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!

Two Vipers Receive Central Continuing Fellowship Awards

posted May 6, 2014, 8:42 AM by Susan Meerdink   [ updated May 6, 2014, 8:43 AM ]

Congratulations to Mike Alonzo and Erin Wetherley for receiving 2014-2015 central continuing fellowship awards! This is a partial repost from the UCSB Geography Department Newsletter (see full article here).

Mike Alonzo (Graduate Division Dissertation Fellowship): My research goal at UCSB is to develop the methods required to map forest structure and ecosystem function in urban areas. To achieve this goal, I will combine information from two types of remotely sensed data: airborne hyperspectral imagery and light detection and ranging (lidar). The former is frequently used to answer questions about vegetation health, biochemical composition, and morphology and has been previously employed to identify tree species from above. The latter, using laser pulses, can be used to precisely measure the three dimensional structure of landforms, buildings, and forests. I will use the two together in my downtown Santa Barbara, California study area to complete three projects leading to my dissertation. First, I use the hyperspectral and lidar data to identify tree species. Second, I will measure important crown parameters such as leaf area index (LAI). Third, and finally, I will use the species and LAI information to build spatially explicit models of the urban forest’s potential for air pollution removal, stormwater runoff mitigation, and building energy use reduction.

Erin Wetherley (The Brython Davis Endowment Graduate Fellowship): The Brython Davis Endowment Graduate Fellowship is intended to provide support to students who demonstrate outstanding past academic achievement as well as future promise. It is designated for children of regular members of the U.S. Navy or Marine Corps. It provides one-quarter of fellowship support for a continuing graduate student. The objective of my research is to develop an understanding of urban vegetation evapotranspiration using remotely sensed imagery. Currently, more than half the global population lives in an urban area and it is expected that this urban population will continue to grow. The urbanization associated with this mass migration alters local energy and water budgets, impacting local climate, human health, resource use, and economic costs. Urban vegetation evapotranspiration is a key factor in the moderation of urban climate. I am investigating methods that will improve remote urban surface discrimination and describe urban evapotranspiration in order to explore how it changes across the variable urban surface.

Experimenting with Thermal

posted Apr 2, 2014, 8:29 AM by Susan Meerdink   [ updated Apr 2, 2014, 8:33 AM ]

The VIPER lab has recently acquired a FLIR Model T62101 for education purposes. The FLIR company describes the thermal camera as "Packed with every expert feature in a portable thermography system, FLIR T-Series cameras are designed for intensive inspections where long range or high temperature measurements are required, and high resolution and thermal sensitivity are critical." In order to thoroughly understand how the camera and software works, the members of VIPER lab decided to experiment.  Enjoy the results!

Seth Peterson

Mike Alonzo

Zachary Tane

Mingquan Chen

Susan Meerdink

Mike Alonzo Wins 2014 Colwell Memorial Fellowship

posted Apr 1, 2014, 4:44 PM by Susan Meerdink   [ updated Apr 1, 2014, 4:47 PM ]

The American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) awards the Robert N. Colwell Memorial Fellowship annually in order “to encourage and commend college/university graduate students at the PhD level who display exceptional interest, desire, ability, and aptitude in the field of remote sensing or other related geospatial information technologies, and who have a special interest in developing practical uses of these technologies. The Award is made to a graduate student (PhD level) currently enrolled or intending to enroll in a college or university in the United States or Canada who is pursuing a program of study aimed at starting a professional career where expertise is required in remote sensing or other related geospatial information technologies” (source).

UCSB Geography graduate student Mike Alonzo is this year’s recipient of the honor which includes a check in the amount of $6,000 and a one-year student or associate membership (new or renewal) in ASPRS. Applicants are chosen on the basis of remote sensing or other related geospatial information technology courses taken; grade point average; work, research, publishing, and teaching experience related to the field; letters of recommendation; and statements of research goals relating to remote sensing, or other related geospatial information technologies and the applications of these technologies for mapping, monitoring and/or assessing land (including coastal) resources and helping solve land resource planning or management issues (Ibid.).

Mike was an outstanding candidate in terms of all the criteria listed above, but he feels that one of his strongest points may have been his publication of an article (with Keely Roth and Dar Roberts) in Remote Sensing Letters and pending publications in other journals relating to classifying trees in an urban area: “This would make Colwell happy because it is quite applied. In this paper we classified 15 common Santa Barbara urban tree species with 86% accuracy using imaging spectroscopy (AVIRIS sensor). In a paper that builds on this paper (Remote Sensing of Environment, in revision) we classify 29 common species with 83% accuracy using fused imaging spectroscopy and lidar data.” Other obvious strong points include Mike’s previous job in urban forestry at the DC non-profit, Casey Trees, and the fact that he helped to found and became the first president of a UCSB student chapter of ASPRS (Shane Grigsby is the current president).

Last but not least was Mike’s statement of research goals, especially in relation to practical applications. To quote the wordsmith: “As an eight year old, I peered out the airplane window over Newark, New Jersey, fascinated by the changing mix of green and gray in the landscape (and the big trucks on I-80). Over time the fascination grew into a passion for studying and engaging with urbanized landscapes in the context of both mapping and environmental management” … “While at 34, I’ve moved beyond counting trucks, I still book the window seat on flights to monitor the changing landscape. I now live in Los Angeles, so every flight climbs to altitude over an enormous and sometimes depressing urban patchwork. The enormity reaffirms my belief that effectively measuring the urban environment in a place like L.A. can only be done using remote sensing tools. The sometimes bleak view motivates my work to give policy makers and citizens the spatial information they need to create more livable and sustainable neighborhoods.”

Presentation of Mike’s award certificate will take place during the ASPRS 2014 Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky at The Galt House Hotel on Tuesday, March 25th at the Awards Luncheon from11:30am to 1:30 pm. Well done, Mike!

Reposted from


posted Sep 23, 2013, 3:51 PM by akthorpe   [ updated Sep 23, 2013, 3:59 PM ]

Andrew Thorpe and Michael Beland were each awarded a NASA Earth and Space Science FellowshipThe two proposals are titled, “Mapping Local Greenhouse Gas Emissions Using Airborne Imaging Spectrometry” and "Mapping Oil-Impacted Vegetation in Louisiana Salt Marshes: Investigating the Effects of Endmember Spatial, Temporal and Inter-Specific Variability on Vegetation Cover Estimates". 

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