Dept. of Geography News & Events this Week - 9/3/14

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September 3
, 2014

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Coffee Hour with Tess Russo | Steam plant conversion | Better root representation


Lise Nelson and Kirby Calvert

Lise Nelson (right) bestows the iconic Coffee Hour mug to our opening speaker Kirby Calvert


  • Azita Ranjbar passed her doctoral comprehensive exams last week.
  • Lucas Harris, advised by Alan Taylor, received his master’s degree.
  • Bernicia Guercio and Becky John are returning this semester as our work study students. Bernicia’s first day was September 2; Becky’s first day is September 3.


September 5 Coffee Hour: Tess Russo “Groundwater depletion in the United States …”

  • 3:30 to 5:00 p.m.
  • Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m.
  • The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m.
  • Coffee Hour To Go

Groundwater constitutes a critical component of our water resources, especially during dry seasons and droughts, and in regions lacking reliable access to surface water. This seminar will cover the results of groundwater studies at two scales: the continental-scale study reveals groundwater depletion trends and the basin-scale study explores a new method for identifying groundwater restoration project sites.

Next Week: Matthew Royer  “The Conewago Creek Initiative: A Model for Community Watershed Engagement”


Penn State reaches milestone in conversion to cleaner energy
Penn State continues its pursuit of greater sustainability with the conclusion of construction on the installation of 13,645 feet (2.6 miles) of pipe to increase natural gas service to the University’s West Campus Steam Plant. Conversion from its historic use of coal to natural gas will reduce the plant’s total emissions by nearly 50 percent and help meet the University’s ambitious goal of a 35 percent overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 (over a 2005 baseline).


Global Connections builds bridge between international students, community
Melike Faiz’s first month in the United States was a major challenge. She had no friends, her grasp of English was shaky and she was taken aback by the contrast between State College and her bustling home, the Turkish capital of Ankara.

Recently Published

Cognitive evaluation of spatial formalisms: Intuitive granularities of overlap relations.
By Wallgrün, J. O., Yang, J., & Klippel, A.
In International Journal of Cognitive Informatics and Natural Intelligence, 8(1), 1–17.
The authors present four human behavioral experiments to address the question of intuitive granularities in fundamental spatial relations as they can be found in formal spatial calculi. These calculi focus on invariant characteristics under certain (especially topological) transformations. Of particular interest to this article is the concept of two spatially extended entities overlapping each other. The overlap concept has been extensively treated in Galton’s mode of overlap calculus (Galton 1998). In the first two experiments, we used a category construction task to calibrate this calculus against behavioral data and found that participants adopted a very coarse view on the concept of overlap and distinguished only between three general relations: proper part, overlap, and non-overlap. In the following two experiments, we changed the instructions to explicitly address the possibility that humans could be swayed to adopt a more detailed level of granularity, that is, we encouraged them to create as many meaningful groups as possible. The results show that the three relations identified in the first two experiments (overlap, non-overlap, and proper part) are very robust and a natural level of granularity across all four experiments. However, the results also reveal that contextual factors gain more influence at finer levels of granularity.


Improving the representation of roots in terrestrial models
By Erica A. H. Smithwick, Melissa S. Lucash, M. Luke McCormack, Gajan Sivandran,
In Ecological Modelling, Volume 291, 10 November 2014, Pages 193–204
Root biomass, root production and lifespan, and root-mycorrhizal interactions govern soil carbon fluxes and resource uptake and are critical components of terrestrial models. However, limitations in data and confusions over terminology, together with a strong dependence on a small set of conceptual frameworks, have limited the exploration of root function in terrestrial models. We review the key root processes of interest to both field ecologists and modelers including root classification, production, turnover, biomass, resource uptake, and depth distribution to ask (1) what are contemporary approaches for modeling roots in terrestrial models? and (2) can these approaches be improved via recent advancements in field research methods?



Last week’s mystery dog was Jack, belonging to Paulo Raposo.  Eun-Kyeong Kim was the first to respond with the correct answer.

Who is this dog? Who is her human?


Send your answer to along with a photo of your dog for our mystery dog of the week!

Mystery Dog September 2