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

July 24, 2014 - Largest Aquatic Insect in the World Discovered in China

A newly discovered member of the Megaloptera family may earn an entry into The Guinness Book of Records as the largest aquatic insect in the world. Its wingspan is a whopping 8.2 inches (21 cm). Images of the huge insect appeared on China's ECNS website on July 21, 2014 and have since gone viral on the internet. The specimen was discovered in the mountains of Chengdu in Sichuan province. (All photos are credited to China News Service / Zhong Xin.)

“Megaloptera is an order of insects which contains the alderflies, dobsonflies, and fishflies, and there are about 300 known species. The order's name comes from Ancient Greek - from mega- (μέγα-) "large" + pteryx (πτέρυξ) "wing" -, in reference to the large, clumsy wings of these insects. Megaloptera are relatively unknown insects across much of their range, due to the adults' short lives, the aquatic larvae's tolerance to pollution which is often rather high (so they are not often encountered by swimmers etc.), and the generally crepuscular or nocturnal habits.

However, in the Americas, the dobsonflies are rather well-known, as their males have tusk-like mandibles. These, while formidable in appearance, are relatively harmless to humans, as well as all other organisms; much like a peacock's feathers they serve no purpose other than to impress females and, in addition, to hold them during mating. Hellgrammites, which are dobsonfly larvae, are often used for angling bait in North America. The larvae grow slowly, taking several years to reach the last larval stage. When they reach maturity, the larvae crawl out onto land to pupate in damp soil or under logs. Unusually, the pupa is fully motile, with large mandibles that it can use to defend itself against predators. The short-lived adults emerge from the pupa to mate - many species never feed as adults, living only a few days or hours” (source).

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A monster member of the Megaloptera family
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Protohermes grandis. A Dobsonfly is any insect of the subfamily Corydalinae, part of the megalopteran family Corydalidae. There are over 220 species of dobsonflies. Dobsonflies are found throughout the Americas and Asia, as well as South Africa. Their closest relatives are the fishflies. Both male and female dobsonflies can reach lengths up to five inches (12.5 cm), measured from the tips of their pincers to the tips of their four wings (Wikipedia: Dobsonfly)

July 23, 2014 - The Advent of Computers in UCSB Geography

The following is from Chapter 7, “Technologic Revolution,” of Susan Baumgart’s "Department History – A Lively Chronicle: 1963-2000.”

The Advent of Computers: Dozier and Strahler team-taught the first Department computer course in Spring 1975, Geography 170 "Univariate Statistics." The course used an IBM main frame, a PDP-11 minicomputer belonging to the university and available through approximately 20 terminals, most of which were in North Hall. (North Hall is not the building in which Geography was housed.) The two young professors followed up with Geography 171 "Multivariate Statistics."

Jim Frew, who was an undergraduate at the time, says Dozier and Strahler were like "Laurel and Hardy" - very different, but very good together. The charismatic personalities of the teachers, the joy of finding a tool which solved problems that were otherwise painstaking, and the discovery of latent talents "fired up a whole bunch of us."

Frew remembers that Simonett "carefully 'vultched' [making a verb out of 'vulture'] space all over campus." He obtained a very large room in Engineering that had been trashed and ignored and happened to be next door to a computer running UNIX. Frew and the statistics group required two days to remove the enormous, conical pile of junk that sat in the middle of the room. It filled two dumpsters. With the room cleared, they set up little work areas on the perimeter and put a large conference table in the middle. No one knew how to use UNIX next door. The machine was one of the very first made. Dozier taught himself, then badgered Frew into using it. Dozier and Frew became steeped in the machine and its software, knowing them inside and out. "This is where the computerized aspect of the Department [research] took off," recalls Frew.

A happy group of computer enthusiasts accreted around Dozier and Strahler, working and playing together at all hours. They instituted an annual statistics desert field trip to remote lands east of the Sierra Nevada. They soaked in hot springs sans clothes, climbed rocks with Dozier, and consumed gentle wines and fine foods served on the carryall tailgate by Strahler. For a small subset of Geographers, computers were like Star Trek adventures: going where no man had gone before.

But that didn't mean all professors and students could expect advanced technology. Tobler described what computing was like when he first came to campus in 1977: "When I arrived here, the computing facilities were abominable. [Chancellor] Cheadle had turned computing over to an administrator who promised to curb the rapid growth in costs that were occurring. This he did, with disastrous results. One of the professors in engineering [Glen Culler] had established an internet-like arrangement, with interactive graphics and computing, far in advance of most other places. This was not supported by the university. It was actually squelched, and the professor in charge left. The computer administrator at UCSB let IBM dictate the type of computing available to faculty with rather awful rituals and clumsy software. I did most of my computing via telephone back to Ann Arbor on a teletype machine, using their Amdahl machine and the interactive MAD language."

Meryl Wieder, the highest ranking staff member of the Department, arrived June 1978, a year after Tobler. Neither faculty nor staff had personal computers. She remembers Tobler bought the very first: the earliest available Apple with 64K of memory. It sat in Tobler's office across the hall from her. At the urging of a graduate student named Otto Matt (we did not make up this name!), Wieder bought a $26 dollar software package and installed it on Tobler's machine. The program performed tasks in three minutes that she used to do in a week by hand. Wieder was now convinced that computers could be great tools. (Not everyone agreed with her.)

Pioneering Application of Computers to Administrative Needs: Golledge's assistant, Patty Fenwick-Miller, attended a demonstration of VisiCalc spreadsheet software and, returning, urged Wieder to attend the workshop the following Sunday - which she did. From that workshop, Wieder was able to create the first spreadsheet to calculate faculty salaries based on FTE and percent time. In 1980, Wieder changed software to Lotus and processed all the Geography accounts on the computer.

In the early 1980s, State legislative analysts came from Sacramento to assess computing on campus. Geography was one of the few departments that had computers. They saw Wieder using the little Apple for spreadsheets and interviewed her for details. Their report featured Wieder's computerized tracking and accounting. Geography garnered respect from UCSB Administration. In response, the UCSB College of Letters and Science spent half a million dollars creating an ARCS system, available to all departments within the College. It was a clone of an accounting system developed by programmers in the UC Berkeley Biochemistry Department, which was originally designed to run on Sun workstations. But it ran very slowly on the IBM PCs that Letters and Science bought for the departments. How slow? Screen refreshing could take up to three minutes.

Wieder used her own system in tandem with the College's system. If she didn't use the College's, the Department wouldn't qualify for the PCs the College distributed. Although not an efficient tool for managing a department, the college's program was a solution to acquire needed equipment. Over the years, she designed fourteen different databases and changed software from Lotus to Reflex and then, in 1989, to Paradox - which still is used today. In the future, she expects the Department administration to go to the GUS system that is being developed by three programmers hired by the Marine Science Institute and the Department of Chemistry. [GUS replaced Paradox in 2004-05.]

Transformation in Four Years: Golledge, while Chair, parlayed two VAX machines, one for research, one for teaching. The research machine was paid for by Terry Smith's grant. The teaching machine was paid for with "instructional" funds. Jim Frew had advised Golledge on what kind of machines to get: 11/750s. "750s could plug into the wall; 780s needed special wiring," Frew explained.

The two VAXes arrived just before Church became Chair, which puts the year probably 1984. (The Remote Sensing Research Lab, Estes' realm, had had a VAX since 1978, but it wasn't available to those outside the lab.) Frew was hired to install them in a cool room on the ground floor of Ellison Hall, where Siegel and Washburn now have their labs. Chancellor Huttenback officially inaugurated the machines, and he complained about the poor quality of the champagne that was served. "Rightly so," confirmed Golledge, since "I served Cooks instead of a good brand."

Faculty networked to the hulking, early UNIX machines through workstations - some of the very first Sun workstations ever shipped, with serial numbers around "100." The instructional machine was used for statistics courses and also for document preparation, because a laser printer was hooked up to it. The document prep software was "t-roff," which wasn't the least bit wsiwg (what-you-see-is-what-you-get). You marked up your pages, a little like HTML, and didn't know what the document would look like until you printed it. Soon after the Department got the VAX machines, the first computer system support person was hired.

In addition to Geography's VAX's, in 1980 the University made available to faculty and students a computer center with IBM 360 Model 65 clones. At this time, only a few faculty had garnered their own computers through grants. However, by 1988 the Department was completely weaned from the University, and the faculty all had either their own PC or a workstation hooked to Geography's UNIX. Frew said, "Some of us were slow to adapt to the PC, because we had far more capable UNIX stations. The workstations forestalled the eventual take-over of the PC." The staff, who had never interfaced with UNIX, now all had their own PCs.

Mapping: Goodbye Pen, Hello Mouse: This computerization of the Department also dramatically affected the way cartography was done. In 1984, student labs had been set up with drafting tables, pens, compasses, protractors, and lettering sets. The Department Artist/Cartographer, Dave Lawson, drew on paper. He had a camera stand with lights for photographing illustrations, used in professors' slide presentations and printed in journals, and a black-and-white photographic darkroom. In 1988, paper and pen were gone. The labs were set up with workstations and ArcInfo. Lawson drew on a Macintosh, although he still used the camera stand for making slides of illustrations and the darkroom for developing photos of faculty and graduate students.

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Susanna Baumgart was the Geography Department’s Artist, Photographer, Webmaster, Writer, Editor, and Publisher from 1998 to 2005. Susanna lived for her artwork, and her dream of having a major solo exhibition of her work came true shortly before her untimely death, thanks to the Santa Barbara Dream Foundation (see the April 22, 2005 and April 17, 2009 News articles)
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Glen Culler was the engineer who left after Cheadle transferred the computing center to the fiscal administrater. “Glen Jacob Culler (July 7, 1927 – May 3, 2003) was a professor of electrical engineering and an important early innovator in the development of the Internet. Culler joined the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) mathematics faculty in 1959 and helped put the campus in the forefront of what would become the field of computer science. He later served as director of the UCSB Computer Center and professor in the College of Engineering and extended his revolutionary view of the role of computers to include their use in the classroom. He left UCSB to work in industry and establish his own company, called Culler-Harrison, in 1969. Culler-Harrison became CHI Systems, and later, Culler Scientific” (Wikipedia: Glen Culler; photo of Culler receiving the National medal of Technology in 1999 is from
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A VAX-11/780. VAX was an instruction set architecture (ISA), developed by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in the mid-1970s. The VAX-11/780, introduced on October 25, 1977, was the first of a range of popular and influential computers implementing that architecture. "VAX" is originally an acronym for virtual address extension, both because the VAX was seen as a 32-bit extension of the older 16-bit PDP-11 and because it was (after Prime Computer) an early adopter of virtual memory to manage this larger address space (Wikipedia: VAX)
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Meryl Wieder, ca. 1968. Meryl began as a staff member in the UCSB Department of Earth Science and became Geography’s first MSO in June 1978. She was instrumental in the development of computerized accounting at UCSB in general and for the Department of Geography in particular. Meryl retired in 2004 after 36 years of service to UCSB

July 22, 2014 - Kate Voss Receives Editor’s Choice Award from Water Resources Research Journal

UCSB Geography graduate student Kate Voss just received the following announcement from Alberto Montanari, Editor in Chief of Water Resources Research:

"Dear Dr. Voss: Starting in 2011, Water Resources Research has instituted the Editor's Choice Awards. Editors’ Choice Awards are given to about 1% of published articles in any calendar year to provide professional recognition to scientists and students for their outstanding work. The selection is made by the Editors of WRR based on technical significance, novelty, originality, presentation, and broader implications of the publication. Awards made in a given year are for publication in the previous calendar year, the “award year.” I am delighted to let you know that for the 2013 award year your publication listed below is being recognized as a recipient of this award.

Voss, K. A., J. S. Famiglietti, M. Lo, C. de Linage, M. Rodell, and S. C. Swenson (2013), Groundwater depletion in the Middle East from GRACE with implications for transboundary water management in the Tigris-Euphrates-Western Iran region, Water Resour. Res., 49, doi:10.1002/wrcr.20078.

Please accept my hearty congratulations on behalf of the editors of WRR. The award will be formally presented at the Hydrologic Sciences Luncheon of the AGU Fall meeting in December 2014. We look forward to seeing you and/or your coauthor(s) at the event."

Kate’s response? “Super exciting!!! I am so honored and stoked that our paper is receiving this recognition!!!”

And we’re honored and stoked to have Kate as one of our grads!

Editor’s note: For a summary of Kate's article, see the highlights at Many thanks to David Lopez-Carr for bringing this material to our attention.

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Kate Voss, now a UCSB PhD candidate in Geography (advisors: Lopez-Carr/Carvalho), was a water policy fellow at the University of California's Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM) at UC Irvine. ( Kate was also recently awarded a NASA fellowship and a NSF graduate fellowship (see the April 3, 2014 News article). She had the enviable situation of having to choose between them and opted for the NSF.
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Water Resources Research is an interdisciplinary journal that focuses on hydrology and water resources. It publishes original research in the natural and social sciences of water. Submissions are evaluated for their novelty, accuracy, significance, and broader implications of the findings (WRR home page)

July 18, 2014 - How a 12-Year-Old Girl’s Science Project Changed the Way Scientists See Lionfish

The following article was written by Crystal Shepeard and posted July 13. 2014 with the title above:

Lauren Arrington was in the process of trying to figure out her sixth grade science project when she noticed a lionfish while fishing in the Loxahatchee River in south Florida. Lionfish had been spotted in Florida as early as 2010 and have since spread to many of its waters. Surprised to find it, the 12-year-old wanted to see if a dead lionfish’s spikes would still be venomous. Her father discouraged her from the idea, unwilling to be a human test subject. The daughter of two scientists began to wonder how the lionfish was surviving in the river and decided to do some investigating. The results of her experiment would end up in a science journal and change the way scientists are dealing with a pervasive lionfish invasion in non-native waters.

A native of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the lionfish is relatively harmless in its natural habitat. Its prey consists of other marine animals in its environment. With a stomach that can expand to 30 times its normal volume, it can consume creatures that are up to half its body size and is only limited to prey that can fit into its mouth. Other species that include the lionfish as part of their diet include sharks, groupers, large eels, and humans. The beauty of the lionfish’s long mane-like spikes makes it a favorite in exotic aquariums and belies their venomous nature.

For decades, however, the lionfish has been on a path of destruction, pushing our earth’s waters to the brink of an ecological disaster. The intentional release of lionfish from home aquariums has put them into non-native waters in the Western Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea. Prolific breeders with the ability to release up to 2 million eggs per year, the lionfish population has increased exponentially in just a few decades. They feed on marine animals that keep coral reefs healthy, as well as their eggs and offspring. Devouring the marine life in their environment is something a lionfish does really, really well. With the help of her father, Lauren captured a few to take home to observe. She was aware of the lionfish invasion and decided to see in what conditions the lionfish could survive. She called her experiment Understanding the Limits of Lionfish Invasion. The hypothesis was that lionfish needed a certain amount of salinity in their environment. Scientists measure water salinity by the amount of salt found in 1000 grams of water. So if there is one gram of salt in 1000 grams of water, the amount of salinity would be expressed as 1 part per thousand, or 1ppt.

The salinity of the area where Lauren found the lionfish is part of the Jupiter inlet that connects to the Atlantic Ocean and averaged the same ocean salinity of 35 parts per thousand. For two weeks, Lauren observed the lionfish’s food intake and stress levels as she reduced the salinity of the water. She believed that because of their natural ocean habitat, it would be unable to survive with a salinity of less than 13 parts per thousand. However, when that level was reached, there was no change in their behavior. She continued to lower the levels until she reached a salinity of 6 ppt. The lionfish survived. Lauren had discovered that lionfish can survive in freshwater.

Her experiment got the attention of researchers at Florida International University and North Carolina State University. Due to the rules of the science fair, Lauren didn’t take the salinity any lower out of fear that the fish would die. Other researchers took the salinity to zero, discovering that the lionfish could tolerate a minimum of 5 parts per 1000 – generally the lowest salinity of most freshwater bodies.

The discovery is significant because scientists have not thought to look for the dangerous predator in freshwater areas until now. This completely human-made threat of the lionfish to ecosystems and commercial fishing is now much greater than previous believed. They can be a threat in the freshwaters where fish nurseries are kept and feed on the eggs and juvenile fish. They could also be feeding on any number of freshwater species not previously known to be in danger. Not to mention, there are no natural predators for the lionfish in any of these areas.

In response, the state of Florida has banned the import of live lionfish into the area as of August 1, 2014. They have also expanded the areas where people can legally spear the lionfish with a permit. Harvesting of the fish is also being allowed as part of the effort to reduce the population. Researchers have also put out an alert to be on the lookout for the fish in previously unexamined waters.

Lauren’s research has since been peer reviewed three times. The results of the expanded study by Dr. Craig Layman, Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Fellow at North Carolina State University, and Zachary Jud, a graduate student at Florida International University, was published this year in the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes. Lauren’s research was cited and credited with the initial discovery. Not bad for a 12-year-old whose research project earned her third place in a sixth grade science fair.

Excerpt from the expanded study: “The ability of lionfish to survive at low salinities may play an important role in shaping the eventual spatial extent of the invasion in the Western Hemisphere. While lionfish have spread rapidly throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Northwest Atlantic, they have yet to colonize the coast of South America, south of the Amazon-Orinoco plume (AOP). The AOP has been proposed as a potential barrier to southward dispersal of lionfish (Côté et al. 2013a); however, our findings support the prediction of Luiz et al. (2013) that lionfish will eventually cross the AOP and spread along the Atlantic coast of South America… However, without increased efforts to identify lionfish in other invaded estuaries and document their effect on native estuarine organisms, we may fail to fully recognize the potential impacts of the lionfish invasion on these ecosystems. (Acknowledgement: This project was made possible by a close partnership with the Loxahatchee River District. Lauren Arrington (King’s Academy, West Palm Beach, FL) conducted preliminary laboratory experiments that helped give rise to our experimental design…)."

Editor's note: Many thanks to Linda Norrington for bringing this material to our attention.

Breaking News: Geography grad student Erin Wetherley contacted the editor on July 23 to point out that "there's a second act to the lionfish story": the sixth grader may have stolen credit for a marine biologist's research - see the story here.

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Red lionfish near Gilli Banta Island. The invasiveness of the red lionfish is an extreme problem, and relatively little information is still known about the animal. The NOAA has research foci in place to better understand the fish and the implications surround its invasive nature. Some of these include investigating biotechnical solutions for control of the population, and understanding how the larvae are dispersed. Another important area of study is what controls the population in its native area. Researchers hope to discover what moderates lionfish populations in the Indo-Pacific and apply this information to control the invasive populations, without introducing additional invasive species. NOAA also plans to further its "Lionfish as Food" campaign, since human hunting of the fish is the only form of control known as of September 2013. The NOAA also encourages people to report lionfish sightings, to help track lionfish population dispersal (Wikipedia: Pterois)
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Effects of fluctuating salinity on the survival of caged lionfish (Pterois spp.) at a downstream (2.4 km from ocean), b midstream (6.2 km from ocean), and c upstream (7.0 km from ocean) sites in the Loxahatchee River estuary. Salinity varied over time as a product of freshwater inflow (long term) and tidal incursion of marine water (twice daily). Estimated time of lionfish death is indicated in the bar across the top of each panel. Note that scale on the x-axis differs among panels. The period of heavy precipitation is indicated by a thick black bar at the top of each panel. Asterisks in (a) represent data gaps due to equipment malfunction (from the journal article)
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Kaplan-Meier survival curve for lionfish exposed to salinities of 4 ‰. No mortality was observed at salinities ≥5 ‰, the approximate survival salinity minimum (SSmin) for lionfish. After 3 h at 4 ‰, two individuals experienced a complete loss of equilibrium (our predetermined endpoint for SSmin determination), combined with a lack of response to tactile stimulation, and a reduction in the frequency of opercular movements. These two individuals were included in the Kaplan-Meier curve, since their condition was an immediate precursor to death. All fish were dead after 94 h (Ibid.)

July 14, 2014 - Hunger for Vegetable Oil Means Trouble for Africa's Great Apes

The following is a Featured Research article, dated July 10 and with the title above:

The vegetable oil found in your popcorn or soap might not be ape friendly, and the situation appears likely to get even worse, according to an analysis in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on July 10. The growing demand for vegetable oil has already led to the conversion of Southeast Asian forest into oil palm plantations, bringing trouble for orangutans in particular. If guidelines are not put in place very soon, researchers say the spread of those large-scale industrial plantations from Asia into Africa will be bad news for great apes there as well.

"The first step is to get this issue on the forefront of public awareness and on the agenda of companies active in Africa and governments, both in and outside of Africa," says Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University. "Public awareness is key, as consumers have influence through their purchasing behavior."

Oil palm concessions that have already been given to companies for production in Africa show almost 60% overlap with the distribution of great ape species, the new analysis finds. Of the area suitable for growing oil palm in Africa, there is a 42% overlap with great ape habitat.

Palm oil is found in a large number of products, from popcorn to candy to soap to cosmetics, making growth of the tropical trees a very lucrative industry. But, at least for Wich, the downsides associated with oil palm demand have been particularly apparent. "Working in Indonesia during the past two decades has given me first-hand experience of the extremely rapid oil palm development, for which large areas of forest have been cleared," he says. "Now that companies are looking to Africa, we wanted to determine how large the potential threat to African ape species is."

The new analysis shows that the oil palm industry presents a significant threat to apes all across Africa. The problem could be particularly acute in some countries, including Gabon, Congo, and The Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the only home to the peaceful chimpanzee relatives known as bonobos. In each of those nations, approximately 80% of the area suitable for oil palm growth overlaps with ape habitat.

"There is an urgent need to develop guidelines for the expansion of oil palm in Africa to minimize the negative effects on apes and other wildlife," Wich and colleagues write. "There is also a need for research to support land use decisions to reconcile economic development, great ape conservation, and the avoidance of carbon emissions."

For people looking to do something about the palm oil problem themselves, now is the time to start, the researchers say. "The general public should try to push the companies they buy goods from to use sustainable oil palm," Wich says, noting that some products now carry a GreenPalm logo. "If consumers do buy a product with palm oil in it and no label, they should email, call, or otherwise contact the company to ask them to start using sustainable palm oil and tell them they will not continue to buy their product until it is labeled to indicate this."

Editor's note: Also see the June 7, 2014 article, "The Dark Side of Doughnuts." Many thanks to Linda Norrington for suggesting this material.

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Chimps feed on oil palm fruit. Source:, op. cit.; photo credit: Henry Camara-Bossou
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African Ape Distribution and Suitable Oil Palm Areas. This figure shows the overlap of African ape distribution with protected areas and areas suitable for oil palm, for each individual species (A–C) and for the combined distribution of the four species (D). The locations of oil palm concessions are based on their shapes’ centroid. From the Cell Press Article
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Oil Palm Threat to Suitable Environmental Conditions for African Great Ape Species. In all countries where great ape species predominantly inhabit rainforests, a large proportion of land containing sustainable environmental conditions (SEC) for these species overlaps with suitable oil palm areas (Figure 3; Table S5). This is the case for Sierra Leone (48.8%), Liberia (81.7%), Côte d’Ivoire (59.6%), and Ghana (87.9%) in West Africa, and for all Central African countries containing great apes (49.5%). For some of the countries, such as Liberia and Republic of the Congo, more than three-quarters of great ape SEC overlaps with suitable oil palm areas. In East Africa and countries at the range limits of ape species in West Africa, suitable oil palm areas cover much smaller proportions of SEC (<0.01%). Ibid.

July 14, 2014 - Using Satellites to Study Polar Bear Populations

According to a USGS news article, “Monitoring wildlife in the Arctic is difficult. Study areas are cold, barren, and often inaccessible. For decades, scientists have struggled to study animals, like polar bears, which live in these remote areas. Now researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey have begun testing a new, yet counterintuitive solution – rather then get close to the animals, monitor them from afar. Scientists have started using satellites to observe, count, and track polar bears. USGS scientists and their Canadian collaborators have begun analyzing high-resolution satellite images from a part of the Canadian High Arctic to determine the feasibility of using satellites to study polar bear populations.

“We tested the use of satellite technology from DigitalGlobe to count polar bears by tasking the satellite to collect photos from an area where we were also conducting aerial surveys,” said Dr. Todd Atwood, research leader for the USGS Polar Bear Research Program. “We then analyzed the satellite and aerial survey data separately and found that the abundance estimates were remarkably similar.”

The study, which is led by former USGS scientist and current University of Minnesota researcher Dr. Seth Stapleton, is part of an ongoing effort to identify non-invasive technologies to better understand how polar bears respond to the loss of sea ice due to a warming climate. This study tries to determine the number of polar bears and where they reside on Rowley Island in Nunavut’s Foxe Basin during the ice-free summer. “We selected Rowley as our study site because bear density is high during summer and the flat terrain provides an ideal setting to evaluate the use of satellite imagery,” said Stapleton.

Traditionally, scientists study polar bears by capturing and tagging them or by conducting aerial surveys with low flying aircraft. While these methods provide a wealth of important information, they are disruptive to the animals and are often not possible when dealing with remote locations. “We think satellite technology has the potential to open vast, remote regions of the Arctic to regular monitoring. It has tremendous potential to aid the circumpolar management of polar bears,” said Stapleton.

The next steps in the research focus on testing the satellites’ ability to detect polar bear populations over larger areas, including sites along coastal Alaska. Using satellite imagery shows incredible promise and provides one more tool for those interested in preserving polar bear populations for future generations. The ongoing research is part of the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative. The findings from the study are in the most recent issue of PLos ONE.

Abstract of the PLos ONE article (Stapleton S, LaRue M, Lecomte N, Atkinson S, Garshelis D, et al. Polar Bears from Space: Assessing Satellite Imagery as a Tool to Track Arctic Wildlife. PLoS ONE, 2014 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101513):

“Development of efficient techniques for monitoring wildlife is a priority in the Arctic, where the impacts of climate change are acute and remoteness and logistical constraints hinder access. We evaluated high resolution satellite imagery as a tool to track the distribution and abundance of polar bears. We examined satellite images of a small island in Foxe Basin, Canada, occupied by a high density of bears during the summer ice-free season. Bears were distinguished from other light-colored spots by comparing images collected on different dates. A sample of ground-truthed points demonstrated that we accurately classified bears. Independent observers reviewed images and a population estimate was obtained using mark–recapture models. This estimate (N: 94; 95% Confidence Interval: 92–105) was remarkably similar to an abundance estimate derived from a line transect aerial survey conducted a few days earlier (N: 102; 95% CI: 69–152). Our findings suggest that satellite imagery is a promising tool for monitoring polar bears on land, with implications for use with other Arctic wildlife. Large scale applications may require development of automated detection processes to expedite review and analysis. Future research should assess the utility of multi-spectral imagery and examine sites with different environmental characteristics” (source).

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Modern methods of tracking polar bear populations have been implemented only since the mid-1980s, and are expensive to perform consistently over a large area. The most accurate counts require flying a helicopter in the Arctic climate to find polar bears, shooting a tranquilizer dart at the bear to sedate it, and then tagging the bear. " (Wikipedia: Polar bear)
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Polar bears detected with high resolution satellite imagery and during the helicopter-based aerial survey. Target imagery was acquired from Rowley Island (dark shade) in northern Foxe Basin, Nunavut with the WorldView-2 and Quickbird satellites on September 3, 2012. Transects were spaced at 7 km intervals during the aerial survey. The Foxe Basin polar bear subpopulation is outlined in black and the study area is shaded red in the inset. From the PLos ONE article.
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Example of high resolution satellite imagery used to detect polar bears. Imagery was procured from Rowley Island in Foxe Basin, Nunavut during late summer, 2012. The target imagery (a) was searched for polar bears, and the reference imagery (b) was used for comparison. Polar bears are present in the example target image but absent in the reference image (yellow circles). Landscape features that remain consistent between images, including rocks and substrate, are denoted with red arrows. Satellite imagery printed under a CC BY license, with permission from DigitalGlobe ©2013. Ibid.
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Clouds (top) and water conditions (bottom) are factors that may hamper detection of bears. Bear locations are indicated in target [(a) and (c)] and reference [(b) and (d)] images with yellow circles. Foam accumulating along the edges of water bodies and changes in water levels between target and reference images are indicated in the bottom pair of shots by red and blue arrows, respectively. Satellite imagery printed under a CC BY license, with permission from DigitalGlobe ©2013. Ibid.

July 10, 2014 - Interactive Map Shows How Roman Empire Was Shaped by Economic Constraints

“Imagine you're in Rome, it's 205 CE, and you've got to figure out the quickest way to transport wheat to Virunum, in what's now Austria. Your transportation choices are limited: ox cart, mule, ship or by foot, and your budget is tight. What do you do? Enter ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. With it, you can survey the options that would have been available to an ancient Roman in that very predicament with the ease of getting directions via GPS.

Type in your starting point, destination, the goods you need to move, and the time of year. Voila! You can quickly see the most cost-effective way to transport the grain. By generating new information about the ancient Roman transport network, ORBIS demonstrates how, more than anything else, the expansion of the empire was a function of cost. ORBIS reconstructs the time spent and financial expense associated with pre-modern travel. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes, the interactive route map recreates the infrastructure of the entire pre-modern Roman world in a way that has never been done before” (Stanford News).

Stanford Classics Professor Walter Scheidel and Stanford Digital Humanities Specialist Elijah Meeks developed the highly detailed digital model in collaboration with a group of IT specialists and students at Stanford. UCSB Geography alumnus Karl Grossner (PhD 2010) conceived and built the ORBIS web site as a digital scholarly publication, integrating Meeks' GIS routing application and supporting visualizations with an embedded scholarly article co-authored by Scheidel, Meeks, and two student contributors. "ORBIS is dynamic, not static, and functions both as a publication and as a tool for the creation of new information," Scheidel said. By allowing users to experiment with a huge number of data combinations, "it lets users do things that could not be done on the printed page."

Although historians have plotted the thousands of destinations and the land and sea routes that traversed the three continents of the Roman Empire, ORBIS integrates real-life scenarios that illustrate how the empire was held together through trade routes. "Traditional maps fail to capture the severe environmental constraints that governed the flows of people, goods and information," said Scheidel, whose research interests focus on ancient social and economic history. In recreating an ancient journey, an ORBIS user can take into account seasonal conditions, 14 modes of road travel from camel caravan to military march, different types of ships and various speeds of travel. Together, these factors reveal how the Romans came to perceive time and distance” (Ibid.)

“The model consists of 632 sites, most of them urban settlements but also including important promontories and mountain passes, and covers close to 10 million square kilometers (~4 million square miles) of terrestrial and maritime space. 301 sites serve as sea ports. The baseline road network encompasses 84,631 kilometers (52,587 miles) of road or desert tracks, complemented by 28,272 kilometers (17,567 miles) of navigable rivers and canals.

Sea travel moves across a cost surface that simulates monthly wind conditions and takes account of strong currents and wave height. The model's maritime network consists of 1026 sea routes (linking 513 pairs of sites in both directions), many of them documented in historical sources and supplemented by coastal short-range connections between all ports and a few mid-range routes that fill gaps in ancient coverage. Their total length, which varies monthly, averages 192,810 kilometers (119,806 miles). Sea travel is possible at two sailing speeds that reflect the likely range of navigational capabilities in the Roman period. Maritime travel is constrained by rough weather conditions (using wave height as proxy). 158 of the sea lanes are classified as open sea connections and can be disabled to restrict movement to coastal and other short-haul routes, a process that simulates the practice of cabotage as well as sailing in unfavorable weather. For each route, the model generates two discrete outcomes for time and four for expense in any given month (

“ORBIS was launched not as a fixed object, but as an interactive platform that Scheidel and Meeks are making available to other scholars and the general public. The site will be continually updated in response to user feedback. Scholarship that is made possible by the model will be posted on the site itself as open access digital publications. By adding more data, users can extend the sea surface and apply the model anywhere on the globe, making the model "infinitely expandable," said Scheidel. Scheidel anticipates that users will formulate their own questions as they experiment with the site. His hope is that ORBIS will help "create a new approach to our understanding of connectivity in a pre-modern society”” (Stanford News, op. cit.)

Editor's note: For more about Karl Grossner's work with ORBIS, see the March 18, 2013 article, "Notes from the Farm," that he contributed. Many thanks to Stella Larson for bringing this material to our attention.

Image 1 for article titled "Interactive Map Shows How Roman Empire Was Shaped by Economic Constraints"
Although it broadly reflects conditions around 200 CE, it also covers a sites and roads created in late antiquity. A total of 301 sites serve as sea ports. The baseline road network covers 52,587 miles (84,631 km) of road or desert tracks, in addition to 17,567 miles (28,272 km) of navigable rivers and canals (pictured) (Orbis/Stanford University)
Image 2 for article titled "Interactive Map Shows How Roman Empire Was Shaped by Economic Constraints"
Start and end points of routes can be selected using drop-down menus, and users can even select what season they travel in. Travellers can also select between the fastest, cheapest, and shortest routes, and, once all the options have been selected, the Calculate Route button shows the results as text, a longitude and latitude graph, and a node route (Ibid.)
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Sea routes in July, with coastal routes in blue and overseas routes in green (Ibid.)
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Roads and rivers modeled in ORBIS (Ibid.)
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A distance cartogram that distorts the location of Roman sites based on the time it would take (via all modes) to travel to that site from Rome (Ibid.)
Image 6 for article titled "Interactive Map Shows How Roman Empire Was Shaped by Economic Constraints"
A cost distribution map, with the geography of the Mediterranean world maintained but the sites colored by the cost (via all modes) of shipping grain from that site to Rome (Ibid.)
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An ORBIS-generated map illustrates that the most cost-effective route for transporting grain from Rome to Virunum in February would cost 7.17 denarii per kilogram if using a donkey on the land portions of the journey (Ibid.)

July 07, 2014 - Grad Student Elizabeth Kennedy Authors Policy Piece for the American Immigration Council

Elizabeth Kennedy is a doctoral student in the UCSB/SDSU Joint PhD program, and her name keeps coming up in relation to media interviews regarding the influx of unaccompanied child migrants to the U.S. (you can access many of them here), as well as in print, radio, and television outlets like Univision, Time, Al Jazeera, and the Spanish language equivalent of the Associated Press. On July 1, 2014, the American Immigration Council in Washington, DC published a policy piece written by Elizabeth and titled "No Childhood Here: Why Central American Children are Fleeing Their Homes." Some extracts:

“Over a decade before President Barack Obama described the influx of unaccompanied child migrants to the United States as an “urgent humanitarian situation requiring a unified and coordinated Federal response,” child and refugee advocates warned that children who shared experiences of years-long family separation, widespread violence in home countries, and higher rates of neglect and abuse were fleeing from South of our border in alarming numbers. Then as now, over 95 percent were from Mexico and the Central American nations of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. When these children were apprehended in the U.S., the Trafficking and Victim’s Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) required agents to ask limited and straightforward abuse questions. If the child was determined to be without a parent or legal guardian, s/he had to be transferred to Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) care within 72 hours.”

“Yet, even though 8,000 to 40,000 unaccompanied child migrants were apprehended annually between 2003 and 2011, only 4,800 to 8,300 entered ORR’s care each year. A 2011 report by the Appleseed Foundation documented that most Mexican child migrants did not receive TVPRA screening and thus could not transition to ORR care. Instead, per an agreement between the Mexican and U.S. governments that Obama would like emulated among Central American countries, Mexican children were quickly deported. Nonetheless, those from indigenous areas or areas with high levels of drug violence were able to receive the “Unaccompanied Alien Child” (UAC) designation, alongside thousands from the three countries that make up the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America. In 2012, nearly 14,000 UAC entered ORR care, with 88 percent from the Northern Triangle. In 2013, over 24,000 arrived, with 93 percent from the same three nations. This year, as many as 60,000 could arrive, and while numbers from Mexico have declined, numbers from the Northern Triangle continue rising.”

“What drives these children to flee their homes? What causes their parents to put them and their life’s savings in the hands of smugglers? What happens if they fail to reach the U.S.? Since October 2013, with funding from a Fulbright Fellowship, I have lived in El Salvador and worked toward answering these questions through my research into the causes of child migration and the effects of child deportation.”

"Based on the evidence I collected and analyzed to date, violence, extreme poverty, and family reunification play important roles in pushing kids to leave their country of origin. In particular, crime, gang threats, or violence appear to be the strongest determinants for children’s decision to emigrate. When asked why they left their home, 59 percent of Salvadoran boys and 61 percent of Salvadoran girls list one of those factors as a reason for their emigration."

Read on.

Image 1 for article titled "Grad Student Elizabeth Kennedy Authors Policy Piece for the American Immigration Council"
“The mission of the American Immigration Council is to strengthen America by honoring our immigrant history and shaping how Americans think and act towards immigration now and in the future. The American Immigration Council exists to promote the prosperity and cultural richness of our diverse nation by educating citizens about the enduring contributions of America’s immigrants, standing up for sensible and humane immigration policies that reflect American values, insisting that our immigration laws be enacted and implemented in a way that honors fundamental constitutional and human rights, and working tirelessly to achieve justice and fairness for immigrants under the law. The American Immigration Council believes that the dignity of the individual knows no boundary."
Image 2 for article titled "Grad Student Elizabeth Kennedy Authors Policy Piece for the American Immigration Council"
Elizabeth G. Kennedy is a doctoral candidate in the UCSB / SDSU Joint PhD Program. She has a BA in Government & Humanities from the University of Texas, Austin, and an MSc in Refugee & Forced Migrations Studies from Oxford University. Kennedy has over 10 years work experience with child and youth migrants, and for the past six years, has conducted international research with underserved youth in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, the UK, and the U.S. (photo credit: Mary M. Kennedy)

July 01, 2014 - Welcome Aboard, Dr. DeVries!

Timothy DeVries, a Postdoctoral Scholar from UCLA’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in the UCSB Department of Geography, effective July 1, 2014. When asked about his interests, academic and otherwise, Tim shared the following:

“My research interests center on examining processes in the marine carbon cycle. I am interested in the interactions between chemical, biological, and physical processes in the marine carbon cycle, and in feedbacks between these processes and the Earth's climate. Much of my research involves building improved representations of these processes in numerical models of the ocean carbon cycle, so that past and present climate changes can be better understood and future climate change can be better predicted.

I'm looking forward to joining the Geography Department at UCSB because of the intellectually stimulating atmosphere, the great research and teaching opportunities, and the friendly people there. I'm also excited to be involved in the IGPMS program, and I look forward to working with faculty and graduate students from a wide variety of disciplinary backgrounds through that program. I myself have a varied educational background, having received an undergraduate degree in Economics, having taught high school Earth Science, and, most recently, receiving my PhD from UC Irvine in the multi-disciplinary Earth System Science Department.

Oh yeah, the great UCSB location doesn't hurt either! (I am looking forward to walking from my house to the beach...). I also have some personal ties to UCSB, my sister being an alumnus of the school. My personal interests include reading, swimming, surfing, and spending time with my family. My wife and I have two children, daughter Nalani (4 years old) and son Theodore (2). We enjoy outdoor activities with the kids (the beach, swimming, playing at the park, examining bugs, etc.) and museums and libraries.”

Welcome aboard, Dr. DeVries!

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Tim with his wife Elea, daughter Nalani, and son Theodore
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“Shape image” used on the home page of Tim’s UCLA web site

July 01, 2014 - A Warm Welcome to Assistant Professor Susan Cassels and Her Family

Dr. Susan Cassels, an assistant professor of Epidemiology & Global Health at the University of Washington, will be joining the UCSB Department of Geography faculty in July 2014. Cassels received her PhD in Demography from Princeton University in 2005 and an MPH (Master of Public Health Degree) in Epidemiology from the University of Washington in 2010.

Susan’s research interests are in the areas of migration and mobility, sexual risk behavior, and infectious disease epidemiology. She has been using mathematical modeling and social network analysis to address research questions in these areas. Recently her focus has been on social and behavioral determinants of HIV transmission dynamics, and she has published her research in AIDS, The Journal of Population Research, AIDS and Behavior, Current Opinion of HIV/AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, AIDS Care, Globalization and Health, and Human Ecology. She is currently finishing a research project aimed at understanding the role of internal migration on the structure of sexual networks, sexual risk behavior, and HIV in Accra, Ghana. This NICHD-funded project (a 5-year K99/R00 that began in 2008) first established links between migration, sexual partnership concurrency, and HIV infection, using Demographic and Health Survey data from Ghana. She will use data from the survey to parameterize a mathematical model of HIV transmission dynamics to predict the role of migration in ongoing HIV transmission at a population level.

Currently, Cassels is implementing a pilot survey that uses a relationship history calendar to capture information on residential mobility, sexual partnerships, and HIV risk behavior among men who have sex with men (known as MSM) in the U.S. MSM have the highest rates of HIV in the U.S., but not much is known about their migration patterns.

Cassels is committed to using mathematical modeling to better understand social and behavioral determinants of HIV and how to best implement prevention interventions. She works closely with Martina Morris and Steven Goodreau to build and implement network-based mathematical models in various settings, and to write and teach about how to best use mathematical modeling in demographic research (source).

When asked why she decided to join the UCSB Department of Geography, “Susie” replied: I wanted to be part of a supportive academic community that uses advanced research methods to address interesting questions in human geography. The department feels like a perfect fit for me and my research interests. Plus, I received my B.S. from UCSB, and I jumped at the chance to return to Santa Barbara.” Apart from her academic pursuits, her personal interests include spending time with her family, playing soccer, and “pretty much anything that involves friends and good food.”

Image 1 for article titled "A Warm Welcome to Assistant Professor Susan Cassels and Her Family"
Screen shot of Susan giving a presentation during the Yale AIDS colloquium Series in 2011, sponsored by Yale University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS
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The Cassels/Jaeger family on vacation: Susie with husband Michael and kids Maeve (4) and Silas (2)
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