Friday, August 23, 2013

NASA extends internship for UAF geography grad

Erika Edgar with a certificate for her team's winning poster.
Recent geography graduate Erika Edgar is finishing up a summer internship with the NASA program DEVELOP at the Ames Research Center in California, but will be extending the experience as she has been accepted for a fall internship also.

For the past 10 weeks, Edgar has gained confidence in her abilities and learned that communication is key to successful teamwork. “Take as many GIS and programming classes as humanly possible,” she advised.

Edgar was drawn to this internship because she wanted to get more hands-on experience and to understand how environmental research is done outside the classroom. Her team consisted of three graduate students and a high school student. “While on the team I learned about software programs that researchers use like ENVI, LandTrendr and remote sensing,” Edgar said.

She credits the cartography skills she learned in Terry Slocum’s Cartographic Data Handling and Map Symbolization class for helping her keep up with all the GIS work. “Terry always encouraged us to play around with the ArcMap options and that is exactly what I did.”

Edgar and her team won an Ames Research Center poster challenge via Facebook. They received the most “likes” for the science category and were presented certificates from the center.

“I have had no time for outside activities which was not a problem because I spent most of my time with team members and getting to know them was fun,” Edgar said.

Edgar will present the team's winning poster (shown below) at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco in December. “I hope to see some familiar Fairbanks faces,” she said.

Edgar received her B.S. in geography in May.

Abstract of Edgar and her team’s research:
Oak habitats in the Pacific Northwest have decreased significantly under past land management practices. In turn, concern for bird species that depend on these habitats has increased as agricultural and urban development, fire suppression strategies, and invasive species encroachment have led to declines in oak extent. The richness and abundance of birds may be closely related to the health and diversity of these declining habitats. To identify past and present land cover distributions and understand the relation between oak habitat and bird abundance, this project used Landsat 8 imagery alongside topographic, ground survey, and bird count data. A land cover map for 2013 was produced using image segmentation and machine learning algorithms which segment the landscape and classify cover types. This land cover map was used in combination with a change detection analysis to assess the relation between bird abundance and disturbance, as well as oak patch size and connectivity. It is found that trends in oak habitat loss result in a nonlinear response in the abundance of specific bird species, which indicates that some species may have a threshold response to changing density of oak habitat. Project results will be used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Klamath Bird Observatory to meet conservation objectives.

Further reading/viewing:
4-minute video about the project, “To Save a Mockingbird: Monitoring Oak Habitats for Bird Conservation”
Geography grad off to NASA for summer internship, SNRAS Science and News, May 14, 2013, by Nancy Tarnai

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