Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Neogeography lab helps explore the world

From left Amy Rath, John Bailey, Sheila Dailey, and Alice Orlich take advantage of the neogeography lab.

A lab in the UA Geography Program is opening new worlds to UAF students. The neogeography lab, just opened in the Scenarios Network for Alaska Planning (SNAP) building, makes Google Earth accessible and fun.

John Bailey, SNAP post doctoral fellow, was the inspiration behind the lab, which he envisioned as a place for students to create appealing dynamic visuals of geospatial data. “Google Earth is a virtual globe,” Bailey said. The opening of the lab, with its easy Google Earth access, was timed to coincide with a special topics course in neogeography being offered this spring.

Students in the course are using new Macbooks in the classroom, making for a more interactive experience, Bailey said. The lab hosts two large iMacs for the SNAP staff and students to use.

Marco Delgado, a junior geography student, said the new lab is useful for assignments. “It’s pretty fun,” he said. “The Macs have much more power.” He said he will likely make a habit of using the lab. “It’s a better working environment.”

In addition to boosting the geography classes, the lab is also a think-tank area for the SNAP crew. “It’s a brainstorm area,” Bailey said. “It’s a relaxing environment in which to create.” One entire wall is a whiteboard that can be filled with ideas and drawings. SNAP Director Scott Rupp based the lab on companies such as Google and Facebook that want to have creative places for people to work. “It’s a playful environment with bright colors and comfy couches,” Bailey said. “It’s low-stress.”

SNAP will eventually host brown-bag lunch sessions in the lab, opening the facility to partnering agencies so they can better understand the work that SNAP is doing.

“These tools, Google Earth and such, are not fads,” Bailey said. “These are real life tools that are going to aid people. They do things people would love to be able to do and they are user-friendly.”

Students who learn the skills gain an understanding and appreciation for how Earth looks from space. “That’s what Google Earth has brought to everyone,” Bailey said. “Ten years ago kids didn’t see their houses from space but now everyone does." That type of technology makes it easier to comprehend scientific visualizations without being a GIS specialist or a computer programmer, he said. It also empowers Alaska’s educational community to become skilled in these areas.

With Google Earth 5 people are beginning to see how they can improve their presentations. “It’s a way to present data in an innovative way,” Bailey said. When he does K-12 outreach to teachers and students his advice is that anyone can easily learn to use these tools to create engaging visualizations.

He sees a bright future for neogeography and added it is another exciting component of the geography offerings, added to human and physical geography. “This is interesting to people outside of the geography majors,” Bailey said. He predicted the lab and neogeography skill sets are going to be an important part of SNAP’s climate change work.

Further reading:
Visit John Bailey's website for Google Earth instruction in his Lunch on Earth series.

SNRAS offers new geography courses for spring, SNRAS Science & News, Jan. 6, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

New course meets student demand

Peter Fix at right explains methods of conducting surveys.

A SNRAS special topics course is filling a need that graduate students have been discussing for years. Research Methods for Interdisciplinary Research, NRM 692, is being offered this spring, giving students a smorgasbord of the resources that UAF has to offer so they learn new ways to improve research techniques. Many of the students, but not all, are in the Resilience and Adaptation Program.

Led by Professor Elena Sparrow and Doctoral Candidate Kimberley Maher, the class hosts different professors each week to talk about their particular research methods. UAF Curator of Oral History Bill Schneider talked about how to conduct successful interviews and SNRAS Associate Professor Peter Fix worked with the class on conducting surveys. Assistant Professor Maya Salganek will show how to incorporate film into interdisciplinary research. Other topics on the schedule include: how to utilize existing databases, environmental history/addressing temporal scalar issues, Q method, documenting and mapping traditional ecological knowledge, climate modeling, ecological surveys sampling methods, GIS, and remote sensing.

“We haven’t felt like there has been a good venue to learn about different types of research methods from a variety of disciplines or hear about the range of resources that UAF already has to offer,” Maher said. Graduate students got together last May to envision the course that would best serve their needs as well as help incoming interdisciplinary graduate students avoid some of the problems the students had already faced.

Maher said many departments on campus have wonderful semester-long research methods courses, but graduate students don’t usually have time to take them while discerning if those methods would benefit their work. “This gives students a better idea of how to pursue resources that will benefit their research,” Maher said. After participants are introduced to a particular method they can do activities that give them experience along that line.

Both Maher and Dr. Sparrow believed in the course so much that they donated their time to organize and run it. The lectures are being recorded for future use, with funding provided by EPSCoR.

Friday, February 19, 2010

FFA officers to visit with Legislature

FFA state officers, from left, Corrine Ogle of Homer, Ben Blue of Homer, Emily Henkelman of Homer, Isaac Courson of Palmer, Irene Fry of Palmer, are pictured at the state officer and convention planning meeting.

FFA state officers will celebrate FFA week by meeting with Alaska legislators in Juneau. FFA State Director Jeff Werner, a SNRAS research professional, will accompany FFA State President Corinne Ogle of Homer and State Reporter Isaac Courson of Palmer to the Capitol. While in Juneau the three will talk with legislators about career and technical education programs in Alaska, especially high school agriscience and natural resources education. This year's theme for national FFA Week, Feb. 22-26, is "Lead Out Loud!"

Also while in Juneau the FFA contingent will meet with Commissioner of Education Larry LeDoux, Commissioner of Labor Cliff Bishop, and the Alaska Workforce Investment Board during their annual meeting. Their emphasis with the legislators will be spending time with those who have FFA programs in their districts. "Corrine and Isaac have been preparing for this event and will represent Alaska's young people involved in agriculture and natural resources with pride and dignity," Werner stated.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Scientists, villagers share climate change stories

Tanana residents, from left, Tom Hyslop, Charlie Campbell, and Kathleen Zuray talk to Sidney Stephens about climate change.

Melding local observations and scientific research allows everyone involved to learn something new about climate change from a different perspective. That was the goal of a SNRAS and IARC-sponsored workshop held in Fairbanks Feb. 15-16. The Stakeholders and Climate Change meeting brought together UAF scientists and people who live close to the land to discuss perceptions of changes in climate, weather, and seasonality and the effects the changes are having on the landscape and on subsistence resources and practices.

Residents of Fort Yukon, Chalkyitsik, and Tanana shared their observations on everything from salmon harvests to wildfire to water temperature.

IARC Director Larry Hinzman told the participants, “What’s really important is how climate change is affecting the people of the Arctic. If we know your perspectives we can build models that incorporate the understanding you have.” He cited the work of the late Gerald Mohatt, director of the Center for Alaska Native Health Research, as an example to aspire to. “He always said to listen to the people of Alaska,” Hinzman said.

Listening has been a primary task for project coordinator Sidney Stephens, a UA Geography Program instructor and principal investigator/project lead on the stakeholder project, and William Schneider, UAF oral history curator. Over the past year, the two have traveled to the three villages involved and conducted extensive interviews and collected oral histories about climate change observations. Soon the films will be available for viewing on a website that is being developed, Climate Change Jukebox. “There will be a great deal of information with lots of interviews,” Schneider said.

Another form of communication in the works is a publication that would highlight the results of the project. Sue Steinacher of Nome, who publishes Caribou Trails for the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, said she has observed over the years how there can be a lack of communication between agencies and villagers following a meeting of this type. She wants to prepare a report similar to the caribou document that could be sent to rural residents.

SNRAS Professor Elena Sparrow, co-principal investigator on the project, said she hoped the sessions would create closer working relationships with the university and community experts. “The UAF scientists need this information to better predict and make models that are accurate,” she said. As she works with teachers and students all over Alaska, Sparrow said she always invites local elders to become involved. “It’s very important that teachers understand the Arctic and the Earth as a system; the elders treat everything as a system; everything is connected.”

Discussions brought up a wide range of topics. Tom Hyslop of Tanana noted that he had always looked to the snowcap on the Kokrine Hills as a signal that winter was arriving. “I used to see it the second week of September but now it is later and later and it is not dramatically white anymore.”

James Kelly of Fort Yukon said climate change is interesting to look at. “Through the span of time you identify the changes,” he said. “The tool we use is living on the land and making observations. We sit one on one and listen. We are all identifying closely with what we see happening. In the long run it is going to impact everyone.”

Subjects broached included water levels in ponds and creeks, changes in moose and geese hunting seasons, warmer river temperatures, and shifting foundations of homes. Each village had particular concerns but one of the goals of the seminar was to compare common observations in the three communities.

Schneider summed up, “The penultimate question is what do we do with these impacts in the way of your future? It may be the scientific community can help with modeling and your observations help them. We can get this type of synergy going.”

Further reading:
Caribou Trails (PDF) news from the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, Fall 2008

Project Jukebox, UAF Oral History Program website

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rural teachers learn mapping technology

Peter Webley demonstrates the use of a gigipan camera to teachers from the Bush.

Rural teachers gathered at UAF Feb. 8-10 to learn skills from the MapTEACH program that they can take home to their villages. The ultimate goal is for geographic information system (GIS) technology to be incorporated into their classrooms, while blending in Native knowledge at the same time.

The educators came from Manley Hot Springs, Minto, Ruby, Huslia, Allakaket, Hughes, and Nulato, all members of the Yukon-Koyukuk School District. MapTEACH Principal Investigator Sidney Stephens said the district has been very supportive of and enthusiastic about the training. Now that the second phase of the curriculum has been completed the teachers are starting to test some of the activities in their classrooms. “GPS is proving really popular,” Stephens said.

The teachers are developing their own instructional units to use in their schools. Among the possibilities are lessons on permafrost, place names, landmarks, mental maps, remote sensing, erosion, GPS, GIS, and color infrared radiation maps. “This is the ideal thing,” Stephens said. “This is important to the school district and they send their teachers to take the courses. This takes training and equipment.”

She is particularly happy that the integrated program incorporates local Native knowledge with technology. “There are multiple ways of looking at and making sense of the environment,” Stephens said. “This allows the students to build on their own cultural values while using technical skills and gaining the scientific understanding it takes to meld those skills.

“We want students to be engaged and find out ways to find answers.”

Stephens added that in today’s job market students who earn GIS degrees are pretty much guaranteed jobs. “GIS is such a hot field that it is second in demand for careers. This could really lead to jobs in their communities.”

MapTEACH, a project of the UA Geography Program, offers hands-on education for middle and high school students in Alaska; its focus is understanding the local landscape from multiple perspectives and on learning to make and use computer-based maps of scientific, cultural, and personal significance. The project emphasizes the integration of geoscience, local landscape knowledge, geography, GIS, GPS, and remotely sensed imagery. MapTEACH draws upon the expertise of teachers, education researchers, remote sensing specialists, geoscience professionals, Native elders, and others with traditions-based knowledge. The program is funded by the US Department of Education.

Assisting with the training were UA Geography Program Assistant Professor Patricia Heiser, De Anne Pinney Stevens of the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, and Peter Webley of the Alaska Volcano Observatory. In addition to classroom work, the teachers took field trips to a permafrost tunnel in Fox and learned to map potential permafrost sites. They also studied erosion areas and tackled techniques for collecting information on particular landscapes. “We wanted to model things they could do in their own communities,” said Dr. Heiser.

Discussions are beginning for the next phase of the training, possibly to include summertime river travel and study for teachers, students, elders and scientists.

Juneau hosts greenhouse conference

On Feb. 25-26, the UAF Cooperative Extension Service will host the Alaska Greenhouse and Nursery Conference in Juneau. The gathering will provide opportunities for horticulture businesses (landscapers, greenhouse and nursery growers, contractors, market farmers, retailers, and others) to connect with supporting entities (funders, researchers, agencies) to promote the success of their businesses. "We have a strong lineup of speakers sharing new and valuable information and are including plenty of breaks to learn from each other and make new connections," said CES Agent Darren Snyder.

SNRAS faculty will be on hand to share their knowledge. Professor Meriam Karlsson will give a presentation on high tunnels, hoop houses, and retractable roofs to improve field production and Assistant Professor Jeff Smeenk will talk about topsoil.

Visit this site for registration forms. The conference includes an extra day at no fee for the Southeast Gardening Workshop on Feb. 27. Contact Snyder for more information, 907-796-6281.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Deadlines near for campus research day

UAF will host its first annual Campus Research Day April 9. Activities will include poster session reception and judging-- 10 a.m in the Reichardt building; graduate student fair-- 10 a.m. in the Reichardt building; undergraduate symposium-- 2 p.m. in the Elvey auditorium; award ceremony and keynote speaker-- 6 p.m. in Schaible auditorium.

Deadlines are Feb. 28 for undergraduate symposium participation and March 15 for graduate and undergraduate poster competitions. Obtain a participation form from the Center for Research Services. Monetary credit on UAF accounts will be awarded for first, second, and third place in graduate posters, undergraduate posters, and the undergraduate symposium.

Jenn Wagaman, director of research engagement, said, "We are also looking for interested researchers who are willing to
participate in a lab open house between noon and 3 p.m. on April 9." Contact Wagaman at 474-5082 for more information.

BLM seeks summer recreation workers

The Bureau of Land Management is seeking recreation assistants for its Campbell Tract Facility in Anchorage for the summer of 2010. Field work may include multiple days in remote portions of western interior Alaska along the Iditarod National Historic Trail and nearby villages. Visit the federal jobs website to apply. Deadlilne is Feb. 22, or contact Jorjena Daly, outdoor recreation planner for the BLM, 907-267-1317.

The Iditarod National Historic Trail commemorates a 2,300-mile system of winter trails that first connected ancient Native villages, opened up Alaska for the last great American gold rush, and now plays a vital role for travel and recreation.

Over 1,500 miles of the historic winter trail system are open for public use across state and federal lands. The BLM, under the National Trails Act, is the designated trail administrator, and works to coordinate efforts by federal and state agencies on behalf of the entire trail. BLM maintains about 150 miles of the trail, including four public shelter cabins. The remainder is managed primarily by the State of Alaska, or crosses private Native lands on public easements.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Alaska farmers gather in Palmer

Alaska growers will take a break from recalling last year's harvest and planning this year's crops to learn about new research at the Alaska Produce Growers Conference.
Alaska farmers will gather in Palmer Feb. 16-17 to learn about the latest agricultural research and recommendations during the Alaska Produce Growers Conference.

Conference organizer Stephen Brown, a Palmer agriculture and horticulture agent for the UAF Cooperative Extension Service, said the annual event is geared to potato, vegetable, and fruit growers. Speakers will include experts from the university and state and federal farm agencies.

Speakers on Feb. 16 will highlight topics of interest to potato farmers, including research updates from Assistant Professor Jeff Smeenk. Other topics include fertilizers, precision soil nutrient modeling, and pest management. Potato farmers also will talk about precision agriculture in the Matanuska Valley and farming in Bethel.

The conference will focus on vegetable and fruit topics the following day. Special guest speakers Jeff Conn and Steven Seefeldt, research agronomists from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, will talk about weed seeds in soil and the fate of herbicides in soil. Amy Pettit, a development specialist with the Division of Agriculture, will offer a three-hour workshop on agricultural grant writing. Brown said Pettit will teach farmers how to pursue agricultural grants available through the state.

While most of Alaska’s farming happens in the Tanana Valley and Matanuska Valley, Brown said participants are coming from across the state, including Bethel, Barrow, and Dillingham.

The Palmer Community Center at 610 S. Valley Way will host the conference. Visit the CES website for a schedule and registration form. Registration is requested by Feb. 11. For more information, contact Extension’s Mat-Su/Copper River District Office at 907-745-3360 or Stephen Brown at 907-745-3639.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Georgeson Botanical Garden seeks volunteers

Volunteers can get their hands in the dirt at the Georgeson Botanical Garden...or not. There are a variety of skills needed.
In order for the Georgeson Botanical Garden to continue to change and grow, volunteers are needed to help. The garden depends on the community of volunteers and members in order to make positive advancements. Two new subcommittees, focused on membership and fundraising, are being created to accomplish long and short term goals for the garden.

There is also a need for skilled people to assist with construction projects that are currently underway. There are a variety of volunteer opportunities available at the GBG. Volunteers have the opportunity to gain new skills and experience as well as become part of a larger community of people who share similar interests. Consider joining one of the following groups:

The membership subcommittee will work on increasing membership and review current membership benifits in order to assure that the Georgeson Botanical Garden Society is providing resources and opportunities that are valuable to members.

The fundraising subcommittee will explore the best and most efficient paths to increase fundraising. The committee will review current GBGS events and explore the feasibility of additional events and fundraising campaigns.

Garden construction workers with experience in carpentry, masonry, or construction are often needed to complete projects in the garden.

Contact Katie diCristina if interested in helping.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Expediter needed for resources trip

Students on the NRM 290 trip will visit a commercial fishing operation.
The popular course, NRM 290, is in need of an expediter to help make the trip a success. Resource Management Issues at High Latitudes is a class that takes to the Alaska highways May 17-26 and covers a broad range of sites and topics around Alaska.

Associate Professor Peter Fix, who leads the class, is seeking a graduate student to work as the trip expediter. The student will help with planning and organizing, along with cooking for the crew along the way. The expediter's expenses are covered on the trip and he or she earns a tuition waiver for three graduate school credits.

"The goal of the course is to provide students with an overview of resource management issues in the state, highlighting the interactions among the social, environmental, and economic aspects of these issues," Dr. Fix explained. Students will gain a broad perspective of high latitude resource management issues and will visit sites representing agriculture, forestry, mining, seafood, petroleum, recreation, and tourism. Permission of the instructor is required and students must provide their own hiking equipment and sleeping gear.

Contact Dr. Fix for more information about the expediter position or the class in general.

Summer jobs on the Kenai

The Russian River
Anyone interested in working this summer on the Kenai Peninsula should investigate job opportunities with the Seward Ranger District of the Chugach National Forest. Temporary summer positions include laborers, laborer leaders, forestry technicians, biological science technicians (fisheries, wildlife, or minerals specialists), visitor services information assistants, and fire crews.

Bunkhouse quarters may be available for some positions and locations. Visit the Office of Personnel Management Qualification standards website. To view the vacancies visit the federal government jobs website. Call Mike Fitzpatrick at 907-288-7714 or Pat Cook at 907-288-7711 for further information.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Science knowledge helps art endeavor succeed

Two UAF graduate students from different schools are working together to blend their disciplines, with beautiful results.

“I am very excited to do this,” said natural resources student Yosuke Okada. Working with fine arts student Adam Ottavi-Schiesl, Okada began providing the necessary plants for the project at the suggestion of Professor Pat Holloway. Ottavi-Schiesl is printing photographs onto the leaves. The students received a College of Liberal Arts Center for the Arts grant to conduct their research. Upon completion of the project, there will be an art show on the UAF campus.

“This is a nice collaboration between the arts and science,” Professor Holloway said.

The chlorophyll photographic art is made from black and white film and living plant leaves. The prints are made by placing negative or positive film on the leaves and exposing them to light. The film blocks the light rays from reaching the leaf in specific places, thus producing a fixable image directly on the leaf after varying amounts of time. The technique evolved from a process known as the anthotype, invented by Sir John Herschel in 1842. To make an anthotype Herschel created a layer of emulsion from crushed plant material and exposed it to direct sunlight until an image appeared.

Ottavi-Schiesl first attempted to make chlorophyll prints last fall because of his interest in alternative photo processes, in conjunction with his thesis work. He said the weather and lack of sunlight in Fairbanks, along with his limited knowledge of botany and light, led to failure. After contacting Dr. Holloway, horticulture professor, he met Okada, whose research focuses on the use of light emitting diodes (LED lights) in high latitude greenhouse production. Most of Okada's research is performed in Professor Meriam Karlsson’s controlled environment agriculture laboratory at the Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

The students are working together to create unique photos using Okada’s LED lights, plants, and botanical knowledge, and Ottavi-Schiesl’s photographic knowledge and images. “The images are quite stunning and surreal,” Ottavi-Schiesl said.

“It’s an excellent way to use unwanted leaves,” Okada said. He said his contribution has been growing the plants, providing the greenhouse lights, and helping Ottavi-Schiesl understand plant processes. “I hope I have given good advice,” Okada said. So far they have experimented with spinach, poinsettia, and bean leaves.

Both students have had to find time to fit the project into their already busy schedules. “It was an eye-opener for me,” Okada said. “It’s a good way to get the attention of the public and stimulate kids’ interest in plant science and art. It is worth doing.”

Yosuke Okada (center) discusses greenhouse growing with visitors at the Chena Hot Springs energy fair in August 2009.