UGA Professors Win NASA Grant: Students Will Use Spatial Analysis to Study Effects of Climate Change on Birds

By Sandi Martin, Public Relations Coordinator, University of Georgia

University of Georgia professors in two schools have received a $447,000 grant from NASA that will offer undergraduate students a year-long combination of classroom and field classes studying the effects of climate change on birds.

NASA’s three-year global climate change education teaching and research grant funds instruction activities that are scheduled to begin with fall 2010 classes. The grant will fund fall, spring and summer courses that will teach students about global climate change models, research methods and designing field experiments. The final course in the lecture and lab series—to be held during summer classes—will have students perform their experiments in the field. That field experience will make students more competitive for graduate schools and jobs, said Jeffrey Hepinstall-Cymerman, an assistant professor of landscape ecology in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Hepinstall-Cymerman said the students will use NASA data, models, spatial analysis, statistics and field methods while studying the effects of climate change on birds and bird migration.

“This training offers a unique opportunity for students to obtain an understanding of the complexities and challenges involved in predicting floral and faunal responses to a changing climate, in addition to exposing them to important field and analytical methods at the cutting edge of applied ecology,” he said.

Hepinstall-Cymerman and two other professors in the Warnell School, Robert Cooper and Michael Conroy, are lead investigators on the grant, which also includes Marshall Shepherd, a professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. As part of the grant, the team will install ground sensors at Whitehall Forest, a research forest located off campus and managed by Warnell, and at the Coweeta Long Term Ecological Research station to allow students to compare ground measurements with measurements made with NASA satellites. This will allow students to see how the satellite images covering large areas compare to detailed information gathered on the ground, Conroy explained. “This is an excellent example of how you use that technology to teach,” he said.

The effect of climate change on birds is sometimes overlooked when the controversial subject is debated, but Conroy notes that if springs continue to get warmer, then it affects when the primary food source for birds—insects—emerge. If birds don’t adjust to that change, he said, newly-hatched birds won’t have enough food.

Global climate models are key tools for studying aspects of climate change. Shepherd, through funding from a Northeast Georgia PRISM (Partnership for Reform in Science and Mathematics) grant, implemented a fully functional educational global climate model called EdGCM into weather-climate exercises in the department of geography. “I was familiar with the NASA-funded EdGCM model from my previous tenure at NASA and felt that it was the ideal platform for integrating climate modeling in an accessible manner for today’s ‘digital native’ students,” said Shepherd. He will assist with implementation of EdGCM into the project’s instructional activities and provide climate science expertise.

Although the NASA grant primarily funds instruction activities, the summer undergraduate research will offer undergraduate students the type of field research experience generally found only at the graduate level and will tie in with work Cooper is doing on breeding bird productivity along an elevational gradient at Coweeta. “The mountainside is a surrogate for climate change,” said Cooper, “and leafout and insect emergence will be later at higher elevations. Migrating birds that arrive in the spring to breed may be right on time to hit peak insect numbers at higher elevations, but not at lower sites, a phenomenon that is likely to be even more extreme with increasing global temperatures.”

[Source: University of Georgia press release]

Jack Dangermond in UNEP Climate Action 2009: “Climate Change Is a Geographic Problem…”

…in Climate Action 2009

Climate Change Is a Geographic Problem That Requires a Geographic Solution

By Jack Dangermond, Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc.

“Geography is a fundamental science that helps us describe the natural and human systems of our planet. Geography is central to studying systems that contribute to and are influenced by climate change. Geographic information systems (GIS) technology gives you a comprehensive understanding of complex systems so that you can make informed, actionable decisions. People use GIS to view and manage information about geographic places, analyze geographic relationships, and model geographic processes. GIS is the foundational technology that lets local, regional, and global organizations collect, manage, and analyze a myriad of physical, biological, and cultural data describing the Earth. It is proving to be very useful for climate change modeling, decision support, policymaking, prediction, response, and adaptation.”

Data Basin: Connecting Scientists, Practitioners, Managers, and Policy-makers with Spatial Datasets, Tools, and Expertise

“Data Basin is an innovative, online system that connects users with spatial datasets, tools, and expertise. Individuals and organization can explore and download a vast library of datasets, upload their own data, create and publish projects, form working groups, and produce customized maps that can be easily shared. The building blocks of Data Basin are datasets, maps, projects, people, groups, and centers.

“Data Basin’s tools are designed to meet the specific needs of scientists, practitioners, managers and policy-makers, yet Data Basin does not require any technical skills. Data Basin is designed for people interested in integrating spatial data into their daily work (i.e., inquiry, problem-solving, communicating messages, etc.).

“Data Basin contains geospatial information that resides in datasets. Data Basin contains four searchable categories of datasets: biological, physical, socio-economic, and imagery.  A dataset could be coordinates where a bird species has been observed, boundaries of land managed in various ways (e.g., US Forest Service), a thematic image of vegetation types, or the results of a model that shows changes in the habitat distribution of a species under different climate change scenarios. Data Basin is populated with a large and continually growing body of datasets, including both raw data (e.g., monitoring data on temperature and precipitation, road networks) and analytical results (e.g., projected changes in suitability for a species or ecosystem, interpretations, or recommendations).”

Colombian University Student Wins Prize for GIS Study of Malnutrition and Agrobiodiversity

“Emmanuel Zapata Caldas, a geography student at the Universidad del Valle in Colombia, has won second prize at the XVIII National Geography Event for his work, carried out in collaboration with CIAT, on the spatial analysis of malnutrition in Latin America. Reproduced below are some of his results for Colombia, which he kindly made available to us.

“For this particular analysis, Emmanuel looked at the prevalence of anemia and used secondary data on poverty and agricultural production to identify sites in Colombia where the biofortification of different crops could have a significant impact on this aspect of malnutrition. Congratulations to Emmanuel for his prize, and his interesting work.”

Fragments of the City: Stanford’s Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project

…in the Proceedings of the Third Williams Symposium on Classical Architecture, Journal of Roman Archaeology suppl., 2005…

David Koller, Jennifer Trimble, Tina Najbjerg, Natasha Gelfand, Marc Levoy

“In this article, we summarize the Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Project work since it began in 1999 and discuss its implications for representing and imaging Rome. First, we digitized the shape and surface of every known fragment of the Severan Marble Plan using laser range scanners and digital color cameras; the raw data collected consists of 8 billion polygons and 6 thousand color images, occupying 40 gigabytes. These range and color data have been assembled into a set of 3D computer models and high-resolution photographs – one for each of the 1,186 marble fragments. Second, this data has served in the development of fragment matching algorithms; to date, these have resulted in over a dozen highly probable, new matches. Third, we have gathered the Project’s 3D models and color photographs into a relational database and supported them with archaeological documentation and an up-to-date scholarly apparatus for each fragment. This database is intended to be a public, web-based, research and study tool for scholars, students and interested members of the general public alike. Fourth, these digital and archaeological data, and their availability in a hypertext format, have the potential to broaden the scope and type of research done on this ancient map by facilitating a range of typological, representational and urbanistic analyses of the map, some of which are proposed here. In these several ways, we hope that this Project will contribute to new ways of imaging Rome.”

Casey Trees: Using GIS to Restore, Enhance, and Protect the Tree Canopy of the Nation’s Capital

Casey Trees is a Washington, DC based not-for-profit organization dedicated to restoring, enhancing, and protecting the tree canopy of the Nation’s Capital.

Since 2001, Casey Trees has used GIS:

  • For inventories and surveys including neighborhood analysis
  • To share information with District and Federal Government partners, citizens, business improvement districts and other organizations
  • For canopy analysis to set objectives for programs and strategic planning
  • To measure success and track performance

More information

An Agenda for Development of Vertically Georeferenced, Web-optimized, Subsurface Information

…from the 2009 Three-Dimensional Geologic Mapping Workshop held by the Illinois State Geological Survey…

Harvey Thorleifson

“Geological mapping is an essential service provided by geological survey agencies at the federal and state/provincial level. The mapping represents an authoritative prediction regarding the composition, structure, and origin of sediments and rocks, based on observations and inferences backed by research on material, process, and history. This spatial accounting is needed to support the progress of research and societal applications related to energy, minerals, water, climate change, waste disposal, construction, and hazards.”