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Forest carbon still plentiful post-wildfire after century of fire exclusion

Forests in Yosemite National Park hold more carbon today than they did 120 years ago despite burning in a severe wildfire in 2013, according to a Penn State-led team of researchers.

“Land vegetation across the globe absorbs about 30% of the carbon dioxide people create each year,” said Alan Taylor, professor of geography and ecology at Penn State. “It’s a big sponge in terms of carbon dioxide absorption, which helps offset some of the increases caused by fossil fuel consumption. There is a lot of interest in thinking about forests in particular as a way to help reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

New IEE leaders mindful of energy, environmental challenges

Two Penn State faculty members have joined the leadership team of the Institutes of Energy and the Environment (IEE). Erica Smithwick, the E. Willard and Ruby S. Miller Professor of Geography in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Bruce Logan, the Evan Pugh Professor in Engineering and the Kappe Professor of Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering, have both been named associate directors of IEE.

South African forests show pathways to a sustainable future

Native forests make up 1 percent of the landscape in South Africa but could play a key role in reducing atmospheric carbon and identifying sustainable development practices that can be used globally to counter climate change, according to a Penn State researcher.

"As we think about pathways for reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, one of the available approaches is to use the natural world as a sponge," said Erica Smithwick, professor of geography and director of the Center for Landscape Dynamics at Penn State.

The challenge, according to Smithwick, is to use forests to store carbon while also meeting local community needs. As trees grow, they absorb and store carbon through photosynthesis. Carbon makes up about half of a tree's mass, but amounts vary by species. To find its carbon stock, scientists use equations based on the tree's diameter and other variables, like height and wood density, rather than cutting down and weighing each species.

Faculty and students honored at college's annual awards banquet

The College of Earth and Mineral Sciences celebrated exceptional students and faculty for their academic excellence, service and leadership during its annual Wilson Awards Banquet held at the end of the spring semester. The awards banquet is the college’s annual celebration of faculty and student accomplishments and is named in honor of Matthew and Anne Wilson, major benefactors of the college, and recognized nearly 60 students and fellow faculty with awards.

“We are extremely proud of the accomplishments of our faculty and staff,” said Lee Kump, John Leone Dean in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. “This annual award celebration offers the college an opportunity to honor and recognize the hard work of our faculty and students.”

Past, present and future of Online Geospatial Education at Penn State celebrated

Here is something to think about: Some of Penn State’s current Department of Geography students weren’t even born when Online Geospatial Education at Penn State offered its first class. While online classes are now considered normal, for the educators who launched these distance education courses in the late 1990s, it was a novel and risky venture.

Federal research significant in environmental rule-making

Federally sponsored science plays a more significant role in bringing together stakeholders and facilitating environmental governance debates than all other types of research, according to an international team of researchers.

The researchers examined the role of federal government-sponsored research in the environmental rule-making process, specifically the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's proposal in 2012 to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal and tribal lands. The researchers found that stakeholders cited federal government-sponsored research more often than industry knowledge, trade group knowledge, and academic research. The researchers report their results in April 29 issue of the Annals of the American Association of Geographers.

Geography student receives Ashok K. Moza Foundation Scholarship

Nicholas Lacey stepped out of the helicopter and into a crowd of people who gathered in anticipation.

The helicopter carried building materials, but for the people of Haiti, who were still suffering from the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, a devastating Category 5 storm, it was critical material to start rebuilding homes and lives.

Lacey, now a first-year student studying geography at Penn State, served five years in the Marine Corps as a geospatial analyst and took part in a U.S. humanitarian mission to Haiti in 2016.

There, he used his background in geospatial information science (GIS), leading a team to analyze damaged infrastructure and take inventory of damaged buildings, electric lines, roads and landing zones.

For Lacey, it was a chance to put his training in GIS to good use, but also an eye-opening experience.

Earth and Mineral Sciences graduate students recognized at research exhibition

Two graduate students in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences were recognized for their research and presentation skills during the 2019 Graduate Exhibition, hosted by the Graduate School at Penn State in March. Kirsty McKenzie, a graduate student in geosciences, and Weiming Hu, a graduate student in geography, placed second and third, respectively, in the physical sciences and mathematics division of the exhibition.

Hu, a third-year doctoral student, studies uncertainties in weather forecasting, focusing on reducing computational requirements to run the models. His research aims to improve the computing time and efficiency of weather prediction. He is using his programming skills and statistics knowledge to determine how much data can be omitted while still retaining accuracy in weather forecasts.

MacEachren, Prins named recipients of 2019 Graduate Faculty Teaching Award

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Alan MacEachren, professor of geography in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, and Esther Prins, professor of education in the College of Education, have received Penn State's 2019 Graduate Faculty Teaching Award.

The award, established in 1992 by The Graduate School, is presented to faculty members in recognition of outstanding teaching performance and advising of graduate students.

Decision makers need contextual interactive guidance

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As decision makers balance economic, environmental and social aspects of living, planners and others need decision-making tools that support the process, but do not dictate the outcomes, so that trade-off choices can reflect a wide array of needs, according to a team of researchers who looked at an interactive program using trade-off diagrams.