curating global ecology through big data

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Ecologists seek to answer the big questions about how the world is changing, and how species and ecosystems are responding to those changes. To answer these questions, a new network of analysis is needed. Community-curated data sources can provide new insight on how systems are have changed in the past and how they are changing now.

Jack Williams, professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will show how two community curated data sources are bringing reliable, big data to bear on the challenges of a changing world at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Jack Williams, used with permission.

According to Williams, four V’s (volume, variety, velocity, and veracity) characterize ecological big data. Volume refers to the size of data, variety is the heterogeneity – diverse nature – of data types and measurements, velocity is the rate data needs to be generated or analyzed at, and veracity is the potential uncertainties.

Community-curated data sources have been developed to enable global-scale science. These data networks are also changing the way data is analyzed.

“The standard has been to run ecosystem models and analyze data somewhat independently of each other,” Williams said. “But now we have the opportunity to do more simulations where the data doesn’t constrain the simulations and improve the parameterization and forecast.”

Multiple groups have begun building databases that bring the data and paleoecological records from multiple networks to larger scales. These data sets can be applied to testing and improving the predictability of ecosystem models.

Williams will structure his talk around two different data networks—Neotoma and PalEON. Neotoma gathers large amounts of records from around the world and assembles it into one common resource that is publically available. PalEON is an example of one type of research that can be done with this kind of global platform for ecological and paleoecological research.

“Neotoma and PalEON are part of a broader set of efforts to gather many different kinds of ecological data into extended observational networks,” Williams explained. “We can now look at ecological dynamics at long timescales and at large spatial scales.”

Williams studies species’ responses to climate change. By using the last 2,000 years as a model, he can look at how species have migrated or changed in past climate. His work with PalEON is interested in using ecosystem models to forecast and predict species responses to climate change at decadal and centennial time scales.

“An interesting initial finding is that, as a result of climate change and human land use over the last century, the climatic niches of trees have changed,” explained Williams. “A lot of our predictive models use modern climates and modern tree species distribution as the basis of our predictions of forest responses to current and future climate change. Seeing how niches have changed suggests there is perhaps there is some disequilibrium with current climate change.”

To learn more about ecological big data, attend William’s seminar, “Achieving global ecology via dispersed community-curated data resources: Neotoma and PalEON” on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo by geralt via pixabay. CC0.

Intentional Change

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Designers are agents of change. They research how our everyday actions and behaviors are conceived, planned, and acted on. By making these intangible aspects of society tangible, designers have the ability to communicate about or change these societal features. In the past, design has been leveraged as a way to create social change. But, these attempts have not always articulated ways to catalyze change.

Transition Design is a nascent idea that acknowledges we are living in transitional times, and recognizes the need to change at all levels of society.

Dr. Terry Irwin, Director of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Design will explain how Transition Design can address the wicked problems of the 21st century at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

“Transition Design is a new area of design practice, study, and research focused on systems-level change,” Irwin explained. “It addresses the need for entire societies to transition towards a sustainable future.”

Transitioning into sustainable futures will require the development of new tools and methods that can be used to create societal change. By understanding the interconnectedness of social, economic, political, and natural systems, Transition Design confronts multifaceted problems from different levels and different scales.

“Instead of creating one-off solutions, we are advocating for a systems approach where you are involved in the process of creating solutions over a very long period of time in ways that connects projects, but also connects to future visions of where you want to go,” said Irwin.

Transition Design is a framework that combines a range of practices and approaches from different disciplines to create a new way of addressing problems in a specific location. In other words, Transition Design advocates for creating communities that are in tune with their natural and social systems.

Transitioning to a sustainable future will require change at all levels of society. Not only are politicians, legislators, activists, academics, and other professionals needed to design change, Irwin explains how all stakeholders need a seat at the table.

“The approach we are developing calls for stakeholder engagement and co-design with stakeholders,” said Irwin. “We define stakeholders as anybody that is being affected by the problem.”

Transition Design provides the framework that gets people involved and working together. It pulls from multiple theories across several disciplines. Transition Design also embodies ideas and concepts from non-profit and community sectors. Transition Design empowers and educates a new group of designers who work together to develop solutions to the wicked problems of our time.

“Design is not something that only designers do,’ Irwin explained. “Societal transitions need to be intentional not accidental. The minute you bring intentionality into it, it becomes design. In that way, we are all designing all the time.”

To hear more about Transition Design, attend Irwin’s seminar, “Designing for Systems-Level Change” on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

Embodied Sustainability

By: Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant

As a socially engaged artistic process, dance can be a powerful medium for communicating the ideas, facts, and figures of sustainability and environmental justice. Engaging with these ideas on a physical level can lead to a new perspective of the interconnections between our bodies and the environment.

Dr. Ananya Chatterjea, professor in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Theatre Arts & Dance and founder/artistic director of Ananya Dance Theatre, will explain how dance can connect and ground us at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, October 24, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

For Chatterjea, the body is both at the center of her work and in the middle of the environmental justice movement. Through dance, Chatterjea has been able to understand her connectivity to the world and engage with environmental justice in a different way than she would have without art.

 “Everything ultimately filters through the body,” Chatterjea explained. “When you cannot breathe in the way you need to, or when the food you eat or the water you drink does not refresh or rejuvenate your physical body, your humanity begins to diminish.”

Dance is a way to connect with our bodies to help us understand ourselves and how we interact with others. Chatterjea knows that for some, the idea of dancing may seem intimidating.

“Dance has been taken over by this idea that only people with highly able and fit bodies are the people who can dance,” Chatterjea noted.

Pushing against the way dance has been taken over by reality shows and single body types, Chatterjea works to create a form of dance that allows for femininity and resistance by embracing the body’s strength and beauty. In her dances, Chatterjea layers Odissi — a classical Indian dance form — the martial art form Chhau, and vinyasa and pranayama yoga.

All these different movement forms are connected through the idea of being grounded. While each form brings different ideas and aesthetics to the piece, weaving them together creates a language that allows for a powerful feminist presence.

“Women are constantly doing beautiful work,” Chatterjea said. “They are the sustainers of humanity, but a lot of their work doesn’t go down into ‘history’ with a capital H. We have to tell these stories and archive them through our bodies.”

The narrative arc Chatterjea creates in each dance is partly remembered, partly researched, and partly imagined. The stories told in the choreography come from a collective voice. Chatterjea describes her choreographic process as collecting stories. Sometimes through story circles or workshops, voices come together to create a collaborative, connected narrative.

Bringing different voices and bodies into dance is at the core of the Ananya Dance Theatre’s work. The company is comprised of women artists of color who create socially engaged, embodied art.

“I want to fill dance with the most unlikely bodies and the most unlikely of faces and to see dance everywhere,” Chatterjea said.

To hear more about how embodied art can be resistance, attend Chatterjea’s seminar, “Choreographies of Resistance: Dancing Ecosystems” on Tuesday, October 24, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB. The entire company will perform their latest work, “Shyamali: Sprouting Words” as part of UtahPresents’ 2017-18 season on Saturday, October 28, 7:30 pm. 

Merging Research and Design

By Ashley Babbitt, public relations specialist, College of Architecture + Planning. Originally posted on July 3, 2017.

The University of Utah recently approved the creation of the Center for Ecological Planning and Design. The new center merges the provisional Ecological Planning Center and the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center — both in the College of Architecture + Planning — in a new partnership with the Global Change and Sustainability Center. The Center for Ecological Planning and Design is positioned to bridge the gaps between research and the design and planning fields, both within CA+P and across campus, with a focus on the built environment and the human communities that inhabit it.

Sarah Hinners, director for the provisional Ecological Planning Center, answers questions about the new center:

Tell us about the significance of the work of the new research center?

The built environment refers to buildings, roads, parking lots, etc. — all that stuff that humans build for ourselves to make life easier, safer and more comfortable or convenient. Cities are dominated by the built environment and it is becoming more and more the dominant habitat of humanity worldwide. But our environments are not always a healthy and life-enhancing and can be vulnerable to environmental changes and disasters. The built environment affects people’s lives and in turn, human communities shape and influence the built environment.

At the center, we’re focused on bringing together the people who study the built environment, such as scientists, social scientists and engineers, with the people who plan, design and build it. We have most of these disciplines represented here on campus, but they are widely dispersed among multiple colleges and dozens of departments. We’re interested in bringing these experts from across campus and outside of academia together to generate ideas and knowledge, ultimately to build better places for humans.

How will this center allow the college to collaborate in new ways?

There are challenges to interdisciplinary work. People in different disciplines and in different colleges on campus don’t necessarily speak the same language and it can be difficult to work with others without the feeling of stepping on toes or coming into competition with one another. There is a tremendous opportunity, one that is so often missed, to build collaborations and this potentially has the power to transform the way cities and communities take shape. The center is intended to build bridges between departments in the College of Architecture + Planning and across campus. By working under the umbrella of the Global Change and Sustainability Center, we offer a place to collaborate on disciplinary neutral ground — a place where people interested in resilient communities and built environments can meet in the middle and do great things together.

What types of research will emerge from this center?

We anticipate building a research portfolio of collaborative solutions for cities, including sustainable and resilient infrastructure systems, highly functional and beautiful urban ecosystems, strong inclusive communities and equitable access to a high quality of life in cities.

 Who are the key participants and collaborators of the center?

The center started out as the Ecological Planning Center, established as a provisional center in 2012 and funded with a donation from the Swaner family. As we grew, we came to understand just how interdisciplinary this work needed to be. A bunch of pieces fell into place within the past year that really opened important doors for us. One was an opportunity to join forces with the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center that has been doing research on the ecology of construction practices and building materials for a long time. The second was a desire, with the Global Change and Sustainability Center, to coalesce some of its expertise into a smaller number of topical themes, one of them being the built environment and communities.

In addition to myself, the new center includes Diane Pataki, associate professor of biology, and Ryan Smith, director of Integrated Technology in Architecture Center. The steering committee also includes members from city and metropolitan planning, parks recreation and tourism, mechanical engineering, biology, geology and geophysics, environment and sustainability studies, the Environmental Dispute Resolution Program in the Law School and a member of the local planning professional community.

How can a person get involved?

We’d love to engage with anyone who is interested in these topics through collaborative interdisciplinary research, education, events and symposia. One opportunity is to get involved with our work associated with Red Butte Creek here on campus. We have been working on a plan for revitalization of the U’s portion of the creek and the intent is to create a hub for implementation of the plan as well as the development of research and education programs associated with Red Butte Creek.

Our website: cepd.utah.edu
Contact Sarah Hinners: sarah.hinners@utah.edu

GCSC Grows Through Partnership

Global Change and Sustainability Center expands with new Center for Ecological Planning and Design and University Water Center.

The Global Change and Sustainability Center has expanded to include a partnership with two new centers; the University Water Center and the Center for Ecological Planning and Design. These centers bring scholars together around specific research themes to facilitate interdisciplinary strategies and solutions for local and global challenges.

The Center for Ecological Planning and Design at the University of Utah is the fusion of the existing Ecological Planning Center (EPC) and the Integrated Technology in Architecture Center (ITAC), both in the College of Architecture and Planning, and an expansion into the interdisciplinary territory of the GCSC. The new CEPD focuses on research on the built environment and communities by interweaving research and practice in human, biophysical, and built systems – people, place, and design.

The University Water Center combines the research trajectory of the USAID-funded U.S.-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Water (USPCASW) and the NSF-funded iUTAH project, forming a catalyzing hub for water research and associated activities at the University.

The GCSC has played a pivotal role in the creation of these two centers, helping connect expertise and interest from disparate departments across campus and offer infrastructure that supports the formation of these two new centers.

The GCSC and these two new centers are inclusive, interdisciplinary hubs for research and all faculty engaged in related work are invited to participate.  For more information contact: Steve Burian, Director of the Water Center, and Sarah Hinners, Director of the Center for Ecological Planning and Design.

 

WHICH WAY WILL WE TIP?

By: Liz Ivkovich, Sustainability Office.

Tipping Point, def.: the critical point at which a change becomes unstoppable.

Earth is undergoing an alarming series of changes due to human impacts. Warming climatewater shortagesincrease in infectious diseases, and loss of biodiversity. These changes and others are converging into a rapidly approaching tipping point for Planet Earth. What individuals, groups, and policymakers do in the next 10-20 years will determine which way we will tip, and what kind of future the next generation of all Earth’s species will have.

On Tuesday, Feb. 28, 4:00-5:00 p.m., Anthony Barnosky will present on the Earth’s tipping points and their implications for political and personal action at the Global Change and Sustainability Seminar Series. The lecture will be held in 210 ASB.

With years of research on past tipping points in Earth’s ecological history, Anthony Barnosky, paleoecologist from Stanford University, focuses his efforts on activating humans to tip towards environmental sustainability.

“What I have done is use the fossil record to understand how the Earth system responds to big changes, unusual changes,” Barnosky said. “It inevitably took me into thinking about some of the big changes that people are causing to the planet today.”

It is difficult to write about Barnosky’s research without sounding apocalyptic. He agrees that this is heavy stuff; however,  he wants people to know that their individual and local actions are meaningful.

“The sorts of issues that I talk about are very weighty, global issues,” Barnosky said. “People often throw up their hands in despair. But the reason these are big issues is that 7 billion people are doing things in a certain way. So, it really does all start with the individual. The cumulative actions of 7 billion individuals are enormous.”

Barnosky hopes the tipping point for Planet Earth won’t be catastrophic change, but rather large-scale social action. In this tipping point, 7 billion people use the knowledge, technology, and resources available to act in more sustainable ways. This vision of positive social action has driven Barnosky into conversation with policymakers.

In 2012, the governor of California approachedBarnosky to turn his Nature paper on Earth’s sixth mass extinction into a scientific consensus statement. The governor was able to use the consensus statement, which was signed by more than 500 scientists, to advocate for positive action towards avoiding a tipping point.

Barnosky also had advice for other scientists about how to effectively collaborate with policymakers.

“It’s not just walking into a policy maker’s office and pronouncing what the science says,” Barnosky concluded. “Working with policymakers means actually asking what are their needs are as far as science. Developing a dialogue is very important so that you understand where they are coming from, and they understand where you are coming from.”

Learn more on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 4:00-5:00 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Cover Photo: Biodiversity by Dano, CC by 2.0 via Flickr