Susan Meerdink Awarded NASA NESSF Award

posted May 21, 2015, 5:22 PM by akthorpe   [ updated May 21, 2015, 5:24 PM ]

Susan Meerdink was awarded a NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship (NESSF) for her proposal, "Discriminating California Plant Species and Evaluating Temperature Relations across Seasons within Drought Impacted Ecosystems." This is a competitive, multi-year award, so congratulations to Susan for her accepted proposal!   

Congratulations Andrew!!

posted May 7, 2015, 7:13 AM by Susan Meerdink   [ updated May 7, 2015, 7:13 AM ]

Yesterday Andrew Thorpe defended his dissertation titled: Mapping and quantifying methane emissions from local sources using airborne imaging spectrometers. Afterwards the VIPER lab and family joined Andrew at the Beachside for lunch to celebrate his successful dissertation defense. It was a fun time with good food and friends! Congratulations Andrew! 

Sarah Shivers Awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

posted Apr 10, 2015, 1:39 PM by Susan Meerdink   [ updated Apr 10, 2015, 1:39 PM ]

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced this year's recipients of Graduate Research Fellowships (GRF), and VIPER lab and UCSB Geography graduate student Sarah Shivers garnered one of them. The fellowship provides three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period ($34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution) for graduate study that leads to a research-based master's or doctoral degree in science or engineering.

Sarah Shivers: My proposal was entitled "Assessing the Capability of Hyperspectral Remote Sensing to Aid in Crop Water Management". My goal is to use remote sensing to better understand patterns of agricultural water use in California, the impacts of the drought, and the ways in which we can optimize use.

According to the NSF web site: “NSF awarded the GRF to 2,000 individuals from among 16,500 applicants in 2015. Awardees represent a diverse group of scientific disciplines and come from all states, as well as the District of Columbia, and commonwealths and territories of the United States. They are also a diverse group of individuals. Among the 2,000 awardees, 1,053 are women, 494 are from underrepresented minority groups, 43 are persons with disabilities, and 31 are veterans. The 2015 class of Graduate Fellows comes from 456 baccalaureate institutions, 72 more than in 2010, when GRFP began awarding 2,000 fellowships each year.

Since 1952, NSF has provided fellowships to individuals selected early in their graduate careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) is a critical program in NSF's overall strategy to develop the globally-engaged workforce necessary to ensure the nation's leadership in advancing science and engineering research and innovation.

A high priority for NSF and GRFP is increasing the diversity of the science and engineering workforce, including geographic distribution and the participation of women, underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, and veterans. With its emphasis on support of individuals, GRFP offers fellowship awards directly to graduate students selected through a national competition.”

Link to Article:

Eating our ABC's

posted Mar 3, 2015, 10:22 AM by Susan Meerdink   [ updated Mar 3, 2015, 10:23 AM ]

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's on the Geography Department too:

VIPERs Star at the AGU Fall Meeting

posted Jan 16, 2015, 4:40 PM by Susan Meerdink   [ updated Jan 16, 2015, 4:40 PM ]

VIPERs Mike Alonzo and Susan Meerdink received Outstanding Student Paper Awards (OSPA) at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting which was held in San Francisco, 15-19 December, 2014. Typically, only the top 3-5% of presenters in each section/focus group are awarded an OSPA. With nearly 24,000 attendees and more than 1,700 sessions, the AGU Fall Meeting is the largest and most prestigious earth and space science meeting in the world.

Over 15,000 posters were presented (all categories), including 3,200 by students this year. Considering that only about 130 OSPAs were given, the fact that UCSB Geography students garnered 3 of them is impressive. Mike and Susan scored gold in the Biogeoscience sector.

Mike’s poster was titled "Mapping Urban Forest Leaf Area Index Using Airborne Lidar" (co-authored by Bodo Bookhagen, Joe McFadden, Alex Sun, and Dar Roberts). “Many urban forest ecosystem services (e.g., air pollution reduction, stormwater runoff dampening, and delay) are governed by canopy leaf area. In this research, we attempted to quantify leaf area in a complex urban environment at fine spatial resolution using airborne lidar. The product of this effort is a citywide map of leaf area that can be used to create spatially explicit estimates of ecosystem structure and function.”

Susan’s oral presentation was titled “Linking Seasonal Foliar Chemistry to VSWIR-TIR Spectroscopy Across California Ecosystems” in Biogeosciences. Her coauthors were Dar Roberts, Jennifer King, Keely Roth, Cibele Amaral, and Simon Hook. “In this research we evaluate the potential of using the Visible Near Infrared/ Short Wave Infrared (VSWIR) and Thermal Infrared (TIR) to identify seasonal plant species foliar traits. The results of this research demonstrate the potential for the proposed NASA Hyperspectral Thermal Imager (HyspIRI) satellite mission to have increased accuracies for prediction of plant traits across all seasons and California ecosystems.”

Excerpt taken from:

Strong Viper presence at HyspIRI Science Workshop

posted Oct 15, 2014, 11:58 AM by akthorpe   [ updated Oct 15, 2014, 12:05 PM ]

Six members of the Viper Lab attended the 2014 HyspIRI Science Workshop at Caltech. This workshop provided an update on mission status and ongoing science results for the proposed HyspIRI satellite mission. A number of presentations were given by the lab, including posters and talks. Advisor Dar Roberts also attended along with a number of Viper alumni.

IDEAS station threatened by Tank Fire

posted Sep 2, 2014, 1:03 PM by Susan Meerdink   [ updated Sep 2, 2014, 1:06 PM ]

On June 26 a fire broke out on the Coal Oil Point Reserve coming within a few meters of the Innovative Datasets for Environmental Analysis by Students (IDEAS) station. The fire, dubbed the Tank Fire, burned approximately 20 acres of vegetation of the 158 acre reserve. While no structures or buildings were damage, some research plots were burned and others threatened. One of the threatened was the IDEAS station, which is maintained by Dar Roberts and hosted by the UCSB Geography Department. Established in 2007, the station contains equipment to measure radiation, wind, precipitation, leaf wetness, temperature, relative humidity, soil moisture and temperature. This equipment measured the close proximity of the fire and can be seen with a large drop in the relative humidity with a peak in temperature. Fortunately no equipment was harmed during the fire and this provides a unique opportunity for future classes.

More information about the IDEAS station can be found at

Dar Roberts Sends Last Letter as Chair

posted Jul 7, 2014, 2:08 PM by Susan Meerdink   [ updated Jul 7, 2014, 2:09 PM ]

Time ticks away, and I am staring out my window. In 59 hours, 49 minutes, and 50 seconds, I will be passing the baton on to Dan Montello – but who’s counting? I can say with confidence that the past five years (minus two months) has without question been a period of greater change in the Department than any one before it. When Oliver Chadwick passed the baton on to me, the country was in a state of crisis – embroiled in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. This impacted us all – many staff had to be let go, departmental budgets were cut brutally, and class enrollments climbed while TA support declined. A recent faculty search for a new human geographer was canceled, and faculty and staff took a pay cut, otherwise described as a furlough.

As the ancient Greek dramatist, Menander (341/342 to 290 BCE) once stated, “Time heals all wounds” (or more precisely, “Time is the healer of all necessary evils”), and five years down the line, the Department is, in my opinion, as healthy as it has ever been. My tenure as Chair could be best characterized as a period of immense change. During my tenure, the department experienced a record number of retirements, including Terry Smith (2010), Mike Goodchild (2012), Catherine Gautier(2013), and Joel Michaelsen (2014, unless the Chancellor convinces Joel otherwise). We have also experienced numerous losses due to separation, starting with Martin Raubal (2011),Chris Still (2012), and most recently (and sadly), Bodo Bookhagen (2014).

However, we have also kept some of our best and gained some new colleagues, starting with the return of Phaedon Kyriakidis in 2011, immediately benefitting a new generation of graduate students with his excellence of instruction in geostatistics. Other gains quickly followed, including the successful hire of Krzysztof Janowicz in 2011, Werner Kuhn in 2013, Charles Jones in the same year, and two new hires in 2014, Susan Cassels and Tim Devries. Each brought a new dimension to the Department.

Krzysztof Janowicz is an expert in Geographic Information Science, semantic interoperability, geospatial ontologies, and big data analysis. He was successfully “poached” from another highly ranked Geography Department, Penn State, and came with a reputation of excellence in instruction and high energy. His impact in the department has already been large, including teaching a highly popular graduate level course on Java Programming and attracting many highly talented new graduate students to the program. Werner Kuhn was hired as the Jack and Laura Dangermond Chair and is the new Director of the Spatial Center. Werner is also an expert in Geographic Information Science, with specializations in semantic interoperability, ontology, and human-computer interactions for geo-design. He has already taken a firm hand in directing the Spatial Center, and we expect great things.

Charles Jones is an expert in mesoscale modeling, with specializations in improved precipitation forecasts by inclusion of intermediate-scale temporal phenomena, such as the Madden-Julian Oscillation. Charles is also an expert in wind modeling and has worked extensively in fire danger assessment. Susan Cassels and Tim Devries are our two newest hires and bring two very different specializations to us. Susan is an expert in demography and human health and is interested in human behavior and social networks, using statistical modeling to understand better how these modify the spread of diseases such as AIDS. Tim Devries is an inverse modeler who helped develop the model OCIM, which provides a framework for incorporating ocean chemistry and biology into a sophisticated three dimensional circulation model to improve our understanding of global ocean biogeochemical dynamics. We are very excited to have Susan and Tim join us.

Considering what the hiring situation looked like in 2009, it is a pleasant surprise to have had the opportunity to hire five new excellent faculty. By my count, we are down seven and up five, which means we still have a bit of work cut out for us.

Other changes have also occurred. Early in my tenure, the department was finally awarded the office space it so richly deserved. Although this occurred under my watch, real credit goes to 20 years of labor from former Chairs, faculty, and staff who relentlessly kept the Department’s needs firmly in the sights of University Administration. Laboratory space remains an issue that has yet to be solved, unfortunately. We also switched email systems and phone communications, both cost savings measures that represent improvements overall but are not universally so. We also continued our commitment to campus service by creating the Interactive Campus Map, which continues to grow and expand over time. Dan Montello led an effort that succeeded in having the Joint PhD program with San Diego State University reviewed by the PRP, and we are implementing a number of revisions to improve that program.

Finally, we have seen many of the cuts in staff healed and have many new faces, including Bryan Karaffa, Ryan Kelley, Patricia Halloran, and for too brief a while, Jose Saleta and Karl Antonsson as Graduate Student Assistant Advisors. I am particularly pleased to report significant increases in undergraduate enrollment in our classes and record numbers of student applications to our graduate program, including 165 applicants in 2012, followed by 153 in 2013 and 164 in 2014 – all larger than any other year in the history of the department.

The success of a department does not depend upon a single individual but, rather, the collective efforts of all members. The fact that UCSB Geography has been so successful and has continued to flourish is a testimony to the excellence of our faculty, staff, and students. While I cannot say that being Department Chair has been easy, I can say that it has been made easier, and far more successful, by the help of so many colleagues, a staff that works wonders, and graduate students who make us proud. It has been an honor to serve the Department as its Chair. However, the clock is still ticking, and the time has come for me to move on.

Dar Roberts.*

*A final thanks is given to all of you who gave me and my family the thoughtful gift of tickets to see the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Loge level on June 29th. The fact that the pitcher was Clayton Kershaw was an added bonus (likely future hall of famer). The Dodgers defeated the Saint Louis Cardinals 6 to 0, and Clayton went on to strike out 13 Cardinals while posting his 28th inning without giving up a run.

Dar Roberts honored for service as dept chair

posted May 22, 2014, 1:31 PM by Mike Alonzo   [ updated Jun 5, 2014, 9:59 AM by Susan Meerdink ]

Prof. Dar Roberts is nearing completion of a 4 year 10 month stint as Chair of the UCSB Department of Geography. He was honored this week for his lengthy service and presented with this lovely plaque. More info regarding his tenure as chair will be posted soon! 

GeoHunt Winners!

posted May 6, 2014, 10:16 AM by Susan Meerdink   [ updated May 6, 2014, 10:21 AM ]

he UCSB Geography Department celebrated it's 40th Anniversary on April 25-26. As part of the celebration they hosted a GeoHunt on Friday morning. The Gaucho GeoHunt combines elements from scavenger hunt & geocaching and provides a great excuse to explore our beautiful campus. Our team which consisted of Mingquan Chen, Susan Meerdink, Zach Tane, Erin Wetherley, and Shane Grigsby was titled "Snakes on a Satellite". Our team won Best Team Name and a $50 Gift Certificate to the UCSB Bookstore!

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