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

November 19, 2014 - Geography Is a Subject You Can Sink Your Teeth Into!

A 1974 article by Professor Rick Church and Dr. Charles ReVelle, titled “The Maximal Covering Location Problem,” has been cited 1,484 times (Church, Richard, and Charles R. Velle. "The maximal covering location problem." Papers in Regional Science 32.1 [1974]: 101-118). It opens by stating: “The belief that mathematical location modeling can identify ‘optimal’ location patterns rests on the basis that some realistic objective can be identified and by some measure quantified,” and the article goes on to discuss the problem in terms of facility siting decisions.

The maximum coverage problem is a classical question in computer science, computational complexity theory, and operations research and is a problem that is widely taught in approximation algorithms (source). While Professor Church’s article has been cited in a variety of contexts, ranging from conservation biology to the siting of emergency services, perhaps the most surprising one is that of dentistry.

In 2009, the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation published an article about determining color compatibility between dental shade guides (Cocking, C, Cevirgen, S., Helling, M., et al. Colour compatibility between teeth and dental shade guides in Quinquagenarians and Septuagenarians. 36; 848–855). The article deals with calculating an optimized shade guide and states, “The problem of designing a shade guide was solved using discrete optimization techniques. The task was modelled as a maximal covering location problem … To solve the optimization problem, it was formulated as an integer linear program according to the formulation of Church and ReVelle and solved to optimality using … a commercial integer program solver.”

“Without geography, you’re nowhere” (Jimmy Buffett). Ain’t it the tooth!

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From “Reserve Selection as a Maximal Covering Location Problem” by Richard L. Church, David M. Stoms, and Frank W. Davis: Many alternative approaches have been proposed for setting conservation priorities from a database of species (or communities) by site. We present a model based on the premise that reserve selection or site prioritization can be structured as a classic covering problem commonly used in many location problems. Specifically, we utilize a form of the maximal covering location model to identify sets of sites which represent the maximum possible representation of specific species. An example application is given for vertebrate data of Southwestern California, which is then compared to an iterative solution process used in previous studies. It is shown that the maximal covering model can quickly meet or exceed iterative models in terms of the coverage objective and automatically satisfies a complementarity objective. Refinements to the basic model are also proposed to address additional objectives such as irreplaceability and flexibility.

November 19, 2014 - Should We Really Save the Devils Hole Pupfish?

They’re an inch long. There are fewer than 100 left. Is it worth the effort? The following is a recent “species watch” article written by Jason Bittel for onEarth.org with the title above:

“Wildlife is and should be useless,” author Richard Conniff wrote in the opinion pages of the New York Times last month, “in the same way art, music, poetry and even sports are useless.” Conniff’s argument, which I encourage you to read in its entirety, is that we should appreciate and care about animals even if we can’t tie a dollar sign to them. Cuttlefish and spiders, he said, have their own value, independent of what military and medical discoveries we might one day be able to tease out of them.

It was an insightful piece that struck chords throughout the conservation and science-writing communities. And it made me take a long, hard look at the ongoing debate over whether we should try to save a little fish at the bottom of a hole in the middle of the desert. I refer, of course, to the Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis).

If you’ve heard of it, it’s because the species is pretty famous (as far as fish celebrity goes). Appearing in nature documentaries, pop-sci magazines, and Hillary Rosner’s award-winning 2012 piece “Attack of the Mutant Pupfish,” the pupfish is no stranger to headlines in the conservation world. And rightly so. It's considered the world’s rarest fish, with fewer than 100 of the inch-long animals left in existence.

In fact, if you scooped up every one of these pupfish left on earth, the whole species would fit cozily into an Igloo cooler. You’d probably even still have room left over for a case of beer. But to be fair, there have never been many Devils Hole pupfish. The species has been trapped in a hot, salty 500-foot-deep aquifer in the Mojave Desert for something like 50,000 years. Though the hole is deep, the fish typically only inhabit the top 25 to 30 feet. Most of their feeding and breeding center around a single, barely submerged rock shelf.

Scientists consider this hole in Nevada to be one of if not the smallest habitats on the planet for a vertebrate. Under the absolute best circumstances, this shallow pool could probably only support a total of some 600 pupfish.

Still, even given those limitations, scientists are concerned the pupfish population is critically low. A study published this August in the journal Water Resources Research showed that rising water temperatures (a result of climate change) have compromised the fish’s optimal spawning habitat since warmer water holds less oxygen. (FYI, at a balmy 92 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit, the water in Devils Hole is already at the top temperature range that most fish can tolerate, so there isn’t much wiggle room.) The scientists also worry this pupfish is swimming in a shallow gene pool, with a millennia worth of inbreeding negatively affecting its reproductive success. Something might also be happening to its food supply of algae, plants, and aquatic invertebrates, though the scientists know not what.

Oh yeah, and every once in a while, earthquakes, from as far away as southern Mexico, cause the water in Devils Hole to slosh like water in a bathtub. Because these fish don’t have enough going against them already. All in all, according to a risk assessment study published last month in PeerJ, there is a 28 percent to 32 percent chance that the Devils Hole pupfish will go extinct in the next 20 years.

Maybe we should let it? Sounds harsh (and I don't really mean that), but at this point, it seems unlikely that the Devils Hole pupfish holds the key to fighting cancer, nor will some vast ecosystem collapse without its presence. I mean, you can’t even enjoy seeing the pupfish in person—a barbed-wire fence surrounds Devils Hole in order to keep them safe.

In other words, one could (and some would) make the argument that the Devils Hole pupfish is, for all intents and purposes, useless. Conniff would say that’s all the more reason we should save it. I tend to agree, and so, in effect, does the U.S. government.

In 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service opened the $4.5 million Ash Meadows Desert Fish Conservation Facility, complete with a state-of-the-art laboratory and a 100,000-gallon tank designed to re-create the conditions of Devils Hole in every conceivable way. (Funding for the facility came from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act and the budget for Death Valley National Park.) There, fish biologists from numerous government agencies and research institutions are desperately trying to maintain a reserve population of pupfish in case something catastrophic should happen to the main population.

All this, I reiterate, for a few dozen fish at the bottom of a hole in the middle of the desert. One is tempted to ask whether we couldn’t use these monetary and intellectual resources for some species a little more worthwhile.

But here’s the thing about nature and conservation—nothing, not even a handful of hole-fish—exists in a vacuum. “The coattails for the pupfish are large,” says Steven Beissinger, an environmental science professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of the recent pupfish risk analysis in PeerJ.

Back in 1967, you see, the Devils Hole pupfish was one of the first species protected by the Endangered Species Preservation Act, which you’ll recognize by its modern name, the (mother cussin’) Endangered Species Act(!), the strongest piece of pro-biodiversity legislation we have. And that hole the fish call home isn’t just a hole in the middle of nowhere. It is connected through subterranean channels to groundwater throughout the American Southwest. So government officials were then given the authority to rein in the rampant overpumping of groundwater throughout the region.

As you might imagine, land developers and agricultural interests got pretty hot when the guv’mint told them to curb water usage because of some fish they’d never heard of. Thus kicked off the water wars of the ’60s and ’70s. Some bumper stickers even read “Kill the Pupfish.” The whole hubbub went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1976 ruled in favor of the fish, the hole, and the environment. If the pupfish’s existence does serve a larger purpose, it’s this: According to Beissinger, aquatic ecosystems throughout the Southwest gained protections thanks to that Supreme Court ruling.

Still, it’s a little hard for some people to stomach the idea of spending that kind of time and money on one school of fish that had the misfortune of getting trapped in a hole during the last Ice Age. To which Kevin Wilson, an aquatic ecologist and the program manager at Devils Hole, points out: The fish might have done just fine if humanity hadn’t come along and mucked things up. “This species is in decline most likely due to anthropocentric impacts. Humans influence this population.”

Long story short, here’s a species that has survived in a tiny pit in the desert for 50,000 years, weathering periods of extreme flooding and drought, and enduring food shortages, earthquakes, lack of genetic diversity, and base temperatures hotter than most other fish on this planet can withstand. And now, in the last three decades, humans have messed up the global climate so much, so fast, that this little Rambo of a fish has finally been forced to put on Semisonic’s “Closing Time” and start shuffling toward the door of oblivion. Are we really going to let that happen? Is that how we want to roll?

“Society has to decide which species we save or do not save,” Wilson says. It’s an easy choice when we talk about wanting to see the savannah shake with rhinos and the oceans teem with blue whales. But the useless little pupfish has as much right as any creature to exist. And the fact that its survival is a longshot should only spur us forward.

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The Devils Hole pupfish, Cyprinodon diabolis, is a species of fish native to Devils Hole, a geothermal (92 °F or 33 °C), aquifer-fed pool within a limestone cavern, in the Amargosa Pupfish Station of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex east of Death Valley National Park. It has been described as the world's rarest fish (Wikipedia: Devil’s Hole pupfish; photo source: species watch article)
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Nearly the entire natural range of the species is visible in this photo. The equipment is used to monitor water level. Wikipedia: Ibid.

November 19, 2014 - UCSB Geography Celebrates GIS Day

GIS Day is the third Wednesday of November in each year, during  Geography Awareness Week. As a global event, GIS day provides a great opportunity for GIS researchers and users to exchange ideas and present works to a wide audience. Accordingly, GIS Day is celebrated by many universities, including Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkley, Penn State University, Ohio State University, SUNY Buffalo, and so forth.

With a top-ranking program, UCSB Geography is no exception, and to celebrate this special day for spatial studies, we held “Lightning Talks” on Nov. 18th, 2014 at the UCSB Center for Spatial Studies. During this year’s GIS Day event, we were joined by a good mixture of faculty, postdocs, visiting researchers, and graduate students. The topics of the Lightning Talks were exciting! Prof. Dan Montello gave a great start for the event with a talk “Like Totally SoCal” which assessed vague cognitive regions, such as “southern California.” Our second speaker, Prof. Krzysztof Janowicz, discussed the important semantic issues in GIS workflows which can facilitate automatic reasoning and knowledge discovery. A number of inspiring talks followed and covered a variety of topics in GIS, including place name disambiguation, urban growth modeling, geovisualization and map generalization, place-based sentiment analysis, real estate information management, spatial optimization, animal behavior modeling, social media search, and spatial diffusion of epidemics. Slides of these talks are available at the UCSB GIS Day website.

We would like to thank our sponsors, the Center for Spatial Studies and Esri Inc., which made this event happen! We would also like to thank all our speakers and participants who made this event great! While this year’s GIS Day lightning talks have ended, ideas and research on GIS will continue. We hope this GIS Day event will be a start for new collaborations which will bring fruitful results.

Just a side note: The official GIS Day in 2014 is Nov. 19th (Wednesday). However, there was an important GIS class scheduled on that day, so we figured a good way to celebrate GIS Day was to attend the GIS class. Accordingly, we moved the lightning talks to Tuesday.

Editor’s note: Many thanks to Yingjie Hu for contributing this article and the accompanying photos.

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The "Lightning Talks" were well-attended. Thirteen talks, each limited to 3 minutes, were given.
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Dan Montello kicked off the event with "Like Totally SoCal: A High-resolution Assessment of Vague Cognitive Regions"
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Krzysztof Janowicz's talk was titled "Getting Out Or Into The GIS Silo?"
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November 18, 2014 - Philae Settles in Dust-Covered Ice

“Before going into hibernation in the early hours of 15 November 2014, the Philae lander was able to conduct experiments and return its data to Earth. In this [ESA Rosetta] blog post we look at the preliminary analysis conducted by the lander’s Multi-Purpose Sensors for Surface and Subsurface Science instrument package, MUPUS”:

MUPUS began observing the environment around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko once Philae was released from the Rosetta orbiter at 08:35 GMT on 12 November (this is spacecraft time; the signal confirming separation arrived at Earth just over 28 minutes later, at 09:03 GMT). The first touchdown recorded by Philae occurred at 15:34 GMT (with the signal arriving on Earth at 16:03 GMT), but it later transpired that the harpoons and ice screws did not deploy as planned and the lander subsequently rebounded, experiencing two further touchdowns, at 17:25 and 17:32 GMT (spacecraft time), respectively.

Because part of the MUPUS package was contained in the harpoons, some temperature and accelerometer data could not be gathered. However, the MUPUS thermal mapper, located on the body of the lander, worked throughout the descent and during all three touchdowns. At Philae’s final landing spot, the MUPUS probe recorded a temperature of –153°C close to the floor of the lander’s balcony before it was deployed. Then, after deployment, the sensors near the tip cooled by about 10°C over a period of roughly half an hour. “We think this is either due to radiative transfer of heat to the cold nearby wall seen in the CIVA images or because the probe had been pushed into a cold dust pile,” says Jörg Knollenberg, instrument scientist for MUPUS at DLR.

The probe then started to hammer itself into the subsurface, but was unable to make more than a few millimetres of progress even at the highest power level of the hammer motor. “If we compare the data with laboratory measurements, we think that the probe encountered a hard surface with strength comparable to that of solid ice,” says Tilman Spohn, principal investigator for MUPUS.

Looking at the results of the thermal mapper and the probe together, the team has made the preliminary assessment that the upper layers of the comet’s surface consist of dust of 10–20 cm thickness, overlaying mechanically strong ice or ice and dust mixtures. At greater depths, the ice likely becomes more porous, as the overall low density of the nucleus – determined by instruments on the Rosetta orbiter – suggests.

Looking to the future, Tilman Spohn says, “MUPUS could be used again if we get enough power. Then we could perform direct observations of the layer that the probe is standing in and see how it evolves as we get closer to the Sun.” While the full analyses of the lander’s multiple touchdowns and the data collected during descent and landing are on-going, the Rosetta orbiter continues its science mission at Comet 67P/C-G. Over the next year it will follow the comet as it draws ever nearer to the Sun, watching how its surface and surrounding environment evolves.

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Focus on MUPUS. About MUPUS: The thermal probe of MUPUS was originally developed at the Institute of Planetology of the University of Münster together with the Space Research Centre in Warsaw and other international partners. It is maintained and operated by an international team led by the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin. Credits: Text from the ESA Rosetta Blog; graphic from the ESA/ATG medialab.
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Illustration of Philae. Philae is a robotic European Space Agency lander that accompanied the Rosetta spacecraft until its designated landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P), more than ten years after departing Earth. On 12 November 2014, the lander achieved the first-ever controlled touchdown on a comet nucleus. The lander is named after the Philae obelisk bearing a bilingual inscription used along with the Rosetta Stone to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. Philae appears to have lost all communication capability, but it is possible that by August 2015, when the comet has moved much closer to the sun in its orbit, the lander's solar panels will receive enough illumination for ESA to reawaken it (Wikipedia: Philae (spacecraft))

November 17, 2014 - Up To 80 Million Bacteria Sealed with a Kiss

“As many as 80 million bacteria are transferred during a 10 second kiss, according to new research. The study also found that partners who kiss each other at least nine times a day share similar communities of oral bacteria.” The Featured Research article in ScienceDaily.com, posted November 16, 2014, and with the title above goes on to say:

As many as 80 million bacteria are transferred during a 10 second kiss, according to research published in the open access journal Microbiome. The study also found that partners who kiss each other at least nine times a day share similar communities of oral bacteria.

The ecosystem of more than 100 trillion microorganisms that live in our bodies -- the microbiome -- is essential for the digestion of food, synthesizing nutrients, and preventing disease. It is shaped by genetics, diet, and age, but also the individuals with whom we interact. With the mouth playing host to more than 700 varieties of bacteria, the oral microbiota also appear to be influenced by those closest to us.

Researchers from Micropia and TNO in the Netherlands studied 21 couples, asking them to fill out questionnaires on their kissing behaviour including their average intimate kiss frequency. They then took swab samples to investigate the composition of their oral microbiota on the tongue and in their saliva.

The results showed that when couples intimately kiss at relatively high frequencies their salivary microbiota become similar. On average it was found that at least nine intimate kisses per day led to couples having significantly shared salivary microbiota.

Lead author Remco Kort, from TNO's Microbiology and Systems Biology department and adviser to the Micropia museum of microbes, said: "Intimate kissing involving full tongue contact and saliva exchange appears to be a courtship behavior unique to humans and is common in over 90% of known cultures. Interestingly, the current explanations for the function of intimate kissing in humans include an important role for the microbiota present in the oral cavity, although to our knowledge, the exact effects of intimate kissing on the oral microbiota have never been studied. We wanted to find out the extent to which partners share their oral microbiota, and it turns out, the more a couple kiss, the more similar they are."

In a controlled kissing experiment to quantify the transfer of bacteria, a member of each of the couples had a probiotic drink containing specific varieties of bacteria including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. After an intimate kiss, the researchers found that the quantity of probiotic bacteria in the receiver's saliva rose threefold, and calculated that in total 80 million bacteria would have been transferred during a 10 second kiss.

The study also suggests an important role for other mechanisms that select oral microbiota, resulting from a shared lifestyle, dietary and personal care habits, and this is especially the case for microbiota on the tongue. The researchers found that while tongue microbiota were more similar among partners than unrelated individuals, their similarity did not change with more frequent kissing, in contrast to the findings on the saliva microbiota.

Commenting on the kissing questionnaire results, the researchers say that an interesting but separate finding was that 74% of the men reported higher intimate kiss frequencies than the women of the same couple. This resulted in a reported average of ten kisses per day from the males, twice that of the female reported average of five per day. To calculate the number of bacteria transferred in a kiss, the authors relied on average transfer values and a number of assumptions related to bacterial transfer, the kiss contact surface, and the value for average saliva volume.

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Rock Hudson and Julie Andrews kissing in the film Darling Lilli (1968; Wikipedia: Kiss). As many as 80 million bacteria are transferred during a 10 second kiss, according to research published in the open access journal Microbiome (from the ScienceDaily article)
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Study design and top 15 abundant genera of the oral microbiota and probiotic yoghurt. (A) Samples of both members of recruited couples were collected of the anterior dorsal tongue surface and saliva prior to (blue) and after an intimate kiss of 10 s (red). One of the partners was asked to consume 50 ml of a probiotic yoghurt drink, and again tongue and saliva were collected of the donator prior to (yellow) and the receiver after a second intimate kiss (green). (B) Relative abundances of the top 15 most dominant genera of the oral microbiota and probiotic yoghurt plotted on a log transformed color-coded rainbow scale from 0 to 12 from black, blue, green, yellow, orange to red. Headers include partner, probiotic yoghurt drink, saliva, tongue, sample IDs, couples, and sample type, as indicated by the same color-coding in the study design (Figure 1 from the Microbiome article).

November 13, 2014 - Giant Tortoises Rebound from Near Extinction

“The famed giant tortoise of the Galapagos Islands has been brought back from the verge of extinction after its population dropped to only 15 by the 1960s. Captive breeding and conservation efforts have allowed that number to rebound to more than 1,000.

'The population is secure. It’s a rare example of how biologists and managers can collaborate to recover a species from the brink of extinction,' said James P. Gibbs, a biologist at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He was lead author of a study that charted the growing success of the islands’ tortoises, published in the journal PLOS ONE.

But Gibbs cautions that the giant tortoise population is not likely to increase further on the island of Española until the landscape recovers from the damage inflicted by now-eradicated goats. After the imported goats devoured all the grassy vegetation and were removed from the island, more shrubs and small trees have grown. The report says the vegetation hinders both the growth of cactus, which is a vital piece of a tortoise's diet, and the tortoises' movement” (source).

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“Keeper Grant Kother measures a giant tortoise during the annual weigh-in at London Zoo. It was one of many facilities around the world that used captive breeding to increase the tortoise population” (from the Earthweek article, op. cit.; photo credit: Oli Scarff). The largest recorded individuals have reached weights of over 400 kilograms (880 lb) and lengths of 1.87 meters (6.1 ft) (Wikipedia: Galapagos tortoise)

November 10, 2014 - Rooftop Research Collaboration Off to a Good Start

The premiere of the UCSB “Rooftop Research Collaboration” was successfully held on Wednesday, November 5 on the rooftop deck of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. The event was designed to address requests to increase collaborations between faculty, professional research colleagues, and postdocs, and the initial group (and sponsors) included Bren, Geography, Earth Science, and the Earth Research Institute.

This event was the first of several such receptions to be held throughout the year, and it is hoped that this series of events will provide participants an opportunity to connect with colleagues in related departments and expand research connections across the campus. The reception was attended by over 60 people, including Tim Cheng, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, who emphasized that the UCSB Office of Research is highly supportive of efforts to build new collaborations.

The Department of Geography hosted this kickoff event, and the original plan was to have it on the third floor roof of Ellison Hall. That plan got shot down at the last minute, but Bren allowed us to move the reception to their deck/rooftop. A big "thank you" to their team for allowing us to move and for providing logistical support (BJ Danetra, Events Manager) and photographs (James Badham, Media Liaison). Mo Lovegreen, Geography’s Executive Officer, did a bang up job of decorating the reception area with a fall theme and coordinating the catering. Geography Professor Oliver Chadwick provided the opening welcome speech in which he challenged the participants to meet at least one new person and find out about their research during the reception.

Editor’s note: More photos of the Rooftop Research Collaboration have been posted on Geography’s Event Photos page.

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Oliver Chadwick (Geography faculty) launched the series with a welcoming and challenging speech
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Susannah Porter (ERI faculty) and Greg Janee (ERI Specialist)
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James Frew and Jeff Dozier (Bren faculty); Doug Burbank (Earth Science faculty)
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Shout it from the rooftops!

November 06, 2014 - Alumnus Kirk Goldsberry Has Changed Basketball Forever

Alumnus Kirk Goldsberry (PhD 2007) has scored big time with his use of spatial and visual analytics as a means to enhance basketball expertise. “All maps simplify reality - that's the nature of the geospatial beast. My basketball maps expose the general tendencies and spatial shooting behaviors of NBA players and teams; they are not intended to explain every aspect of basketball reality.” However, “the things Goldsberry, the USC team, and others are looking at — finding ways to measure and visualize stuff that we might think or believe, but not know for sure — can not only help teams make better decisions; they can open the door to a whole new way of seeing the game” (source).

Kirk’s “CourtVision Analytics” were originally presented in a research paper at the 2012 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston which was one of two finalists for top paper amongst over 100 submissions and was featured in the New York Times blog “Off the Dribble.” His analytics were then featured again in an interactive N.B.A. Finals preview which was posted in both the New York Times and USA Today (see the June 12, 2012 article, “Alumnus Kirk Goldsberry Featured in New York Times – Again!”). Those write-ups were followed by an article in The Boston Daily which noted that “This year, after a lot of trial and error, he began producing astonishingly information-rich maps (precise to the square foot) that show the spots on a court where a shooter’s attempts are most likely to be successful. Nine NBA teams have approached Goldsberry about using his maps to find their players’ strengths and weaknesses.”

Recently, Wired.com devoted a major business article about Kirk’s CourtVision which was written by Mark McClusky and posted October 28, 2014, with the title “This Guy’s Quest to Track Every Shot in the NBA Changed Basketball Forever.” Some extracts:

  • All through his education, Goldsberry didn't just watch basketball; he played it too—recreationally, in pickup games. And as he played, he started to think about the game and how it differed from other sports. Analytics—breaking down play and performance with statistics—was starting to supplement more traditional coaching and evaluation methods like watching videotape and working on physical fundamentals.
  • Goldsberry began to focus on the locations and movement of objects—specifically, the players and the ball. It was a mapping problem. From that perspective, and with the help of some massive new data sets, he could do more than merely quantify what people thought they knew about the game. He could discover hidden truths about hoops, shining light into dark corners that no one even knew were corners.
  • One of the people intrigued by Goldsberry's work was Brian Kopp, then an executive at Stats, located just outside of Chicago. A group of baseball researchers started Stats in the 1980s to gather the best statistical information they could about the game. Now the company is a behemoth, providing statistical information about professional sports in the US to teams, leagues, and the media. In 2012, Stats was working on basketball too—messing around with a new kind of data-gathering it called SportVU. Shortly after that 2012 presentation at the Sloan conference, Kopp called Goldsberry and asked if he would be interested in taking a look.
  • This is no longer a part-time hobby for Goldsberry. He has parlayed his work into a job writing about analytics for the sports website Grantland, and although he won't confirm it, there are reports that multiple NBA teams have consulted with him. And he's still at Harvard, where he's organized a group of students that call themselves the XY Hoops after the mathematic shorthand for the coordinate system. “This wasn't my idea—it came from my students,” Goldsberry says. “It's like I'm the Foo Fighters, and they're the hot new band. I'm almost a nostalgia act already.”

From Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes—and What We Can Learn from Them by Mark McClusky. Reprinted by arrangement with Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Mark McClusky, 2014. Editor’s note: Many thanks to grad student Grant McKenzie for suggesting this material.

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Kirk Goldsberry. From the Wired article; photo credit: Jeff Wilson
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Dr. Kirk Goldsberry: "My research focuses on the visual dimensions of scientific communication. I’m particularly interested in the links between visual form, graphic design, and spatial reasoning. This avenue of research is significantly influenced by the principles of cartography, visualization, cognitive psychology, vision science, spatial analysis, and human computer interaction. The tie that binds all of my research together is the unmatched ability of graphics to simplify and summarize complex spatial narratives. My courses aim to enable students to harness the power of graphic communication by understanding fundamental concepts as well as learning contemporary design techniques" (photo by Mark Fleming, Boston Daily).
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The shooting range of Kobe Bryant who is an American professional basketball player who plays shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA. Kobe also has the highest spread value in the NBA; Bryant’s value of 1,071 indicates he has attempted field goals in 1,071 of the 1,284 shooting cells or 83.4% of the scoring area.
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Even Ray Allen, the most prolific three-point shooter of all time, has relatively weak areas, like from the left wing. From the Wired article; graphic credit: Clever Franke

November 06, 2014 - Alumnae Max Moritz and Alexandra Syphard Advise Us to Learn To Coexist with Wildfire

The following UC Berkeley News Center article was written by Ann Brody Guy, College of Natural Resources, November 5, 2014, with the title “Coexist or perish, wildfire analysis says”:

Many fire scientists have tried to get Smokey the Bear to hang up his “prevention” motto in favor of tools like thinning and prescribed burns, which can manage the severity of wildfires while allowing them to play their natural role in certain ecosystems. But a new international research review led by UC Berkeley says the debate over fuel-reduction techniques is only a small part of a much larger fire problem that will make society increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic losses unless it changes its fundamental approach from fighting fire to coexisting with fire as a natural process.

The paper, “Learning to Coexist with Wildfire,” to be published in the Nov. 6 issue of the journal Nature, examines research findings from three continents and from both the natural and social sciences. The authors conclude that government-sponsored firefighting and land-use policies actually encourage development on inherently hazardous landscapes, amplifying human losses over time.

“We don’t try to ‘fight’ earthquakes — we anticipate them in the way we plan communities, build buildings and prepare for emergencies. We don’t think that way about fire, but our review indicates that we should,” said lead author Max Moritz [PhD 1999], Cooperative Extension specialist in fire at UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources. “Human losses will only be mitigated when land-use planning takes fire hazards into account in the same manner as other natural hazards, like floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes.”

The analysis looked at different kinds of natural fires, what drives them in various ecosystems, the ways public response to fire can differ, and the critical interface zones between built communities and natural landscapes. The authors found infinite variations on how these factors can come together. “It quickly became clear that generic one-size-fits-all solutions to wildfire problems do not exist,” Moritz said. “Fuel reduction may be a useful strategy for specific places, like California’s dry conifer forests, but when we zoomed out and looked at fire-prone regions throughout the Western United States, Australia and the Mediterranean Basin, we realized that over vast parts of the world, a much more nuanced strategy of planning for coexistence with fire is needed.”

If humans choose to live in fire-prone regions, fire must be managed on par with other naturally occurring hazards, the authors argue, and research must seek to understand what factors and outcomes humans can and cannot affect. One common tool is applicable to the vast array of ecological and social science interactions at the critical wildfire/urban interface: more effective land-use planning, along with the regulations that guide it.

The authors recommend prioritizing location-specific approaches to improve development and safety in fire-prone areas, including:

  • Adopting new land-use regulations and zoning guidelines that restrict development in the most fire-prone areas;
  • Updating building codes, such as requiring fire-resistant construction to match local hazard levels and encouraging retrofits to existing ignition-prone homes;
  • Implementing locally appropriate vegetation management strategies around structures and neighborhoods;
  • Evaluating evacuation planning and warning systems, including understanding situations in which mandatory evacuations are or are not effective;
  • Developing household and community plans for how to survive stay-and-defend situations; and
  • Developing better maps of fire hazards, ecosystem services and climate change effects to assess trade-offs between development and hazard.

As an example of positive steps, the report cites new fire-danger mapping efforts, including an existing fire hazard severity zone map that guides building codes in California. Produced by the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the current map does not explicitly incorporate locally varying wind patterns, which influence the worst fire-related losses of homes and lives, but future iterations will include these data.

The authors underscore that wildfires are a natural part of many ecosystems and can have a positive long-term influence on the landscape, despite people labeling them as “disasters.” They can stimulate vegetation regeneration, promote a diversity of vegetation types, provide habitat for many species, and sustain other ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling.

Around the world, the numbers, sizes, and intensities of fires vary greatly. In some ecosystems, big, severe wildfires are natural events and more climate-driven — by drought or high winds — so fuel reduction is not a very effective tool in these locations. By contrast, many ecosystems that would naturally experience frequent lower-severity fires may respond to vegetation management aimed at both reducing fire hazard to humans and restoring crucial ecosystem processes. But, the authors agree, where fuel reduction is an appropriate goal, it would ideally be achieved by letting wildfires do their job.

A changing climate will complicate management strategies. “How should future fire patterns compare to this historical variability? That’s the big question,” Moritz said.

Describing wildfire as “one of the most basic and ongoing natural processes on Earth,” the authors call for a paradigm shift in the way society interacts with it, changing to an approach that achieves long-term, sustainable coexistence that benefits the planet’s ecosystems on the landscape scale, while minimizing catastrophic losses on the human scale. “A different view of wildfire is urgently needed,” said Moritz. “We must accept wildfire as a crucial and inevitable natural process on many landscapes. There is no alternative. The path we are on will lead to a deepening of our fire-related problems worldwide, which will only become worse as the climate changes.”

Image 1 for article titled "Alumnae Max Moritz and Alexandra Syphard Advise Us to Learn To Coexist with Wildfire"
The lightning-sparked Castle Rock fire in 2007 burned nearly 50,000 acres in the Sawtooth National Forest and state and private lands surrounding Ketchum, Idaho, in the Smoky Mountains region of the Rocky Mountain range. (Source: the Berkeley News Center article; photo by Kari Geer, courtesy of the National Interagency Fire Center)
Image 2 for article titled "Alumnae Max Moritz and Alexandra Syphard Advise Us to Learn To Coexist with Wildfire"
California fire hazard severity zone map
Image 3 for article titled "Alumnae Max Moritz and Alexandra Syphard Advise Us to Learn To Coexist with Wildfire"
Max Moritz: “Much of my work is focused on understanding the dynamics of fire regimes at relatively broad scales and applying this information in ecosystem management. We use quantitative analyses of fire history, examining the relative importance of different mechanisms that drive fire patterns on the landscape, to develop a variety of fire models. Research in my lab ranges from local to global scales, and we have recently published new projections of fire activity under climate change scenarios” (source: Max’s Our Environment at Berkeley website). Max’s UCSB Geography dissertation was titled “Controls on Disturbance Regime Dynamics: Fire in Los Padres National Forest,” and his advisor was Frank Davis.
Image 4 for article titled "Alumnae Max Moritz and Alexandra Syphard Advise Us to Learn To Coexist with Wildfire"
Coauthor Alexandra Syphard is a research ecologist who investigates landscape change that results from the interplay between human and natural disturbances, especially wildfire, urban development, and climate change. Before joining the Conservation Biology Institute as a Senior Research Scientist in 2007, Alexandra earned her PhD in Geography from San Diego State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2005

November 03, 2014 - New Study Finds Oceans Arrived Early to Earth

The following is a News Release by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, dated October 30, 2014, and with the title above:

Earth is known as the Blue Planet because of its oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet's surface and are home to the world's greatest diversity of life. While water is essential for life on the planet, the answers to two key questions have eluded us: where did Earth’s water come from and when?

While some hypothesize that water came late to Earth, well after the planet had formed, findings from a new study led by scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) significantly move back the clock for the first evidence of water on Earth and in the inner solar system. "The answer to one of the basic questions is that our oceans were always here. We didn't get them from a late process, as was previously thought," said Adam Sarafian, the lead author of the paper published Oct. 31, 2014, in the journal Science and a MIT/WHOI Joint Program student in the Geology and Geophysics Department.

One school of thought was that planets originally formed dry, due to the high-energy, high-impact process of planet formation, and that the water came later from sources such as comets or “wet” asteroids, which are largely composed of ices and gases. "With giant asteroids and meteors colliding, there's a lot of destruction," said Horst Marschall, a geologist at WHOI and coauthor of the paper. "Some people have argued that any water molecules that were present as the planets were forming would have evaporated or been blown off into space, and that surface water as it exists on our planet today, must have come much, much later—hundreds of millions of years later."

The study’s authors turned to another potential source of Earth’s water— carbonaceous chondrites. The most primitive known meteorites, carbonaceous chondrites, were formed in the same swirl of dust, grit, ice and gasses that gave rise to the sun some 4.6 billion years ago, well before the planets were formed. "These primitive meteorites resemble the bulk solar system composition," said WHOI geologist and coauthor Sune Nielsen. "They have quite a lot of water in them, and have been thought of before as candidates for the origin of Earth's water."

In order to determine the source of water in planetary bodies, scientists measure the ratio between the two stable isotopes of hydrogen: deuterium and hydrogen. Different regions of the solar system are characterized by highly variable ratios of these isotopes. The study’s authors knew the ratio for carbonaceous chondrites and reasoned that if they could compare that to an object that was known to crystallize while Earth was actively accreting then they could gauge when water appeared on Earth.

To test this hypothesis, the research team, which also includes Francis McCubbin from the Institute of Meteoritics at the University of New Mexico and Brian Monteleone of WHOI, utilized meteorite samples provided by NASA from the asteroid 4-Vesta. The asteroid 4-Vesta, which formed in the same region of the solar system as Earth, has a surface of basaltic rock—frozen lava. These basaltic meteorites from 4-Vesta are known as eucrites and carry a unique signature of one of the oldest hydrogen reservoirs in the solar system. Their age—approximately 14 million years after the solar system formed—makes them ideal for determining the source of water in the inner solar system at a time when Earth was in its main building phase. The researchers analyzed five different samples at the Northeast National Ion Microprobe Facility—a state-of-the-art national facility housed at WHOI that utilizes secondary ion mass spectrometers. This is the first time hydrogen isotopes have been measured in eucrite meteorites.

The measurements show that 4-Vesta contains the same hydrogen isotopic composition as carbonaceous chondrites, which is also that of Earth. That, combined with nitrogen isotope data, points to carbonaceous chondrites as the most likely common source of water. "The study shows that Earth's water most likely accreted at the same time as the rock. The planet formed as a wet planet with water on the surface," Marschall said.

While the findings don't preclude a late addition of water on Earth, it shows that it wasn't necessary since the right amount and composition of water was present at a very early stage. "An implication of that is that life on our planet could have started to begin very early," added Nielsen. "Knowing that water came early to the inner solar system also means that the other inner planets could have been wet early and evolved life before they became the harsh environments they are today."

Image 1 for article titled "New Study Finds Oceans Arrived Early to Earth"
In this illustration of the early solar system, the dashed white line represents the snow line—the transition from the hotter inner solar system, where water ice is not stable (brown) to the outer Solar system, where water ice is stable (blue). Two possible ways that the inner solar system received water are: water molecules sticking to dust grains inside the "snow line" (as shown in the inset) and carbonaceous chondrite material flung into the inner solar system by the effect of gravity from protoJupiter. With either scenario, water must accrete to the inner planets within the first ca. 10 million years of solar system formation. From the Woods Hole article; illustration by Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
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Adam Sarafian, lead author of the paper and a MIT/WHOI Joint Program student in the WHOI Geology and Geophysics Department, preps samples in Sune Nielsen's NIRVANA clean lab to remove all contamination from the surface prior to analysis. Ibid.; photo by Jayne Doucette, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Image 3 for article titled "New Study Finds Oceans Arrived Early to Earth"
A closeup of meteorite samples from the asteroid 4-Vesta after analysis in the Northeast National Ion Microbe Facility—a state-of-the-art national facility that utilizes secondary ion mass spectrometers. Ibid.
Image 4 for article titled "New Study Finds Oceans Arrived Early to Earth"
Geologists Adam Sarafian (left) and Horst Marschall working in the Northeast National Ion Microprobe Facility. Ibid.
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