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

March 03, 2015 - Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought

Colin Kelley, a postdoctoral researcher in the UCSB Geography Climate Hazards Group, is the first author of a widely circulated article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Colin P. Kelley, Shahrzad Mohtadi, Mark A. Cane, Richard Seager, and Yochanan Kushnir. Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought. PNAS 2015: 1421533112v1-201421533). The following is a write up of the article in The UCSB Current by Julie Cohen, posted March 2, 2015 and titled: “A Perfect Storm”:

A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather — including high temperatures and droughts — increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars. Some researchers project that manmade global warming will heighten future conflicts or argue that it may already be doing so. New research by UC Santa Barbara’s Colin Kelley is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at climate change in relation to a current war. The study, which combined climate, social and economic data, appears today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research suggests that a record drought, which ravaged Syria in from 2006 to 2010, was likely stoked by ongoing manmade climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising. Kelley says the drought — the worst ever recorded in the region — destroyed agriculture in northern Syria’s breadbasket, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011. The conflict has since evolved into a complex multinational war that has killed at least 200,000 people and displaced millions. “While we’re not saying the drought caused the war, we are saying that it certainly contributed to other factors — agricultural collapse and mass migration among them — that caused the uprising,” said Kelley, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSB did the research for this doctorate while at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

The recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq, a region has always seen natural weather swings. Kelley and colleagues used existing studies and their own research to show that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), with about a 10 percent reduction in wet-season precipitation. The results show the trend matches neatly with models of human-influenced global warming and therefore cannot be attributed to natural variability. According to the scientists, global warming affected the Fertile Crescent in two ways that exacerbate any given dry year. First, weakening wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean reduced precipitation during the usual November-to-April wet season. In addition, higher temperatures increased moisture evaporation from soils during the usually hot summers.

“One of the things we tried to show in this paper is that there were very significant trends not only precipitation but also in temperature and sea level pressure,” Kelley said. “The long-term precipitation trend tended to make multiyear droughts, which occur naturally in this area from time to time, much more severe and explains why this recent drought was the most severe during the preserved record.”

Kelley says that the record drought’s effects were immediate. The study reports that agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, plummeted by a third and as many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war next door in Iraq. “There was a huge population shock in a very short period of time in these urban areas, which were already marginally sustainable in terms of their resources,” Kelley said. “This kind of rapid change in demographics encourages instability. The combination of large acute geographic and demographic changes created a huge vulnerability.

Image 1 for article titled "Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought"
A Syria Timeline: Policy, Drought, and Conflict. From; modified from Kelley et al., 2015
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Shown are the (A) climatology, (B) the composite difference between driest and wettest years and (C) the change between the recent 20 years and the 20 years at the beginning of the period (from The Current; taken from the PNAS article).
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UCSB postdoctoral researcher Colin Kelley. From The Current; photo credit: Sonia Fernandez

March 02, 2015 - Eating Your ABCs

Throughout the month of February, the UCSB VIPER lab personnel ate food that started with a different letter of the alphabet every day. Inspired by Dar Roberts' shenanigans from earlier years, Seth Peterson and Sara Baguskas rallied the VIPER lab and set the ground rules. February 1st started off strong with foods starting with the letter A, such as alphabet pasta with arrabbiata sauce, apple cake, and acorn squash.

Throughout the month there were very unique dishes, as well as creative dish descriptions. For example, Seth and Sara rocked it on R day with red curry paste, red meat, rainbow chard, rainbow kale, red potatoes, and radish greens on rice noodles, rogue ales brutal bitter, and rosemary tea. Seth noted, “As the proud purveyor of a ‘Mormon pantry’ garden plot and a ridiculous cookbook collection (helpful for G, Y, Z), the alliterations involved on some days were fun. That said, savory oats with oregano, olive juice, olives, olive oil I wouldn’t do again. Honey with japanese horseradish (wasabi) was a good discovery, a super tasty dipping sauce.”

Others also experimented throughout the month. Sarah Shivers had the most unique ingredients for E day: eel with egg, edamame, and Expo 58 beer. “I made dishes that I had not even heard of before, but now are going to be common dishes in my house,” said Susan Meerdink. Erin Wetherley agrees and adds, “I learned to make quiche! I am now a quiche person forever, and it’s all thanks to the alphabet!” Dar Roberts and family went all out day after day. For example, on one of the hardest days (V day) they had veggie burgers with Velveeta cheese, vinaigrette dressing on salad, V8, and vanilla toffee bar crunch ice cream. Another shining example was on H day with homemade Hollister Ranch hamburgers, home fries with hot sauce, honeydew melon, and hemp beer/ hard cider.

“Eating the alphabet was actually quite fun and introduced us to many new and interesting foods, such as Dragon Noodles and Xiao Sun Zi Chao Rou Mo on X day, ” said Dar. Food wasn’t the only thing subjected to Alphabet Month, as one member of the VIPER lab had a fantastic M day featuring not only M foods but an M flight with a Margarita, Moscow Mule, Mojito, Mint Julep, and Manhattan.

All in all, the entire lab had a fun time, though all are glad to see the letter Z and the end of February (and many plan for March to be “Diet Month”). Dar says, “I know my family will be glad to be free of the “tyranny of the alphabet”, starting February 27th.” Seth agrees, “One thing I won’t miss is the need to cook every night; some/many times it’s nice to eat leftovers.” Sarah adds, “Some letters are much more difficult than others. We all seemed to enjoy H and P days where the majority ate hamburgers and pizza, but U and N days were not quite as fun. Not all letters are created equal!”

Will we do it next year? Might be too early to say, but there are definitely ideas floating around right now - such as Dar’s suggestion, “Let’s do something geographic in 2016!” To commemorate their success and awesome food adventures, the VIPER lab celebrated in style with a party at the end of February. The only rule - bring whatever letter you want for food!

Editor’s note: Many thanks to Susan Meerdink for submitting this wonderfully witty article - a tasty treat!

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Xylophone Cake for X day! Photo and cake courtesy of Sarah Shivers
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For Seth Peterson and Sara Baguskas' B day: refried black beans, beet greens, broccoli, and blue borage flower burritos. Photo courtesy of Seth Peterson
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Dar Roberts' N day was popular in his family with nachos, Naked juice, navel oranges, New Castle Brown Ale, noodle snacks, and New York style cheesecake. Photo courtesy of Dar Roberts
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Viper Lab personnel photo, taken with and without a thermal camera

February 26, 2015 - Satellite Gearing Up To Take EPIC Pictures Of Earth

The following article was written by Tomasz Nowakowski for and was posted on February 24, 2015, with the title above:

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite is on its way to do something epic. NOAA's spacecraft, sent to monitor space weather, will use its Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) to capture the entire sunlit face of our planet and collect valuable atmospheric data. EPIC, built by Lockheed Martin, will show the full face of Earth in a single picture, something previously done only by the Apollo 17 astronauts and the Galileo mission on its way to Jupiter. "EPIC will view the whole sunlit side of Earth from L-1, a point approximately one million miles away," Joe Mobilia, EPIC program manager at Lockheed Martin, told "Today, images of Earth come from spacecraft in LEO [Low Earth Orbit] or GEO [Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit], which only sample a portion of the planet, albeit at higher resolutions."

The EPIC camera won't be turned on until the satellite reaches Lagrange point 1 (or L1 orbit) about 100 days from now, and after it completes a series of initialization checks. The first pictures of Earth will appear sometime in late July or early August, and as Mobilia noted, we should expect high-resolution snapshots.

"The detector used in EPIC is a Charge-Coupled Device (CCD), which has 2K x 2K pixels. The final images will have a resolution between 25 and 35 kilometers (15.5 to 21.7 miles)," Mobilia said. He added that EPIC will deliver images of the Earth's sunlit side at 10 different wavelengths every 1.8 hours. The scientists expect to collect approximately 10,000 images across wavelengths during its lifespan (about 2 years).

Underlining the epicness of the instrument, Mobilia remarked that a whole-Earth image takes approximately 16 days to capture from LEO orbit while waiting for the spacecraft to traverse across the globe. From GEO, satellites only observe a defined region since the spacecraft orbits at the same rate as the Earth, but this is great for staring at a location to observe weather patterns.

"From L-1, we have an excellent vantage point to see half the planet in one image, and this allows modelers to fill in gaps in the data. For example, ash from a volcano can be observed at the source, and distribution of the plume can be tracked over time," Mobilia said.

It's not the first time Lockheed Martin has built an instrument to study weather and atmosphere. The company's Advanced Technology Center has built instruments looking at the atmosphere, such as the Cryogenic Limb Array Etalon Spectrometer (CLAES) on board the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) mission, and the High Resolution Dynamics Limb Sounder (HIRDLS) on AURA satellite.

"EPIC's instrument architecture is very similar to the instruments we have built for solar observation, such as the four telescopes that make up the AIA [Atmospheric Imaging Assembly] instrument on Solar Dynamics Observatory and the IRIS [Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph] instrument studying the sun's atmosphere. Lockheed Martin also built GLM [Geostationary Lightning Mapper], a weather-monitoring instrument on the new series of U.S. geostationary weather satellites. The first—GOES-R—will launch early next year," Mobilia added.

The DSCOVR mission is a partnership between NOAA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force. The spacecraft was launched on Feb. 11 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It will give NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center forecasters more reliable measurements of solar wind conditions, improving their ability to monitor potentially harmful solar activity.

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EPIC will view the whole sunlit side of Earth from L-1, a point approximately one million miles away (graphic from the article). "The Lagrangian points (also Lagrange points, L-points, or libration points) are the five positions in an orbital configuration where a small object affected only by gravity can maintain a stable orbital configuration with respect to two larger objects, such as a satellite with respect to the Sun and Earth. The Lagrange points mark positions where the combined gravitational pull of the two large masses provides precisely the centripetal force required to orbit with them" (Wikipedia: Lagrangian point)
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The EPIC instrument is a 30-centimeter (11.8 inch) telescope that measures 10 channels of ultraviolet and visible areas of the spectrum. Itís one example of a series of instruments Lockheed Martin has developed for NASA and NOAA to reveal more about our planet, including the Global Lightning Mapper for the GOES-R satellite. From the article; photo credit: Lockheed Martin
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EPIC will generate a full disk image of Earth in one picture. This image is created from various images taken from NOAA's GOES-East satellite. Image Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project
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NOAA's DSCOVR mission logo. Image Credit: NOAA/NASA

February 24, 2015 - Alumnus Jason Davis Receives Major NIH Award

Jason Davis, UCSB Geography alumnus (2010) and current postdoctoral scholar at the Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, recently received a prestigious NIH Pathway to Independence Award (K99). Similar in many respects to the NIH K01 award received by Jason’s dissertation advisor, Dr. David Lopez-Carr, K99 awards fund two years of postdoctoral research as well as three years of full faculty support. Jason’s K99 research plan strives to untangle the countervailing effects of economic migration—parental absences vs. remittance—on left-behind children’s growth outcomes. The monetary remittances that are generated through economic migration are a major mechanism for alleviating chronic poverty in these settings. However, the benefits derived by remittances are often diminished by negative impacts attributable to parental absences. A more extensive project summary follows:

In response to deficiencies in economic, political and/or social standing, many parents from the developing world use migration as a means to improve their condition and the future prospects of their children. The monetary remittances that are generated through economic migration are a major mechanism for alleviating chronic poverty in these settings. However, the benefits derived by remittances are often diminished by negative impacts attributable to parental absences. Migration by its very nature places heavy burdens on left-behind family members, particularly young children, that can cause permanent harm related to undernutrition rather than the improved future that their parents envisioned. Undernutrition suffered in utero and during infancy can lead to diminished cognitive ability and physical stature, reduced economic productivity, and higher risk of non-communicable disease in adulthood. The Pathway to Independence Award will be used to improve Jason’s knowledge of maternal and child health and development in lesser-developed world settings, bolster his skills in econometric research methods and expand his understanding of migration outside of the Americas. Jason will use these improved skills and knowledge to leverage his in situ migration research expertise in Central America to complete two of three specific aims for a Nicaraguan context: 1) to quantify the impact of parental absence(s) versus remittance transfers on left-behind children’s well-being as measured by three indicators of physical development (stunting, wasting, and underweight) and 2) to identify the extent to which the combination of parental absences with the infusion of remittances are beneficial or detrimental to left-behind children’s physical development under three types of economic migration (internal migration, South-North migration to the US and South-South migration to Costa Rica). During the “faculty” award phase, a third specific aim will be targeted that expands the project to capture migration dynamics in other areas of the globe that experience different migration dynamics and maintain high incidences of undernutrition. The availability of contemporary and extensive panel data for Nepal, the Philippines, and Uganda will allow him to enlarge the investigation to generalize research aims globally.

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Jason Davis with his wife, Jess, and their first child, Jackson Diego Davis, born in April 2010. Professor Lopez-Carr comments that ďJason is now ready to enhance his rigorous quantitative and demographic training with substantive work in public health and econometric methodsótwo disciplines that are not common to geography programs but which will make invaluable contributions to Jasonís international migrant and health research aims. What excites me most about Jasonís career building plans is they will position him to be an authority on migration and the well-being of migrant household members. This line of research is important because the ever growing migration dynamic directly and indirectly affects over a billion people. However, very few scientists are adequately trained to address the many challenges that it poses. Jasonís plans will supplement his extensive methodological and demographic/geographic background with econometric and public health training to mold him into one of the few researchers that can thoroughly tackle exigent questions posed in this research domain."

February 24, 2015 - What the Hail?

The following is an email message sent to everyone in the Department on Monday, February 23 by Dr. Leila M. Vespoli de Carvalho, a UCSB Associate Professor of Geography who specializes in Meteorology and Climate Sciences:

If you were on campus around noon, trying to move from class to class or get lunch outside, you were probably surprised not only by the moderate rain but also by hail! It was quite exciting to see all this action during such a short period of time. It was not only your impression, but the storm was really short and small in size, only visible with high resolution 1km visible images.

You can blame the storm on a pool of relatively cold air in upper levels of the atmosphere (which makes it very unstable) and on the winds that forced moist air against the mountains. This is a good recipe for forming storms and the reason for the powerful cloud 'cell' that you can see in the VIS image attached in this message.

According to our local station on the top of Ellison Hall, we got about 0.17 inches of rain in 15 minutes! The drop in temperature during the storm was even more impressive: from 61.3F before the storm to 54.3 after the storm. Hail was big enough to be observed at ground level. Cold temperatures during the storm can be explained by evaporation of the water. Unfortunately, the machine that we use to run our mesoscale model is down, so we don't know how well our model would perform in simulating this small but powerful system. Next time, maybe...

Editor's note: The last notable hail in the Santa Barbara area occurred in 2001 when a freak hailstorm left an inch of hail on a quarter mile patch of the 101 freeway close to the county line near Ventura and caused several car accidents (source: LA Times, April 6, 2001, California Local News).

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The visible satellite imagery (VIS) that Leila refers to
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Hail in west Goleta on February 23, 2015 (source:

February 23, 2015 - Matt Niblett Explains the Importance of Scale when Determining Suitable Habitat for Key Species

The following article is by postdoctoral researcher Matt Niblett:

One of the biggest challenges facing conservation biologists and ecologists is the development of a knowledge base that is sufficient to make cogent decisions in protecting threatened species. Often, expert opinion drives the derivation of the key question: what comprises suitable habitat for key species? Such opinion and even modeling tends to support what is commonly known, but doesn’t always capture what is necessary. For example, the ideal habitat of the San Joaquin Kit Fox is a grassy plain that has not been plowed or cultivated. The kit fox even tends to avoid riparian areas, as it meets its daily need for moisture from the prey that it consumes. Conventional wisdom suggests that they avoid urban areas, as they would end up as road kill. That is, urban areas would be a sink, as any fox that wanders into an urban area would probably be hit by a vehicle as they hunt at night. But recently, the kit fox has been found in sizable numbers living in the town of Bakersfield, burrowing under school portables, hunting on school grounds, and even eating the leftovers from McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants. Now we find that the school system in Bakersfield must find a way to ensure this population survives, even though their presence under school portables has generated problems like a flea infestation. What is wrong with this picture? The Kit Fox is doing what we had once thought impossible: living in an urban area. But upon a closer look at school grounds, one can see habitat elements that were less understood but are brought into better focus. That is, there are large open grassy spaces; protected den areas under portables; mice, squirrels, etc. within easy reach; and quiet school grounds at night. Thus, some of the key habitat elements exist in an urban area for the Kit Fox. The research that we report in “Structure of Fisher (Pekania pennanti) Habitat in a Managed Forest in an Interior Northern California Coast Range” provides a close look at habitat needs for the Fisher, a member of the weasel family with the Latin name Pekania pennanti.

If one developed a suitability map for habitat for the kit fox, a typical characterization would be to zone out all areas that are urban (Gerrard, et al. 2001). In fact, one would be hard pressed to classify any areas of a city as potential habitat unless one analyzed habitat at the appropriate spatial scale. Scale and habitat elements mean everything. For example at the five acre scale, one might find park open space and school grounds as possible areas, but at larger scales of analysis, one might find little if anything that seemed appropriate for the fox. The work that the Niblett et al. (2015) paper addresses involves habitat analysis for the fisher. Most experts seem to agree that the fisher requires about 3 to 5 thousand acres of mature to old growth mixed conifer forest, with few openings of any size, to support a female fisher. This opinion, widely held by biologists, means that habitat protection translates to protecting mature to old-growth forests for the fisher. But, an industrial forest in northern California that is not old-growth and varies considerably in terms of age and open areas contains a population of fishers that are producing offspring and appear to be viable. The average landscape of this industrial forest is considered poor by experts. In fact, some would classify it as an area that would be entirely avoided by the fisher. So what gives? Why the dichotomy between the experts and the fishers? Experts have established that female fishers require old, large trees that can serve as den trees (large enough to form cavities). Our study finds that they don’t have to be so prevalent that the entire forest is old and mature where almost any tree is suitable for denning, but that such trees must be present at the scale of about 4 to 8 acres every 40 acres. That is, if the forest was divided into 40 acre units, and stands of trees between 4 to 8 acres exist where older trees are present at a size that probably contains cavities, then fishers can exist. Further, the assumption that openings should be few in number and small cannot be supported by the data.

Clearly, we have found that the fisher prefers to live within a group of trees with dense canopy, but it doesn’t need to be a continuous swath of trees as traditionally thought. The interpretations of this study were based upon the development of a new statistical approach that compares 40 acre units within areas of known use by the fishers as compared to 40 acre units outside known fisher territories in the same forest. On the average, there is no difference statistically between known areas of use and the rest of the forested area. However, if we focus on the best 4 acre plot within each 40 acre unit we find that female fishers tend to discriminate and occupy those units where the best plot within each 40 acre unit contains large, older mature trees. To demonstrate this, we needed to develop an approach which could prove that the fishers’ use of the landscape was statistically significant. We wanted to determine what elements and their prevalence dictated use. What was a surprise was that that the fishers can exist and reproduce in forested areas with numerous open areas when old trees exist in stands within a sizable number of 40 acre units, even when the stands themselves may be populated by younger trees. Just as in understanding the Kit fox, the answer is hidden in finding the appropriate scale of analysis. We also had to expand an existing statistical methodology to calculate if their use on this landscape was significant with respect to the best elements in each 40 acre neighborhood. The good news is that the potential habitat for the fisher in California is considerably larger than previously thought. But, it still faces threats, like development, the use of rodenticides by illegal marijuana growers, and decreased numbers of prey during times of drought.

Image 1 for article titled "Matt Niblett Explains the Importance of Scale when Determining Suitable Habitat for Key Species"
The fisher (Martes pennanti) is a small carnivorous mammal native to North America. It is a member of the mustelid family, commonly referred to as the weasel family. The fisher is closely related to but larger than the American Marten (Martes americana). The fisher is a forest-dwelling creature whose range covers much of the boreal forest in Canada to the northern fringes of the United States (Wikipedia: Fisher [animal])
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Fisher range. Fishers are widespread throughout the northern forests of North America. They are found from Nova Scotia in the east to the Pacific shore of British Columbia and Alaska. They can be found as far north as Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories and as far south as the mountains of Oregon. There are isolated populations in the Sierra Nevada of California and the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, fishers were virtually eliminated from the southern and eastern parts of their range including most American states and eastern Canada including Nova Scotia. Over-trapping and loss of forest habitat were the reasons for the decline (Ibid.)
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Fisher pelts sold: 1920Ė1984. Fishers have been trapped since the 18th century. They have been popular with trappers due to the value of their fur which has been used for scarfs and neck pieces (Ibid.)
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A fisher climbing a tree at night. Fishers are generalist predators. Although their primary prey is snowshoe hare and porcupine, they are also known to supplement their diet with insects, nuts, berries, and mushrooms. Since they are solitary hunters, their choice of prey is limited to their size. Analyses of stomach contents and scat have found evidence of birds, small mammals, and even moose and deer. The latter food sources shows that they are not averse to eating carrion. Fishers have been observed to feed on the carcasses of deer left by hunters. While uncommon, fishers have been found to kill larger animals such as wild turkey, bobcat and lynx (Ibid)
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Dr. Matthew R. Niblett obtained his PhD in the Geography department at the University of California, Santa Barbara in September 2014, with emphases in: spatial optimization & statistics, location analysis, and GIS. He obtained his MA in Geography at UCSB in March 2009 and his BS in Physical Geography from UCSB, graduating cum laude in June 2006. As an undergraduate, he undertook several independent research projects examining land use change in California's Central Valley.

February 19, 2015 - New National Park Service Map Reveals the Summer Soundscape of the US

The following article, titled “A coast-to-coast picture of America’s cacophony of sounds,” was written by Susan Milius and posted on February 16, 2015:

An ambitious National Park Service project exploits computer algorithms to predict the loudness of a typical summer day from coast to coast. The project’s newest map (with yellow representing the loudest noise) includes natural sounds, but it’s the human-made features that jump out.

The eastern half of the United States is louder than the West, according to the map released February 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, Calif. The map shows an average volume, the sound level that’s exceeded about half the time at particular spots. (Typical conversation registers at roughly 50 to 60 decibels.) Airplanes arcing high over the continent don’t show up well, but cities and loud highways are clearly visible.

Researchers also predicted the loudness of a summer’s day in an alternate universe without people. Again, the East is louder overall (green). Much of what drives this difference is water. Rivers rush and brooks babble, of course. But at least as significant to the noisescape are plants rustling in the wind and animals communicating and traipsing through ecosystems that are fueled by water. A corridor along the mighty Mississippi River stands out, as does verdant South Florida. As map coauthor Daniel Mennitt says, “Sound is life, right?”

Complete national sound monitoring is impossible, at least on the Park Service’s budget. So researchers including Kurt Fristrup of the Park Service and Mennitt, of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, fed what data they could find, totaling about 1.5 million hours of acoustical monitoring, into a machine-learning computer program. For each location, the scientists included details such as average summer precipitation and weekly plane overflights. The program discerned patterns in all this geography and predicted where the noise is.

The findings should help urban planners, biologists, and especially the Park Service, whose mission includes the arduous task of preserving some “natural quiet.” Citation: K. W. Fristrup. Predicting sound and light levels at large spatial scales. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. February 16, 2015. San Diego.

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SOUNDSCAPE: According to a new map created by the National Park Service, the eastern half of the United States is louder than the western United States (from the ScienceNews article)
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NOISES OFF: Without humans, the eastern U.S. would still be louder than the West (Ibid.)

February 19, 2015 - Geography Grads Promote STEM Careers for Women

The following article is by Geography graduate student Susan Meerdink:

“According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, elementary and secondary school girls are enrolling in math and science courses in increasing numbers. At the college level, however, gender disparities continue among female undergraduates. What’s more, the gap continues on the job front, with the National Science Foundation’s 2014 Science & Engineering Indicators suggesting that females remain underrepresented in careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). A daylong conference at UC Santa Barbara sought to change that by giving girls in grades six through nine an opportunity to explore STEM education and related careers. Tech Savvy brings them together with female role models who are succeeding in these educational and professional fields. The conference consisted of hands-on workshops, including several focused on “savvy skills” — critical thinking, opinion sharing, public speaking, and knowledge about financial literacy, negotiation and interviewing — that girls can use throughout their lives” (excerpt from the article about it in The UCSB Current).

One of these workshops was created by Geography graduate students Alana Ayasse, Kitty Currier, Heather Berry, Bonnie Bounds, Erica Goto, and Susan Meerdink who represented the UCSB Department of Geography’s Visibility and Outreach committee. Geography students Mingquan Chen, Raul Garcia, and Javier Rubio from the UCSB American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) Chapter provided additional help in running the workshop. The workshop titled “Satellite Imagery: Understanding the Earth through Time and Space” featured two stations. At the first station the participants used imagery to understand the Earth by piecing together aerial imagery from a kite and plane. The second station explored change through time using Landsat imagery which allowed them to witness the growth of urban Las Vegas, the shrinkage and growth of glaciers, and deforestation in the Amazon. The workshop emphasized the various areas of science that use satellite and aerial imagery and future careers that the participants could pursue.

“It’s a lot of fun to see all these students excited about science specifically about remote sensing”, said Susan, who helped lead and design the project. “Volunteers, parents, and young girls all enjoyed looking at the imagery and many were excited to try these activities at home. This was a great way to introduce young girls to careers in geography.”

The UCSB Current also notes: “Supported at UCSB by the Women's Center and Women in Science and Engineering, Tech Savvy is a program of the American Association of University Women (AAUW). It began in 2006 at the University of Buffalo under the leadership of then-branch president Tamara Brown. Other supporters include local chapters of AAUW and Praxair. This year’s Tech Savvy is the second to take place at UCSB. It is among 15 such conferences in 2015 and is the only such event on the West Coast” (Ibid.).

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Tech Savvy Group Photo: Raul Garcia, Bonnie Bounds, Mingquan Chen, Kitty Currier, Susan Meerdink, Heather Berry, Erica Goto, and Javier Rubio pose for a group photo before the Tech Savvy Workshops.
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Tech Savvy Station 1: Geography students Bonnie Bounds and Raul Garcia teach the Tech Savvy participants about understanding the earth through aerial imagery.
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Tech Savvy Station 2: Geography students Mingquan Chen and Javier Rubio show Tech Savvy girls how to explore change on earth through time lapses of Landsat imagery.
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Susan Meerdink has BA in Biology and a BS in GIS, both from the University of Northern Iowa, and is pursuing an MA/PhD in Geography

February 18, 2015 - Remoras Donít Suck: Their Iconic Clinch is Far More Complex

The following Press Release is from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and was posted February 12, 2015, with the title above:

How does the hitchhiking, flat-headed remora fish attach to surfaces so securely yet release so easily? Suction was thought to be the easy answer, but Brooke Flammang, a biologist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), has proved this long-held conclusion to be only partly true.

Researchers have long studied animals like tree frogs, geckos, and spiders for their adhesive abilities, but what makes remoras unique in this group is they combine three key elements: the ability to securely fasten themselves for long periods of time; attach to different types of surfaces; release quickly without harming the surface.

Understanding the mechanics of this process could help researchers and engineers create or improve designs for any number of devices that need to stick well but then release quickly without harming the host, such as tags for tracking endangered species or bandages that really don’t hurt when you pull them off.

Using footage captured by GoPro cameras at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove in Orlando, Flammang and NJIT researchers found that the adhesive disc on the remora’s head used to attach to sharks, rays and other pelagic hosts is actually a complex mechanism that includes a modified fin structure with teeny spikes (called lamellar spinules) that generate friction to adhere to the host. Remora head anatomy also differs from other fish in having unusually-structured blood vessels that may be the secret to how they maintain adhesion for hours at a time.

What intrigued Flammang, who studies the locomotion of fishes, integrating sensory biology, physiology, fluid dynamics, and bio-inspired robotics, is how remoras can alter the position and shape of the plates within the disc to change their position or quickly let go. She was able to observe the minute movements of remora disc components through the underwater footage provided by marine videographers.

“Remoras attach to other organisms for a variety of reasons: To find food, get protection, and find mates. Because the animals they attach to are powerful swimmers, they need a durable attachment that won’t be compromised by the host organism’s swimming, bending body. The adhesive disc the remora evolved from dorsal fin elements acts as a specialized suction cup that can bend and won’t slip,” Flammang said.

“We are applying the biomechanics of this mechanism to a robotic prototype that will be able to adhere to both rough and smooth surfaces through a variety of challenging conditions, both in water and air," she said. Flammang presented her research at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s annual conference in January.

“We have a lot to learn from the natural world. Being able to examine these animals up close can be very valuable to bioengineering. We are proud to support this important work,” added SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s Vice President of Research and Science, Dr. Judy St. Leger. "In my lab at NJIT, we study the morphology of remoras, how they use muscular and vascular control to manipulate the disc for attachment on different surfaces, and the hydrodynamics of their approach, attachment, and release from a surface,” Flammang said. “Live remoras swim in our flow tank - a treadmill for fish - and we capture muscle activity recordings and high speed video of the fish swimming and attaching, as well as and the fluid moving around the fish and the attachment location."

More broadly, she examines the way organisms interact with marine and aquatic environments and drive the evolutionary selection of morphology and function. She seeks to understand, for example, how different fish fins may give an advantage to certain species in a given habitat.

The two remoras (Echeneis naucrates) at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove were valuable candidates for this study because they often attach themselves to a large acrylic panel that divides their dock-themed habitat from the park’s Grand Reef, a nearly 1million gallon tropical environment. Aquarists at Discovery Cove donned scuba gear to capture the underwater footage using a GoPro camera steadied with a suction cup arm to get the shots needed by the research team. Flammang and her colleagues then used mathematical algorithms to visualize motion that is not detected by the human eye.

“The mission of SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove is to educate and entertain our guests so they are inspired to conserve our oceans and the animals that reside there by giving them an opportunity to interact with our animals in naturalistic, immersive environments,” said Denise Swider, Assistant Curator at SeaWorld. “An added benefit to housing our animals in these unique environments is that our aquarists are able to have closer access to the fish for research purposes. Our team is very excited about the opportunity to be part of this groundbreaking research on such an intriguing fish.”

Image 1 for article titled "Remoras Donít Suck: Their Iconic Clinch is Far More Complex"
Remoras stick to fast-moving sea creatures, but are also content to cling to aquarium tank walls. From the NJIT article.
Image 2 for article titled "Remoras Donít Suck: Their Iconic Clinch is Far More Complex"
Nurse shark with remoras attending. Ibid.
Image 3 for article titled "Remoras Donít Suck: Their Iconic Clinch is Far More Complex"
Some remoras, such as this Echeneis naucrates, may attach themselves to scuba divers. The relationship between a remora and its host is most often taken to be one of commensalism, specifically phoresy. Though it was originally thought that the host to which it attaches for transport gains nothing from the relationship, research indicates that hosts also benefit, given that remoras feed on parasites (such as copepods) and clean sloughing epidermal tissue as well as ingesting scraps of food, feces, and small nekton and zooplankton. The remora benefits by using the host as transport and protection, and also feeds on materials dropped by the host. (Wikipedia: Remora; photo by Jens Petersen)

February 17, 2015 - Montello Reminisces about His Misspent College Days

WORD: Isla Vista Arts and Culture Magazine is a product of the UCSB course INT 185ST. The seminar is responsible for publishing a free quarterly magazine that is designed, compiled, researched, written, edited, and distributed by students. It explores the burgeoning artistic endeavors in Isla Vista and highlights topical issues uncovered by student editors.

Geography Professor Dan Montello was one of three UCSB faculty recently interviewed by student editor Lara Vaughan for a Word article titled “PRE-FESSORS: UCSB Faculty Recall Their College Glory Days.” Excerpts:

Geography Professor Dan Montello…now admits to wishing that he had attended more of his classes while still in school. As an undergrad at Johns Hopkins University, Montello lived the college experience that is mostly seen on the screen, from playing lacrosse and Frisbee to drinking beer and smoking weed. Montello thought he had found the perfect balance between work and play, but in hindsight, he realized that he was not doing himself any favors.

“I kind of had an attitude that if I could get by without going to class, that was a good idea. But that was a bad idea,” he confesses.

Being a full-time student with a part-time job is a reality for many students – and Professor Montello was no exception. He worked on a scaffold building crew half the time while he was in school. One of the fondest memories of his undergrad years was made with his coworkers.

“On Friday afternoon, we got paid,” Montello recalls. “So we ran around the corner, cashed our checks, and bought a bottle of whiskey. I basically partied with these dudes on the scaffolding crew in the neighborhoods in Eastern Baltimore. We played craps in the alley and danced to rhythm and blues.”

Although he worked part-time like many of us do, the professor notes that nowadays, there is more of an emphasis on students to be making money on their own because of the hike in tuition prices over the years. “The tuition at UCSB is pretty much out of reach for a middle class family, and that is a really, really terrible thing that has happened in this country,” he says. “Sometimes people really crash and burn over the stress of using too much money. It’s really dangerous for their mental health.”

Image 1 for article titled "Montello Reminisces about His Misspent College Days"
Cover of the latest issue of Word (issue 24; Winter 2015). Photography by Trevor Mauk and Julia Marsh
Image 2 for article titled "Montello Reminisces about His Misspent College Days"
Geography Professor and Chair Dan Montello reminisces, confesses, and professes. Graphics and photography: Jacqueline Puga
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