Graduate Student Research

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Caitlin Kontgis – Urbanization, climate change, and rice crop sustainability

Caitlin KontgisAs the world experiences climate change and global population continues to multiply, food security is becoming a foremost concern. Though crop yields have increased significantly due to 'Green Revolution' technologies, there is evidence this is leveling off. Thus, the same amount of food that currently feeds the world's 7 billion people will need to feed 9 billion by 2050. Further, rapid rates of urbanization are taking vast amounts of agricultural land out of production, resulting in less area on which more food needs to be produced to feed growing populations. Many studies on the impacts of urbanization and climate change have been focused on China in recent years, while comparatively fewer studies have been conducted in also-booming South Asian countries. Vietnam is one of the world's leading exporters of rice, and there is concern that the combination of urban expansion and climate change could lead to a substantial decrease in rice yields. Most of Vietnam's rice crop is grown near Ho Chi Minh City, which is expanding toward the country's main rice-producing region, the Mekong River Delta.

The primary goal of the proposed research is to determine the sustainability of rice systems in Vietnam in the coming decades by integrating findings on agricultural land lost to urbanization, future land cover and climate scenarios, and simulations from a crop systems model that reveal how these projections could impact rice yields and productivity. To do this, I propose a multi-disciplinary research project with the following objectives:

(1) Measure rates and patterns of urban expansion, agricultural land loss and other land cover changes in the predominantly agricultural Mekong River Delta region of Vietnam using NASA satellite data (Landsat), and discriminate changes in single- vs. multi-cropping rice systems using vegetation index trajectories;

(2) Using map outputs from Objective 1, elevation and road data within a dynamic simulation model(Land Transformation Model), develop potential land cover scenarios on urban development and agricultural transitions; and

(3) Estimate crop yields under current and future land use and climate conditions using maps and projections from Objectives 1 and 2, and a spatially-explicit crop systems model, the Decision Support System for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT), which is capable of simulating the productivity of rice-cropping systems.

The primary outcome of this research will be new insights into how current and future rice production will be impacted by urban expansion and climate change in Vietnam. Specifically, a series of experiments will be generated for the study region that provide detailed information on the agricultural impacts of different environmental conditions and urbanization scenarios. If simulations reveal that current cropping systems are not sustainable, this work could illuminate what is having the greatest influence on rice cropping, so that steps might be taken to mitigate the effects of urbanization and/or climate change. In addition, this project will use NASA's rich archive of satellite imagery to generate new maps and projections for a region that is currently only mapped at a coarse scale. These datasets will be useful to a wide variety of planners, land managers, officials and researchers in the region.

Elsa Noterman – From Crisis to Commoning: An Examination of Socio-Spatial Relations in Cooperative Trailer Parks

Elsa NotermanCaught between the dual crises of declining economic opportunity and diminishing public assistance, groups of citizens are considering new ways of conceptualizing and enacting their communities. In the "creative cramped space" between the individual and the state, the private and the public, many people are increasingly acting and owning in common - from organizing car-sharing programs to forming cooperative housing projects. It is these collective efforts, driven by real threats to livelihoods rather than by ideology that I will explore through my research. In particular, I plan to study the communal management of common property in communities located on the geographic and economic fringe by examining the formation of cooperatively owned and operated trailer parks in rural areas of the United States. I want to explore how the transition from a crisis of privatization to the practice of commoning - or the process of 'doing' the commons - transforms socio-spatial relations in these communities.

Erin Kitchell – Adaptive Strategies to Climate Change in the African Sahel

Erin KitchellThe climate change literature emphasizes adaptive management that prioritizes learning and processes for innovation in response to change. Formal institutions require defined rules and boundaries to function, creating tensions between efficacy and the maintenance of flexibility to respond to environmental fluctuations. The Sahel has been experiencing a marked decrease in rainfall for decades, offering a unique opportunity to gain insight into institutional innovation and community adaptation to climatic variability. In order to examine how resource access and management mediate adaptation to multiple stressors in Sahelian agropastoral systems, my dissertation research will ask three interlocking questions: 1) How do individual resource users make decisions in response to climate change? 2) How do informal institutions and social networks shape the adaptive strategies open to agropastoralists? 3) How do particular features of local institutions increase or inhibit responsiveness to changes in climate and socio-political structures? I hope to contribute to recent scholarship attempting to analyze limits to adaptation in terms of social constraints and cultural processes of cognition in addition to ecological thresholds.

Leif Brottem – Farmer-herder conflict, environmental change, and institutional response in Mali

The beginning of the dry season is a critical period for herdsmen and farmers in Sudano-Sahelian West Africa: rainy seasons are ending earlier and more sporadically in the Sahel, where herdsmen spend the rainy season. When herders are forced to migrate before the agricultural season is over, Fulani herd migrationlivestock often cause crop damage when they attempt to access critical natural resources such as water and pasture. This problem is aggravated by rapid agricultural expansion in more humid southern areas.

Managing herd movements and minimizing conflict with farmers is a complex challenge. It involves demographic pressure, global climate change, political decentralization, and the ongoing monetization of Mali's rural economy. At the core of this issue are newly elected local governments that are struggling to support herd mobility and secure land tenure for farmers. These imperatives are greatly complicated by customary land tenure through which agriculturists maintain long-standing land claims.

My dissertation research focuses on how migratory Fulani herdsmen secure access to resources during their dry season migration. I am doing this by studying the changing nature of farmer-herder conflict in Mali's western region. This type of project requires a mix of methods including focus groups, semi-structured household interviews, archival research, spatial analysis and remote sensing. I enjoy studying herd mobility as I feel it is a quintessential topic of geographic inquiry: it includes social as well as biophysical variables that interact at multiple spatio-temporal scales.

Mark Cooper – Making Markets for Environmental Governance: Climate Policy in New Zealand

Mark CooperSince the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, emissions trading has been seen as an important mechanism in the development of national climate policy. In 2007, New Zealand became the first country outside of the European Union to establish a nationwide emissions trading scheme for greenhouse gases. My research uses the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme as a case study to investigate the creation of a market institution for the exchange of tradable permits and the emergence of a new social economy for greenhouse gas emissions. The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme is also the first national climate policy to take an "all gases, all sectors" approach that incorporates gas flows associated with agriculture and forestry. This research examines how the measurement and monitoring of emissions from these non-point sources draws upon and influences international standards from emissions inventories and how the design of policy instruments is influenced by scientific assessments of the sinks and sources of these emissions.

cow wearing collarPictured: A grazing dairy cow wears a sulfur hexafluoride tracer collar. Measurements are used to quantify methane emissions generated through enteric fermentation in livestock, which account for approximately 31% of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions. In one year a New Zealand dairy cow belches methane equivalent to using 191 gallons of gasoline. My approach integrates analytical and methodological approaches from economic geography, science studies, and political ecology to examine how emissions trading moves from theory to reality. Using a combination of archival research, interviews with policy analysts in government, researchers at policy research institutes and universities, and direct observation of research and interviews with environmental and agricultural scientists, my project aims to trace how policy outcomes are influenced by, 1) the scientific measurement and monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions; 2) economic theories, models, and forecasts on the design and impacts of emissions trading schemes; 3) the international climate policy framework and international policy networks, and; 4) the domestic political environment and parliamentary politics.

While emissions trading is premised upon the creation of tradable permits that give the holders of these permits a "right" to generate pollutants, the establishment of an emissions trading scheme results in a resolution of the political question "who pays how much for what emissions?" As each permit represents a fixed measure of emissions and the number of permits available is set to an amount less than current levels, the creation of scarcity for pollution rights creates a price for emissions. Economic agents are then expected to respond to this price signal in a manner that reduces emissions in an economically efficient manner and leads to an overall reduction of emissions at least cost. The aim of this research is to characterize the technical and political foundations of emissions trading in order to better understand the inherent capacities and limitations of market-based instruments for environmental governance.


Jake Fleming – Making Hybrid Property: People, Trees, and Grafting in the Walnut-Fruit Forests of Kyrgyzstan

Jake in Krygyzstan Property is central to the interactions of humans and nonhumans, but scholarship on property tends to be strongly anthropocentric: property is a relationship among people about a thing. Even as geographers have ever more actively incorporated nonhumans into their analyses of society, most property work continues to represent nonhumans as passive, to be shuffled among human owners for better or worse. But people are not so clearly in control of property regimes, nor are people and things so easily separated as this schema suggests. The objective of my dissertation is a posthumanist analysis of property in the walnut-fruit forest of Kyrgyzstan. The trees of this forest—walnut, apple, plum, cherry, pear—grow in untended profusion in some places, but, through the horticultural practice of grafting, can be transformed into the dependable inhabitants we find in gardens and orchards around the temperate world. Human labor since the 1930s has scattered thousands of grafted trees throughout the forest, where they bear bigger, tastier, more valuable fruit than their ungrafted neighbors. My work explores grafting, a collaboration of human and tree dependent on the capabilities of each, and the role of the grafted tree in emerging property regimes in and around the walnut-fruit forest. Grafted and ungrafted trees act differently; I examine the consequences of this difference for how the forest is owned and accessed.

My project approaches posthumanist property through three key questions:

1) How are things owned and accessed by human and nonhuman actors in the forested and cultivated spaces of southern Kyrgyzstan?
2) How does grafting work in and around southern Kyrgyzstan’s walnut-fruit forests?
3) How does the horticultural potential of the forest affect the politics of access to its resources?

I am addressing these questions using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, including participant observation, interviews, oral histories, document review, and mapping of the distribution of grafted trees in and around the forest. By combining these approaches with theoretical insights from political ecology and science and technology studies, my dissertation will use the grafted tree to explore the possibilities of a posthumanist property.


Po-Yi Hung –Mountains of Green Gold: Tea Production, Land-Use Politics, and Ethnic Minorities on China's Southwest Frontier

I am a human geographer conducting research on nature-society relations. HungMore specifically, I use agricultural practices as my lens to study the relationships among people, environment, and place. My dissertation, provisionally titled Mountains of Green Gold: Tea Production, Land Use Politics, and Ethnic Minorities in Southwest China, investigates the relation between cross-regional tea trade and the ongoing physical and symbolic changes of China's southwest frontier environment. By focusing on the landscape of ancient tea forest (guchalin), I aim to understand the interactions among tea trees, entrepreneurs, the state, and an ethnic minority population (the Bulang). In this research, I also seek to address the resulting politics over land use practices in southwest China. I analyze the material and ideological components of the tea forest by looking into the ecological changes, market forces, and state interventions. In addition to conducting interviews and archival research, I use participant observation to engage in local Bulang villagers' everyday life, where the tea landscape in southwest China is symbolically and materially reproduced. Overall, I intend to think beyond the limitation of regarding southwest China as a remote and peripheral resource frontier, and aim to re-conceptualize the frontier as a relational space, where the nature-society relations have been significantly affected by the (re)regionalization of cash-crop trade with other places.


Matthew Liesch – The Strengths and Limitations of Keweenaw National Historical Park as a Model for the Development of Other National Park Service Sites

My dissertation examines the strengths and limitations of one of the National Park Service's most peculiar parks. Established by Congress in 1992, Keweenaw National Historical Park (hereafter Keweenaw NHP) originated as a grassroots and bipartisan effort to interpret the mining stories and landscapes of Michigan's Copper Country. The mines have closed up, but memories and landscapes remain.

building in kaweenaw parkThe scattered nature of copper mining communities and industrial production merits a non-traditional park format. Keweenaw NHP is considered to be a "partnership park", in that the federal government partners with local organizations to narrate themes within a region. The park consists of two units and nineteen "Keweenaw Heritage Sites", which are mostly privately owned and scattered throughout a 110-mile stretch of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. As part of the overall park experience, Keweenaw Heritage Sites include copper mine tours, state parks, a ghost town, an opera house, and a bed-and-breakfast.

The National Park Service (NPS) cooperates with a myriad of local groups, both non-profit and for-profit, to manage Keweenaw NHP. Almost all of the land within the park's boundaries is privately owned, including the village of Calumet.

Keweenaw NHP could be used as a model for the development of some future NPS sites, given the scattered locations of interpretive sites, the preexisting presence of local communities, and the shortage of federal funding for massive land acquisitions. But in order to be used as a model, I'm finding out what works well, and what the park has struggled with.

Since the park's inception, some national media have suggested that the park's main goal is to create jobs in a part of the country with a struggling economy. Other journalists have asserted that industrial landscapes are not visually pleasing, and they challenge the notion that the park is worthy of funding when in an era where NPS budgets are tight.

But those commentators are scratching the surface. My fieldwork demands that I spend extended time in the park, conducting ethnographic research, interviews, and archival work. Data is analyzed according to social groups, with the most important variables being the differences between 'outsiders' and 'insiders' (affectionately known as 'Yoopers'), and occupational status. Several themes emerge:

Park boundaries

lake effect on snowfallAlthough official park maps show precise boundaries, people are much less sure about where the park's even located. It's not unusual for tourists and locals alike to stand within Keweenaw NHP and yet not realize that they're within a park. Others argue that one can claim that s/he has seen Keweenaw NHP without ever being in sight of the legal boundaries of the park, as long as one can recognize and interpret copper mining landscapes elsewhere in the Copper Country outside of the park boundary. Ethnographic methods help interpret human behavior and attitudes. The National Park Service has standards for visitor experience, but it's hard to have measurable outcomes when visitors don't always realize that they're visiting the park. A myriad of issues arise such as: How do people perceive park boundaries? How does awareness of park boundaries affect human behavior? What visual cues do people use to acknowledge that they're standing within a national park? How can this type of park report attendance numbers for funding purposes?

Politics of landscape

Throughout Michigan's Copper Country, citizens wage periodic battles over the preservation of left-over piles of mine rock and abandoned industrial sites. The economic costs of preservation are particularly tough in deindustrialized areas with struggling economies.

Clashes occur between two general philosophies: Preservation and restoration-minded advocates are pitted against generally more blue-collar residents who dislike regulation and the added cost of restoring structures. Within Keweenaw NHP's Calumet Unit, a local citizen-led Historic District Commission regulates alterations to building exteriors. The premise is to ensure that alterations strive for early 20th Century look. Although Calumet's Historic District Commission is independent of the NPS, anti-regulation folks commonly blame the NPS for having elitist landscape tastes. There's a working but uneasy relationship between the NPS and private individuals and local governments as to what the privatized lands within park boundaries ought to look like.

Public/private dichotomy

How does a private village function when it's within a National Park? How does the NPS justify having any for-profit attractions as part of the overall park experience? Fifteen years ago, some residents worried that they'd need to buy an NPS visitors' permit just to drive to the store and buy groceries. Today, park rangers give walking tours of non-federal property, taking visitors past taverns, churches, and crumbling buildings. A citizen-led advisory commission provides for local jurisdiction over some park matters. These examples scratch the surface of unusual situations which occur with this park format.

Park as economic development

QuincyWhen the NPS comes to a community and creates this type of park, how does a given community benefit economically? We'll never know for sure what trajectory Calumet's economy would be today without the NPS, but ethnographic and interview data offer us insight into how community members feel the NPS has changed local economic conditions. Many local residents hoped for economic development through the park's establishment. Keweenaw NHP's development has spurred the development of Main Street Calumet, a non-profit organization whose motto is "Economic Development Through Historic Revitalization." There's data on trends in property values and storefronts occupied, but Keweenaw NHP's development has worked in less obvious ways as well.

Keweenaw NHP is experimental, and is a work in progress. On a local level, my findings will help Keweenaw NHP more fully understand visitor behavior and in turn, may help to enhance visitor experience. More broadly, these findings are one portion of understanding the strengths and limitations of Keweenaw NHP as a model for the development of future NPS sites. Last but not least, I believe strongly in making research results accessible to the general public, and will pursue opportunities as they arise.


Henry Loope – Upper Mississippi River middle-late Wisconsin terrace chronology

LaCrosse DEMThe goal of this research is to refine the chronology of middle-late Wisconsin fluvial aggradation, incision, and loess accumulation in the Upper Mississippi River Valley (UMV) using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and radiocarbon dating.

The UMV received meltwater and sediment from the Laurentide Ice Sheet (LIS) sourced from several lobes (e.g., Des Moines Lobe, Superior Lobe, Green Bay Lobe, Lake Michigan Lobe) and several proglacial lakes (e.g., glacial lakes Agassiz, Lind, Grantsburg, Duluth, Wisconsin) from ~55,000 14C yrs BP to ~9,500 14C yrs BP.

Right : Hillshade digital elevation model of the LaCrosse, WI area. This area contains one of the widest sections of the Savanna Terrace within the Upper Mississippi Valley.Savanna terrace

This work will focus on a late Pleistocene fill terrace and one of the main landforms in the UMV, the Savanna Terrace (Bettis and Hallberg, 1985; Flock, 1983; Hajic et al., 1991; Mason and Knox, 1997). Previous research has constrained the timing of incision below the Savanna terrace (after ~14,000 14C yrs BP) and provided several ages within older sediment of the terrace (as old as ~19,000 14C yrs BP) (Bettis and Hallberg, 1985; Hajic et al., 1991; Mason and Knox, 1997). However, the detailed chronology of aggradation and incision below the Savanna Terrace (i.e., the Bagley Terrace(s)) is not well understood.

Right: View southwest across the Savanna Terrace and lower terrace near the confluence of the Bad Axe River and the Mississippi River, south of Genoa, WI.Mill Coulee Savanna

Additionally, the chronology of loess accumulation adjacent to multiple terrace levels has not been studied in detail. By obtaining a chronology for loess accumulation using OSL, a link could be established between terrace aggradation/incision and loess deposition. This work will attempt to establish a chronology for sediments older than ~19,000 14C yrs BP and refine the chronology after ~19,000 14C yrs BP.  This work will try to connect the fluvial and eolian chronology of the Upper Mississippi Valley with middle-late Wisconsin glacial events in the Mississippi watershed.

Right: Slackwater sediments of the Savanna Terrace, Mill Coulee, north of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin

Henry Loope is a PhD candidate interested in Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology. His advisors are Joe Mason and Jim Knox.


Adam Mandelman – Hawai'i's Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail

Kahakai TrailI am currently researching Hawai'i's Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. As one of the more recent additions to the National Trails System, the Ala Kahakai attempts to recapture the routes of ancient coastal foot-trails around hawai'i's Big Island. Many of these trails still exist on the ground today, but access to them can be contentious because of the intense resort and residential development that has taken place on Hawai'i's coastlines. The establishment of the Ala Kahakai thus raises several questions about public access and land tenure while also engaging discourses about place and heritage. My thesis asks how stakeholders view and use the trail in ways that articulate competing ideas about Hawaiian culture, history, and nature.

I am also more broadly interested in collaborative projects that bring geographers, artists, and other thinkers together to creatively emplace critical geographical thought and render it accessible for the public. Examples include the LA Urban Rangers and the Center for Land Use Interpretation.

Nathaniel Millington – Conflicts Over Historic Preservation and Representation in Detroit

In April 2009, The Detroit, Michigan City Council voted to demolish the Michigan Central Station. The building, built in 1913, is a national historic site but has fallen into immense disrepair. It is now seen by many as an iconic image of Detroit's decline and figures prominently in voyeuristic accounts of Detroit's decay and ruin. The planned demolition is nonetheless being fought by many in the city's preservation community. This current conflict over demolition raises interesting questions about how urban places are represented, how memory is related to physical places, and how visual representations relate to urban economic redevelopment. The station's status as an icon of decay and an informal tourist site suggests that the demolition plans are a response to these representations, which conflict with a desire by city officials and residents to downplay decay by highlighting areas of renewal.

Nate's current research uses the conflict over the train station as a way to ask questions about the politics of memory and representation more broadly. He is interested in how visual representations of Detroit as decaying and receding into nature play into decisions over demolition and preservation. He is particularly interested in tracing out the political dimensions of representation and nostalgia as it pertains to urban redevelopment and tourism. In the case of Detroit, outsider impressions of the city are often integrated into the political and economic realities of the city as a polarized entity. As a result, images, as well as the material fabric of the city itself, take on new authority and questions about preservation subsequently become entangled in the complex constellation of race and history that characterizes Detroit's present.

Conflicts over preservation, seen at the MCS as well as other prominent sites, raise a series of interesting questions about how historic preservation collides with the present political realities in Detroit. Nate's research will pay particular attention to the ways in which preservation is connected to conflicts over representational authority, racial conflict and tourist development.


Chris Muellerleile – Dislocating Boeing: Corporate geography and the relocation of
Boeing Company’s headquarters to Chicago, Illinois

Boeing HeadquartersHave large corporations become “placeless” in our increasingly globalized world?  Have relocations, outsourcing, international mergers and improved communications technology made places less important to the “footloose corporation?”  These are some of the questions that have driven my research of the Boeing Company’s headquarters relocation from Seattle, Washington to Chicago, Illinois in 2001.

Right: Boeing’s world headquarters at 100 N. Riverside in downtown Chicago (Source: Muellerleile research files)

Boeing was founded in Seattle in 1916 and since World War II has been the region’s single largest employer.  To this day, the company designs and assembles most of its commercial airliners in the Puget Sound region.  Why, then, would the company decide to relocate its headquarters to Chicago, a place where it has no history and no other facilities?  Attempting to answer these questions has led me into a deeper exploration of the historical development of the aerospace industry, the contested corporate culture of Boeing, as well as the imagined and real political-economic environments of Seattle and Chicago.

My sense is that Boeing’s management determined that close geographical ties between the company’s headquarters staff and its Seattle-based commercial aircraft division were impeding the broader goals of corporate restructuring.  Boeing’s move to Chicago was part of its progressive reinvention as a global aerospace conglomerate.  While the Seattle region had afforded Boeing many advantages over the years, the corporate culture and the socio-economic environment of the region eventually restricted the strategic vision and agency of the headquarters team.  They decided that the solution was to relocate to Chicago, a location with more convenient access to their operating units, key financial networks, and global 787In the development stage, the high-tech 787 will be a “super-efficient” mid-sized airliner. (Source:, but notably distant from the Seattle-based interests that had shaped the company through the 20th Century.  Boeing’s restructuring, you might say, entailed its progressive “dislocation.”

In addition to the above, I have also conducted research with my advisors Jamie Peck and Kris Olds on how the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois courted Boeing.  Winning the Boeing investment was strategically important in the representation of Chicago as a business-friendly environment and a place of global connectedness.  As such, this process reflects the new “realities” of the post-industrial economy, just as it underlines some of the contemporary imperatives for  “entrepreneurial” behavior on the part of policymakers and civic leaders.  It is notable that the city and state put together a $60 million incentive package for Boeing, in order to lure not a large manufacturing facility, but a corporate headquarters with plans to employ 400 mostly corporate executives.


Abby Neely – Reconfiguring Pholela: Local People and Government Bureaucrats from 1936 to 2010

Abby Neely Collecting GPS measurementsI seek to explain relationships between the material world (microbes, crops, and economies) and the way people understand that world (as mitigated through culture, knowledge, and experience). My dissertation examines how interactions between residents and locally-based government bureaucrats had surprising implications for a rural, Zulu-speaking area of South Africa. This study reveals that local people and places do a great deal to shape the outcomes of larger state policies. In my research I use a mix of qualitative methods like archival research, ethnography, participatory GIS, household surveys, interviews, focus groups, and oral history collection to document the evolution of local illness and ideas about health and healing through two distinct phases of government intervention, one in health in the 1940s and 1950s and one in community planning in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Throughout my dissertation I employ an expansive framework for health, which includes material things like vitamins, social phenomena like witchcraft, and spiritual agents like ancestors. I argue that using this local framework illuminates how new explanations of disease transmission and the forced removal of a homestead can both lead to changes in local health and in healing practices.

My dissertation is broken up into seven chapters with an introduction, conclusion, and epilogue. The introduction and methods section provide the theoretical framework and a narrative of how I gathered my data. The first chapter looks at the long history of Pholela as well as livelihoods and agriculture in the 1930s, focusing on migrant labor and the dynamism of the moment. The second chapter focuses on health and healing in the 1920s and 1930s, introducing a local framework or understandings and explaining healing choices. The third chapter seeks to explain why the Pholela Community Health Centre was such a remarkable success. Abby Neely Collecting GPS measurementsIt argues that achievements depended upon the surprising ability of the center's health educators and local people to learn how to be good researchers and research subjects. The fourth chapter offers examples of two specific health center outreach efforts, one to remake homesteads and the other to halt the spread of TB. Contrasting the very successful homestead campaign with the unsuccessful TB campaign helps to reveal the ongoing importance of local understandings of health. The fifth chapter focuses on the health center's nutrition campaign to show how shifts in micronutrients had an impact on health, as did the health center's efforts to connect local people to South Africa's economy in new ways. The sixth chapter looks at why there was so little resistance to the government's large-scale community planning campaign, called Betterment. It examines how prior experiences with government interventions affected how Pholela's residents reacted to the government program. The seventh chapter examines one of the most surprising results of the Betterment campaign: the abandonment of an important annual healing ritual. I close the dissertation with an epilogue, which examines what it means to the research process to write about the history of health and livelihoods in the era of HIV/AIDS and government supported social welfare grants. This epilogue allows me to explore the deep significance of today's health crisis as well as the relationship between past and present.


Paul Reyerson – The utilization of phytolith analysis to document late
Quaternary to Holocene vegetation dynamics in grasslands

Climate change is always a hot topic (no pun intended). In many ways, humanity really has no idea of what to expect as global warming strengthens. Will there be more droughts? More flooding? How will agriculture be affected?

While climate models can offer an often very good glimpse into the future, those models need to be calibrated in some way. In other words, we need to be able to tell the computer what will happen when a particular climatic forcing occurs.

Paul Collecting Grass SamplesOne way to do this is to document past climates. For example, central North America was much warmer and drier around 7000 years ago. Was there a drought? How did the vegetation react? Utilizing evidence found in various sediments, it is possible to "reconstruct" these past environments (paleoenvironments).

Evidence of paleoenvironmental conditions are often referred to as proxies, and can include macrofossils, pollen, diatoms, and phytoliths, among others. In semi-arid grassland regions such as the Great Plains , pollen and macrofossils are not preserved very well. (Traditionally, pollen is best preserved in lacustrine and fluvial sediments, which tend to be somewhat rare in grassland regions). However, grasslands are abundant producers of phytoliths.

Right: Reyerson collecting soil samples in the native vegetation of the Marcellus Nature Preserve. Photo: Paul Reyerson.

Phytoliths are microscopic bits of silica formed in, and in-between, cells. Because these proxies are made of silica, phytoliths tend to persist in the soil once the plant dies and decays, especially in dry regions such as grasslands. Phytoliths are mostly produced by grasses, but are also found in certain shrubs and trees as well. Recent research has speculated that phytoliths are common in grasses as a defense against herbivory (by wearing down teeth), but this argument was recently questioned, due to the fact that phytoliths are much softer than dental enamel.

grasslandsPhytoliths come in many shapes and sizes. In fact, any given shape (termed morphotype) may be utilized by several species. Making matters worse, a given species may produce several different morphotypes. Fortunately, it is possible to detour around these problems, since species tend to produce morphotypes in specific ratios. For example, a species of grass may produce 10% of morphotype x, 30% of morphotype y, and 60% of morphotype z. By looking at the ratios of morphotypes in the soil (with the use of descriptive statistics), it is possible to get a reasonable determination of the dominant plant species in a given area.

Currently, I'm working in two separate grassland regions. The interior Pacific Northwest (Columbia Basin) is a semi-arid grassland due to the rainshadow effect of the Cascade Mountains . This grassland is composed mostly of C3 grasses (no C4 present), sagebrush, and other herbs and forbs. One of my research questions was to determine if phytoliths can accurately predict contemporary Above, rolling hills of loess near the town of Clyde, Washington. Photo: Paul Reyerson. Columbia Basin vegetation. To do this, I needed accurate collections of morphotype data for each study plot (termed an assemblage). This was achieved by spending many, many hours peering into a microscope - up to 600 morphotypes counted for each of the 37 study plots. I also needed a good estimate of the modern vegetation. NDVI data was extrapolated from aerial imagery of the study plots. NDVI measures the amount of photosynthetic biomass present, and is thus a good measure of overall vegetation density. It is also a more objective and accurate method than in situ visual inspection. The results were good: phytolith assemblages can accurately predict vegetation density and species composition.

Above: Rolling hills of loess near the town of Clyde, Washington. Photo: Paul Reyerson. This is an important factor to document, since vegetation density is primarily affected by climate. I've just completed this study, and I hope to publish the manuscript in the Journal of Biogeography.

Currently I'm writing a manuscript on the use of fossil phytolith assemblages to reconstruct vegetation in the Columbia Basin since the late Glacial. This study relies upon the modern analog method, and assumes that fossil phytolith assemblages which are similar to modern assemblages should have similar vegetation. The results so far indicate xeric, sparse vegetation during the late Glacial, which gradually increases in density until the present. Around 7,000 years before present, sagebrush steppe was replaced by an Agropyron spicatum dominated grassland, indicating more mesic conditions. This study has demonstrated the robustness of phytolith analysis in paleoenvironmental reconstructions.

The second study area which I am focusing on is the central Great Plains, in southwestern Nebraska. In this sagebrush and grass prairie, I plan to once again utilize phytolith analysis. However, the intention this time around will not be to reconstruct the vegetation composition, but rather to quantify phytolith emplacement rates in the soil. Recently, a study has suggested that soils which develop under mesic conditions should have a high rate of phytolith dissolution and weathering. In other words, relict phytoliths are rapidly recycled. In the Great Plains, Paul Reyerson overlooking the Palouse in eastern Washingtonjust downwind of the Nebraska Sand Hills, thick sheets of loess aggrade through time due to eolian sediment deposition. This loess offers an excellent opportunity to study phytoliths through time.

With the aid of optically stimulated luminescence dates, it is possible to determine the rate of phytolith entrainment for any given unit of time. Within the loess profile, times of low loess aggradation represent periods of relative stability, mesic conditions, and soil development. On the other hand, times of rapid loess deposition represent periods of drought, in which much dust is being deposited. My research question is compare mesic times (paleosols) to drought conditions (loess accumulation). Will the paleosols have less phytoliths due to dissolution, or will the loess sections have less because there are simply fewer plants to produce phytoliths?

This research is scheduled for the summer of 2007, and it is important for a number of reasons. First, understanding how vegetation responds to climate change is paramount, given the global warming issue. Second, recent studies have documented the role of phytoliths in the greater carbon cycle: it turns out that phytoliths, even though they are made of silica, trap (occlude) quite a bit of carbon. This occlusion effectively sequesters the carbon in a stable long-term sink. So the next time you want to do something about global warming, plant some grass!

Right: Reyerson at Steptoe Butte, overlooking the Palouse in eastern Washington. Photo: Paul Reyerson

Paul Reyerson is a PhD student in the Department of Geography, and is advised by Prof. Joe Mason. His research interests are in paleoenvironments and paleoclimatology.


Jamon Van Den Hoek – Investigating the Role of Local Institutions on the Spatial Heterogeneity of Recent Forest Cover Change in Southwest China

household fuelwood supply with village sacred forest in backgroundHousehold fuelwood supply with village sacred forest in backgroundMy research addresses problems at the intersection of environmental change and environmental policy in culturally Tibetan areas, areas which are often at the margins of environmental conditions, political economy, and livelihood alternatives. I'm currently conducting fieldwork in the mountainous northwest corner of Yunnan Province in southwestern China. Since 2000, there has been a ban on commercial logging here, yet recent forest cover changes show significant spatial variability across the region with some areas still experiencing extensive forest loss. My research is focused on exploring village-level factors which have contributed to the spatial heterogeneity of forest cover changes over the last ten years. Specifically, I examine how earlier communal forest redistributions by the Chinese central government have had lasting impacts on current patterns of forest cover change, why pre-logging ban forest resource use practices have often persisted despite current state restrictions, and how institutional variability across neighboring villages has affected the villages' respective forests in different ways. .

To address my research objectives, I take an interdisciplinary approach incorporating remote sensing imagery, GIS spatial modeling, household- and village-level interviews, and participatory mapping of village landscapes to establish linkages between land cover changes seen in satellite imagery and local factors which impact forest resource access and use. Additionally, I use a political ecology and common property resource framework to investigate the role of village institutions on forest resource use under the novel environmental policy conditions of the last ten years. A more detailed summary of my research is available at


Yen-Chu Weng – Crossing the Expert-Lay Divide: Nature, Science, and Ecological Restoration

volunteers cutting shrubs Volunteers help with cutting non-native shrubs at the Arboretum (Madison) Ecological restoration has become a popular form of citizen participation in environmental management. Especially in the urban areas, there are many opportunities for volunteers to help with restoration projects as a way to reconnect with nature. Started out as a volunteer at the UW Arboretum myself, I found the idea of "human assistance in ecosystem recovery" attractive and empowering. The more I got involved in the restoration activities; however, I realized that there are many inherent controversies in ecological restoration, both as an ideology and as a practice. Particularly, everyone involved in the process has his/her own ideas about nature and the proper role of humans in dealing with the natural environment. While an increasing number of restoration projects have been carried out through a collaboration of ecological scientists, professional practitioners, and the general public (as volunteers and concerned citizens), the internal dynamics and interactions among these various actors have little been addressed.

volunteers help with seed collectionVolunteers help with seed collection at a city natural area (Ann Arbor) Existing literature on public participation in ecological restoration often champions the cultivation of citizen environmental stewardship and the intimate connections between people and nature brought by such experience. Although my preliminary case studies also confirm these positive influences from volunteering, a closer examination reveals some tensions between the "experts" and the "lay" volunteers. The fundamentally different interpretations of "nature" and "science" in ecological restoration are the main sticking points for conflicts. Where as the professionals regard ecological restoration as restoring the natural environment based on scientific practices, volunteers view restoration as restoring human-nature connections and care about the social, psychological, and educational benefits from participating in restoration projects. The unequal power relationship between experts and lay volunteers further widen the chasm between the actor groups.

Yen-Chu Weng applies herbicide to cut stumpsYen-Chu Weng applies herbicide to cut stumpsTo better engage all sides of the debate, my dissertation research aims to address these diverse perspectives on ecological restoration from the standpoint of positionality. The research takes a comparative case-study approach to explore the dynamics of public participation in ecological restoration in two Midwestern cities—Madison, Wisconsin and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Integrating both qualitative and quantitative research methods, including participant observation, semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, publication analyses, and questionnaire surveys, my dissertation aims to map out the knowledge-discourse-practice nexus of ecological restoration and to identify potential conflicts and spaces for integration among the various actor groups. By analyzing the dynamics among the social actors involved and addressing the challenges and opportunities for democratization, this research will foster dialogue between experts and lay volunteers and contribute to the recurring appeals for more integrative approaches in ecological restoration.

Please see my website for more information on my research


James Alberts – Comparing Perception Maps Indicates Common Traits

Perception MapThroughout the history of cartography examples of maps which depict the world in relative, yet spatially inaccurate terms exist. These maps which are blatantly inaccurate in respect to actual physical geography yet may be considered accurate because they portray the world as it was perceived by the ancient cartographer. (See inset at right, map section showing spatial distortion of streets.)

What fascinates me about this is that maps which appear "wrong" are still very much correct because they depict the perception of the world rather than the actual world itself. I began thinking about the way in which individuals perceive the world. Surely everyone perceives their surroundings a bit differently; what I wanted to do was map these differences. It is interesting that mental maps work (that is, they are highly functional), even if they are not spatially accurate. I hoped that by studying and comparing the spatial distortions of people's mental maps from my hometown, I'd gain insight into how they perceive and function within that real space.

Perception Map

I gathered "mental maps" of my hometown from four individuals that live in the same neighborhood (see process frames above). The volunteers were to draw a map of town. The map could be drawn in any manner as long as it included the five predetermined landmarks which were evenly distributed throughout town. The complete maps were then scanned into Photoshop, converted to vector format, and exported to Illustrator. A base map was obtained from ESRI's StreetsUSA dataset. The raw base map was exported to Illustrator, cleaned up and simplified. The base map and hand-drawn mental maps were overlaid and aligned as well as they possibly could be. The next step involved a sort of "rubber sheeting" technique, where the base map was distorted to match the hand-drawn map. This was accomplished by maintaining the integrity of intersections on the base map. These intersections were then forced to coincide with the intersections of the hand-drawn version. The end result is a complete map of town that displays that individual's spatial distortion - or a fleshed-out mental map. The results are indeed interesting to look at. They provide an insight into both common perceptive traits and an individual's relationship with his or her surroundings.

Full-size Perception Map

--   James Alberts earned a GIS Certificate in the Department of geography at UW-Madison in 2005.


Nick Bauch – The politics of counter-culture food production and consumption in the United States

The overarching goal of this research is to understand how counter-culture food production and consumption have been used and politicized through time in the United States. I am particularly interested in the history of conceptions of nature in the USA and how those conceptions have altered agricultural landscapes. Nick Bauch MS researchI want to understand how alternative agricultural practices, and their associated transformations of space and place, have been used to represent and promote an ever-changing relationship between humans and their environment.

This idea springs from my Master's research, where I began by looking at the enactment of a law in the European Union that allows producers to trademark their food product as authentic if their site of production lies within the boundaries of a specified territory. According to lawmakers and advertising rhetoriticians, the sites of production in the cases of the protected EU food products are much more than locations in Newtonian space. They are instead denoted as places of tradition and spirit, where familial ties and ancient social networks breathe life into the food products. In addition, these places of production are framed as having the sole physical environment on earth capable of making the authentic versions of the food products.

Rather than ask if this was true or not, or why this law was made possible, my Master's thesis probed at the meeting point of two of these food products (Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma, both from Parma, Italy) with American consumer culture. A simple way to put the main question of the thesis is "what about these products, real or imagined, is attractive to consumers?" My conclusions were based on the very broad geographical concept of experiencing "over there," or other places. More specifically my conclusions can be broken down into three parts: 1) the mental space of Parma, Italy and the image of Italy as a whole, 2) the visceral, ingestive connection with another place that only food allows, and 3) the moral consideration that goes into supporting this type of agricultural production.

I am now interested in expanding this research, and in giving it a nudge toward the historical. I see geographically labeled foods, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma, as members of a larger set of foods that all share a common aesthetic thread. This set can perhaps be most simply defined in the context of the politics of agriculture - they all counter large-scale, Fordist production methods of food. What I have in mind are things like organic foods, community supported agriculture, farmer's markets, heritage seeds, geographically labeled foods, and grocery cooperatives. Nick Bauch PhD research on community-based agricultureCommunity supported agriculture farm space in southern Wisconsin.Often interrelated, these forms of food acquisition and consumption are also political statements.

What I want to do for my dissertation is show how these counter-mass agricultural movements have waxed and waned in America over the past 50-100 years. While I see these combined food movements as a political event, I feel that no political movement can be successful without ideological and aesthetic backing. It is the development of this backing that concerns me. The movements seem to promote the intersection of nature, cultural history, and place as something with a high moral value, a value that is certainly not ubiquitous in time or space. I am interested in discovering why in this time and space it is growing in importance.


Dawn Biehler – In the Crevices of the City: Public Health, Urban Neighborhoods, and the Creatures We Call Pests

Ecologists and environmental policymakers have in recent years become increasingly interested in urban ecosystems, where the interface of social and natural systems poses unique challenges for reform efforts. One fertile domain for exploring these interactions is the complex and changing relationship between animals identified as "pests" and the human beings whose lives are entangled with them.

the infectious fly, a flier from 1916 Chicago department of healthClick image above for larger view

In the early 1900s city health departments across the US warned the public that houseflies could carry a variety of infectious diseases. This illustration comes from a flier distributed by the Chicago Health Department in 1916. Though it is more likely that disease agents were transmitted by contaminated drinking water or dirty human hands, belief in the vector role of flies led officials to urge households to take responsibility for screening their homes against these insects.

Pest animals have been implicated in many kinds of health risks, among them infectious diseases ranging from typhus to West Nile virus, exposure to pesticides used to control vermin, and indoor allergens such as arthropods, their body parts and excrement. This project will examine how poverty, the physical environment, and pest control strategies have shaped the historical geography of human-pest interactions in US cities from 1900 to the present. The main objectives are to assess the effects of past interventions in pest problems and to show how communities navigated political challenges related to pest problems. I analyze archival materials, past scientific research, and interviews to reconstruct pest control programs and understand how they failed or succeeded with reference to urban ecosystems and epidemiology. I also trace ideas about pest control in the context of shifting attitudes toward the environment and urban animals. The study will reveal how political controversies affected neighborhoods with high pest populations; preliminary findings show that communities have resisted the spatial stigma of infestation, and have faced difficulties implementing preventive approaches to pest control. Initial results also suggest that both low-income, inner-city communities and suburban fringe areas have experienced the ecology of unintended consequences, for example the growth of pest populations at urban renewal sites mid-century and around subdivisions today, and exposure to toxic pesticides in the course of efforts to protect against pest-borne illness.

rat control pilot program mapClick image for larger view. In the mid-1960s rats were physical and symbolic emblems of the neglect of central-city communities, and they became much more than a symbol for the thousands of people each year who were actually bitten by rats. In 1968 Congress and the Johnson Administration allocated funding to implement intensive rat control programs in several cities across the US. Milwaukee was the first city to receive a grant. This map shows the portions of Milwaukee designated for the pilot program.

The analysis of historical relationships among human communities, the urban physical environment, and populations of urban wildlife will help to explain current urban environmental and health problems. By tracing failures, injustices, and successes in past responses to vermin by public, private, scientific, and activist institutions, the researchers will be able to inform present-day efforts to protect urban communities from pest-related disease. The project also bears implications for current efforts to cultivate healthy ecological systems in cities: urban animals and emerging disease vectors pose both ethical and practical challenges for urban ecology programs, and this project will examine the past as a guide to addressing these problems.

[Of note: Biehler's dissertation grant application for this project is posted by the National Science Foundation as a model for other grant applicants. see it here ]


Ryan Galt – The Political Ecology of Regulatory Risk in Costa Rica: Export Farmers' Responses to U.S. Pesticide Residue Regulations

A potato harvest high on the flanks of Volcán IrazúThis paper adds to the literature on risk in agriculture by examining farmers' responses to an unappreciated form: regulatory risk. Unlike much of the literature on pesticide use in developing countries in which misuse and abuse are apparently the norm, many farmers exercise considerable caution in their pesticide use on the main export crops, mini-squash and chayote, in Northern Cartago and the Ujarrás Valley, Costa Rica. Export farmers in the area are generally careful about pesticide residues in a number of ways, including the selection of insecticides of less residual chemical classes, general respect for recommended pesticide doses, and adherence to pre-harvest intervals (PHIs) for insecticides. Regulatory risk from pesticide residue requirements for export markets and the specific way in which it is socially mediated by exporters and the state have led to a partial rationalization of pesticide use among most farmers who produce for export markets. However, the history of residue violations in the area and a local misinterpretation A worker sprays pesticides on sweet corn for exportof pesticides' color bands leads farmers to exercise more caution with PHIs of insecticides than with fungicide PHIs. The resulting lack of caution with fungicide PHIs raises the possibility of dramatically increased pesticide residue violations if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changes its pesticide residue testing strategies. Thus, while the export mini-squash and chayote sectors in Costa Rica are both currently political ecologies of success, this success remains extremely precarious.

Photos (click for larger image):
TOP,  A potato harvest high on the flanks of Volcán Irazú.
BOTTOM, A worker sprays pesticides on sweet corn for export.

Keywords: pesticides, export agriculture, Costa Rica


Mara Goldman – Maasai and Conservation Science: Ecology, communication, and the politics of knowledge in northern Tanzania

In northern Tanzania movements of wildlife outside of the parks onto village lands has led to growing interest by international conservation agencies to initiate community-based conservation (CBC) projects to protect wildlife across increasingly humanized landscapes.

Knowledge of wildlife movements, local ecological processes, and suggestions for conservation-related land use planning, came directly from European and American researchers and International NGOs (Non-Profit Organizations) working in the area.Maasai leader watches elephants that had disrupted meeting Plans therefore reflect Northern ideas of nature, human-nature relations, scientific priorities (i.e. biodiversity), and socio-cultural processes of knowledge dissemination and resource management.

I am interested in local (Maasai) knowledge regarding wildlife, ecological processes and land use planning, as well as processes of knowledge dissemination and resource management. My research focuses on this interface between a globalized conservation science-culture applied locally and a localized science-culture, facing issues of global concern. My dissertation research was strongly influenced by appeals from within feminist/social studies of science to interrogate relations of power and hybridity at the nature-society and scientific-indigenous knowledge interfaces. Specifically, I combine social and natural science techniques to ask how local Maasai residents in northern Tanzania could contribute to scientific dialogues regarding wildlife conservation in the humanized landscape.

(Photo, at right: a local Maasai traditional leader (olaiguenani) and member of the steering committee of a new community-based conservation area, the Manyara Ranch. Elephants had disrupted the meeting by coming close to the meeting spot to access water in the nearby tank. Everyone was so interested in the elephants that all interest in the meeting was lost. Elephants use the Ranch on a seasonal basis. It was the dry season and the they were in search of water! Photo by Mara Goldman)

My research involves a critical engagement with both local Maasai knowledge (ecological, geographic) and Western conservation science (conservation biology, wildlife ecology, and GIScience) to understand current land use patterns of people and animals, competing knowledge productions and knowledge communication processes, and alternative conservation solutions.

Specifically, I combine ecological, ethnographic and geographic data to 1) delineate the spatial and temporal distribution of wildlife and livestock in village lands; 2) critically explore Maasai and scientific knowledge regarding wildlife, rangeland ecology, and geography; and 3) propose methods to best facilitate dialogues of negotiation between Maasai and scientific knowledges, both practically (through improved participation in community-based conservation) and theoretically (in theorizing and writing about different Mara Goldman in Tanzaniaknowledge systems). This last emphasis forms the foundation of my thesis, and relies heavily on the insights of science studies, combined with other scientific methods/tools (including participatory GIS mapping) and with components of indigenous Maasai communication processes.

The goal here is to (re)present all knowledge claims (Maasai and scientific) as partial and socially situated, while never losing focus of the macro- and micro- power relations central to any knowledge exchange and heightened in environmental resource management contexts. I conducted field research from January 2002-2004 in the local languages of Swahili and Maasai.

(Photo, at right: Mara Goldman in Tanzania with sick livestock)

After finishing her PhD, Goldman will be leaving for an NSF International Postdoc in Kenya/Tanzania for a year working on a project called "Communication and the Politics of Participation in Pastoral Societies: An ethno-geographical analysis in East Africa." Starting in Sept. 2007, Goldman will teach in the Department of Geography at the University of Colorado at Boulder.


Leila Gonzales – Late Glacial No-Analog Climates and Vegetation

Ulmus and Poaceae from sediment core, ZajacThis research comprises my dissertation topic in which I am using palynology, expanded response surface modeling and a regional vegetation model to reconstruct the vegetation and climate history at a site in north-eastern Illinois during the late glacial period. This time period is very interesting because climates during the late-glacial period (16ka - 9ka) had no modern analog. Likewise the vegetation communities did not have any modern analog either.

IMAGE AT RIGHT: Elm (Ulmus) pollen grain (top image) and a folded grass grain (Poaceae) from the Crystal Lake, Illinois sediment core.

The first part of this project involves reconstructing the vegetation history of Crystal Lake, Illinois through pollen analysis. Once I finished this part of the project, I was able to compare my results with those of two nearby sites that show similar patterns. During the late glacial period, spruce was dominant on the the landscape at this site. Black ash also appears in the record along with fir and larch which would suggest wetter conditions during this perod. The peak of pine and birch during the Pleistocene-Holocene transistion suggests greater fire frequency during this period of time as forests were changing from coniferous late glacial forest to the deciduous forests of the Holocene.

Leila core scraping 2006The next step in this project is to model late-glacial climates by developing a new variant on response surfaces, called expanded response surfaces. Expanded response surfaces attempt to estimate pollen-climate relationships for climates outside the modern climate domain.

I derived the response surfaces from a new dataset of >4500 North American surface pollen samples and modeled the pollen relative abundances relative to bioclimatic indicies for specific late-glacial taxa common to three late-glacial pollen records from northeastern Illinois. I assumed that relative pollen abundance responds follow a unimodal, symmetrical distribution to climate variables. All of the taxa in the dataset show this symmetrical, unimodal pattern; however some taxa have distributions that are truncated at high abundances by the edge of the modern climate envelope. I assumed that species with truncated distributions have fundamental niches that extend beyond the current realized climate space.

After this step is completed, I will run the climate generated by the expanded response surfaces through a regional vegetation model to see if the model simulates the type of vegetation cover represented in the pollen records.

Above: Leila Gonzales  scrapes sediment cores
at the Limnological Research Center, 2006

Reece Jones – Political borders, social boundaries, and identity categories:
The borderlands of India and Bangladesh

Boundaries play a crucial role in defining group identity categories such as nation, ethnicity, and race because they distinguish between the We of the group and the Other of those on the outside. Reece Jones conducting field interviews in BangladeshAlthough these social boundaries can often appear to be fixed and eternal, particularly when they are inscribed on maps in the form of political borders, they have to be re-fixed and reiterated on a daily basis in order to reify their meaning.

At right: Reece conducting interviews in Bangladesh (September 2006).

In recent years, some scholars have suggested that the processes of globalization are undermining economic, social, and cultural boundaries in what is becoming a borderless world. Although particular boundaries may indeed be transcended, these same advances in transportation and communication have resulted in the need to strengthen and patrol other borders and boundaries. This need to partition off dangerous 'others' is particularly evident in the recent border fencing that has been carried out in the United States, Israel, and India under the banner of the war on terror.

man standing on stoneMy dissertation research in India and Bangladesh investigates the discourses of terrorism and security that allow governments to build these fences. I also look at everyday narratives and practices that do the work of bounding and ordering group identity categories in the Bengali speaking communities along the border between India and Bangladesh.

At left: Riton Quiah standing on a border stone that marks the border between Bangladesh (on left) and India (on right).

Marie Peppler – Effects of Magnitude and Duration of Large Floods on Channel Morphology: A Case Study of North Fish Creek, Bayfield County, Wisconsin, 2000-2005

Impacts of a flood on a stream are closely related to the magnitude and duration of the flood. Many applied applications in fluvial geomorphology are focused on the importance of the effective flow, i.e. bankfull flow, as the driving force in channel form and biotic function. Reliance on bankfull stage may be insufficient in areas where the bankfull flow is not the photo by Chapin Storraronly factor affecting channel morphology. The present study shows that the rare floods of catastrophic magnitude also influence channel form, move large volumes of sediment, and leave strong imprints on channel morphology. This thesis presents results from monitoring changes in channel morphology and bluff erosion following installation of flow-deflecting vanes at three eroding bluff sites along North Fish Creek, Wisconsin, over the period 2000-05. Channel and bluff changes are described in the context of four floods that occurred from 2001-2005. Channel responses were measured following floods that involved 1-7 flood peaks and illustrated a range of high magnitude, low frequency flows caused by differing rainfall and/or snowmelt conditions. Changes in channel morphology (based on changes in cross-section profiles) were quantified in terms of volume of sediment eroded or deposited along survey transects representing point bar, streambed, bars, and bluff margin locations.

photo by Marie PepplerResults show that a flood of moderate magnitude and long duration (30 days duration, 100 year flood recurrence interval and 39 days duration, 25-50 year flood recurrence interval) shows a pattern in progressive downstream deposition with distance from cross sections that experienced net erosion. More extreme, high magnitude floods (2 and 7 days duration, greater than 1,000 year rainfall recurrence interval) were found to produce different cross section to cross section morphologic changes depending on durations of flow and numbers of flood peaks. An extremely flashy flood mobilizes large amounts of sediment, but a longer duration flood or a second flood peak is required to produce total net erosion of all cross sections over an extended reach. If it can be assumed that present data are representative of long-term flood frequency behavior for North Fish Creek, for example, over a 1,000 year period, then in spite of the large photo by Ted Koehlermagnitudes of erosion and sedimentation documented for recent extreme floods, summation of net sediment exchange implies that the smaller magnitude floods, transport more sediment in the long-term than do low frequency, high magnitude floods. This conclusion supports Wolman and Miller's (1960) conclusion that low magnitude, high frequency floods are more important than low frequency, high magnitude floods for the long term erosion and sedimentation from a small watershed. Nevertheless, present results also show the importance of extreme floods for exceeding stability thresholds of a channel system, such as incision of a previously long-term armored channel bed. These types of adjustments were observed to produce important lateral and vertical changes in the channel morphology.

Of note:
Continuing her student work and publishing, Peppler will be working as a geographer at the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center.


Feng Qi – Knowledge discovery from 'area-class' natural resource maps and knowledge-based natural resource modeling and mapping

Feng Qi, doctoral student in Geography, reports that she spent most of summer 2005 in China as part of the Chinese Professionals in GIS (CPGIS) Young Scholar Summit Program.

Qi delivered talks in two Universities covering Artificial Intelligence Techniques and GIS, with a specific focus on her dissertation research: Spatial Data Mining for Natural Resource Modeling. Qi also attended an international conference on Fuzzy Logic in Beijing.

Current research by Qi focuses on knowledge discovery from 'area-class' natural resource maps and knowledge-based natural resource modeling and mapping. While previous work and publications have demonstrated the success of using spatial data mining methods in extracting valuable knowledge from such maps, the current focus is on representing and extracting knowledge for categorizing geographic entities with indeterminate boundaries. In doing so, the research examines geographic knowledge discovery from the perspective of human cognition. Specifically, it aims to develop a scheme for organizing knowledge used in categorizing and mapping such geographic entities and investigate data mining algorithms for extracting such knowledge from choropleth maps.

Qi: Layers reveal natural resource knowledge

The involvement of high tech tools such as GIS and Remote Sensing in the last two decades has already brought unabated growth of geographical data in hundreds and thousands of gigabytes, not to mention the amassed maps and survey records over centuries. It calls for endeavors to applying data mining approach to geographic data, which is known as spatial data mining or geographic knowledge discovery.

With the distinct power of discovering previously unclear knowledge in spatial data, spatial data mining not only improves our spatial data analysis abilities, knowledge discovery from previously underutilized data sources (e.g. image data, map data, etc.) also provides an alternative to knowledge construction for knowledge-based systems where traditional knowledge acquisition is difficult. Qi's research interests lie in knowledge discovery from spatial databases for the purpose of knowledge-based environmental modeling.

Read Qi's complete research agenda >>

In 2004, Qi published "Knowledge discovery from 'area-class' resource maps: data preprocessing for noise reduction" in Transactions in Geographical Information Science, 8(3), 297-308.


Gordon Robertson – Human historical impacts on the highland landscape: the case from Knoydart

Microtopographic Evidence of Human-Landscape Interactions in Knoydart Peninsula, Scotland, UK

ABSTRACT: Human occupation and land use in rugged areas is often dictated by topography, bedrock and glacial geology, and microclimate. Evidence of prehistoric patterns of agriculture in north-western Europe has been largely obliterated by more recent constructs, but wild regions of western Scotland hold remarkably preserved evidence of past human activities. The Knoydart peninsula of western Scotland is a sparsely populated, remote area of heath-covered hills comprised primarily of Moinian pelitic and micaceous schists and psammites/semi-pelites. Slope topography is steep and rocky, with few low-lying areas suitable for long-term sustainable settlement. The climate is tempered by moderate ocean currents, which bring frequent rain and mist, and limit direct sunlight. Natural fertility of the soil is low and agriculture could only be accomplished through alteration of the natural landscape and addition of nutrients.

Human historical impacts on the highland landscape, RobertsonUsing historic land surveys, several agrarian use areas were visually identified along the coastal reaches of Knoydart. The microtopographic patterns on this landscape are striking. Land areas modified by subsistence communities consisted of sets of 2-3m wide, 20-27m long and 0.5m high raised beds in three general areas on the landscape: 1) low relief coastal toeslope, 2) moderate relief footslope, and 3) high relief backslope. Most extensive sets (up to 5 x 104 m2) occurred in the low to moderate relief areas, where amendments such as cattle manure, seaweed, and shell sand could most easily be transported to the fields. Beds were oriented parallel to slope on the toe and foot-slopes, but tended to be smaller (20-500m2) in high relief areas. Backslope sets also appeared to be less developed, suggesting limited use. The largest field areas occurred preferentially in areas of micaceous schist bedrock and in the limited areas of glacial deposits, where thicker soils would naturally form. Buried organically enriched horizons representing the original soil surfaces within the beds were found at 30-40cm depth. Extensive soil samples across these anthropogenically-altered landscapes will be assessed for soil biogeochemical indicators in effort to clarify the history of this once active and well-preserved human landscape.


Robert Rose – Changing Farms, Changing Forests: A Multi-scaled Model of Land Cover Change in Northwestern Wisconsin

As human use of the biosphere expands and intensifies, we are reconfiguring terrestrial ecosystems, changing the global climate, and altering the distribution and numbers of species drastically (Meyer and Turner II 1992; Peterson 2000). Agricultural landscapes are particularly dynamic as shifts in farm economies cause rapid changes in land use (Burel and Baudry 1995) . To understand the environmental outcome of anthropogenic change, we need to empirically link social processes with ecosystem conditions. Geographers are particularly well northwestern Wisconsin land coversuited for such research given their long-term theoretical interest in people-environment interactions and their newfound powerful analytical techniques, especially in GIS and remote sensing.

Changes in land use regimes from logging to farming to recreation and urban housing in northwestern Wisconsin have had significant impacts on the regional forest cover. Current studies have shown that as a whole, forest cover in northwestern Wisconsin has grown steadily since 1970. But the regional expansion of forests masks significant forest loss and or fragmentation in certain areas and habitat types of Northern Wisconsin . Three prominent shifts in land use are causing forest loss, in direct opposition to regionally observed trends: tourism and recreation development in shorelines, the consolidation of small farm operations and the growth in year-round housing. The goal of this research is to analyze these trends at the local level to see how they impact long term forest recovery.

The proposed research uses remotely sensed data in a multi-scaled, trajectory analysis to model the pattern of land cover change due to fundamental shifts in agricultural economies, the recreation industry and urban growth. This project will analyze land use and forest cover change from 1975-2001, a period of farm consolidation, falling commodity prices and a boom of the recreation industry. Specifically, I intend to answer the following question: how has the consolidation of agricultural landholdings and growth of urban and recreation/vacation homes affected forest cover and forest fragmentation in northwestern Wisconsin ?

Given its dynamic land use history and the availability of long-term social and physical data, Northwestern Wisconsin presents a unique opportunity to conduct research on the changing pattern of land use and land cover at both the local (farm) and regional (multiple county) scales. Northwestern Wisconsin is a physically and socially heterogeneous landscape. Thus, the impact of socioeconomic change will affect specific areas differently, depending on the initial conditions of a given piece of land. Therefore, this research will use a spatially explicit and multi-scaled approach to model land cover changes in relation to land use transitions.

The approach will first use field interview data to identify the important factors influencing land use changes at the property level. The field interviews will focus on identifying the relevant social and economic factors, such as increasing land taxes, age of land owner or zoning regulations as well as spatial factors such as distance from nearest water body, distance from urban center or size of farm that may lead to land use changes. Next, multiple date, satellite image analysis will provide information regarding land cover change at the local and regional level respectively over a twenty-five year period (1975-2001) at approximately five year intervals. Satellite data will provide the trajectory of land use change at the pixel level where the trajectory describes the initial land cover at time one and subsequent land cover at time two. These data will then be combined with socioeconomic and spatial data in a geographic information system (GIS) using regression analysis in order to model the factors influencing land cover change.

The second part of the study looks at changes in forest fragmentation using landscape ecology methods. These methods include the use of landscape metrics, such as contagion and connectivity to determine whether the forest has become more or less fragmented over time. Landscape metrics will be calculated for each satellite image and then changes in the metric over time will be quantified.

This research will contribute a better understanding of the effects of local land use transitions on forest change. It will provide information on both the amount and the patterns of forest change at both the local and regional level and will provide valuable land change information to land use planners, local governments and state conservationists. It is important to understand both the scale and pattern of forest change for a number of reasons. First, the recovery of stable, continuous forests will enhance the recovery efforts of wildlife species such as wolves and it is important to know where these forests are or will be in the future. Rob RoseSecond, as the urban areas expand into forested regions, new concerns arise such as increased risk of fire damage, decreasing water quality and increased risk for negative human/wildlife interactions and by modeling changes and predicting future landscapes, planners can begin to guide development objectives and restrictions. Moreover, by modeling the relationship between land use and social, economic and geographic factors, the results will add to the growing body of research on linking socioeconomic and spatial factors to land cover change studies in a multi-scaled manner.

Robert Rose graduated with a doctoral degree from the Department of Geography at UW-Madison in the Fall of 2007 with the help of his advisor Lisa Naughton. While at UW-Madison he was a TA for Geography 377, "Intro to Geographic Information Systems" and lectured Geography 360 "Quantitative Methods." Robert also worked for 2 years in the Harvard Map Collection as a GIS instructor.


Ben Sheesley – TypeBrewer: Design and Evaluation of an Online Cartographic Design Help Tool for Selecting Map Typography

An abundance of geographic data and readily available mapmaking software have contributed to the democratization of cartography and map design. Non-specialist mapmakers can now be found among the  general population of spatial information users.

click to visit TypeBrewerMy research argues that the role of cartographers must now include facilitating the mapmaking practices of non-specialists. Map typography, particularly  selecting visual properties of text (e.g., typeface, size, tracking, weight, posture, case, etc.) is an element of map design that is  particularly challenging and where resources are difficult to obtain and/or do not contain specific, practical design help that many mapmakers require.

The purpose of my research is to design and  evaluate TypeBrewer, an online map design help tool that facilitates  the typographic design choices of non-specialist mapmakers. TypeBrewer should encourage broadened thinking and learning about map typography as well as offer specific practical guidance for creating type that is legible, functional, and visually appealing. Design and  development of TypeBrewer involves research in three main areas: cartography, typography, and human-computer interaction. The success of TypeBrewer will be measured qualitatively during and after its production using focus groups, survey instruments, and map document analyses.


Kevin Spigel – Holocene Lake Sediment Dynamics at Emrick Lake, Wisconsin

My current research is focused on determining how and why erosion and sedimentation dynamics of a Wisconsin lake basin have responded to Holocene environmental change. I am seeking to interpret hydrological relationships between climate, vegetation, wildfire, and human activity. In collaboration with Samantha Kaplan, we recovered a ~9m Kevin Spigel loading core segment on the GEOTEKlake sediment core from Emrick Lake in Marquette County, Wisconsin in early February 2004 (approximately 2.7 km. northwest of Oxford; T.15N, R. 8 E., Sec. 7, N.W. ).

(Photo at right: Spigel loading a core segment on the GEOTEK at the Limnological Research Center (LRC) at the University of Minnesota.)

Emrick Lake was chosen because of its proximity to the prairie-forest ecotone, a location sensitive Holocene climate and vegetation change. More importantly, Emrick Lake's morphometry is such that varves (laminated sediments that represent the annual deposition of eroded or autochthonous material) exist, thus providing an additional source of age control beyond radiocarbon analysis. We used a modified piston corer for our long core and we also used a frozen finger corer to recover the sediment-water interface. A basal date on the core yielded a radiocarbon age of 9930 +/-70 yr. BP, a second date from a charcoal sample came back at 11,600 +/- 320 yr. BP. Laboratory analysis underway includes loss-on-ignition, pollen, charcoal, and environmental magnetism.


Ben Sheesley and Jeff Stone – American Birkebeiner Cross Country Ski Marathon

Winner of the 2005 ACSM-CaGIS National Geographic Society Award for Electronic Maps, Student Division

Sheesley and  Stone mapThe primary design objective of the American Birkebeiner map was to visualize a race whose results had previously been published in tabular form only.

Creation of an attractive base map showing the course and surrounding area was also a major design objective. Unique features of the map facilitate comparisons between racers using interactive selection and benchmarking tools, as well as by permitting a normal or synchronized race start. These features are explained for map users in the map's "Instructions" and "Help" menus.

The map is intended for an audience motivated to explore, analyze, and invest time with the race information, such as race participants, race spectators, and race organizers.

Experience the complete interactive map here >