on their list about clinical psychological issues. But Nora knew an editor on the academic publishing side and offered to ask about a contact person at Magination and whether they might be interested in stories that supported children’s cognitive development. That set in motion the dream-come-true chain of events that led to my book, Lucy in the City, hitting bookshelves two years later. Lesson learned: you never know until you ask!

I hope Lucy will be my first book of many. And I hope it will make a difference in promoting awareness about what spatial thinking is and why it’s important to encourage kids to think spatially.

Image 1 for article titled "Alumna Julie Dillemuth Is the Subject of the Member Spotlight of the NCGE"
Julie Dillemuth alongside the cover of her Lucy book. From the NCGE article; photo by Renato von Mangoldt. For more about Julie’s career, see the November 19, 2012 article, “Alumna Julie Dillemuth Finds Her Way as a Writer.”

October 03, 2015 - Another Boring Barbecue in Paradise

Not really, but you know what I mean. The weather was balmy, the ocean was calm, the food was terrific, and the company was delightful. Seriously, we lucked out on many counts - the temperature dropped a bit after our recent heat wave, the afternoon winds died away, and the water was wonderfully warm.

But as for the company and the food, it was pretty much the same – anything but boring! As always, Geography’s fall barbecue provided a warm welcome for our latest cohort of grad students, as well as a golden opportunity for faculty, grads, alumni, and staff to interact with each other in an informal way. And, as always, the food was great. The Department provided tri-tip, sausages, Portobello mushrooms, and French bread; participants brought pot luck offerings; and, as always, there were plenty of drinks, including a surfeit of beer and wine, to wash things down with.

Picture the venue, if you will: Goleta Beach Park with palm trees swaying overhead in blue skies, a white sand beach stretching along the blue Pacific, children laughing and playing, seagulls sneaking up to steal morsels of food, and our illustrious Chair, Dan Montello, presiding over the tri-tip with his usual culinary flair (and infamous apron). But you don’t need to stretch your imagination – check out the pictures on our Event Photo page. We should have such “boring” barbecues more often!

Editor’s note: Many thanks to Guylene Gadal for taking many of the photos. Article and other photos by Bill Norrington.

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Jon Jablonski (head of the UCSB Map & Imagery Laboratory) and Dan Montello ham it up
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An anonymous dryad at the fall bbq
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Grad student Jorge Chen and family
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Grad student Yingjie Hu gets a bbq lesson from Dan

October 02, 2015 - UCSB Geographers Say Heat and Drought Are Killing Native Trees

"UC Santa Barbara scientists say record heat and drought are taking a deadly toll on California’s native trees." The following article in The UCSB Current was written by Jim Logan and posted October 1, 2015, with the title “Hot, Dry and Dying”:

If you want to see how hard California has suffered in the drought and record heat, take a stroll through a stand of oaks. You’ll likely see brown patches in the canopies and dead branches. There’s a good chance you’ll happen on a dead tree, too. The culprits are record heat and an unprecedented drought, say UC Santa Barbara scientists. For millions of years, oak trees — genus Quercus — have been some of the toughest plants in nature; but even they struggle in soils that haven’t seen significant rainfall since 2011. “It’s a very hardy, drought-tolerant tree, so it is really a measure of the depth of drought that you’re seeing this kind of dieback,” said Frank Davis, director of UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and professor at the campus’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

Oaks aren’t the only trees suffering. Conifers — the state’s pines — are dying by the millions, especially in the southern Sierra Nevada. Bark beetles, which are thriving in the drought, have killed thousands of acres of pines with no end in sight.

Periodic droughts in California, with its Mediterranean climate, are nothing new. What sets this one apart, however, is the extreme heat. On Sept. 17 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that August 2015 was the hottest August on record, with global land surface temperatures 2.05 degrees F above the 20th century average. That kind of heat wreaks havoc on the environment. “The state of the ecosystem in general is strongly tied to temperature,” Davis explained. “Warm the environment and it changes the water use by plants; it can change the population growth rates of insects and pathogens; it changes the rate of decomposition of organic matter; in a nutshell, it changes the metabolism of the ecosystem.”

Dar Roberts, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Geography who has done extensive research with remote sensing of weather, soil and vegetation in California, noted that the heat is only making the drought worse — and harder on the trees. “What high temperatures mean is a lot of evaporative demand,” Roberts explained. “The atmosphere can uptake lots of water and so the plants can lose a lot of water. That means you have less water to go around and the demand for water is greater, which means the plants are under more stress than they normally would be in a drought.” Unfortunately, he noted, we might as well get used to it. With climate change cranking up the Earth’s thermostat, he said, heat and drought could be “the new normal. Higher temperatures coupled with drought are likely going to make things worse than they have been in a long time.”

That’s bad news for the trees. The warm, dry conditions have made conifers susceptible to bark beetles, which are normally controlled by cold, snowy winters. The mountains, however, are warming faster than the lower elevations and snowpack the past three years was at the lowest levels ever recorded. “The combination of drought, which lets the beetles get started, plus warmer conditions where their populations can increase faster, lead to this eruption of beetles across the landscape and widespread pine dieback,” Davis explained. “We’re seeing that across many areas of the state now. Millions of trees.”

For the oaks, though, the story of their decline runs deeper — up to 60 feet below ground. That’s the potential root depth of a blue oak (Q. douglasii), the most drought-tolerant of California’s oaks. Even at those depths the soil holds minimal moisture after three years of drought. “The reason you’re seeing the oaks begin to die is that it’s been this gradual drying down of the soil as we continue to not get sufficient rain,” Roberts said.

Roberts has been tracking soil moisture at varying depths through the use of soil moisture probes for several years. He’s seen increasingly dry soils at depths that, in normal seasons, would be wetter the farther down he measured. “What we’ve found is that our deepest soil layers, the ones about 50 centimeters down, just haven’t gotten much moisture at all in four to five years,” Roberts said. “The last time they got a good soaking was 2011. So then you can imagine these trees. They have these deep roots and they’re tapping these deeper soil layers for moisture. If those layers are not getting replenished by rainfall, and these trees are perpetually drawing more moisture out of them, it’s not good for the trees.”

Not all oaks are created equally, however. Coast live oaks (Q. agrifolia), the most common on the South Coast, are evergreens with shallower roots than deciduous blue or valley oaks (Q. lobata). Both attributes make them slightly less drought-tolerant than the others. The deciduous oaks “can shed leaves in response to drought,” Davis explained. In addition, “the blue oaks are really capable of ratcheting down the water use during hot, dry conditions. They have a way of closing the pores in their leaves so there are lower rates of water loss. All of the oaks do that, but the blue oaks are particularly good at the mechanism of reducing the evaporation of tree canopy back into the atmosphere.”

Despite those adaptations, even the blue and valley oaks are suffering diebacks. The only thing that will stop it is rain. As it happens, help might be on the way. A strong El Niño is building in the Pacific Ocean — NOAA puts the likelihood of such an event at 90 percent — and with it the hope that it could drop large amounts of rain on California as it did in 1982-83 and 1997-98.

“First, it is not yet as intense as the 1997-98 one,” said Joel Michaelsen, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Geography who specializes in climatology and meteorology. “There is a chance that it will continue to grow and reach a similar magnitude, but that is not at all certain. In any case, there is a better than 50-50 chance that Southern California will have a wetter than average winter. “The outlook for Northern California, where most of the state’s water comes from, is less certain,” Michaelsen continued. “Besides, the impact of a single year, no matter how wet, will be fleeting. It could potentially improve the state’s water outlook significantly, but there will always be another drought, and rising temperatures will likely make the impact more severe.”

Even if a wet El Niño arrives, it might not be enough. Roberts noted the rains will be need to be “well-behaved,” dropping large amounts of precipitation and then stopping for a few days to allow the water to percolate into the soil. It will take a series of such storms to penetrate our dry soils, he said. Rain without stop will merely cause runoff and prevent deep percolation. “If we’ve been sucking the water out of theses soils for three years, and they’re really dry now, this is a huge sponge and it’s going to take a lot of water to refill,” Roberts explained. “And the El Niño might not do it. It might get pretty far, but it may not be able to overcome three years of severe drought. It all depends on how it falls.”

Davis cautions that even perfectly timed rains won’t bring the oaks back immediately. They’re tough, but the damage is extensive. “One thing to consider is that these trees don’t rebound right away,” he said. “It doesn’t happen in days or months. It can take years because they’ve often suffered a lot of canopy dieback and they’ve suffered root dieback and they have to rebuild their root, branch and canopy systems. That may take several years before they’re back to full speed.”

Image 1 for article titled "UCSB Geographers Say Heat and Drought Are Killing Native Trees"
A coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) shows signs of severe stress after three years of punishing drought and extreme temperatures. From The Current article, photo credit: Jim Logan
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Frank Davis, director of UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), professor at the campus’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, and affiliated faculty member of the UCSB Department of Geography. From The Current article
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Geography Professor Dar Roberts. Ibid.; photo credit: Spencer Bruttig
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Geography Professor Joel Michaelsen. From The Current article

October 02, 2015 - Writing Skills of 2015 U.S. Grads Leave a Lot to Be Desired

“I belive that weakness is the first level of strength, given the right attitude and driving force. My school advised me to fix my punctuality…” “I am a wedge with a sponge taped to it. My purpose is to wedge myself into someone’s door to absorb as much as possible.” Hobbies: “enjoy cooking Chinese and Italians.” “Instrumental in ruining entire operation for a Midwest chain store.” “Am a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget details.” Yes, these are real quotes from real resumes.

A recent BBC article points out that the job market for new university graduates might be improving, but employers say there are two crucial skills 2015 US grads sorely lack — and they both involve something core to almost any workday: writing. According to research done by the Society of Human Resources Management, “New graduates’ written communication skills leave a lot to be desired.” “Writing well is a make-or-break skill that can get you noticed. Writing poorly draws attention too, but for all the wrong reasons.”

Social media use has damaged college graduates' ability to communicate professionally. According to Phil Gardner, director of the College Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, “In the US, social media-style communication lends itself to short, unsupported writing and typically ignores professional writing etiquette. Even if the interactions between employers and job seekers are changing thanks to social media, there are still protocols that university graduates must remember while connecting with employers, and they often don’t have the practice (Ibid.).

Being able to write clearly and professionally is an essential workplace skill that many young people don't have. While 65% of recent graduates are confident in their writing skills, according to the American Association of Colleges and Universities survey, employers are less sanguine, with only 27% of them reporting that recent college graduates have the written communication skills needed to succeed in the workplace. In the CareerBuilder survey, 38% of employers said that recent grads need better written communication skills. "Incorrect grammar, spelling, and language usage can make a very bad impression. Using an informal style — relying on abbreviations, not using punctuation, and failing to capitalize — does not come across as professional," wrote Joyce E.A. Russell, the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business (source).

New SAT results aren’t pretty: “The Class of 2015 SAT results are out, and they’re ugly. The College Board reported this week that scores on the SAT have sunk to the lowest point since the venerable college-admission test was revamped in 2005. Just how bad were the results? The 1.7 million test-takers in the Class of 2015 posted a combined average score of 1490 (out of 2400) for the three tests in math, critical reading, and writing. Those scores are down 28 points from the 1514 of the Class of 2006. The 2015 results maintained the steady downward trend — one that’s held for the past decade and on each of the three tests (source).

So, what’s to be done? You can’t personally change the quality of education you’ve previously received regarding writing skills and usage, but you can do yourself a favor by consulting the “Bibles” of American grammar and style. The first one is “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White which Time Magazine named (in 2011) one of the 100 best and most influential books written in English since 1923. Your companion “Bible” for such things should be “The Chicago Manual of Style,” which is a style guide for American English published since 1906 and which is one of the most widely used and respected style guides in the United States.

Both of the above are relatively brief tomes, but, if you’re too lazy to deal with them, there’s always good old Google. If in doubt about spelling, comma usage, or whatever, why not google your question? You won’t be the first one to ever do so, and you might even get a correct answer if you check more than one source.

And we all know about spell check. Here’s a classic example of the pros and cons of using it (or not) from a July 23, 2010 email to UCSB Geography staffer and part time lecturer Jose Saleta regarding his Geography 3A class: “Dear Dr. Salina, My schedule has been changed and unfortunately, I now have a time conflict with your class. However, I will definitely take it in the futur as I am very interested in the subject.. Thank you foe getting back to me. I am getting really excreted about coming to UCSB.” Okay, even if your writing skills are crappy, your interest in the subject of Geography is appreciated.

PS: A Little Poem Regarding Computer Spell Checkers: Eye halve a spelling chequer / It came with my pea sea / It plainly marques four my revue / Miss steaks eye kin knot sea. / Eye strike a key and type a word / And weight four it two say / Weather eye am wrong oar write / It shows me strait a weigh. / As soon as a mist ache is maid / It nose bee fore two long / And eye can put the error rite / Its rare lea ever wrong. / Eye have run this poem threw it / I am shore your pleased two no / Its letter perfect awl the weigh / My chequer tolled me sew.

Article by Bill Norrington

Image 1 for article titled "Writing Skills of 2015 U.S. Grads Leave a Lot to Be Desired"
Image 2 for article titled "Writing Skills of 2015 U.S. Grads Leave a Lot to Be Desired"
Image 3 for article titled "Writing Skills of 2015 U.S. Grads Leave a Lot to Be Desired"
Source: “Frank and Ernest,” copyright 1980, Newspaper Enterprise Association, Inc.
Image 4 for article titled "Writing Skills of 2015 U.S. Grads Leave a Lot to Be Desired"
Source: Calvin and Hobbes, a daily comic strip by American cartoonist Bill Watterson that was syndicated from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995. Viewed at
Image 5 for article titled "Writing Skills of 2015 U.S. Grads Leave a Lot to Be Desired"
Source:; evidently, from originally

October 02, 2015 - UCSB Ranks as One of the Most Economically Diverse Colleges in the USA

The following is a article by Abby Jackson, posted September 18, 2015 with the title “New ranking looks at which colleges in America are the most 'economically diverse'”:

The University of California system is dominating the field when it comes to accepting students from diverse economic backgrounds, according to a ranking by The New York Times. Of the top 10 colleges that are doing the most for low-income students, six belong to the University of California system.

The ranking looks at the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, federal money that typically goes to families making less than $70,000 a year, according to The Times. To rank the colleges' efforts to be economically diverse, The Times also looked at the graduation rates for low-income students and the prices that colleges charged for low- and middle-income students. Here were the top schools:

  1. University of California-Irvine: 40% of students receive Pell grants
  2. University of California-Davis: 31% of students receive Pell grants
  3. University of California-Santa Barbara: 31% of students receive Pell grants
  4. University of California-San Diego: 28% of students receive Pell grants
  5. University of California-Los Angeles: 28% of students receive Pell grants
  6. University of Florida: 24% of students receive Pell grants
  7. University of California-Berkeley: 23% of students receive Pell grants
  8. Vassar: 22% of students receive Pell grants
  9. Amherst: 20% of students receive Pell grants
  10. Pomona: 18% of students receive Pell grants

The UC system's commitment to recruiting and accepting a diverse class is even more impressive in light of its strong academic standing in the world. The University of California system proved itself a public-university powerhouse, according to the Center for World University Rankings. Of the top 10 best public universities in the country, the UC system contributed four to the list. America's top public university on CWUR's list — the University of California at Berkeley — ranked seventh overall globally.

Editor’s note: UCSB ranked 64th on the CWUR list. For more on The New York Times ranking, see its related article. Many thanks to Geography Professor Susie Cassels for bringing this material to our attention.

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Source: UC Center for New Racial Studies -

September 28, 2015 - El Nino - What It Will Bring this Year and How It Could Change with Global Warming

The following is an article written for by UCSB Geography Professor Emerita Catherine Gautier and posted on September 10, 2015 with the title above:

As the summer ends, heat is dominating the meteorological landscape, with the warmest month ever recorded and the drought continuing unabated in California. At the same time, it is clear that an El Niño is building that is expected to culminate in the fall and last until the winter, with the possibility of it becoming a “mega” El Niño.

The hope in California is that the large amounts of precipitation usually associated with extreme El Niño events would lessen the impacts of the state’s multi-year drought by partly refilling reservoirs and groundwater, even as scientists caution that this might not happen to the degree needed to alter the present situation.

What drives the El Niño weather pattern and what do scientists know about El Niño under man- made greenhouse warming?

To be clear, El Niño is a tropical Pacific phenomenon, even though it represents the strongest year-to-year meteorological fluctuation on the planet and disrupts the circulation of the global atmosphere. When sea surface temperature changes – or anomalies – in the eastern equatorial Pacific exceed a certain threshold, it becomes an El Niño.

What are the mechanisms behind El Niño? In normal conditions in the tropical Pacific, the trade winds blow from east to west, driving ocean currents westwards underneath. These currents transport warm water that is heated by low-latitude solar radiation and eventually piles up in the western Pacific. As a result, heat accumulates in the upper ocean.

The warm water evaporates from the ocean surface, and the light, warm and humid air rises, leading to deep convection in the form of towering cumulonimbus clouds and heavy precipitation. As this air ascends, it reaches upper levels of the troposphere and returns eastwards to eventually sink over the cooler water of the eastern Pacific. This east-west (zonal) circulation is called the Walker Circulation.

This circulation gets disrupted every few years by El Niño or enhanced by La Niña, the opposite effect. This periodic, naturally occurring phenomenon is called the El-Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

During the typical El Niño, the warm phase of that oscillation, the trade winds weaken, and episodic westerly wind bursts in the western equatorial Pacific generate internal waves into the ocean. These waves trigger the transport of the warm water from the west to the east of the basin.

This induces a reduction of the upwelling (upward motion) of cold water in the east, at the equator and along the coast. It also creates warm sea surface temperature anomalies along the equator from the international dateline in the Pacific to the coast of South America.

As the central part of the Pacific warms up during El Niño, the atmospheric convection that normally occurs over the western warm pool migrates to the central Pacific. That transfer of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere gives rise to extraordinary rainfall in the normally dry eastern equatorial Pacific. Warm air then flows from the west, feeding this convection and further weakening the east-west-flowing trade winds. This leads to further warming as this feedback loop amplifies the phenomenon and ensures that deep atmospheric convection and rainfall patterns are maintained in the central equatorial Pacific. El Niño eventually ends when changes in the ocean cause negative feedbacks that reverse the dynamics that create the El Niño effects.

In association with El Niño, the heat redistribution in the ocean creates a major reorganization of atmospheric convection, severely disrupting global weather patterns from Australia to India and from South Africa to Brazil.

What explains the specific effect on the US and California, however, is a particular type of connection – called extratropical teleconnections – between the heating generated by El Niño and North America. This heating excites wave trains, or groups of similar-sized atmospheric waves, that propagate northward, connecting the central equatorial Pacific to North America. This shifts the subtropical jet stream northward and induces a series of storms over California and the southern US, in general. The increased precipitation that ensues seems to only occur during a strong El Niño.

While El Niños have a rather “typical” signature in the tropics, their impacts over North America vary because other influences act in temperate climates. Nevertheless, most El Niño winters are mild over western Canada and parts of the northern central United States and wet with anomalous precipitation over the southern United States from Texas to Florida.

Scientists are now studying the diversity in El Niño behavior – strong and weak ones, changes in duration, and the different regions for the maximum SST anomalies. Are these changes to El Niño related to global warming? It is too early to say.

For one thing, there is significant natural variability in the Pacific over the decade-length and longer time scales, which could be masking changes driven by global warming.

Climate models do suggest that the mean conditions in the Pacific will evolve toward a warmer state. That means sea surface temperatures are likely to rise and the trade wind to weaken, which could lead to a more permanent El Niño state and/or more intense El Niño events.

Some climate model projections, together with reconstructions of past El Niños, provide empirical support for more extreme El Niño events under greenhouse warming. They also point toward an eastward shift of the center point where heat from the ocean transfers to the air. This would mean an eastward shift of extratropical rainfall teleconnections, the phenomenon responsible for weather changes in North America, including more rain in the West.

But models diverge in their predictions of whether and how the teleconnections' intensity will change. So there is no simple answer to how precipitation will change in California in association with changes of El Niño related to greenhouse warming.

Will the sensitivity of the atmosphere to the primary mechanism at the heart of El Niño – that is, feedback between the higher sea temperatures and slowing trade winds, leading to atmospheric convection over the central Pacific – continue in the future?

It was not maintained during 2014, when otherwise favorable conditions for a big El Niño were present. In that case, persistent deep convection did not occur in the central Pacific, and the usual strong interaction between the atmosphere and the ocean there failed to play its normal role in anchoring the convection and heat transfer.

These results show us that we still have much to learn. This is true despite the dramatic scientific progress that has been accomplished over the last few decades regarding El Niño and ENSO cycles, including new theories, sophisticated seasonal forecasting models and extensive observation systems.

Our ability to predict El Niño and the potential connections between increasing greenhouse gases and El Niño is still limited by the complexity of the ENSO dynamics, as exemplified by the failed prediction of a 2014 El Niño. In the meantime, we can look forward to a winter when El Niño, perhaps even a mega El Niño, will dominate the weather discussion.

Image 1 for article titled "El Nino - What It Will Bring this Year and How It Could Change with Global Warming"
Under normal conditions, winds help carry warm water from east to west. Michael McPhaden/NOAA; from The Conversation article
Image 2 for article titled "El Nino - What It Will Bring this Year and How It Could Change with Global Warming"
During an El Niño, the trade winds weaken and change ocean circulation patterns. Ibid.
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El Niño years typically bring rain-carrying storms to the western US. Stuart Rankin/flickr, CC BY-NC; from The Conversation article
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Dr. Catherine Gautier received her doctorate degree in Physics/Meteorology from the University of Paris in 1984. She spent several years in Quebec as a professor of Physics at the University of Quebec, Rimouski, and then accepted a position as the Associate Director for the California Space Institute at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography of the University of California, San Diego, where she worked as a Research Meteorologist. She has also served as the CEO for two independent businesses (Metsat Gautier and Planet Earth Science Inc.) and worked at the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Catherine served as the Director of the Institute of Computational Earth System Science (now the Earth Research Institute) at UC Santa Barbara for eight years (1996-2004) and has been a member of Geography faculty since 1990.

September 25, 2015 - How Junipero Serra Helped Shape California

In a recent National Public Radio history article with the title above, Richard Gonzales comments: “While Pope Francis is in Washington this week, he is scheduled to canonize Junipero Serra — an 18th century Spanish missionary and the founder of California's storied network of missions. The canonization of Serra prompts a robust debate: Was the Franciscan friar, as the pontiff proclaims, a saint? Or was he, as many Native Americans argue, a villainous tool of Spanish conquest and genocide? What's not being talked about is how Serra's missions became the blueprint for modern California.”

According to historians, “the friars came as part of the colonial expedition, and Spain’s strategy was that by bringing the native peoples into its settlements and way of life, it would cement its hold on the California territory. However, the objective of Serra and the Franciscan missionaries was evangelization” (source). “Serra spent the final half of his life, from the moment he arrived in Mexico City on Jan. 1, 1750, until his death at Carmel on Aug. 28, 1784, struggling to live out his own beliefs in the midst of that complex and bloody reality,” Senkewicz and Beebe write in their 2015 biography. “The manner in which he did so was controversial in his own day and remains no less controversial today.”

“It is estimated that during the Spanish conquest of the Americas, up to eight million indigenous people died, mainly through disease. With the initial conquest of the Americas completed, the Spanish implemented the encomienda system. In theory, encomienda placed groups of indigenous peoples under Spanish oversight to foster cultural assimilation and conversion to Christianity, but in practice it led to the legally sanctioned exploitation of natural resources and forced labor under brutal conditions with a high death rate. Though the Spaniards did not set out to exterminate the indigenous peoples, believing their numbers to be inexhaustible, their actions led to the annihilation of entire tribes such as the Arawak. In the 1760s, an expedition dispatched to fortify California, led by Gaspar de Portolà and Junípero Serra, was marked by slavery, forced conversions, and genocide through the introduction of disease” (Wikipedia: Genocide of indigenous peoples).

The worst abuses of the California Indians, however, came much later, according to Ruben Mendoza of California State University, Monterey Bay (Contested Visions: Fray Junípero Serra, Native Californians, and the Legacy of the Franciscan Missions), who believes the antagonism toward Serra is based on the fact that many of Serra’s critics confuse the impact of Spanish colonizing and missionary activity on the native communities with the decimation of the native peoples after California became a U.S. territory in 1848. The California legislature over time appropriated more than $1 million to pay for bounties for killing California Indians and paid $5 a scalp, said Mendoza, citing "Murder State: California’s Native American Genocide 1846-1873,” by Brendan C. Lindsay (source).

But back to NPR’s discussion of Serra's missions as a blueprint for modern California. “The government of Mexico secularized the missions in the 1830s after the passage of the Mexican secularization act of 1833. This divided the vast mission land holdings into land grants which became many of the Ranchos of California. In the end, the missions had mixed results in their objectives: to convert, educate, and ‘civilize’ the indigenous population and transform the natives into Spanish colonial citizens. Today, the surviving mission buildings are the state's oldest structures and the most-visited historic monuments” (source).

“Fast forward through California's dizzying political development: Mexico loses the territory to the United States in 1848; the gold rush occurs around the same time; California is admitted to the Union in 1850. By the end of the Civil War, the missions were all but abandoned relics of a past that few gold-hungry Americans had time for. But the decrepit and decaying missions would prove to play another pivotal role in California's explosive growth” (NPR, op. cit.)

“By the 1880s, American real estate developers and railroad barons were looking for ways to attract tourists and new residents to the Golden State, especially Southern California. Spurred on by a cultural movement known as the Spanish Revival, they attached themselves to, and promoted the romantic idea of, an idyllic and comfortable California where people could enjoy the Spanish, or Mediterranean, life style. Rail lines were advertised with promises of taking travelers along ‘the Path of the Padres’” (Ibid.).

“One of the main boosters of this mythology, built on nostalgia for an imagined Spanish past, was Los Angeles Times city editor Charles Fletcher Lummis. As president of the Landmarks Club of Southern California, Lummis pushed for the preservation of the crumbling missions, which he argued were ‘worth more than our money...than our oil, our oranges, or even our climate.’ And so, Senkewicz says, ‘these people create a fantasy past of the missions. You get the heroic evangelizing missionaries, and happy contented Indians, and everybody was living together in this bucolic Arcadia’" (Ibid.).

“Ironically, the promotion of the Mission Myth coincided with the declining Hispanic economic and political power in California, writes historian David Weber in "The Spanish Frontier in North America." ‘Properly laundered and packaged, California's picturesque Spanish heritage attracted tourists and gave its infant cities a patina of permanence and tradition'" (Ibid.).

"The advent of the automobile in the early 1900s gave new life to the Mission Myth. New car clubs created caravans along the supposed ‘El Camino Real,’ or King's Highway, that linked the missions. But there was never only one road that linked the missions, according to historian James Sandos, author of "Converting California: Indians and Franciscans in the Missions." ‘It's the desire to be associated with the missions that's so important,’ he says. ‘Myth is ever more comfortable than reality’” (Ibid.).

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Santa Barbara’s annual Fiesta was originally called "Old Spanish Days" and is celebrated every year in August. Fiesta started as a tourist attraction, like the Rose Bowl, designed to draw business into the town in the 1920s. “Being that the most important Fiestas in the Spanish and Mexican tradition have always been closely connected with church celebrations, it is only fitting that Santa Barbara's annual Fiesta has included traditions with the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara. With the gracious involvement of the Franciscan Fathers, those traditions continue today. The 1926 Fiesta held its sunset service at the Mission. A year later, restoration of the Mission from the damage it received in the massive earthquake of 1925 was completed, leading to a celebration on Wednesday evening as a prelude to the opening of Fiesta. There was an Ecclesiastical Procession along the Mission corridor up to the steps of the Mission and followed by a program including addresses by dignitaries, music, and dancing and ending with a reception. From 1927 to the present the tradition has not changed” (source:
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Statue of Junipero Serra at an interstate rest area in California, 2001 (from the NPR article)
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The Mission in 1876; photograph by Carleton Watkins. Mission Santa Barbara, also known as Santa Barbara Mission, is a Spanish mission founded by the Franciscan order near present-day Santa Barbara, California. It was founded by Padre Fermín Lasuén on December 4, 1786, the feast day of Saint Barbara, as the tenth mission for the religious conversion of the indigenous local Chumash—Barbareño tribe of Native American people. The mission is the namesake of the city of Santa Barbara as well as Santa Barbara County. The Mission grounds occupy a rise between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, and were consecrated by Father Fermín Lasuén, who had taken over the presidency of the California mission chain upon the death of Father Presidente Junípero Serra. Mission Santa Barbara is the only mission to remain under the leadership of the Franciscan Friars since its founding, and today is a parish church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Many elements of the Mission's extensive water treatment system, all built by Chumash Indians' labor (including aqueducts, two reservoirs, and a filter house) remain to this day, as does a grain mill; the larger reservoir, which was built in 1806 by the expedient of damming a canyon, has been incorporated into the City's water system. The original fountain and lavadero are also intact near the entrance to the Mission. A dam constructed in 1807 is situated in the current Santa Barbara Botanic Garden up "Mission Canyon." The Mission's tanning vats, pottery kiln, and guard house are all in ruins to this day. (Wikipedia: Mission Santa Barbara)

September 24, 2015 - David Simonett and the Birth of the UCSB Department of Geography

Geography began as a “program” at UCSB under the direction of the Dean of College of Letters and Science in 1963, and by 1964, the program had two full-time instructors and offered five classes. A Geography major was established in February 1966, and its first BA was granted in June, but Geography didn’t become an autonomous department until 1974. The following is a description of those turbulent days, taken from an article titled “The Department of Geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara: History, Curriculum, and Pedagogy” by Keith Clarke and Susanna Baumgart (Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, Volume 66, 2004):

In 1973, a change in deanship altered the role of Geography significantly. Chemistry professor Bruce Rickborn became associate dean of the College of Letters and Science. Acknowledgment was made that the geography program to date had been poorly run by the administration. At the time Rickborn became dean, Geography had six faculty positions, one of which was unoccupied. Some members of the academic senate not only vied for the vacant faculty slot, but advocated terminating Geography. Rickborn had to decide whether Geography would have a future at UCSB. He assembled a committee of three extramural geographers who spent 6 to 8 months researching the study of Geography, reading articles, and listening to geographers.

Rickborn concluded, “Eighty-five percent of Geography departments were moribund.… ‘This tribe occupies this area, and this is what they grow and eat.’” Geography as an extension of grammar school curriculum was not going to fly at UCSB. However, Rickborn respected the kind of geography that [Jack] Estes was doing, reassuring Estes that “We could build something based on remote sensing.” Rickborn had to convince the vice chancellor of the viability of a modern, technological geography department, and also had to address the opposition to geography in the academic senate. To ensure greater likelihood of the future chair being able to create the department Rickborn envisioned, he thought it best to reinvent the current program. “I had the unfortunate job of telling all except Estes that they had to leave.” So, in the early 1970s, UCSB Geography died, the sole surviving spark carried on by Estes’ work on aerial photography and remote sensing. This period is colloquially referred to as the “night of the long knives.”

A chair search committee sought a professor with demonstrated stature who was committed to a remote-sensing emphasis. The short list of candidates included David Simonett, Reginald Golledge, and Harm de Blij, all highly respected geographers. In an interview, Rickborn stated “Originally, I thought zero of social geography—until I met Reg.” The economics professor on the search committee also knew of work in economic geography, and also respected Golledge. Nevertheless, the committee chose Simonett.

Simonett had long wanted to build a forward-looking, progressive geography department featuring a well-funded remote-sensing research center. The seeds of this interest were evident early in his studies. In the 1940s, while a student at the University of Sydney (Australia), he was introduced to land use mapping. The first person to graduate from any Australian university with a PhD in geography, Simonett had focused his doctoral research on applying scientific methods to land use mapping. He worked at the University of Sydney, the University of Maryland, and the University of Nottingham before finally joining the Department of Geography at the University of Kansas, where he remained for 15 years. All the while, he was developing expertise in remote sensing. In 1966, he was appointed associate director of the University of Kansas Remote Sensing Laboratory. In 1970, he returned to the University of Sydney, hoping to contribute to his alma mater. Compared to the research funding he had come to expect in the United States, Australia’s funding seemed insufficient to build the kind of program in remote sensing that he sought. Consequently, in 1972, Simonett became director of the Washington-based Earth Satellite Corporation, where he was working when he learned of the opening for a founding chair of Geography at UCSB. “Although at last a senior scientist in a large remote sensing establishment, David retained his dream of one day developing his own research institution with a University environment,” wrote Trevor Langford-Smith (1991).

Simonett was hired and took over as the first chair of the new department when it came into formal existence on July 1, 1974. As soon as Simonett was hired, he began pursuing Golledge, someone he knew had been a rival candidate for chair. Simonett’s strategy for building a department was to carve out portions of geography, both human and physical, that were connected by the common use of measurement and analysis. The goal was to seek accomplished people for each focal area, then to infill with junior faculty. Golledge was seen as key to one of the areas that would become UCSB’s strength, human behavioral geography. Simonett was an aggressive recruiter, even making personal trips to persuade senior hires to come. Among the early recruits were Golledge, Waldo Tobler, and Terry Smith. During the 1970s and 1980s, Simonett followed a consistent hiring strategy based on clusters of faculty with reinforcing interests, jump started with initial senior hires. This strategy attracted to UCSB a group of young, energetic scholars that he not only personally tutored in grantsmanship, but also encouraged, pressured, and steered closely through academic promotion and tenure. Among these was Jeffrey Dozier, who stated, “A lot of the credit has to go to Simonett. We thrived because of two of Simonett’s characteristics. One, he talked to everybody. In other words, he kept everyone up to date on what everybody else was doing; he helped professors cross-pollinate. And two, he had the least contentious ego. He took genuine pleasure in others’ achievements; he didn’t need to take credit.”

In 1980, Simonett made his last hire as chair: Richard Church, a young assistant professor, to bolster human geography. Simonett then stepped down as chair. With fewer duties, he was prevailed upon to take over the role of dean of Graduate Studies at UCSB in 1981, although he still remained highly active in the department; he died in 1990. Golledge became the second chair.

Editor’s note: Simonett was notorious for his lack of patience (as were Estes and Golledge!), as well as for his “Simonettisms,” some of which include: "I don't care how you get here! Come on the smell of an oily rag!" (Simonett’s reply to Terry Smith when Terry asked how he should get to UCSB); "Tell them Simonett's hopping mad"; "You've got to make a commitment, God damn it!"; "blood fatid dingo kidneys"; and "If you apply a clustering algorithm, then, by God, you will get — clusters!!"

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David Simonett, our first Chair
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Jack Estes
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Reg Golledge, our second Chair (photo credit: Mark Grosch)
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1990 photo of Dave Simonett, with Waldo Tobler, Terry Smith, and Reg Golledge in the background, at the ceremony for renaming the UCSB NCGIA center the David Simonett Center for Spatial Analysis. Print in Simonett's personnel file.

September 24, 2015 - The Geography Website Gets a Facelift

In case you haven’t noticed, the UCSB Department of Geography’s website has had a major facelift! Guylene Gadal, our Webmaster and Software Developer & Coordinator, has burned a lot of midnight oil to update the site, and the results are very impressive. Here’s what Guylene has to say about its launching:

“It has been at least six years since there has been an update to the Department of Geography website. Over time, with updates to resources, legacy coding of the website has not kept up with current web technologies and ADA compliancy. A decision to move to a Content Management System was made for improved site maintenance. Research on CMS tools was done and Wordpress was chosen. A development site was created and worked seamlessly, although, since the Department's website(s) are intricately diverse, the actual transfer produced some minor hiccups we are addressing.

The implementation of the new layout contains updated content for the majority of resources and will continue to use some of the content of the old site via a "hybrid" technique to read Department News and Colloquia. Extensive search features will be added soon, as well as social media selection. The new layout is responsive, tested with no errors on ADA Compliance, and new SEO tools are now implemented. There are many levels to keep track of as the new site develops - many of the existing class sites are password protected, and personal websites are still active. Your patience and understanding during this time are appreciated.”

If there is anything that needs addressing, please send an email to, and she will look into it immediately and try to resolve it as soon as she can. Kudos to Guylene - her patience and considerable understanding of web development are appreciated by all at Geography!

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Guylene Gadal: “My career in computers started in the early 1980's quite by accident. When people had issues with their terminals, I instinctively knew what to do to make the terminal work again. I changed jobs to work as a systems administrators assistant, then as a Computer Operator, changing 9 track tapes on a graveyard shift for a huge firm with multiple DEC VAX 11785 computers and huge hard drive cabinets in rooms that spanned well over 1500 square feet. Over the years, I kept receiving better job offers as I kept improving my skill sets through learning what I could through any means possible, working two or three jobs at a time and attending college when I could. I was usually the only female working in a male-dominated group for much of my career and still performed successfully. I have had the honor of working at Hewlett Packard, testing new equipment before introduction to the consumer market. I have had the honor of working in the defense industry and learning about the limitations of bureaucracy and classifications. Best of all, I have had the honor of working in academia, where I have worked for distinguished Professors and students working towards one day getting their degrees. Along with all of the friends I work with who contribute and support without receiving due credit for it, I salute you.”

September 11, 2015 - Krzysztof Janowicz Scores a Double with New Grants

UCSB Geography’s Associate Professor Krzysztof Janowicz (“Jano”) is the Principle Investigator on two new grants.

The first is a 2-year NSF collaborative proposal titled “EarthCube IA: Collaborative Proposal: Cross-Domain Observational Metadata Environmental Sensing Network (X-DOMES)” (Jano is the UCSB PI; total funding: $55,288).

Abstract: Across-domains, agencies and political boundaries, our environment is being continuously observed and studied. The researchers in this project are looking for short-term, near-term and long-term changes while researching new and evolving methods to observe properties and to process the collected observations. Emerging technologies enable us to provide and discover the data openly and freely. But, if we do not understand the newly discovered data, with its inherent limitations and biases, it cannot be responsibly utilized for new or collaborative research efforts. Working with environmental sensor manufacturers and researchers, the X-DOMES project will develop tools and social and technical infrastructure to facilitate the creation of data about data (metadata). Metadata describes not only who, when, and where the observations were made, but also it must document how an observation came to be (provenance). By taking this knowledge out of manuals and human-readable documents, the X-DOMES model creates metadata that can be treated like data - discoverable and searchable, making it ready to be incorporated into automated archival and processing for quality assurance and validation methods.

Leveraging existing relationships with large NSF-funded data management programs, EarthCube building blocks and working groups, and environmental sensor manufacturers and consortia, we will establish a community of sensor manufacturers and other stakeholders to provide a unifying approach to describing sensors and observations across geo-science domains. Built on an existing sensor metadata model that references registered, standards-based vocabularies, the X-DOMES pilot project will provide a suite of tools, built upon community-adopted standards of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to demonstrate and facilitate the generation of documents that are discoverable and accessible on-line and/or directly from onboard sensor descriptions. The project will also demonstrate mechanisms to associate the data with the metadata through standards-based web services. With vendor-ready tools implemented throughout a broad-based community, the X-DOMES Network will lay the foundation for the development of and adoption of interoperable access to much needed content-rich sensor metadata.

Jano’s second grant is for a USGS sponsored proposal on developing and deploying a scaleable Linked Data platform for the National Map ( Jano is the PI on this 1-year grant titled "I/UCRC: Collaborative Research: Center for Spatiotemporal Thinking and Computing Applications”; membership funding from USGS for the collaborative research project (funded by the NSF) is $61,920.

Abstract: The proposed project aims at providing Linked Data access to National Map vector data which resides in the ArcGIS Geodatabase format. These data include hydrography, transportation, structures, and boundaries. The project will address the challenge of how to efficiently make large data volumes available and queryable at the same times. Previous research and the PI's experience suggest that in the context of the National Map, offering hundreds of Gigabyte of Linked Data via an unrestricted endpoint will not scale. To address this challenge a variety of methods will be tested to determine the sweet spot between data dumps, i.e., just storing huge RDF files for download, on the one side, and unrestricted public (Geo)SPARQL endpoints on the other side. Methods and combination of methods will include (Geo)SPARQL-SQL rewriting, transparent Web Service proxies for WFS, Linked Data Fragments, query optimization, restricted queries via a user interface, and so forth. The sweet spot will be defined as the method (or combination of methods) that enables common usage scenarios for Linked National Map Data, i.e., that is able to retain as much of the functionality that would be provided by having full Linked Data query access via a public endpoint while keeping server load and average query runtime (for common usage queries) at an acceptable level. A Web-based user interface will expose the resulting data and make them queryable and explorable via the follow-your-nose paradigm.

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Associate Professor Krzysztof Janowicz joined the UCSB Geography Department as an Assistant Professor of Geographic Information Science in 2011, and he received The Harold J. Plous Memorial Award in 2014 - the highest honor the UCSB College of Letters and Science can bestow upon a junior faculty member. Before that, Krzysztof was an Assistant Professor at the GeoVISTA Center of the Department of Geography at Pennsylvania State University, and before moving to the U.S., he was working as postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Geoinformatics at the University of Münster in Germany for the international research training group on Semantic Integration of Geospatial Information. Krzysztof did his PhD on similarity-based information retrieval for the Geospatial Semantic Web at the Münster Semantic Interoperability Lab (MUSIL). Before starting his academic career, Krzysztof was working as a software developer and Internet security consultant and was also running his own Information Technology company. To ensure that he did not have to spend his entire life in front of a computer (as he put it), Krzysztof also studied Ecology at the University of Münster, Germany.
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