Update: The original version of this article incorrectly identified these students as geology students. They are geography students, not geology students.
Western students and faculty are preparing to present their geographical studies on a variety of topics, ranging from poverty to tree rings.
Western senior Tyler Black has been working all quarter on an extensive project with the Whatcom County Health Department mapping vulnerable populations of elderly and low-income people throughout Whatcom County.
Black, along with four other students and Western environmental studies professor Dr. Aquila Flower, will showcase her original work at the Association of Washington Geographers (AWG) Spring Meeting on Saturday, May 17.
The convention is hosted on the University of Washington’s campus in Tacoma and features students throughout the state talking about their work in the field of geography.
Black’s project was to analyze 2010 census data and then map and highlight vulnerable populations in Whatcom in order to highlight trends people might have in terms of geographical location and access to infrastructure.
The goal is to see what the elderly and low-income populations lack in terms of public services such as hospitals and grocers. In the end, the department will use Black’s findings to determine policy and where to allocate money to better serve these populations, Black said.
Western senior Chris Zemp is presenting his findings on the effects of climate change in the Columbia Basin, specifically how it will influence the flow of six rivers in the area, he said.
He has taken raw data collected by the University of Washington’s Climate Impact Group, which charted the flow of rivers to see how it changes over time, Zemp said.
Using geographic information system (GIS) computer analysis, a computer mapping system, Zemp was able to create maps that visually illustrate how the flow of the six rivers will change over the next few decades.
Flower is presenting her own work on dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, at the AWG convention.
Her work focuses on observing and tracking outbreaks of insects in the forests of Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
The western spruce budworm has cycles of infestations that stunt tree growth. Why that happens is unknown and also poorly documented, she said.
Flower is using her knowledge of tree rings to help pinpoint historically when an outbreak occurs by looking for the telltale signs.
The worm impacts logging because weak or small trees yield less lumber.
“They are a native species so this may just be a natural part of the forest’s ecosystems,” Flower said. “It may, in the long term, help the forest regulate itself.”
GIS is the practice of computer mapping Earth to monitor changes and interactions on the Earth’s geography, Flower said.
The students will provide insight into work they have done while interning with the community organization as part of the advanced GIS course, Flower said.
Some projects the students are presenting include findings of aerial photographs in marshlands and how they have changed, Flower said.
The students will analyze the data to try and predict where new marshland may develop in the future, Flower said.
The convention’s main purpose is to expose attendees to various new areas of exploration in the field of geography but also features a poster competition based on the student’s educational poster that visually aids their presentation, Flower said.
GIS is a minor that can be attained through the Huxley College of the Environment and is part of the environmental studies course the college offers.