Geography 2019-20 Colloquia

September 26, 2019 - 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, 2019 - 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 rainfed 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 modelling 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, 2019 - 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, 2019 - 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. 

January 23, 2020 - Katherine Lininger, Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder

River Corridors and the Carbon Cycle: Floodplain Organic Carbon Storage in the Central Yukon River Basin

Rivers influence the global carbon cycle by delivering carbon to the oceans, providing sites for carbon processing, and storing carbon in floodplains for decades to millennia. However, the amount and residence time of organic carbon (OC) stored in river corridors (channels and floodplains) and the geomorphic influences on the spatial distribution of OC are not well understood. High latitude regions are experiencing rapid warming and permafrost thaw, and these regions contain large amounts of OC in the subsurface. Very little work has quantified OC storage in floodplains in the high latitudes. I present data on floodplain OC concentrations and stocks in sediment in the Yukon Flats in interior Alaska. The large spatial extent of floodplain soil OC samples collected across multiple rivers in the Yukon Flats allows for investigating the geomorphic controls on the spatial distribution of OC across spatial scales. Differences in soil OC occur across the large spatial scale of river basins (102-106 km) are likely due to geomorphic influences such as differences in planform characteristics, grain size, and soil moisture. However, there is greater variation in soil OC at the river reach scale (100-101 km) among geomorphic units (e.g., wetlands, bars, fill surfaces, and other floodplain surfaces), which can also be explained by geomorphic factors such as grain size, surface stability over time, and soil moisture. Fieldwork that recognizes floodplains as distinct environments relative to uplands can result in more accurate estimates of soil OC stocks in permafrost regions. I also constrain floodplain residence times in the Yukon Flats using radiocarbon dates. Because of warming and permafrost thaw, geomorphic and biogeochemical processes may be significantly altered in high latitudes boreal regions. Determining floodplain OC variations and stocks and the geomorphic influences on those stocks is important for accounting for carbon within the Earth system. 

January 30, 2020 - Brenden McNeil, Department of Geology and Geography, West Virginia University

Revisiting "The Adaptive Geometry of Trees" Using Hyper-remote Sensing

The relationship of tree form and function has long fascinated humans, and now, much of our ability to improve maps and forecasts of the vital interactions of forests and global change hinges on our ability to understand this adaptive tree crown architecture.  To help address this challenge, I revisit Henry Horn’s classic 1971 monograph “The Adaptive Geometry of Trees”, and blend his theoretical framework with a contemporary ecological theory of species’ functional traits.  Then, I describe how this trait-based theory tree crown architecture can be robustly tested using state-of-the-art hyper-remote sensing techniques.  This suite of imaging techniques from hyper-spatial (e.g. UAV and satellite imagery), hyper-spectral (e.g. AVIRIS imagery), hyper-temporal (e.g. phenocams and tree- or tower-mounted time-lapse cameras), and hyper-dimensional (terrestrial and UAV LiDAR) sensors now enables us to visualize and measure the spectral and architectural properties of individual trees with unprecedented accuracy and precision.  Through analysis of hyper-remote sensing datasets collected in forests across the eastern USA, I highlight how this testable trait-based theory of tree crown economics is already providing fresh insights into several important, but heretofore unresolved patterns of spatial and temporal variability in forest functioning.

February 6, 2020 - Heidi Hausermann, Department of Anthropology and Geography, Colorado State University

The Political Ecology of Landscape Change, Malaria and Cumulative Vulnerability in Central Ghana's Gold Mining Country

Following the 2008 financial crisis, small-scale gold mining operations proliferated worldwide. Along Ghana’s Offin River, the landscape has been radically transformed. Within 300-meters of the river, mining expanded 7,900 percent between 2008 and 2013, a time corresponding with historic highs in gold prices; water in abandoned mining pits increased by nearly 33,000 percent during the same period. Landscape changes possess adverse health implications for local people, including increased malaria incidence. Combining ethnography, remote sensing, quantitative methods and long-term fieldwork, this talk details how the socioecological outcomes of mining—from food insecurity and water-logged pits to profound anxiety and mercury contamination— combine to increase malaria incidence. I demonstrate how socioecological and landscape changes interact with existing socio-structural conditions and Plasmodium falciparum’s unique biological capacities to render women and children most vulnerable to infection. This research contributes to geographic debates in several ways. First, a cumulative vulnerability approach helps scholars conceptualize how biological, psychological, structural, and social conditions interrelate to shape humans’ conjunctural vulnerabilities along axes of difference, particularly in health contexts. I also highlight the important role of materiality in vulnerability and malaria dynamics. Finally, I urge geographers pay more attention to familial relationships of care and mental health, heretofore largely unexplored topics in political ecology.

February 20, 2020 - Kevin Wheeler, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Negotiating Climate Uncertainty, the Drive for Development, and Regulatory Transformation on Transboundary Rivers: The Colorado River and the Nile River 

 The decision to build major infrastructure on a river has many facets. People tend to highlight certain aspects of dam development while dismissing others based on their own view of how the world should be. A surge of dam development through the mid-1900s helped to push economic growth through hydropower development, management of floods, and promoting urban and agricultural expansion. This was followed by a period of strong resistance due to their social and environmental impacts, particularly in countries that had already felt their cost and reaped their benefits. Today the dam movement is facing a major resurgence across the developing world, not merely imposed by external forces, but often coming from within. Complicating the issue of dam development is the transboundary nature of international rivers, where geographic advantages and unequal rates of development lead to a myriad of physical and socio-political challenges. 

Two iconic rivers, the Colorado and the Nile, symbolize this evolution over time. The early development of the Colorado River led to the economic growth of the western United States and north-western Mexico, but the region now faces the major challenge of improving coordination between the countries to adapt to increasing pressures of consumptive uses, climate uncertainties, environmental concerns. Meanwhile the challenges within economically deprived contexts is demonstrated today by the imminent completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile, which seeks to bring much needed energy and economic growth to one of Africa’s poorest nations. As a result, the downstream countries of Sudan and Egypt are grappling with the implications of their upstream co-riparian neighbour seeking to push its way out of the poverty trap it has been locked in since time immemorial. Intense international negotiations have been ongoing in both basins, and both are at a critical juncture in time. The decisions that will be made in the forthcoming weeks, months and years will unequivocally shape the ink of the future books of history. 

October 22, 2020 - Christopher Woods and Alison Johnston, Cornell Ornithology Lab, Cornell University

eBird: Monitoring Biodiversity with Community Data

The goal of eBird is to engage the global community of bird watchers to gather species observations in order to identify, explain, and predict how a species’ distribution and abundance vary through time, space, and with features of the environment. Measuring these distributions patterns and predicting their responses to change are not simple tasks but involve- 1) coordinating public engagement, 2) designing sound data management extensible systems development strategies, 3) creating novel ways to analyze and visualize the data, and 4) translating the information to conservation action. The first half of this presentation will describe the eBird data collection and community building. Already, over 500,000 people around the world have taken part in reporting observations to eBird – from community members in the Yucatán Peninsula, to tour guides in Costa Rica, to researchers in India. The second half of this presentation will describe some of the analytical process for eBird data to estimate the distribution and abundance of bird species. Using these amazing data, we are able to estimate the weekly distribution and abundance of 600 bird species in North America and throughout the Western Hemisphere. These analyses have given us an unprecedented look into bird migration, habitat use and distribution. These analyses have also been used to precisely target local conservation actions to provide resources for migrating bird species. Overall, we demonstrate how data collected by the community can provide new ecological knowledge and lead to a better environment for birds and people. 

November 5, 2020 - Uttiyo Raychaudhuri, Vice Provost for Internationalization, University of Denver.

Humans and the Environment: A Global Citizenship Perspective 

Most institutions of higher education in the U.S. acknowledge that the future workforce of America depends on a citizenry that is sensitive to, and aware of, global issues. Primary among these global issues are environmental and sustainability concerns and we aspire that students participating in international experiences will reflect an interest in nurturing a global citizenry that is not only sensitive to, and aware of, complex human - environment relationships but is willing to act in a manner consistent with the new needs and demands facing society. The presentation discusses the impact of experiential education abroad programs in sustainable development on promoting pro-environmental behaviors. The theoretical model proposes that understanding and promoting pro-environmental responsible behaviors combined with international experiences constitutes a transformational learning experience and promotes global citizenship. 

December 3, 2020 - Helen Hazen, Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Denver

Reviving the Oral Exam as an Assessment Tool 

Oral exams have generally fallen out of favor for undergraduate instruction. Many instructors consider the administering of oral exams time-consuming and their grading subjective, in addition to concerns over raising student stress levels. However, oral exams provide many potential benefits, including the opportunity to assess deeper levels of student understanding, to provide instant feedback to students, and to develop students’ oral communication skills. Orals also present huge potential for assessing student learning in field-based classes where challenging field conditions and the need to synthesize information from diverse sources may make oral assessment particularly useful. In this presentation I will present some of the potential pros and cons of oral exams, based on primary research conducted in geography classes at DU over the past four years.