Google+  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram  LinkedIn

UC Santa Barbara
Department of Geography
UC Santa Barbara
Department of Geography
News & Events Department News Events Calendar Event Photos News Favorites News Archive Colloquia Archive
If you would like to be on our mailing list of latest news postings which goes out about every two weeks, or if you have anything relating to the Department that you consider noteworthy, interesting, or just plain fun that you would like to share, please contact the news editor at

UC Santa Barbara Geography / News & Events / Department News

July 01, 2015 - Alumnus Dennis Gibbs Credits his Career to UCSB Geography

Dennis Gibbs graduated with a BA degree from the UCSB Geography Department in the Spring of 1989, and was immediately hired by Santa Barbara County Flood Control District (after doing an internship) in order to assemble their first computerized rainfall database, using the spreadsheet of that era, Lotus 1-2-3. His emphasis as a Geography major was Climatology, Hydrology, and Geographic Information Systems, the latter of which was in it’s infancy in the late 1980’s (the Department didn’t offer a BS in 1989). Dennis studied under the tutelage of Joel Michaelsen, Jeff Dozier, Earl Hajic, Frank Davis, Laura Haston, Jack Estes, and Jeffrey Star.

Dennis went on to manage the Flood Control District’s Hydrology section and the ALERT (Automated Local Evaluation in Real Time) System, in which automated rainfall and streamflow sensors reported in “real time” via radio frequencies to Flood Control headquarters, which allowed engineers and hydrologists to evaluate runoff and flooding conditions. Dennis then became the Flood Control Hydrologist, he served as an officer for the ALERT Users Group, and he was President of the Santa Barbara–Ventura Chapter of the American Meteorological Society for several years. He also published a paper with Ed Keller after the Painted Cave Fire: “Hydrological Response of Small Watersheds following the Southern California Painted Cave Fire of June 1990.”

In 1999, Dennis had an opportunity to transfer to the Santa Barbara County Water Agency to work on Groundwater and Water Supply issues, and he once again turned to the UCSB Geography Department and came back to take classes taught by Hugo Loaiciga to “bone up” on the principles of the characteristics of Groundwater. During this time, Dennis became the Senior Hydrologist for the Santa Barbara County Water Agency, a licensed professional Hydrologist through the American Institute of Hydrology, and a licensed Weather Modification Operator through the Weather Modification Association. His duties included administration and oversight of the regional cloudseeding program to increase rainfall in the watersheds behind Lake Cachuma and Twitchell Reservoir, as well as dealing with Groundwater reports and information requests. During this tenure, he authored and coauthored several reports and publications, including “Using a Geographic Information System to Store, Retrieve and Disseminate Groundwater Data” and “Water Availability of the Cuyama Valley, California.”

When asked about his education in the UCSB Geography Department, Dennis replied: “I was very fortunate to get an excellent education under some tremendous individuals like Dr. Michaelsen, Jeff Dozier and many, many others, many whom formed the Bren School at UCSB. It was a very diverse education that allowed me to expand in all horizons of Earth Sciences.” After a 26 year career with the County, Dennis’s plans are to spend more time with his parents who are 82 and live in Clovis, do some traveling, and find a role in helping California agricultural interests meet their water requirements during this dry spell, particularly in light of the new regulations about water that are emerging.

Image 1 for article titled "Alumnus Dennis Gibbs Credits his Career to UCSB Geography"
Dennis as an undergraduate Geography major at UCSB - seen here studying "hydrology"
Image 2 for article titled "Alumnus Dennis Gibbs Credits his Career to UCSB Geography"
Dennis caught this rainbow trout at Lake Cachuma a few weeks ago - he calls fishing "aquatic research"

July 01, 2015 - Lopez-Carr and Fellow Researchers Receive NSF Funding to Eradicate Schistosoma Parasite

With $1.5 million in NSF funding, a group of researchers from UCSB and partner institutions will study the effects of a novel way of eradicating schistosomiasis. The following article in The UCSB Current, written by Sonia Fernandez and titled “A Win-Win-Win-Win,” goes on to state:

Built in 1986, the Diama Dam between Senegal and Mauritania was constructed on the Senegal River to improve irrigation for nearby crops and prevent upstream saltwater intrusion. However, shortly after its completion, it became evident that what many people in the area would have gained in economic opportunity they lost in public health.

The dam, while improving irrigation and providing a source of fresh water, also presented ideal conditions for snails that host the Schistosoma parasite. As a result, those who live and work around that section of the Senegal River are constantly infected and reinfected by the flatworm and suffer from the effects of schistosomiasis. Senegal has one of the world’s worst schistosomiasis problems.

“It’s a debilitating disease,” said Armand Kuris, UC Santa Barbara professor of zoology and one of the world’s leading parasitologists. Unlike other serious contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS, schistosomiasis is chronic, said Kuris. Rather than killing outright, schistosomiasis erodes the human host’s health as the worms multiply in his or her body. Eggs, if not expelled in the host’s urine or feces, can migrate to different organs, disrupting their functions. The result is overall poor physical health, an impaired immune system and cognitive difficulty.

The disease has wider implications, according to UCSB geography professor David López-Carr, whose research focuses on the human dimensions of environment change, particularly in the developing areas of the world, as well as rural poverty and development. Those chronically afflicted tend to be the rural poor, people who live and work, bathe and play in the river and surrounding waterways and farms. This is where the infected freshwater snails thrive and continuously shed cercariae, the free-swimming larvae of the parasite that seek out and penetrate human skin. Because the people are constantly exposed to the parasite, and don’t have the means to avoid it in their daily lives or afford treatment, this population is chronically at a health and socioeconomic disadvantage, with poverty and poor health affecting each other in a self-perpetuating cycle. “It makes you less competent at anything you do,” said López-Carr. “It makes you less effective as a parent or in your work — and that has a huge economic impact on a society.”

Conventional treatments for this ongoing schistosomiasis epidemic have consisted of drug-based control programs and preventive chemotherapy, programs that have had successes. However, the environment of the Senegal River, with its impacted ecology, provides the setting for rapid reinfection, according to Kuris, who has been studying schistosomiasis in sub-Saharan Africa for 25 years. Medical programs to cure people of schistosomiasis, though effective, are ultimately unsustainable if the source of the parasites remains unmitigated, he said.

However, there is hope, and it might be in the form of a local river prawn (Macrobrachium vollenhovenii), currently under study by Kuris and colleagues in Senegal, that has the potential to turn the situation around. Reintroducing the crustacean into the affected areas to prey on the snails could disrupt the parasite’s life cycle and diminish, if not eliminate, the schistosome’s presence in the water.

“In the big picture, what we’d really like to do is eliminate this scourge,” said López-Carr. Depending on the efficiency and effectiveness of the method, efforts in the area to reduce the prevalence of and infections by the parasite may not only get a much-needed boost but the local economy may also profit. The prawns, which do not become infected with the flatworm larvae they eat along with the host snails, could also potentially be farmed for food and sold at market, he said.

This novel way of eradicating an infectious disease like schistosomiasis has many levels and, with a highly competitive $1.5 million grant provided by the National Science Foundation, López-Carr, Kuris, and a host of researchers from various disciplines will be studying these levels by looking at, among other things, the complex interaction of human and natural forces that may alter patterns of disease transmission. The principal investigators in this project also include James Sanchirico, professor in the Department of Environmental Science & Policy at UC Davis; Kentucky State University aquaculture expert James Tidwell; and Susanne Sokolow, associate research biologist dually appointed at UCSB and Stanford University.

“The main question is, ‘What are the predictors of human infection or reinfection?’” said López-Carr. Because schistosomiasis is an insidious disease — people can have it without dying and often without obvious outward symptoms for long periods of time — the geographic, social and demographic elements that may influence who gets the disease and how infection, in turn, affects people and their interactions with the local environment have not yet been studied in-depth, according to López-Carr.

“We plan to couple the study of the biological dynamics with models of the economics of the disease and of the prawn intervention,” said Sokolow. Small prawns are most effective at killing snails, she added, so the ones that have grown large can be harvested for sale or consumption, provided small ones are stocked in their place. “In this project, our bio-economic models will aim to answer the questions of how many prawns to stock, when to harvest, and how to devise the optimal win-win-win-win solution that benefits human health, environmental restoration, hunger alleviation and economic development,” she said.

Image 1 for article titled "Lopez-Carr and Fellow Researchers Receive NSF Funding to Eradicate Schistosoma Parasite"
Native prawns play a huge role in the novel schistosomiasis eradication effort. From The Current; photo credit: Susanne Sokolow
Image 2 for article titled "Lopez-Carr and Fellow Researchers Receive NSF Funding to Eradicate Schistosoma Parasite"
David López-Carr (courtesy photo)
Image 3 for article titled "Lopez-Carr and Fellow Researchers Receive NSF Funding to Eradicate Schistosoma Parasite"
Schistosoma life cycle. Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, snail fever, and Katayama fever, is a disease caused by parasitic worms of the Schistosoma type. It may infect the urinary tract or the intestines. Signs and symptoms may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stool, or blood in the urine. In those who have been infected for a long time, liver damage, kidney failure, infertility, or bladder cancer may occur. In children it may cause poor growth and learning difficulty. Schistosomiasis affects almost 210 million people worldwide, and an estimated 12,000 to 200,000 people die from it a year. The disease is most commonly found in Africa, as well as Asia and South America. Around 700 million people, in more than 70 countries, live in areas where the disease is common. Schistosomiasis is second only to malaria, as a parasitic disease with the greatest economic impact. From ancient times to the early 20th century, schistosomiasis' symptom of blood in the urine was seen as a male version of menstruation in Egypt and was thus viewed as a rite of passage for boys. It is classified as a neglected tropical disease (Wikipedia: Schistosomiasis)
Image 4 for article titled "Lopez-Carr and Fellow Researchers Receive NSF Funding to Eradicate Schistosoma Parasite"
The parasites that cause schistosomiasis live in certain types of freshwater snails. The infectious form of the parasite, known as cercariae, emerge from the snail, hence contaminating water. You can become infected when your skin comes in contact with contaminated freshwater. Most human infections are caused by Schistosoma mansoni, S. haematobium, or S. japonicum. Image: Left: Biomphalaria sp., the intermediate host for S. mansoni. Right: Bulinus sp., the intermediate host for S. haematobium and S. intercalatum. Center: Adults of S. mansoni. The thin female resides in the gynecophoral canal of the thicker male. (; image credit: DPDx)

June 30, 2015 - A Warm Welcome to Alycia Lewis, Our New Contracts and Grants Manager

A warm welcome to Alycia Lewis who has accepted the Department of Geography’s offer to be the new Contracts & Grants Manager for Geography. She replaces Beilei Zhang who held that position for 25 years and formally retired at the end of June.

Alycia is a UCSB alumna who graduated in 2002 with a B.S. degree in Zoology. She has extensive experience in research administration and worked for the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies, and the California NanoSystems Institute before joining the Geography department. She is also a RACC Certified Research Administrator and says that she is fascinated by the research that takes place at UCSB.

When interviewed, Alycia mentioned that she’s a Southern California native and loves the beach and being outdoors. Her favorite activities include running, stand-up paddle boarding, and hiking, and she is an avid animal lover. She has a passion for cooking, especially baking sweets for others, and is a huge basketball fan (go Lakers!). Alycia also stated that she enjoys helping others and loves to make people smile, and she added that she is excited to be a part of the Geography team and looks forward to working with everyone in the department. We, in turn, look forward to working with her!

Editor's note: During her interview, Alycia modestly omitted the fact that she is one of the only two Certified Research Administrators on the UCSB campus, and that there are only about 2,500 active CRAs in the entire U.S. “The CRA designation is granted in the United States by the Research Administrators Certification Council (RACC) to individuals who demonstrate the knowledge necessary to serve as an administrator of professional and sponsored research programs. Candidates must hold a Bachelor's degree, possess at least three years of related experience, and pass the Certified Research Administrator examination before being conferred the right to use the CRA designation” (Wikipedia: Certified Research Administrator).

Image 1 for article titled "A Warm Welcome to Alycia Lewis, Our New Contracts and Grants Manager"
Alycia has extensive experience in research administration and worked for the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies, and the California NanoSystems Institute before joining the Geography department.
Image 2 for article titled "A Warm Welcome to Alycia Lewis, Our New Contracts and Grants Manager"
Alycia (center) with Beilei (right) and Nicole McCoy, our Student Programs Manager, at the staff retirement lunch held at the Boathouse (see the June 27 article about it).

June 29, 2015 - Island Rodents Take On Nightmarish Proportions

According to a news release from Duke University, rodents of unusual sizes are 17 times more likely to occur on islands than elsewhere. The article by Robin A. Smith appeared in DukeToday on June 22 with the title above:

Researchers have analyzed size data for rodents worldwide to distinguish the truly massive mice and giant gerbils from the regular-sized rodents. They found that the furry animals with chisel-like teeth are 17 times more likely to evolve to nightmarish proportions on islands than elsewhere. The results are in keeping with an idea called the “island rule,” which previous studies claimed didn’t apply to rodents. The study appears online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Duke University biologists Paul Durst and Louise Roth analyzed data from more than 1,000 rodent populations representing more than 60 species across the globe. The dataset included mice, rats, squirrels, hamsters, and porcupines, ranging in size from the tiny 0.2-ounce harvest mouse to the nearly 50-pound North American beaver.

There may be nothing remarkable about a 100-pound capybara -- a South American rodent the size of a St. Bernard -- if that’s the norm for that species, the researchers say. The question gnawing at Durst and Roth was identifying the rodents that, over time, have become exceptionally large or small for their kind.

In other words, which parts of the world are home to the hugest hamsters, or the smallest squirrels? The answer was islands. More than half of the rodent populations on the 182 islands they looked at weighed in among the top or bottom 2.5 percent for size for their species.

Take Coues' rice rat, for example, which researchers believe got to the island of Cozumel from nearby Mexico and Guatemala. Some island populations have grown to more than twice the size of their mainland counterparts. “Deer mice, too, are nearly twice as big on the Gulf Islands off the coast of Vancouver than on the North American mainland,” said Durst, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Scientists don’t know how long ago most rodents arrived on the islands from the mainland territories where they originated, or how long each took to reach peculiar proportions. But for the most part, the researchers discovered that the extreme cases were unusually large, rather than unusually tiny. The few dwarfs in their dataset are found on hot, dry islands that are particularly brown or barren rather than lush and green. An Asian tree squirrel called Finlayson's squirrel, for example, has shrunk by half since arriving on the Thai island of Ko Lan. “They don’t have the resources they need to get big,” Durst said.

Size changes in island animals are well-known to science. In 1964, biologist J. Bristol Foster surveyed size trends in island and mainland animals and suggested that large animals usually get smaller on islands, and small animals usually get bigger, a generalization that biologists later dubbed “the island rule.” Data collected for animals like elephants and deer in the decades that followed proved largely consistent with the island rule, but until recently the question of whether rodents followed the same size trends was far from clear cut.

Image 1 for article titled "Island Rodents Take On Nightmarish Proportions"
Some wood mice off the coast of Wales have evolved to nearly twice the size of their counterparts on the European mainland (Wikipedia: Wood mouse; photo credit - by Rasbak via Wikimedia Commons). Island gigantism or insular gigantism is a biological phenomenon in which the size of animals isolated on an island increases dramatically in comparison to their mainland relatives. Island gigantism is one aspect of the more general "island rule", which posits that when mainland animals colonize islands, small species tend to evolve larger bodies, and large species tend to evolve smaller bodies. With the arrival of humans and associated predators (dogs, cats, rats, pigs), many giant as well as other island endemics have become extinct (Wikipedia: Island gigantism)
Image 2 for article titled "Island Rodents Take On Nightmarish Proportions"
When it comes to island rats and hamsters, how big is big? The Coues’ rice rat on the island of Cozumel is twice as big as the same mice in Mexico. Deer mice on the Gulf Islands are twice as big as deer mice in Vancouver. The St. Kilda field mouse on the Scottish island of St. Kilda is double the size of mainland field mice. The Flores giant rat (above) on the Indonesian island of Flores can be 17.7 inches long with an additional 27.5 inches of tail, making it twice the size of the average brown rat. The same is true on most other islands (

June 29, 2015 - Alumnus Edward Pultar Plugs the Latest from Valarm

Alumnus Edward Pultar (PhD 2011) recently announced his company’s latest developments, using the brainchild he and his brother created, Valarm (“Versatile Asset Locator and Remote Monitor”), a powerful software platform for collecting geo-located sensor data:

It's been an exciting 1st half of 2015! Here's the latest from Valarm:

Image 1 for article titled "Alumnus Edward Pultar Plugs the Latest from Valarm"
Edward and his brother Lorenzo. Lorenzo (right) has been developing software since 1995 and has built major systems for Ford Motor Company, DaimlerChrysler, R.L. Polk, ADP, IBM, Qualcomm, Movielink/Blockbuster, ESPN, and Yokohama Tire, to name a few. Valarm was born when Lorenzo woke up one morning to discover his motorcycle had been stolen by professional thieves. Originally, Valarm was conceived as an affordable and accessible theft-prevention and vehicle tracking device which Lorenzo would use himself to protect his replacement bike. Today, Valarm has evolved into a general purpose platform for asset tracking, data acquisition, and remote monitoring.
Image 2 for article titled "Alumnus Edward Pultar Plugs the Latest from Valarm"
During February 2015, Edward from Valarm was invited to Makkah / Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to present at the 2015 GIS Innovation Forum conference. “This was our first time in the Middle East and the conference as well as the hospitality was amazing. The conference focused on GIS entrepreneurs and startups with attendees and speakers from Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and Asia.”

June 27, 2015 - A Farewell Lunch for Beilei and Bernadette

One problem with beautiful places is that they’re popular! UCSB Geography staff’s “last supper” for two of its retiring members almost became a liquid lunch because staff had to wait 45 minutes for a table at the Boathouse, and they all hit the outside bar early.

The occasion was the last day of work for Beilei Zhang, Geography’s Contract and Grants Manager, and Bernadette Weinberg, our Academic Personnel and Space Management Analyst, both of whom are now officially retired. It was also an opportunity for all staff to get better acquainted with Alycia Lewis (Beilei’s replacement) Lauren Brous (Bernadette’s replacement), and Alex Feldman (Computer Network Tech 3, a new addition to our IT staff).

Bernadette chose the Boathouse because of its spectacular setting, not to mention its great Margaritas (Bernadette had at least two of them). The Boathouse opened in August 2008, replacing The Brown Pelican as a popular beachside restaurant at Arroyo Burro Beach. The beach is widely known as Hendry's Beach by local residents because the nearby farm land (now replaced by homes) was once the home of Scottish immigrants William Nicol and Anne Stronach Hendry and their children who lived there from the 1890s until 1918.

Located off of Cliff Drive, Hendry’s is the terminus of Arroyo Burro Creek and stands at the foot of the Santa Barbara coastal bluffs of the Wilcox Property (the Douglas Family Preserve), which is adjacent to the east. Hendry’ s is only 5 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara, but parking is limited and reservations for a table at the Boathouse are strongly recommended.

Editor's note: Lots more photos of the staff outing can be found on our Event Photos page. For more about Beilei and Bernadette's retirement celebrations, see the June 5, 2015, article, "A Bittersweet Farewell to Two of Our Finest Staff Members."

Image 1 for article titled "A Farewell Lunch for Beilei and Bernadette"
Staff in front of The Boathouse (photo credit: Beilei)
Image 2 for article titled "A Farewell Lunch for Beilei and Bernadette"
The gang poses on the beach
Image 3 for article titled "A Farewell Lunch for Beilei and Bernadette"
Alycia Lewis
Image 4 for article titled "A Farewell Lunch for Beilei and Bernadette"
Lauren Brous
Image 5 for article titled "A Farewell Lunch for Beilei and Bernadette"
Alex Feldman (right) with Dylan Parenti

June 24, 2015 - Alumna Sarah Battersby Discusses Issues and Advances in Mapmaking

As part of a Directions Magazine series on communicating with maps, Diana Sinton discusses issues and advances in mapmaking with cartographer Sarah Battersby, a research scientist at Tableau Software and currently the president of the Cartographic and Geographic Information Society.

Q: What are some of the key developments that you have seen in cartography in the last decade?

A: I think that one of the most exciting cartographic developments in the last decade is the explosion of online mapping and tools for map design. It’s amazing to think about the huge efforts that have gone into making it easy for people to visualize their spatial data, whether as a Google Map mashup, using desktop or online GIS, with d3 or other scripting libraries, etc. The downside to all of this is that I think it is still too easy to make a bad map, and way too easy to distribute that bad map to a wide audience. My cartographic archive of what not to do just keeps growing thanks to all of the great finds on Twitter and Facebook.

On the other hand, there are a lot of people who really care about helping others work with and understand spatial data and there is some great research in cartography, GIScience and in spatial thinking that I think will help shape the next generation of tools that we use to design maps to make them more intuitive, more beautiful and generally more effective for understanding spatial data.

The growth of the open source geospatial community has also been impressive. It is exciting to see so many people dedicated to improving the world of geospatial data and technology, and to helping the world with geospatial, like the work coordinated by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. I think this open source momentum is key in the future of cartography and GIS.

Q: People often bring up the issue that Web Mercator is used as a default projection with web maps. That creates a tension with all of us who were taught in cartography and GIS classes that the Mercator projection is almost always inappropriate for the maps we’re making; it grossly distorts areas toward the poles and is presumed to give people false ideas about the size of countries and even continents. How much of a problem is this really? Can we cross fear-of-Mercator off of our worry list?

A: A few years back I did a bit of “forensic cartography” research on this to try to figure out how Web Mercator became the standard, and I think it is because of the success of Google Maps — the projection is even occasionally referred to as “Google Mercator.” Other online mapping systems changed projection to match. I’m not sure what the logic was behind the original selection of the projection, but it is easier to tile a rectangular projection, and the equations for Mercator are simple. The conformal property of the projection is also nice for local-scale mapping. But…is it the only choice? I imagine that any rectangular projection should tile nicely, and I imagine that it won’t be too many years before we have online mapping systems that don’t tie us to a single projection. For instance, Bernie Jenny has done some amazing work with adaptive map projections.

As for the distortion in the Web Mercator projection, I think this is a significant issue for visual analysis. I’m a big believer in one of Egenhofer and Mark’s principles of Naïve Geography, that “maps are more real than experience.” I have thought of this as the map becoming our source of truth; even if people know that there is distortion in the map I think there are very few people who can successfully compensate for it in reading the map. This is a significant problem for any distance or area-based analyses calculated in Web Mercator coordinates, as well as for the map reader trying to visually make sense of spatial patterns.

I definitely wouldn’t cross Web Mercator off of our list of things to worry about. It is imperative for map designers to be actively thinking about and addressing issues with projection, otherwise their analyses may be hugely incorrect.It is also important for map readers to be cognizant of the distortions in Web Mercator and other projections. I don’t mean that I expect people to be able to identify and calculate distortion, just to maintain a healthy skepticism with their map reading.

Q: What do you think are the top “gotcha” issues for mapping today, from the perspective of a cartographic software designer? What about from the perspective of JohnMapmaker?

A: I think that every cartographer has a set of pet issues that they always look for. For me, I often focus on classification and data normalization. It drives me crazy when I can’t figure out how the mapmaker decided to break up the data into classes. Are those quantiles? Natural breaks? Do the breaks have meaning? Class breaks make such a huge difference in the resulting pattern on the map and it drives me crazy when I see the default 5-class natural breaks map without any explanation. To me this is the sign that the mapmaker doesn’t know much about the data.

I also see way too many maps that are really just population maps. Should it be a surprise that locations with more people tend to have higher counts of all sorts of other attributes? This is another problem of not thinking enough about the data. If you don’t know your data well, how do you make a map that tells a clear — and appropriate — story?

Q: You have the perspective of having taught students about mapmaking for many years, and have done much basic research in cartography. Now you are in the position of working with software designers to help them implement good mapmaking principles to help users of commercial software design more effective maps. How is this shift from basic to applied research working? How has it changed how you pose research questions?

A: It is great to focus on specific, applied problems tied to facilitating how people ask and answer spatial questions. There is still much to think about in terms of general cartography, but now that we’re at a time when it is so easy for anyone to take a dataset and turn it into a map, I think about what we can do to help people make better maps faster. My research has always focused on how people understand and use spatial data, so there hasn’t been a change in my research direction, but I have done a lot of stepping back to what I would call the “cartographic primitives.” Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about very basic questions of what information we need to obtain from maps and what characteristics of a map would facilitate finding answers to these questions. I also spend a good bit of time thinking about what makes an interesting pattern on a map and how I can help someone make better choices about their map type, colors or classification to uncover these interesting patterns.

Essentially, I feel like the questions I face now are based on how we can take our collective research and applied knowledge about designing better maps and put it to use helping people that don’t have decades or even semesters of work in cartography. It’s an amazing challenge and hopefully I can do some good to help the world see and understand their spatial data more effectively.

Editor's note: Many thanks to Professor Keith Clarke for suggesting this material.

Image 1 for article titled "Alumna Sarah Battersby Discusses Issues and Advances in Mapmaking"
Sarah Battersby is a research scientist at Tableau Software. Her primary area of focus is cartography, with an emphasis on cognition. Her work emphasizes how we can help people visualize and use spatial information more effectively. Her research has covered a variety of areas, including perception in dynamic map displays, geospatial technologies and spatial thinking abilities, and the impact of map projection on spatial cognition. She works closely with the maps development team. Sarah earned her PhD in Geography in 2006 from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She is a member of the International Cartographic Association Commission on Map Projections, and is currently President (2015 - 2016) of the Cartography and Geographic Information Society – a society composed of educators, researchers and practitioners involved in the design, creation, use and dissemination of geographic information. Source:

June 24, 2015 - Geography Graduation and Awards Reception, Spring 2015

Dan Montello, the Chair of the UCSB Department of Geography, acted as emcee for our reception party and award ceremony on behalf of graduating Geography majors on June 13. The following is a rough transcript of his comments during the proceedings:

As some of you know, the Geography Department at UCSB is nationally ranked in the top 5 and can lay claim to being #1, depending on how you examine the ranking data. This is due to our outstanding faculty and the support of our skilled and dedicated staff. Our quality students also critically contribute, and now I want to recognize their efforts and talents in some detail.

Graduating today brings to a finale the process of formal education that started almost 20 years ago in kindergarten. For many of you, it has been a long and interesting road with many curves and bumps and unexpected people and events, sort of the giant ball of string - or of life. We know you made some good decisions and some not so good, and we also know that chance played its hand in you standing here today. We think (and hope) your decision to come to UCSB and study geography will prove to be one of your best decisions, or at least your luckiest.

Graduating today also begins the process of a job search and the development of a career, with a good chance that career will incorporate geography is some way, whether its focus be on the natural earth, on culture and economics, or on the technical skills for interpreting and communicating earth-referenced information. Geography strikes me as one of the richest, most applicable, and most intellectually stimulating of all majors.

We know that society faces increasing challenges, ranging from environmental pollution, natural disasters, and global warming to feeding the hungry, designing more energy efficient cities and transportation, and unleashing the power of geographic information to make our world a better place, while supporting our humanity. In all of these cases and more, geography’s potent blend of the natural, the human, and the technological put it squarely on task. Your degree in Geography is, thus, like your entrance password to the world. Of course, there’s always graduate school! Whatever your future, we wish you wisdom, good fortune, contentment, and the joy to be found in service to others.

Finally, we all recognize that you have not arrived here alone - your parents and other family members supported you, pushed you on, and may have even cooked you a few meals and washed a few loads of your laundry. I have no doubt that every one of them is very proud of you today

You also had your friends. The friends you make and the experiences you share with them is one of the most special things about attending the university. I know they were for me; to this day, I still have fairly regular contact with 5 or 6 of them, and I don’t even use Facebook.

And let’s not forget your professors, your Teaching Assistants, and the staff members who helped you in ways you may not even be aware of. Personally, I know that teachers and advisors at all levels of my education were among the most inspiring and important role models in my life. I suspect you might say the same.

We are honoring several specific students today for their high achievements as Geography majors, but I want to enthusiastically acknowledge and express my appreciation to all of our graduating majors today. This year’s class includes 69 students, 11 of whom earned the Bachelor of Science degree, 35 a Bachelor of Arts degree with a GIS Emphasis, and 23 the Bachelor of Arts degree. 22 of these have earned the Outstanding Achievement in the Geography Major Award, and 4 of them the Distinction in the Major Award.

With that, let’s give out some awards:

  • SAMANTHA C. YING GAMMA THETA UPSILON (GTU) SCHOLARSHIP: The Samantha C. Ying GTU Scholarship is made possible by Killian and Joan Ying who created the award in honor of their daughter Samantha upon the occasion of completing her PhD. Samantha Ying had an outstanding undergraduate career at UCSB, graduating with a BS in both Microbiology and Physical Geography in 2004. She received her PhD from Stanford's Department of Environmental Earth System Science in 2011. The Samantha C. Ying GTU Scholarship is used to support undergraduate students based on the criteria of academic achievement and compelling family/personal circumstances. Highest consideration is typically given to those students who are active or contributing members of the UCSB Geography Club. This year’s $1,000 Samantha C. Ying Scholarship was awarded to Daniel Villicana.
  • CHAIR’S AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN GEOGRAPHY: This is awarded to the graduating senior who has majored in Geography and has attained the highest overall grade point average, namely Eric Ahlgren.
  • DISTINCTION IN THE MAJOR AWARD: Distinction in the Major is awarded to students who are graduating with an overall GPA of at least 3.5, with a Geography GPA of at least 3.6, and who undertaken independent study projects, research assistanceships, and/or graduate-level studies. Four students share this award: Eric Ahlgren, Warren Kunkler, Evan Thomas, and Daniel Villicana.
  • OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN GEOGRAPHY: Awarded to students graduating with a grade point average of at least 3.5 in upper-division geography classes or have otherwise been nominated by a faculty member for demonstrated academic performance. Twenty-two of this year’s 69 graduating seniors have earned this award: Eric Ahlgren, Yelizaveta Aleksyuk, Ryan Allen, Kevin Bibby, Edwin Cheung, Anna Ferguson, Timothy Jacobs, Benjamin Koff, Warren Kunkler, Ansel Lundberg, Elizabeth McBride, Trevor Merback, Alexandra Motyka, Mladen Popovic, Taylor Roberts, John Solly, Evan Thomas, Daniel Villicana, Nancy Yu, Dalin Wang, Min Zhang, and Qingyun Zhang.

Editor's note: Check out the photos taken at the reception here. Photo credits: Richard Weinberg and Lauren Brous.

Image 1 for article titled "Geography Graduation and Awards Reception, Spring 2015"
This year’s class includes 69 students, 11 of whom earned the Bachelor of Science degree, 35 a Bachelor of Arts degree with a GIS Emphasis, and 23 the Bachelor of Arts degree.
Image 2 for article titled "Geography Graduation and Awards Reception, Spring 2015"
Staffers Bernadette Weinberg and Lauren Brous helped set up the reception. Lauren will replace Bernadette as our Academic Personnel & Space Management Analyst at the end of June. Photo credits: Bernadette's husband, Richard
Image 3 for article titled "Geography Graduation and Awards Reception, Spring 2015"
Dan Montello, the Chair of the Department of Geography, emceed the reception and awards ceremony
Image 4 for article titled "Geography Graduation and Awards Reception, Spring 2015"
Eric Ahlgren took top honors with the Chair’s Award for Excellence in Geography, the Distinction in the Major Award, and the Outstanding Achievement in Geography Award
Image 5 for article titled "Geography Graduation and Awards Reception, Spring 2015"
Warren Kunkler was one of four graduates who received the Distinction in the Major Award
Image 6 for article titled "Geography Graduation and Awards Reception, Spring 2015"
Evan Thomas also received the Distinction in the Major Award
Image 7 for article titled "Geography Graduation and Awards Reception, Spring 2015"
Daniel Villicana received the Distinction in the Major Award, as well as the Samantha C. Ying Gamma Theta Upsilon Scholarship (photo supplied by Daniel)
Image 8 for article titled "Geography Graduation and Awards Reception, Spring 2015"
Image 9 for article titled "Geography Graduation and Awards Reception, Spring 2015"

June 22, 2015 - Professor Emerita Helen Couclelis

The UCSB Department of Geography celebrated the career of Professor Helen Couclelis on June 11, 2015, in recognition of her retirement this year after 33 years as a professor in the Department. A dinner in her honor was held at Olio Pizzeria in downtown Santa Barbara (in the same building as the late, lamented Video Schmideo), and a fine time and good food (maybe the city's best pizza) was had by all. Chair Dan Montello recognized Helen's long career in Geography, noting especially her contributions to academic life as an intellectual and philosophical pursuit. The Department awarded Helen with a beautiful inscribed desk plaque and a gift card at her favorite bicycle shop, along with a card signed by staff and faculty.

Professor Emerita Couclelis received her PhD from Cambridge University (Urban Modeling) in 1977 and joined the UCSB Department of Geography in 1982. Prior to that, Dr. Couclelis spent several years as a professional planner and policy advisor in Greece. She has held visiting appointments at the Department of Civil Engineering of the University of Waterloo, the Institute of Urban and Regional Development of the University of California at Berkeley, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. Her research interests are in the areas of geographic information science, urban and regional modeling and planning, integrated urban and environmental modeling, planning support systems, and spatial cognition.

Helen received an Honorary Doctorate from Utrecht University in the Netherlands in 1999. She was a co-editor of the journal Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, and she co-edited A Ground for Common Search (with P. Gould and R.G. Golledge) in 1988, Geographic Information Research: Bridging the Atlantic (with M. Craglia) in 1997, and The SAGE Handbook of GIS and Society (with T. Nyerges and R. McMaster) in 2011. Helen also served as Associate Director of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) and as a member of the executive committee of the NSF-funded Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science (CSISS).

As Helen’s plaque indicates, she was, and remains, a philosophical geographer, a visionary in geographical information science, and a kind and encouraging mentor. She also happens to be a charming person who is much-admired by all Geography personnel, and we hope that she will keep well in retirement and, most of all, keep in touch!

Editor's note: Helen sent the following message of thanks to those who participated in her retirement celebration: "Email is a poor medium for expressing my thanks, but there are so many of you who in one way or another touched me with your kind words and deeds, that I didn't know how else to do this. Thank you all so much for the warmth of your good wishes, and for your generosity. I'm overwhelmed. To those of you who made my special night the magical thing it was - one of the best moments of my 33 years in the Department: thank you for your presence, for your friendship, and for the memories. Dan, you were wonderful: I could never thank you enough. And to those who couldn't join us: we missed you."

Image 1 for article titled "Professor Emerita Helen Couclelis"
Helen takes center stage at Olio Pizzeria. Photo credit: Krzysztof Janowicz
Image 2 for article titled "Professor Emerita Helen Couclelis"
A fine time, good food, and smiles all around! L to R: Keith Clarke, Tommy Dickey, and Leila Carvalho. Photo credit: Charles Jones
Image 3 for article titled "Professor Emerita Helen Couclelis"
The inscription on Helen’s plaque says it all
Image 4 for article titled "Professor Emerita Helen Couclelis"
Image 5 for article titled "Professor Emerita Helen Couclelis"
Image 6 for article titled "Professor Emerita Helen Couclelis"

June 16, 2015 - Why Is the Ocean Turning Turquoise in the Santa Barbara Channel?

The following is an article by Julie Cohen, written for The UCSB Current and posted June 5, 2015, with the title “In Living Color”:

Over the last few days, the waters off the Santa Barbara coast have turned a striking shade of turquoise. The mystery behind this unusual color change is a type of chalk-producing phytoplanktonic organism called a coccolithophore.

But what makes these otherwise invisible life forms suddenly visible? It's their sudden abundance. When coccolithophores are numerous, they turn the ocean surface turquoise-white and can easily be seen via satellite.

“Coccolithophores make chalk — calcium carbonate — internally in the organelles within the cell, and they push it outside the cell membrane,” said biological oceanographer Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. “They contain a material that glues the chalk plates to the membrane of the cell, and as they make more, they shed the plates so we get these white tides.”

Iglesias-Rodriguez has been studying coccolithophores for the past two decades and her team has been trying to understand the environmental conditions controlling their distribution and abundance in the Santa Barbara Channel. Researchers in her lab are currently sampling in the field and conducting experiments in the laboratory to determine why these milky waters have appeared just now. “This is a big bloom,” said Iglesias-Rodriguez. “Typically blooms are associated with high stability. When the waters are calm, they bloom, but it has nothing to do with temperature.”

The researchers have found diverse coccolithophore populations present through the year, but on June 4 — coincidental with the observation of turquoise waters — they identified a huge bloom in the channel. Paul Matson, a postdoctoral scientist in Iglesias-Rodriguez’s lab, counted 5 million cells of coccolithophores in 1 liter of seawater. In addition to Matson, Tanika Ladd, a graduate student in the lab will conduct experiments in the next few months to shed light on whether the sudden outbreak of coccolithophores is linked in any way to the recent oil spill north of Refugio State Beach.

According to Iglesias-Rodriguez, coccolithophores are hugely important. As microscopic plants they photosynthesize, but they also absorb carbon dissolved in seawater and convert it into hard plates called coccoliths. These plates are made up of calcium carbonate, similar to clam and oyster shells and the same material that forms the white cliffs of Dover in the English Channel. This biological process, she noted, represents one of the most important mechanisms by which the Earth locks carbon into solid material, some of which ends up in the seafloor.

“The beauty of all this is that it’s a very efficient way in the long term of sequestering carbon in planetary terms,” Iglesias-Rodriguez said. “So this bloom is a big deal and a great way to learn more about these amazing plants.”

Editor's note: Many thanks to Geography Professor Keith Clarke for suggesting this material.

Image 1 for article titled "Why Is the Ocean Turning Turquoise in the Santa Barbara Channel?"
The turquoise color of the Santa Barbara Channel is due to a bloom of chalk-forming phytoplankton called coccolithophores. From The UCSB Current article; photo credit: David Valentine, UCSB
Image 2 for article titled "Why Is the Ocean Turning Turquoise in the Santa Barbara Channel?"
Campus point at UCSB also shows evidence of the coccolithophore bloom. These phytoplankton shed calicium carbonate, which changes the water color. Ibid.; photo credit: David Valentine, UCSB
Image 3 for article titled "Why Is the Ocean Turning Turquoise in the Santa Barbara Channel?"
An ecotype of the coccolithophore species Emiliania huxleyi photographed using a scanning electron microscope. Ibid.; photo credit: Paul Matson
Image 4 for article titled "Why Is the Ocean Turning Turquoise in the Santa Barbara Channel?"
Debora Inglesias-Rodriguez holds a beaker of coccolithophore cells. Ibid.; photo credit: Spencer Bruttig
Image 5 for article titled "Why Is the Ocean Turning Turquoise in the Santa Barbara Channel?"
Geography Professor David Siegel sent this graphic, along with the comment that "The extent of the coccolithaphore bloom we had here was pretty large. Attached is a “true color” image from VIIRS on Suomi/NPP from June 5. The whitish waters extend all the way across the SB Channel following the path of the SB eddy which moves water counter clockwise around the channel."
For more news see the News Archive
Copyright © 2015 University of California, Santa Barbara | The Regents of the University of California | Terms of Use
ADA accessibility reviewed February 2015. If any of this material is not accessible to you, please contact our department at (805)893-3663 or contact
and we will provide alternatives.

Google+  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram  LinkedIn