2018-19 Colloquia

Thursday, October 18, 2018 

Bronwen Powell, Department of African Studies and Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University.

Agricultural Intensification and Landscape Change and Diet Quality


Rural landscapes in developing countries are rapidly changing. Land-use policymakers are faced with competing demands and limited (and often overly simplified) evidence on which to formulate policies meant to achieve development and food security at local and national scales, for rural and urban populations. In some cases, narratives of food security are used to prop up agricultural and land use policy that do little to improve the food security or diet quality of rural populations. 

Although narratives are slowly shifting, agricultural intensification (so as to increase food production without jeopardizing conservation of nurture and associated ecosystem services) (Phalan et al. 2011), remains the most pervasive paradigms (Powell et al forthcoming). The result of “agricultural intensification” in many places has been increasingly large-scale agriculture and a focus on increasing yields of staple crops. While many countries in Africa continue to have some of the highest rates of impaired child growth (under-nutrition), a large number of countries in Africa now have obesity rates and impaired glucose tolerance rates that are higher than those of most European countries (IFPRI 2016). Agricultural and land-use policies that focus on intensification and increasing yields of staple crops, without attention to nutritionally important foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and lean animal foods, will do little to improve the nutrition situation in Africa. African policymakers need to support agricultural systems that produce diverse and affordable foods, especially nutritionally important foods. Emerging evidence suggests that in some contexts, a large portion of these healthy foods come from the wild and that diverse agricultural landscapes that include trees and forests are better able to provide a healthy and diverse diet. The production of cheap staple foods has led to rapid change in agricultural landscapes. Continuing this trajectory will not likely have a positive impact on either human nutrition or environmental sustainability.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Paul Sutton, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Denver

Smart Cities and the SDGs: Do the Limits to Growth Apply to Smart Cities that Have Achieved the Sustainable Development Goals? 


The year 2022 will mark the 50 year anniversary of the much maligned and controversial ‘Limits to Growth’ study which asserted that economic growth and population growth cannot continue indefinitely. Since then the world has seen major declarations and aspirations relevant to the limits to growth including: 1) The 1987 WCED (Brundtland Report coining the phrase ‘sustainable development’), 2) The 1992 UNCED (the Rio Declaration establishing Agenda 21, the UNFCCC, CBD, and UNCCD, 3) The 2005 Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, and 4) the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. A nascent ‘Smart City’ movement is purporting that information technology and webs of sensors will enable the perhaps contradictory goal of ‘Smart Growth’. This presentation explores the challenge of achieving ‘sustainable cities and communities’ with ‘no poverty’, ‘clean water’, ‘clean energy’ and the many other sustainable development goals through the lens of ‘Limits to Growth’. The city of Shanghai in China has determined that it hopes to cap it’s total population at 25 million people. Here, we will contemplate the questions: Can a city become too big? Will smart cities know when they have become too big? Is the smart city movement avoiding the unpleasant limits to growth question and merely enabling the building of larger and larger cities that are even more vulnerable to exogenous shocks to their systems?

Thursday, November 15, 2018 

Ron BisioVice President, Geospatial at Trimble, Inc.

The Increasingly Important Role of The Geospatial Professional in Building Information Modeling (BIM)


This presentation will introduce the relevant concepts of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and examine the role of the geospatial professional in surveying, designing, building and operating modern structures. This evolving role will require the next generation of geospatial professionals to work with a variety of technology including terrestrial and UAV-based image capture and scanning; point cloud manipulation and mixed reality visualization. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Andrew Goetz and Eric Boschmann, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Denver

Metropolitan Denver: Growth and Change in the Mile High City 

Drs. Goetz and Boschmann provide an overview of their new book, highlighting the history of growth of Denver.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Laleh Mehran, Department of Emergent Digital Practices, University of Denver

Inscribing Topographies 

Mehran creates elaborate environments in digital and physical spaces focused on complex intersections between politics, religion, and science. The progeny of Iranian scientists, her relationship to these frameworks is necessarily complex, and is still more so given the political climate in which certain views are increasingly suspect.


Thursday, February 7, 2018

Frank Winters, Geographic Information Officer for the State of New York 

GIS in Emergency Response, Sandy and Beyond -or- “It’s Really not a Disaster Until the GIS Guy Shows Up” 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Helen Hazen, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Denver

Risk and Responsibility: Birth Centers as the “Best of Both Worlds” 


The US has witnessed a recent resurgence in interest in alternative birth and an increase in out-of-hospital births. Although most out-of-hospital births occur at home, there is a growing movement towards birth centers and other places that fall somewhere between home and hospital. The notion of risk is integral to the place-based decision-making that women undertake in weighing up the pros and cons of different sites of birth, with notions of “responsible motherhood” pushing women towards more institutionalized spaces, while feelings of comfort and control draw women to out-of-hospital locations. Within this framework, the birth center has been widely touted as providing the “best of both worlds”—an in-between space that offers the comforts of home with the purportedly lower risk of the hospital. Through exploring the lived experiences of women who have had recent birth center or home births, I explore how risk and responsibility are integral to constructions of the birth landscape.

Thursday, April 18, 2019 

Nicholas Crane, School of Politics, Public Affairs, and International Studies, University of Wyoming

Politicizing Landscapes of Disappearance in Central Mexico 


Organized communities in Latin America have for decades used the concept of “disappearance” to describe being forcibly made absent from economic and political life. Across the hemisphere, patterns of disappearance have historically been produced through targeted repression of perceived threats to government stability. In Mexico today, these patterns are typically attributed to the generalized violence that accompanies the Drug War. The government of Andres Manuel López Obrador recently recognized 40,000 disappearances since the declaration of the Drug War in 2006. In this talk, I argue for an expanded conceptualization of disappearance, as a condition violently produced by forms of governance that generate social vulnerability but allow authorities to deny responsibility for it. I also provide an explicitly geographical account of disappearance by highlighting a politics of landscape by which organized communities in central Mexico are challenging its various forms. I present lived experiences of disappearance (violence against women, failing infrastructure, and a war on the poor) and focus on a shared characteristic of political organizing and mobilization against disappearance in central Mexico: the work of making visible the forces that produce the disappeared and assigning responsibility for their endurance. The paper concludes with reflections on an active role for geographers in this conjuncture, emphasizing modes of engagement by which we can accompany people whose lives are directly affected by this violence in Mexico and elsewhere. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019 

Michael D. Meyer, Senior Advisor, WSP USA, Inc. 

Research Supporting a Bottoms-Up “National” Policy in Climate Change and Transportation: Examples from Around the U.S.” 


This presentation will describe climate change-related transportation adaptation actions that are occurring throughout the U.S. (in the absence of any national policy). Typical research and consulting studies that have informed these efforts will be discussed. Examples of efforts to understand transportation system resiliency in light of extreme weather events will be presented. Prospective research topics that could provide substantive contribution to the on-going national discussion on how to prepare transportation systems for future climate change-related shocks will be suggested. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019 

Wenwu Tang, Center for Applied GIScience, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of North Carolina at Charlotte 

Large-scale Agent-based Simulation of Urban-Rural Land Development: A Cyberinfrastructure-enabled Approach 


Agent-based models have been extensively used for the simulation of complex land use and land cover change (e.g., urban-rural land development) across multiple spatiotemporal scales. However, massive data and computation are involved for large-scale agent-based land change modeling, posting a big data challenge. In this study, I present a cyberinfrastructure-enabled approach for resolving the big data challenge facing large-scale agent-based land change modeling. The study area is in North Carolina, USA. The agent-based model was developed at a fine spatial resolution. Parallel algorithms were implemented to accelerate the agent-based land change model. While the cyberinfrastructure-enabled approach shows substantial acceleration in the agent-based simulation modeling, this approach provides unique support for the understanding of spatiotemporal complexity of land use and land cover change, represented by urban-rural land development.

Thursday, May 16, 2019 

Rebecca Lave, Department of Geography, Indiana University

Bridging the Gap: Integrating Critical Human and Physical Geography in Practice 


The relationship (or lack thereof) between physical and human geography is a longstanding discussion within our field. Some commentators assume the possibility of synthesis and call for integrated work; others assume that deep integration is neither possible nor desirable. But even a brief review of the literature makes two points glaringly clear: this discussion has been going on for a long, long time and, given its regular reoccurrence, it would seem we have little to show for it. Rather than debate the possibility or desirability of such integration, I argue here that there is already a strong and growing body of work that draws together critical human and physical geography in an emerging sub-field: critical physical geography. Individually or in teams, critical physical geographers are bridging the gap, combining insights from geomorphology, ecology, and biogeography with approaches from political ecology, science and technology studies, and environmental history. The key characteristics that unify this work are its emphasis on treating physical processes and unequal power relations with equal seriousness, its acknowledgement of the politics of knowledge production, and its normative agenda of using research to promote eco-social transformation. By way of illustration, I present the results of a critical physical geography study of market-based environmental management in the US that I conducted with Martin Doyle (Duke), and Morgan Robertson (U Wisconsin). Drawing on social science data from document analysis and interviews and natural science data from geomorphic fieldwork, I argue that while the fluvial landscape bears a clear signature of environmental policy, the development of ecosystem service markets in “stream credits” has different consequences than could be expected. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019 

Matthew A. Schnurr, Department of International Development Studies, Dalhousie University

Africa’s Gene Revolution: Genetically Modified Crops and the Future of African Agriculture


Africa has emerged as the final frontier in the global debate over the potential for Genetically Modified (GM) crops to enhance agricultural productivity and alleviate poverty and hunger. Proponents argue that GM crops represent one of the most promising means of improving yields and livelihoods across the continent, and have invested just under half a billion dollars in these new technological possibilities under the banner of Africa’s Green Revolution. Opponents voice concerns over intellectual property, adverse health and environmental impacts, and the increasing control of multi-national corporations over the continent’s food supply. Both sides have worked hard to frame the terms of this polarized debate, the result being they often speak past one another, rarely engaging in meaningful dialogue. This presentation seeks to bridge this gap by assessing the ecological, social and political factors that are shaping Africa’s ‘Gene’ Revolution and evaluating its potential to achieve its lofty goals. It summarizes an analysis of whether Genetically Modified crops constitute an appropriate technology given existing agricultural systems, and evaluates the implications of these findings for scholars, policy makers and farmers. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019 

Pete Peterson, Climate Hazards Working Group, University of California-Santa Barbara 

How to Make a Satellite Rainfall Product: Why Would You and Then What? 


Climate Hazards Group InfraRed Precipitation with Station data (CHIRPS) is a 30+ year quasi-global rainfall dataset. Spanning 50°S-50°N (and all longitudes), starting in 1981 to near-present, CHIRPS incorporates 0.05° resolution satellite imagery with in-situ station data to create gridded rainfall time series for trend analysis and seasonal drought monitoring. As of February 12th, 2015, version 2.0 of CHIRPS is complete and available to the public. For detailed information on CHIRPS, please refer to our paper in Scientific Data. 

September 19 - Brandon Bailey, Chris Hancock, Lucas Brown, Meghan McCarroll, Michael Madin and Corey Martz, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Denver

Reflections from the Field - Graduate Student Field Research Experiences

September 26 - Zoe Pearson, School of Politics, Public Affairs and International Studies, University of Wyoming

"¡Kawsachun Coca, Wañuchun Yanquis!” (Long Live Coca, Death to Yankees): The Formalization, Implementation, and (Geo)political Implications of Coca Policy Reform in Bolivia 


Punitive drug control policies in the Western Hemisphere have failed to meaningfully reduce rates of illegal drug consumption and production, while at the same time causing harm to individuals, families, communities, health, livelihoods, and the environment. The Plurinational State of Bolivia is a major producer of the coca leaf—a medicinal plant native to the Andes, and the primary ingredient in cocaine—and is one of the first countries to institute comprehensive reforms to orthodox supply-side drug control policy. Under the leadership of President Evo Morales, cocaleros (coca growers) are carrying out a “community-based” approach to controlling coca cultivation. This approach is considered to be an innovative rejection of decades of “drug war” geopolitics by drug policy reform advocates. Drawing on research carried out in Bolivia since 2012, I will illustrate how, despite important successes, the formalization and implementation of Bolivia’s coca control approach faces serious challenges. To understand these challenges, we must consider the underpinning logics that drive drug control geopolitics, and the constraints of Bolivia’s “revolutionary” politics in light of the limits symptomatic of the state form. 

October 17 - John Corbett, President and CEO, aWhere

High Resolution Weather Data for Agricultural and Environmental Insights for Climate Change Adaptation


Weather drives agriculture. Traditionally the paucity of weather observations - too few and irregularly spaced ground stations - severely limited utilization of weather insight to address challenges in food production that stretch from the farmer behavior (in-time digital agriculture) to research on agronomics (plant breeding to on-farm practices), inputs (fertilizer, crop protection), supply chain management (business risk and investment) and risk (insurance, famine and insecurity monitoring/response). aWhere’s daily generated 9km (5 arc-minute) weather grid unlocks a myriad of opportunities for analytics across each segment of every agricultural value chain. aWhere’s vision, mission, and goal focuses on emerging markets that disproportionately depend on rain-fed agriculture for food security and GDP growth and yet have poor access to accurate, localized, and timely weather data. aWhere utilizes - and trains partners on - predictive analytics and modeling along with downscaled weather data to provide both field-level tactical information for farmers and macro-level estimates of crop stress and production risk for industry and governments to adapt to climate change. 

October 24 - Jing Gao, Department of Geography & Data Science Institute, University of Delaware

Data-Driven Spatiotemporal Modeling for Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Studies


Over the 21st century global environmental change may pose critical challenges for societies across the world. To understand its potential impacts, global long-term spatial projections of societal conditions are needed as well as those of physical environmental stressors. Due to the lack of spatially-explicit large-scale time-series observational data, human-dimension studies conventionally often had to limit their scales or/and scopes, though the big picture of global patterns and long-term trends are needed for national and international assessments and decision making. With recent unprecedented development in geospatial data availability and computational technology, many new advancements become attainable. In this talk, I will present two projects: (1) a creative application of machine learning and data mining for simulating global spatiotemporal patterns of urban land expansion over the 21st century, using best available data on urbanization, spatial population, and economic development, including a global time series of fine-spatial-resolution remote-sensing observations spanning the past 40 years, and (2) a theoretical data-science effort developing new model diagnosis method to aid the design and the performance improvement of data-driven geospatial models. Both works demonstrate rewards and challenges of employing data-driven methods for studying long-term large-scale human-environment interactions.

November 7

Luca Coscieme, Trinity College Dublin

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs): Synergies, Trade-offs and Indicators 


Implementing the SDGs presents opportunities for further improvement of post-2030 sustainability initiatives. Dr. Coscieme will discuss how synergies and trade-offs exist among the SDGs and how progress towards some of them can reinforce, or impair, the achievement of others. The rising awareness of the economic, security, social and moral dimensions of environmental challenges is calling for a broader consideration of environmental policy as an essential tool for delivering sustainable human and ecological development, wellbeing, and resilience. In addition, the increasing availability of environmental measures from satellite observations has the potential to substantially contribute to a broader implementation of the environmental SDGs at the global scale. All of this will likely shape future initiatives for UN-SDGs-like agreements and assessment of progress towards sustainable development.