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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

December 20, 2014 - Giving the Raspberry to UCSB Geography Staff

UCSB Geography staff had their annual Christmas lunch together on the 19th at Mulligan’s Café in Santa Barbara, and the good cheer and good humor overflowed. As a matter of fact, it became a deluge in terms of presents handed out, food packed in, drinks poured down, and laughing out loud.

The staff get together was a “white elephant” affair, consisting of a lot of regifting, regaling, and revenge. Patricia Halloran wept when her “skunk pillow” was taken, Dylan Parenti beamed when he scored the Dali clock, and Beilei Zhang became a heroine when she stole Bill Norrington’s bottle of rum but gave it back to him afterwards.

If the white elephant gifts mentioned above seem amusing, they were tame compared to those bestowed on Bill for reasons unknown. Well, maybe there are reasons…Why else would he be given so many things related to “cleaning up his act” - such as “Wash Away Your Sins” liquid soap, “Fanny Floss” “for those hard to reach areas,” “Belly Button Lint Remover,” a roll of toilet paper “In Case You Get CRAP for Christmas,” and “Toilet Yoga” flash cards. For the record, Bill would like to point out that he has passed all of his annual sexual harassment exams with ease (and in record time), that women constitute nearly 80% of staff membership, and that he has a BS in English.

Dean Pierre Wiltzius sponsored the Geography staff outing, but his generosity didn’t extend to alcoholic beverages, which, no doubt, is why our CEO Mo Lovegreen called an end to the affair just before it got dark and while she could still walk. It has been said that universities are a fountain of knowledge, and that the students are there to drink, but that obviously precludes our own sober staff. Having said that, cheers to Pierre, Mo, and Beilei!

Article by Bill Norrington, who, in hindsight, realizes that giving raspberry jam to all of the staff for Christmas might have been taken the wrong way.

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Geography staff "presents"
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Patricia lost her faux fur
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Dylan digs his Dali
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Bill baffled by bathroom humor!

December 19, 2014 - Ancient, hydrogen-rich waters discovered deep underground at locations around the world

The following is a University of Toronto news article written by Kim Luke and posted on December 17, 2014, with the title above:

A team of scientists led by the University of Toronto’s Barbara Sherwood Lollar has mapped the location of hydrogen-rich waters found trapped kilometres beneath Earth’s surface in rock fractures in Canada, South Africa, and Scandinavia. Common in Precambrian Shield rocks – the oldest rocks on Earth – the ancient waters have a chemistry similar to that found near deep sea vents, suggesting these waters can support microbes living in isolation from the surface. The study, to be published in Nature on December 18, includes data from 19 different mine sites that were explored by Sherwood Lollar, a geoscientist at U of T’s department of earth sciences, U of T senior research associate Georges Lacrampe-Couloume, and colleagues at Oxford and Princeton universities.

The scientists also explain how two chemical reactions combine to produce substantial quantities of hydrogen, doubling estimates of global production from these processes which had previously been based only on hydrogen coming out of the ocean floor. “This represents a quantum change in our understanding of the total volume of Earth’s crust that may be habitable,” said Sherwood Lollar.

Until now, none of the estimates of global hydrogen production sustaining deep microbial populations had included a contribution from the ancient continents. Since Precambrian rocks make up more than 70 per cent of the surface of Earth’s crust, Sherwood Lollar likens these terrains to “a sleeping giant, a huge area that has now been discovered to be a source of possible energy for life.”

One process, known as radiolytic decomposition of water, involves water undergoing a breakdown into hydrogen when exposed to radiation. The other is a chemical reaction called serpentization, a mineral alteration reaction that is common in such ancient rocks.

This study has important implications for the search for deep microbial life. Quantifying the global hydrogen budget is key to understanding the amount of the Earth’s biomass that is in the subsurface, as many deep ecosystems contain chemolithotrophic – so-called “rock-eating” – organisms that consume hydrogen.

In the deep gold mines of South Africa and under the sea there are hydrothermal vents where breaks in the fissure of Earth’s surface release geothermally heated waters – hydrogen-rich fluids host complex microbial communities that are nurtured by the chemicals dissolved in the fluids. This study identifies a global network of sites with hydrogen-rich waters that will be targeted for exploration for deep life over the coming years.

Further, because Mars – like the Precambrian crust – consists of billions-of-year-old rocks with hydrogen-producing potential, this finding has ramifications for astrobiology. “If the ancient rocks of Earth are producing this much hydrogen, it may be that similar processes are taking place on Mars,” said Sherwood Lollar.

Other key members of the research team are Chris Ballentine of Oxford University and Tulis Onstott at Princeton University. The research was funded by the Canada Research Chairs program, the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council, the Sloan Foundation Deep Carbon Observatory, the Canadian Space Agency and the National Science Foundation.

Editor's note: Many thanks to Pat Duncan for suggesting this material.

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Energy rich waters discharge kilometers below the surface in South African gold mine (from the University of Toronto news article; photo by G. Borgonie)
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Sampling fracture waters more than one kilometre underground in the Canadian Shield (Ibid.; photo by Barbara Sherwood Lollar)

December 17, 2014 - Project Tango at the Spatio-Temporal Knowledge Observatory

The following blog is from Geography grad student Blake Regalia who is a member of the Spatio-Temporal Knowledge Observatory (STKO) which is headed by Professor Krzysztof Janowicz:

“A couple of weeks ago, we were white-listed [given early access] to receive a Project Tango device from Google. This device creates virtual 3D models of its surroundings in real-time. It combines data from several sensors to do things such as area localization and reactive mesh building.

Tailored for the indoor environment, Project Tango promises to aid the problem of indoor navigation and pioneer the way towards interactive augmented reality. STKO envisions leveraging the capabilities of this device to research place-based geographic information processing.

The Tango is engineered to process point cloud measurements and correlate them with every pixel in the images captured by its two rear-facing cameras. What makes this device different from other point cloud sensors are its hardware components and inherent mobility. There are many potential applications of this technology that we are excited to explore as we continue to push the envelope of GIS.”

According to Google, “the goal of Project Tango is to give mobile devices a human-scale understanding of space and motion. Our team has been working with universities, research labs, and industrial partners spanning nine countries around the world to build on the last decade of research in robotics and computer vision, concentrating that technology into a unique mobile device. We are putting early prototypes into the hands of developers that can imagine the possibilities and help bring those ideas into reality.

Project Tango devices contain customized hardware and software designed to track the full 3D motion of the device, while simultaneously creating a map of the environment. These sensors allow the device to make over a quarter million 3D measurements every second, updating its position and orientation in real-time, combining that data into a single 3D model of the space around you. They run Android and include development APIs to provide position, orientation, and depth data to standard Android applications written in Java, C/C++, as well as the Unity Game Engine. These early prototypes, algorithms, and APIs are still in active development.”

Editor's note: Many thanks to Grant McKenzie for bringing this to our attention. He also points out that the STKO group invites any researchers interested in the Project Tango tool and the technology (especially those in our own Department) to come by the lab, try it out, and get a quick demo.

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Blake Regalia earned his BS in Computer Science while studying GIS at UCSB. He is in his first year as an MA/PhD student working with the STKO lab. “I like to focus my efforts on developing software that pushes hardware: simulations, data mining, visualization and modeling. I enjoy the technical nature of Geographic Information Systems; I yearn to apply modern computational power with the right algorithms to yield practical information. I am very grateful to be part of the STKO lab.”
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Project Tango Explorer - Point Cloud application
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Krzysztof Janowicz is an Assistant Professor for Geographic Information Science at the Geography Department of UCSB. “Jano” runs the STKO Lab which investigates the role of space and time for knowledge organization.

December 15, 2014 - Five Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea

A recent Plos One article, titled “Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea,” has attracted a lot of attention, if only because of the magnitude of the measured debris problem. But the volume of plastic debris estimated by the study is only part of the problem. Not only are the study’s numbers admittedly conservative, but the results of the study indicate that a huge amount of plastic is missing, presumably laying on the ocean floor, being trapped in sea ice, and/or becoming part of the food chain.

Marcus Erikson, the lead author of the Plos One article puts it this way: “I think everyone who knows of the plastic problem in the ocean envisions an enormous area with nothing, but water bottles, bottle caps, plastic containers, and lighters. What is the reality? You do find those but they are few and far between. The idea of the island of trash does not exist. If it did exist the plastic problem in the oceans would be fixable. What we have is this massive plastic field of tiny plastic particles that is covering a quarter of our earth’s surface. This plastic field is peppered with small plastic particles of varying concentrations. These small plastic particles are a much more insidious problem than an island of trash we could just go pick up” (source).

“Large plastics appear to be abundant near coastlines, degrading into microplastics in the 5 subtropical gyres, and the smallest microplastics were present in more remote regions, such as the subpolar gyres, which the authors did not expect. The distribution of the smallest microplastics in remote regions of the ocean may suggest that gyres act as 'shredders' of large plastic items into microplastics, after which they eject them across the ocean.

‘Our findings show that the garbage patches in the middle of the five subtropical gyres are not the final resting places for the world's floating plastic trash. The endgame for micro-plastic is interactions with entire ocean ecosystems,’ says Marcus Eriksen, PhD, Director of Research for the 5 Gyres Institute” (source).

“If feeding your children fish fingers laced with tiny bits of plastic doesn't sound horrifying enough, it's the nasties that come with marine plastic that have some scientists calling it hazardous waste. Endocrine disruptors such as phthalates are used as plastic softeners, pesticides like DDT, POPs (persistent organic pollutants), and flame retardants readily adhere to plastic. Meaning tiny plastic fragments are highly toxic -- poisonous pills, if you will -- swallowed firstly by unwitting fish and then by those at the top of the food chain. Us” (source).

“Erikson does think the tide of plastic pollution is turning. As we ban single-use plastic bags -- one city, one state at a time -- we are entering the Age of Restoration. He thinks if we can turn off the waste tap and stop abusing our oceans, they will eventually dispel all the plastic and heal. He suggests looking to the waste-pickers of the world for conservation tips. Whether in Mumbai or Los Angeles, sorting through a landfill or dumpsters, waste-pickers follow the money. They bypass most plastic items, only taking what has recycling monetary value -- bottles with guaranteed refunds. If a value is put on all post-consumer plastic, Erikson envisions less plastic poisoning marine food webs and littering our planet” (Ibid.)

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Field locations where count density was measured. Count density (pieces km−2; see colorbar) of marine plastic debris measured at 1571 stations from 680 net tows and 891 visual survey transects for each of four plastic size classes (0.33–1.00 mm, 1.01–4.75 mm, 4.76–200 mm, and >200 mm) (Figure 1 from the Plos One article)
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Model results for global count density in four size classes. Model prediction of global count density (pieces km−2; see colorbar) for each of four size classes (0.33–1.00 mm, 1.01–4.75 mm, 4.76–200 mm, and >200 mm) (Figure 2; Ibid.)
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Model results for global weight density in four size classes. Model prediction of global weight density (g km−2; see colorbar) for each of four size classes (0.33–1.00 mm, 1.01–4.75 mm, 4.76–200 mm, and >200 mm). The majority of global weight is from the largest size class. (Figure 3; Ibid.)
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Plastic ingested by a Rainbow Runner in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo credit: Marcus Erikson, 5-Gyres Institute

December 11, 2014 - Current California Drought Is the Worst in 1,200 Years

The following is a News Release from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, dated December 4, 2014, and titled “Evidence Suggests California’s Drought is the Worst in 1,200 Years”:

As California finally experiences the arrival of a rain-bearing Pineapple Express this week, two climate scientists from the University of Minnesota and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have shown that the drought of 2012-2014 has been the worst in 1,200 years. Daniel Griffin, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Environment and Society at the University of Minnesota, and Kevin Anchukaitis, an assistant scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, asked the question, “How unusual is the ongoing California drought?" Watching the severity of the California drought intensify since last autumn, they wondered how it would eventually compare to other extreme droughts throughout the state's history.

To answer those questions, Griffin and Anchukaitis collected new tree-ring samples from blue oak trees in southern and central California. “California’s old blue oaks are as close to nature’s rain gauges as we get,” says Griffin. “They thrive in some of the driest environments where trees can grow in California.” These trees are particularly sensitive to moisture changes and their tree rings display moisture fluctuations vividly.

As soon as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released climate data for the summer of 2014, the two scientists sprang into action. Using their blue oak data, they reconstructed rainfall back to the 13th century. They also calculated the severity of the drought by combining NOAA's estimates of the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), an index of soil moisture variability, with the existing North American Drought Atlas, a spatial tree-ring based reconstruction of drought developed by scientists at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. These resources together provided complementary data on rainfall and soil moisture over the past millennium. Griffin and Anchukaitis found that while the current period of low precipitation is not unusual in California’s history, these rainfall deficits combined with sustained record high temperatures created the current multiyear severe water shortages. "While it is precipitation that sets the rhythm of California drought, temperature weighs in on the pitch," says Anchukaitis.

“We were genuinely surprised at the result,” says Griffin, a NOAA Climate & Global Change Fellow and former WHOI postdoctoral scholar. “This is California--drought happens. Time and again, the most common result in tree-ring studies is that drought episodes in the past were more extreme than those of more recent eras. This time, however, the result was different.” While there is good evidence of past sustained, multi-decadal droughts or so-called “megadroughts”' in California, the authors say those past episodes were probably punctuated by occasional wet years, even if the cumulative effect over decades was one of overall drying. The current short-term drought appears to be worse than any previous span of consecutive years of drought without reprieve. Tree rings are a valuable data source when tracking historical climate, weather and natural disaster trends. Floods, fires, drought and other elements that can affect growing conditions are reflected in the development of tree rings, and since each ring represents one year the samples collected from centuries-old trees are a virtual timeline that extend beyond the historical record in North America.

So what are the implications? The research indicates that natural climate system variability is compounded by human-caused climate change and that “hot” droughts such as the current one are likely to occur again in the future. California is the world’s 8th largest economy and the source of a substantial amount of U.S. produce. Surface water supply shortages there have impacts well beyond the state’s borders.

With an exceptionally wet winter, parts of California might emerge from the drought this year. "But there is no doubt," cautions Anchukaitis, "that we are entering a new era where human-wrought changes to the climate system will become important for determining the severity of droughts and their consequences for coupled human and natural systems." The results of their study are published this week in Geophysical Research Letters in the article, “How unusual is the 2012-2014 California Drought?”

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Research by WHOI paleoclimatologist Kevin Anchukaitis, left, and Univ. of Minnesota Assistant Professor Dan Griffin has shown that the drought of 2012-2014 has been the worst in 1,200 years. They used tree-rings from centuries-old blue oak like the one pictured to provide long-term context for the ongoing California drought. (Photo by Megan Lundin, Wind Wolves Preserve, Bakersfield, CA)
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The 2012-2014 California drought, unusual in the context of the last 1,200 years, greatly diminished water reserves in Lake Nacimiento of the upper Salinas Valley. (Photo by Daniel Griffin)
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WHOI paleoclimatologist Kevin Anchukaitis collects a tree-ring sample from a 300-year old blue oak in California. Griffin and Anchukaitis found that while the current period of low precipitation is not unusual in California’s history, these rainfall deficits combined with sustained record high temperatures created the current multiyear severe water shortages. "While it is precipitation that sets the rhythm of California drought, temperature weighs in on the pitch," says Anchukaitis. (Photo by Dan Griffin)

December 11, 2014 - MIT Press Publishes Edited Book by Montello, Grossner, and Janelle

As of early December 2014, MIT Press has released the new book edited by Dan Montello, Karl Grossner, and Donald G. Janelle, titled Space in Mind: Concepts for Spatial Learning and Education. Dan is Professor and Chair of our Department of Geography; Karl is a geographer (with his PhD from UCSB) and Digital Humanities Research Developer at Stanford University; and Don is former Program Director of the Center for Spatial Studies here at UCSB, Research Professor Emeritus at UCSB, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Western Ontario. The book is about research on human learning and education that focuses on thinking and reasoning about (and with) space and spatiality. Space and spatiality are central components in understanding the natural and cultural worlds, as well as the abstract or metaphorical worlds of art, literature, and mathematics. Furthermore, the editors believe that promoting spatial thinking in educational curricula is worthwhile and that intellectual questions about such a profound property of reality—so concrete and pervasive yet so abstract and suited to metaphor—are utterly fascinating.

The book started as an interdisciplinary workshop organized by the three editors and held on September 12, 2011, at the tenth biennial Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT 2011) in Belfast, Maine, USA. In response to a subsequent call for chapter proposals, several were received from both workshop participants and scholars who did not attend. The editors chose as appropriate for the book chapters by scholars from a great variety of disciplinary fields, including geography and cartography, psychology, computer science, linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, chemistry, construction science, speech and hearing sciences , architecture, geology, and education. Besides the editors’ introductory chapter, epilogue chapters were contributed by two of the top scholars of spatial thinking and education, Mike Goodchild (Emeritus Professor of Geography at UCSB)and Nora Newcombe (Professor of Psychology at Temple University).

The authors of the various chapters discuss concepts and conceptualization relevant to the emerging field of spatial learning and education, both informally and in formal educational settings, such as those involving classrooms, textbooks, or workbooks for K-16 education (from Kindergarten to a Bachelors degree). There is increasing interest across several disciplines and problem domains in the role of space and spatiality in thinking, learning, reasoning, and communication, and in the possibility of explicitly educating students about space and spatiality (for example, the influential 2006 publication by the National Research Council of the National Academies, titled Learning to Think Spatially). Recently, there has also occurred a “spatial turn” in many disciplines, beyond traditional spatial disciplines like geography, motivating a desire to develop educational curricula specifically focusing on spatiality. This spatial turn has also encouraged an emerging focus by researchers and educators on understanding spatial conceptualization, language, learning, and problem solving more generally, across various academic and non-academic contexts.

The editors believe an education focus on spatiality should be informed by various research activities involving spatial thinking and reasoning that have been ongoing for several decades in such research fields as spatial cognition, geographic information systems, spatial econometrics, spatial humanities, data visualization, and other areas of innovation. They recognize the obvious connections among the goals of these different communities but believe they have been largely separate thus far. By bringing them together in this book, and exploring similarities and differences among their work, the editors hope to benefit them all. They especially support the idea that effective spatial education must be based on a thorough understanding of how people conceptualize and learn space and spatiality in a broad range of problem domains, including design, communication, optimization, navigation, and others that relate to people’s daily-life experiences and behavior, and to spatial tasks associated with different professions.

Spatial learning and education pose definite intellectual and empirical challenges for researchers and educators. Its multi-disciplinary nature makes communication across disciplines confusing at times, with multiple terms and frameworks that are not easily translated or that are used differently by different communities. The tension between empirical and theoretical approaches (possibly most pronounced in comparing the humanities and the sciences, and in the sometimes incompatible goals of basic and applied research) is particularly challenging for this area, in part because spatiality is so ubiquitous but also so abstract. It has often been noted that simple, unambiguous definitions of terms such as “spatial thinking,” “spatial learning,” and “spatial intelligence” are hard to come by; just defining “spatiality” in the first place without invoking space is infamously difficult. But recognizing these challenges, several scholars want to develop education programs to enhance “spatial literacy,” in part due to the correlation that has been demonstrated between spatial reasoning skills and educational and professional performance in many scientific and technological fields. If spatial intelligence or spatial thinking ability can be improved in the course of education and/or professional practice, one may ask where and how it will happen in the contexts of educational curricula and professional development. The editors also recognize the remaining substantive research and institutional challenges to effectively implementing spatial curricula for education and life-long learning.

The book consists of 16 chapters organized into 5 parts:

Part I. Introduction and Conceptual Foundations

  • 1. Concepts for Spatial Learning and Education: An Introduction (Daniel R. Montello, Karl Grossner, and Donald G. Janelle)
  • 2. Three Ways of Using Space (Christian Freksa and Holger Schultheis)
  • 3. The Linguistic Ontology of Space: General Methods and the Role of Comparative Linguistic Evidence (John Bateman and Sander Lestrade)

Part II. Visualization in Spatial Learning and Education

  • 4. Reasoning with Diagrams: Towards a Broad Ontology of Spatial Thinking Strategies (Mary Hegarty, Mike Stieff, and Bonnie Dixon)
  • 5. Spatial Ability and Learning from Visualizations in STEM Disciplines (Scott R. Hinze, Vickie M. Williamson, Mary Jane Shultz, Ghislain Deslongchamps, Kenneth C. Williamson, and David N. Rapp)
  • 6. Can Humans Form Four-Dimensional Spatial Representations? (Frances Wang)

Part III. Spatial Thinking and the Body

  • 7. Embodiment as a Framework for Understanding Environmental Cognition (David Waller)
  • 8. Enhancement of Spatial Processing in Sign Language Users (Evie Malaia and Ronnie Wilbur)
  • 9. What Do a Geologist’s Hands Tell You? A Framework for Classifying Spatial Gestures in Science Education (Kinnari Atit, Thomas F. Shipley, and Basil Tikoff)
  • 10. Using Spatial Strategies to Facilitate Skillful Wayfinding and Spatial Problem Solving: Implications for Education (Alycia M. Hund)

Part IV. Spatial Thinking and Education

  • 11. Spatial Learning in Higher Education (Diana S. Sinton)
  • 12. Concepts and Principles for Spatial Literacy (Karl Grossner and Donald G. Janelle)
  • 13. Cognition and Communication in Architectural Design (Thora Tenbrink, Christoph Hölscher, Dido Tsigaridi, and Ruth Conroy Dalton)
  • 14. Exploring the Nature and Development of Expertise in Geography (Roger M. Downs)

Part V. Epilogue

  • 15. Learning to Live With Spatial Technologies (Michael F. Goodchild)
  • 16. Teaching Space: What, How and When (Nora S. Newcombe)
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ISBN: 9780262028295

December 10, 2014 - Year End Feast Chez Keith and Margot Clarke

Geography Professor Keith Clarke and his gracious wife Margot once again hosted a potluck dinner as an end of year holiday celebration for the Geography Department at their charming and spacious Westside home on Friday, December 5, 2014. The feast got underway at 6:00 pm and ended (presumably) when Margot kicked the last of the guests out.

The tradition of faculty hosting year-end dinner parties goes back to the 1990s when the Clarke family opened the doors of their (then) Goleta home to Geography personnel on several occasions. As usual, the unanimous description of this year’s dinner party was “great!” And the cake that Keith and Margot custom-ordered from a Mesa bakery took the cake!

As with our departmental barbecues, these occasions serve to bring the Department together by providing a sort of social glue for our multidisciplinary and multi-cultural personnel. As they say, “A family that plays together stays together.” Of course, they also say that “Families are like fudge - mostly sweet, with a few nuts mixed in.” And they also say that a picture is worth a thousand words, so check out several of them on our Event Photo page.

Editor’s note: Many thanks to Geography graduate student Jeong Hyun Kim for taking all the terrific photographs.

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December 10, 2014 - What Our Chair Did On His Summer Vacation

The following letter from our esteemed Chair, Dan Montello, was initially written for the UCSB Geography Fall Newsletter and was titled “What I Did for My Summer Vacation”:

It is my pleasure to offer this, my first “Letter from the Chair.” I started in my new position as Chair of the Department of Geography last July. My duties started right away; thus, last summer was even busier than summer normally is. Like for other faculty members, summer for me is typically an opportunity to push my research along, including designing studies, collecting and analyzing data, conferring with collaborators, and writing, writing, writing. Since July, I have certainly spent more of my time carrying out the myriad administrative tasks that are part of being Chair.

So, of course, the title of this letter is a little misleading. I did not really take a summer vacation. But I did manage to combine some vacation time with a research trip. During the last week of July, I traveled to West Point, New York, home to the United States Military Academy (USMA), the Army’s main school for training officers for over 200 years (and long an estimable engineering school as well) . Along with Ian Irmischer, doctoral student in Geography, and Mary Hegarty, Professor in Psychological & Brain Sciences, I have started researching the navigation training that takes place at the USMA and the navigational abilities of its cadets (undergraduates). Our major scientific goals are to improve our understanding of how and why people differ from each other in navigational reasoning and abilities, how the training procedures and materials used by the Army work (or don’t), and how we might improve this training. Each summer, over 1,000 incoming freshman cadets go through intensive training in land navigation techniques (among other skills and knowledge). This training is not about using a computerized GPS-enabled navigation system. It’s two days of training in the detailed reading of topographic maps (that show landforms, water bodies, and so on); the precise use of the magnetic compass, coordinate scale, and protractor; the assessment of walked distances; the planning of efficient routes; and more.

The thousand-plus cadets are organized into several smaller groups, each undergoing the same four days of training, but staggered to start on different days. The first two days involve classroom study and lecture, including using coordinates (derived from the lat-long system) to plot the control points they will later search for in the field. Among other things, cadets are trained to imagine 3-D landforms when presented with a pattern of contour lines on a flat topo map. At the end of the second day, they spend time in a virtual-reality training lab, which is essentially a first-person shooter video game without the shooting but with simulated travel over a landscape, using virtual versions of the same tools they will use the next day in the field. (Researchers in my area of study have been using virtual reality as a research tool since the early 1990s.) On the third and fourth days, the cadets find themselves in the field setting, which is on the 16,000-acre semi-wilderness “campus” that is part of West Point but away from the central campus buildings and football stadium. They bivouacked outside the previous night (yes, in the rain) and ate MREs for all their meals (I tried them—they’re much better than some of the food I have had in more than one cafeteria or diner). In the field, cadets are tasked to walk with backpacks to the control points they previously analyzed in the classroom. The points are marked with 3-ft sticks topped with flags; they are fairly inconspicuous until you get pretty close to them. Although the cadets’ locations are constantly tracked by their supervisors with GPS-enabled phones while they hike around the several-km long course, the cadets themselves do not use the GPS to localize. They are awarded credit for quickly and accurately finding the required control points. Meanwhile, a GPS-derived record of their travel routes, with time stamps, is recorded. That provides a rich and important source of data for me and my colleagues.

And my vacation? Part of it took place Sunday morning, when I tried my hand (and my eyes, mind, and feet) at hiking to control points, as the cadets were doing. That was really mixing business and pleasure! But after finding the second point, a storm rushed over Ian and me (that too is pleasant when you’ve come from a dry Mediterranean summer), and so we called it a day. Also enjoyable was the chance to learn about such an interesting procedure from the officers in charge of this program and some helpful cadet informants. I found it appealing to consider that I might be able to help improve the training. But probably most pleasurable was just visiting West Point itself. George Washington, who established the army post at West Point that became a military academy in 1802, enthusiastically promoted what is fairly obvious to any observer of the campus, even one like me with no military training—the site of the campus makes it very defensible and highly strategic, and it also makes it beautiful to visit. It sits on a high plateau overlooking the Hudson River, flowing south to New York Harbor about 50 miles away. The fort’s original purpose was to prevent the British from sailing north along the river to cut off the Americans during the War for Independence. Besides the generous Hudson that bends beguilingly at West Point, the central campus is full of historic granite buildings, including the impressive Thayer Hotel, where Violet and I stayed (I had convinced my wife to accompany me, another good idea). It was fun to hang out in the hotel (see me in the photograph by the George S. Patton Tavern) and tour around the eastern deciduous woodland, the army museum, and the little towns on both sides of the river. A highlight came on our second night when we drove north for 40 miles to dine at The Bocuse Restaurant, one of several restaurants for students at the Culinary Institute of America (yes, the CIA) to practice their skills (we didn’t charge this meal to my grant). The CIA is the oldest cooking school in the U.S. and surely one of its best. It has personal significance for me, as no fewer than three of my siblings went to school there.

In a modest way, I see the West Point project as an opportunity to examine some fascinating research issues at the same time I more directly serve others. Without sounding too dramatic, the project might well help save lives one day, not only of the sons and daughters who make up today’s cadets, but for many others in the future—after all, today’s cadets are most of tomorrow’s officers. This is reminiscent of virtually all the research we conduct in the UCSB Department of Geography—in a great variety of ways, it is interesting but also promises directly to help individuals and society at large. Indeed, much of it already does. In my next Letter, I intend to make this case by providing details of some of the other geographic research being done by my faculty and student colleagues. In the meantime, I hope we can count on your support for these efforts, financially and otherwise.

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Professor Dan Montello joined the UCSB Department of Geography in 1992 and is also an Affiliated Faculty member of the UCSB Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences. His major interest include spatial, environmental, and geographic perception, cognition, affect, and behavior; Behavioral and Cognitive Geography; Environmental Psychology; Cognitive Cartography; and cognitive issues in GIScience.
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The United States Military Academy at West Point (USMA), also known as West Point, Army, The Academy or simply, The Point, is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located in West Point, New York. The academy, located in Orange County, sits on scenic high ground overlooking the Hudson River, 50 miles (80 km) north of New York City. The entire central campus is a national landmark and home to scores of historic sites, buildings, and monuments. The majority of the campus's neogothic buildings are constructed from gray and black granite. The campus is a popular tourist destination complete with a large visitor center and the oldest museum in the United States Army. (Wikipedia: United States Military Academy; photo by Dan Montello).
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Dan in the General George S. Patton Tavern of the Thayer Hotel. “The Thayer Hotel is a 151-room "Historic Hotel of America" property located 50 miles north of New York City on the banks of the Hudson River at 674 Thayer Road in West Point, New York on the campus of the United States Military Academy. It is named after Sylvanus Thayer, West Point class of 1808, the ‘father of the Military Academy.’ The 151 room Thayer Hotel has undergone several renovations over the years - most recently in 2012, with the opening of the 23-room Executive Suite wing. The Thayer Hotel is an Historic Hotel of America. The main conference rooms and public spaces are all named after historic figures in American history who were instrumental in West Point's history. The hotel has named the "President George Washington Ballroom" (who first headquartered at West Point in 1779); President Thomas Jefferson Patio (founded the US Military Academy in 1802); President Ulysses S. Grant Room (class of 1836); President Dwight D. Eisenhower Room (class of 1915); "General Douglas MacArthur Room (class of 1903); General of the Armies John J. Pershing Room (class of 1886 who led our armies in WWI); General Omar Bradley Room (class of 1915); and General George S. Patton Tavern (class of 1909). (Wikipedia: Thayer Hotel; photo by Violet Gray)

December 10, 2014 - 2015 UCCONNECT Student Conference to Be Held at UCSB from February 27 to March 1

The UCSB GeoTrans Student Union would like to invite you to the 2015 UCCONNECT Student Conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara from February 27th to March 1st! The conference co-chairs are Jay Lee and Adam Davis, and the rest of the organizing committee are Carlos Baez, Crystal Bae, Tim Niblett, Nate Isbell, Ted Isbell, and Elizabeth McBride. Their faculty advisor is Konstadinos Goulias who is also the Associate Director of UCTC and UCCONNECT.

Registration and Abstract submissions are now open! Attendance to the 2015 UCCONNECT conference requires registration. Please use this online interface to purchase for your registration and, if applicable, any conference extras that you wish to take part in. If you wish to pay by check, please visit this page for more information.

Students from within the UCCONNECT consortium who present at the conference will be reimbursed for costs. UCCONNECT will reimburse $75 per night of hotel stay up to two nights and $50 for travel. The conference organizers will reimburse the $65 registration fee after you present. If you wish to present at this conference, please submit an abstract and title on the Abstract Submissions page. More information about the conference can be found at

UCCONNECT continues and builds upon the legacy strengths of the original Region 9 Center, UCTC, which has been housed at UC Berkeley since the inception of the UCTC program, and which has an impressive track record of contributions garnered through collaborative activities conducted across multiple university campuses, and in partnership with the California State DOT (Caltrans). The new Center continues in that collaborative tradition, but with a sharpened focus. More about the history of UCCONNECT can be found here.

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Save the Date! The 2015 UCCONNECT Student Conference will take place at the University of California Santa Barbara Campus, on February 27th, 28th and March 1st, 2015.
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Konstadinos (Kostas) Goulias is a professor of transportation in the Geography Department at the University of California Santa Barbara and co-director of the GeoTrans laboratory. He is also the Associate Director of UCTC and UCCONNECT
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Photo from the 2008 University Transportation Centers student conference at UCSB. Clockwise are: Dr. Pam Dalal, Professor Brian Taylor (UCLA), Dr. Shaunna Burbidge, Professor Betty Deakin (UCB), Professor Konstadinos Goulias (UCSB), Jared Beckman (co-chair of the 2008 conference), Professor Susan Handy (UCDavis), Professor Mei-Po Kwan (Mel Weber Memorial Lecturer now at Univ. of Illinois Urbana Champaign), and Dr. Kate Deutsch-Burgner (co-chair of the 2008 conference).

December 09, 2014 - Keith Clarke Tours the River Valleys of Bhutan

“On his final field inspection with the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE), geographer Keith Clarke writes about his experience in Bhutan and reflects on his eight-year term with CRE. National Geographic President and CEO Gary Knell is leading the CRE on a tour of the Himalayan country to meet with grantees, listen to briefings from government officials and environment groups, and observe science, exploration, and conservation in the field. The Society has funded nearly two dozen grants in Bhutan, two of which are active.”

The following is the article by Keith Clarke which was posted on National Geographic’s “Voices: Ideas and Insight From Explorers” page on November 22, 2014, with the title “Along Bhutan’s River Valleys to Find Black-Necked Cranes”:

CRE field excursions are always a whirlwind of exhausting travel and rapid information-absorption, interspersed with lifelong memory experiences and unforgettable in-your-face lessons about world geography. Earlier this week was no exception. We rose far later than usual, as there was no dawn animal watch—the previous day we rose at 5 to catch a glimpse of the white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis). After a rousing breakfast presentation on the future of National Geographic from CEO and President Gary Knell, it was back to the buses for a 4-hour drive to the Phobjika Valley.

We drive in four buses, each named for one of the four dignities: Dragon, Tiger, Snow Lion, and our bus, Garuda. The Garuda is a fearless and daring mythical flying beast, which lives in northern Bhutan. It symbolizes freedom from hopes and fears, and is an antidote to negative spirits. Spending lots of time in the company of my busmates, plus our driver and guide, builds considerable friendship and not a little jocularity, much of it surrounding the Mad Monk cult, now undergoing revival in Bhutan.

Our trip started at a modest altitude of 1,000 meters, and again we passed along the western highway, really just a mountain track, clinging to the side of mountains, and looping into and out of side canyons, each exhibiting a new waterfall. Many of the falls have small stupas containing water-powered prayer wheels, sending their prayers upward at each rotation and earning their makers “white marbles” or positive credits in the flow of Bhuddist life. Each overhang or crevice in the rock surrounding these stupas is filled with tsa-tsas, small pyramids formed from clay mixed with the ashes of the cremated dead. These are brightly painted and placed in auspicious places to honor the deceased. As they discolor and then disintegrate, the ancestors slowly merge back into the beautiful landscape.

Once again I picked the wrong side of the bus. I am subject to vertigo, and the rare altitude is no help, but each new side canyon saw the bus within millimeters of the edge of precipitous 300-meter vertical drops, with the tops of the soaring pine trees growing just arm’s lengths away, level with one’s eyes. Freedom from hope and fear, I repeat to myself, and think positive thoughts.

We wind along narrow Himalayan river valleys, where slopes facing north versus south receive such differing amounts of sunlight that one side of the valley resembles a tropical rain forest, while the other seems like the dry Sierras. We see our first yak, just as we cross the last few switchbacks dotted with stunted trees covered in Spanish moss. At last we stop at the saddle, the pass where we cross into the glacial Phobjika valley at 3,300m. There we chant the ritual thanks to the mountain gods for our safe passage, and come together to stretch two huge trains of prayer flags across the road between two trees. We leave them flapping their prayers into the winds, and start the descent into the valley, almost immediately spotting a group of Himalayan vultures.

This is my last trip with the CRE. In my eight years of service, the field inspections have taken me to Egypt, Vietnam, Cambodia, Turkey, India, South Africa, and now Bhutan. I leave the committee with not a little sadness; I will be losing good friends, colleagues, and regular contact with academic disciplines and subjects well beyond my own field of cartography. I find Bhutan to be steeped in history, culture, spectacular scenery and amazing people. The Bhutanese are intelligent, charming, strong, peaceful and largely content with life. Bhutan’s two natural resources are its people and its culture. There are many challenges to the status quo that reflect the ills of world societies, among them teen pregnancy, alcoholism, and unemployment. Yet they have chosen a different path toward development and progress. Like the water-powered prayer wheel, I send them hope over fear, and ever-absent negative spirits.

On the first morning in Phobjika there was a pre-dawn departure for the blinds to see the black-necked cranes, which we’d seen in the distance at the flat muddy base of the U-shaped valley. I told myself that if I looked hard enough into the first light of dusk, I’d see a Garuda. I’d given up hope of photographing a Yeti. Positive thoughts.

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Members of the National Geographic delegation raise prayer flags to send good wishes to all sentient beings of the world. Photograph by Keith Clarke
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A glimpse of one of the world’s rarest birds, the white-bellied crane. Photograph by Keith Clarke
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The view from my side of the bus, a sheer drop a few inches away. Ibid.
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"A member of the Committee for Research and Exploration since 2006, Keith Clarke is a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has been a member of the National Research Council’s Mapping Sciences Committee since 2003 and is the current chair. Trained in scientific and quantitative geography, Dr. Clarke has worked on the integration of the computer into the methods and equipment used for analysis and exploration. Specializing in analytical cartography and geographic information systems, he has conducted fieldwork on disease mapping in Africa, Maya settlements in Central America, and glaciers in Lapland. While a Resident Fellow at the Explorers Club, Dr. Clarke led the mapping for a flag-bearing expedition to Hudson’s Bay, and climbed the Mexican volcano Popocatepetl. His research stretches from computer modeling of land use change to detailed mapping of terrain with LIDAR" (National Geographic)
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