Climate Change and Carbon Emissions at the AAG

The AAG has a long history of engaging in and supporting climate change policy and research. Since climate change is the existential threat and crisis of our age, the need to continue this engagement and reduce our contribution to carbon emissions is clear. We will continue to seek policy action on behalf of our members–actions designed to influence the societal and governmental change required for durable solutions. For example, the AAG recently updated its climate statement, and just last week, our name appeared on a list of 80 societies calling for global action ahead of COP26 

Since climate change is the existential threat and crisis of our age, the need to continue this engagement and reduce our contribution to carbon emissions is clear


A joint declaration from nearly all the world’s geography societies is a powerful thing. It calls
upon our community to apply its considerable skills to the urgent consequences of climate
change. One passage especially resonated with me in the week leading up to COP26:

Geographers have unique opportunities and responsibilities in the face of the global biodiversity and climate crises. […] Geographers can do much more than present an analysis of these challenges. They also have a vantage point from which they can point to the kinds of thought and action that can deliver a better tomorrow for every person on Earth. 

Worldwide travel distances to the 2019 AAG meeting. By Justin Schuetz

The AAG has 16 members as part of a delegation to observe the proceedings in Glasgow, and we are proud to participate in this crucial meeting of world leaders.  

However, what actions can we take to reduce carbon emissions arising from AAG activities? The Climate Action Task Force members have worked tirelessly to explore new approaches to AAG meetings with a goal of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030 (and net zero by 2050).
To assist in this process and to help us set baselines and explore future options, I am pleased to release an internal AAG report estimating the carbon emissions and the annual meeting. Using the same methods as Klöwer, Hopkins et al., we applied estimates of emissions from travel from the last five in-person meetings (2015-2019). This method, which assumes direct travel from each participant’s home institution to the meeting site, allows us to calculate a baseline of emissions to compare future scenarios. Here is a good summary table of the results. 

This table offers summary statistics for five AAG meetings and one AGU meeting. On average, AAG meetings from 2015-2019 had carbon footprints that were approximately 23% the size of the AGU footprint for 2019. This difference was due to AAG having, on average, 34% the number of attendees as AGU. In addition, the average AAG attendee traveled only 71% as far as the average AGU attendee. The AAG meeting in San Francisco was closest to the AGU conference in terms of travel and emissions. Source: AAG (2021) Carbon Emissions Associated with Travel to AAG Annual Meetings. Unpublished analyses prepared for the American Association of Geographers by JGS Projects, October 2021, 28 pp.

We also looked at future meetings. As with all academic societies and organizations with large meetings, the AAG signs hotel contracts five or more years in advance. Our contracted meetings are Denver (2023), Honolulu (2024), and Detroit (2025). Based on our projections, AAG 2024 in Honolulu will have much higher emissions than typical meetings (35k vs. 16.5k tCO2). Our contracts make cancellation prohibitive and encourage us to look for alternative solutions. For these reasons, we seek to partner with another geography society to offer additional locations or ‘hubs,’ perhaps in Europe or Canada. Surprisingly, adding additional hubs can reduce emissions impacts dramatically, even well below our five-year average (9k vs. 35k tCO2).  

To cut carbon emissions, we will need to experiment with new ways of conducting our meetings to meet our emission goals. And, by all indications, AAG members are eager to embrace new ways to meet and create knowledge together. This eagerness is evident on so many fronts, ranging from the strong registration rates for AAG 2022 to the enthusiastic participation in AAG Regions Connect in October and virtual webinars throughout the year. Being willing to try new solutions is not a recipe for getting everything right the first time, yet it is the best and only way to get things right in the end.  

Please note: The ideas expressed by Executive Director Gary Langham are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. Please feel free to email him at glangham [at] aag [dot] org.



AAG Among Eighty Geography Societies Worldwide Calling for Climate Action

October 21, 2021…The American Association of Geographers is among 80 geography societies and organizations worldwide who have signed a Joint Declaration of International Geographical Societies on the Climate and Biodiversity Emergencies. Citing the “unique opportunities and responsibilities” of geographers, the letter urges the geographic community to go beyond analysis of the challenge of climate change, to pursue the “kinds of thought and action that can deliver a better tomorrow for every person on Earth.”

The statement highlights the series of consequential global meetings in October and November–the UN Biodiversity Conference and UN Climate Change Conference–addressing the world’s biodiversity crisis, habitat loss, and loss of species; and considering ways to stem the compounding impacts of climate change–expressing the expectation and hope that the world’s leaders will place the highest priority on the protection of nature and a livable climate, establishing ambitious targets for 2030.

“Geographers, whether as students, researchers, educators, writers, explorers, practitioners in business or policy, or as engaged and curious travelers, encourage our leaders to make ambitious commitments to place the protection of nature and a livable climate at the centre of the world’s economics and politics at this critical juncture. Accordingly, we pledge that our institutions will redouble our efforts to apply the unique attributes that are the hallmark of the learning, teaching, and practice of geography to the global environmental challenges that have drawn together the world’s governments to these vital meetings this year. We commit to doing all that we can to apply geography’s potent capabilities to the task of making the coming decade one of hope and of positive action.”

Please share and retweet using the hashtag #Geo4Earth.


Physical Geography and the AAG

Geography is the quintessential interdisciplinary discipline — or, as AAG past president Mona Domosh has described it, a ‘promiscuous discipline,’ an undisciplined discipline — a radically intradisciplinary discipline. For someone like myself whose research is in human and nature-society geography, this means that my work is in conversation not only with that of other geographers, but also in some cases with the work of anthropologists and sociologists, and with those in other interdisciplinary fields like environmental studies, development studies, and even religious studies. My colleagues in Geographic Information Science collaborate with computer scientists and applied mathematicians, among others. And physical geographers — including geomorphologists, climatologists, biogeographers, hydrologists, and soil scientists — read and want their work read not only by geographers but also by geologists, ecologists, atmospheric scientists, civil engineers, and aerospace engineers. If all these other disciplines are the spokes, geography imagines itself as the hub, with porous boundaries but shared concerns, whether about the relationship between humans and the earth’s surface, about space-time, about scale, or about the manifold human and physical landscapes of the earth.

In this arrangement, many Geography departments thrive in producing research and teaching students. And yet, I believe there are some questions we need to ask about the positionality of physical geographers within the discipline, and the role of AAG in serving the needs of all geographers.

Consider this. A 2015 survey of the AAG membership, current and lapsed, found that of those who responded, only 13.7% identified physical geography as their primary focus (compared to 51.6% human geography). Similarly, a 2020 survey by AAG found that of academics, 20% identified physical geography as their primary field (vs. 57% human geography) and only 17% of students identified physical geography as their primary field. This is down considerably from 1979, when Melvin Marcus noted that 36% of members were physical geographers.

In my own department, almost all physical geographers attend the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting every year – and the AAG only every few years, if at all. With over 25,000 attendees every year now, AGU’s meeting has rapidly become the preeminent conference for earth and environmental scientists of all stripes. Given limitations of time and dollars (not to mention the carbon costs of conference travel), most of us cannot afford to travel to more than one major conference a year, and for physical geographers, the choice is increasingly AGU over AAG (or for that matter, in some cases, also over the Ecological Society of America (ESA) or the Geological Society of America (GSA) meetings). As AGU, which boasts 60,000 members, gets larger and larger, it is no wonder that it has become a center of gravity for many current research specializations of physical geographers, who by and large identify with the rise of Earth System Science as an integrative approach to the geosciences. As circles of scientists move towards a conference, special sessions, invited talks, side meetings, and other events draw a critical mass of researchers, who often attend as much to see those colleagues as to give talks.

Similarly, for the discipline’s flagship journal in the United States, the Annals of the American Association of Geographers, the percentage of submissions to the “Physical Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences” section has decreased over time. Data from 2014 to 2020 show that on average, physical geography articles constituted about 9% of total new manuscripts and 11% of total accepted manuscripts. Things were not always thus. When the AAG was founded in 1904, physical geography dominated the organization and the field; indeed, at that time geography itself was often equated with physical geography, and specifically, geomorphology (Marcus 1979Rhoads 2004Aspinall 2010).  From 1911-1923 articles in physical geography accounted for between 50-100% of those published in the Annals. There was a significant dip in the prominence of physical geography from the mid-1920s to the early 1950s, followed by a revival from the 1960s to 1980s that coincided with the increasing specialization of and creation of journals for subfields within physical geography. Writing in 2004, Bruce Rhoads stated that from about 1923 to 2004, the long-term average was 21% physical geography articles in the Annals.

The relatively low percentage of physical geography articles in journals of the AAG relative to the number of physical geographers teaching and researching in Geography departments is thus by no means new. However, it has been exacerbated over the past two decades by the proliferation of scholarly journals, the increasing specialization of research areas, and increasing interdisciplinary collaborations between physical geographers and other earth and environmental scientists who have other target journals. Moreover, consider that AAG has two journals, the Annals and Professional Geographer, whereas the ESA now publishes six, and the AGU an astounding twenty-two journals.

Physical geographers naturally want their work read, and cited, by others in their specific research areas – and geologists, hydrologists, ecologists, climatologists, etc. don’t tend to read the Annals or Professional Geographer. The key issue is audience. Geography journals are broad, encompassing multiple subdisciplines, unlike AGU’s specifically targeted journals. AGU has managed to find a way to provide both depth and specialization (in specific journals and membership sections) as well as interdisciplinarity (in the very large annual conference). Another important issue is turnaround time. For many journals in the earth sciences, articles can appear online within three or four months of submission; the Annals takes much longer.

Beyond these, impact factors (IF) may also make a difference, given how much metrics have been made to matter in academia these days. Though the impact factor of the Annals is quite high for Geography (3.3 in 2019, 4.68 in 2020), as is that of Progress in Physical Geography (3.488), the impact factors of journals in other disciplines are comparable, or in some cases higher due in part to the size of the fields. For example, the 2020 IF for the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters was 4.72 and Water Resources Research’s was 5.24. The ESA’s Ecology has an IF of 5.5; American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate has an IF of 5.7 and its Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society an IF of 9.834.

…in many departments, retiring climatologists, geomorphologists, and biogeographers have been replaced by new faculty whose training is from other disciplines with their own strong identities. Without these more senior physical geographers as mentors or models, an identification with Geography as a discipline is likely to become ever more dissipated.

In addition to these issues, though, there is also a tension within physical geography between those — more often geographers trained in Geography departments — who embrace the more holistic dimensions of the discipline, and those who are frustrated that this holistic perspective may disadvantage them in the eyes of geoscientists who see such an approach as less “rigorous.” Related is also a tension between geography’s field-based tradition and broader trends towards a greater emphasis on numerical modeling. Of note too is that in many departments, retiring climatologists, geomorphologists, and biogeographers have been replaced by new faculty whose training is from other disciplines with their own strong identities. Without these more senior physical geographers as mentors or models, an identification with Geography as a discipline is likely to become ever more dissipated.

I don’t think any of this is a problem for individual geographers or even for departments.  My concern is with what else AAG as an organization could be doing for physical geographers. What would make it worth it to physical geographers to join the AAG, itself a way to continually sustain our broader academic community around our holistic, undisciplined discipline? How do we achieve a healthy balance of the centrifugal forces that pull physical geographers into the orbit of other disciplines with the centripetal force that keeps us together as geographers? After all, many of my physical geography colleagues, even if their degrees were not in Geography (as mine too, were not), do really appreciate the holistic nature of the discipline. And, are graduates in physical geography from Geography departments going on to be hired as faculty members in other Geography departments? If not, what might facilitate that?

There are clearly no easy answers, but here are a few ideas, which I’ve formulated with the help of several physical geography colleagues.

First, the advent of the Special Issues of the Annals since 2009, seems to me to be a very positive development given that the themes have been capacious enough for contributions from the whole range of subspecialities within geography. Such holistic and integrative perspectives are very much geography’s strengths. Perhaps highlighting these special issues to colleagues in other Earth System Science fields would be one productive measure, especially as Earth System Sciences also slowly opens up to more consideration of human dimensions.

Second, there are many ways that AAG as an organization could strengthen its appeal to physical geographers. More recognition for early career faculty as well as students in physical geography could be helpful, for example through early career awards and paper awards. These would have to be not just granted, but also advertised widely to physical geographers in a variety of institutional locations. Addressing the relative absence of postdoctoral fellowships in Geography compared to other departments associated with Earth Systems Scientists is also important. Keynote addresses and high-profile events at AAG meetings, whether in person or virtual, regional or national, could also help increase interest. Finding ways to reinvigorate key AAG specialty groups in physical geography is also important. AAG could sponsor workshops for graduate students and early career faculty on grant proposal writing. Moreover, AAG could be well-situated to help geoscientists tackle issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, given Geography’s integration of human geographic expertise on such issues together with the geosciences.  Finally, training sessions or other initiatives focused on topics such as highlighting women physical geographers or tools for addressing racial inequities in geoscience could help raise AAG’s profile.

I offer these suggestions cognizant that I’m not a physical geographer, so I stand to be corrected if any of what I’ve written here seems off. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0095


Aspinall, Richard. 2010. “A century of physical geography research in the Annals.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100(5): 1049-1059.


Harrison, Stephan, Doreen Massey, Keith Richards, Francis Magilligan, Nigel Thrift, and

Barbara Bender. 2004. “Thinking across the divide: perspectives on the conversations

between physical and human geography.” Area 36(4): 435-442.


Marcus, Melvin. 1979. “Coming full circle: Physical geography in the twentieth century.”

Annals of the Association of American Geographers 69(4): 521-532.


Rhoads, Bruce L. 2004. “Whither physical geography?” Annals of the Association of American

Geographers 94(4): 748-755.


Please note: The ideas expressed in the AAG President’s column are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. This column is traditionally a space in which the president may talk about their views or focus during their tenure as president of AAG, or spotlight their areas of professional work. Please feel free to email the president directly at emily [dot] yeh [at] colorado [dot] edu to enable a constructive discussion. 


A Good Day for Geography, Every Day

The late Will Graf would end his AAG President’s columns with this optimistic affirmation: It’s a good day for Geography. Given the last year, you might be surprised to hear that it is just as true today as it was during his tenure in 1998-99. Let me explain.

As I write this, it is the one-year anniversary of our official announcement canceling the AAG Annual Meeting in Denver. I will never forget that week or that gut-wrenching decision. The AAG meeting was one of the first big academic meetings of the year, and the crisis was escalating quickly. I am sure that I was not the only one waking up in the middle of the night and checking the latest statistics and news. Increasingly, it seemed that we would have to cancel, yet more than 6500 members had registered, and the AAG had not canceled a meeting since WWII.

As the Executive Committee sat in the conference room in San Diego and voted to cancel the in-person meeting, it was just 30 days before the event. Since the AAG had been investing in a virtual platform for months, we knew we could offer a virtual meeting, though 30 days was not much time to prepare. We decided to give full refunds and make the virtual meeting free for anyone already registered. Of course, this was the only fair decision, but it was also consequential for the organization, both culturally and financially. We also knew that membership was likely to dip significantly, but we had no idea how much or how long it might take to rebound. So, we budgeted for up to 50% losses in membership and took a pessimistic view of the current fiscal year. This time last year, the AAG was looking into a fiscal abyss, but I am pleased to report that the AAG has weathered this financial storm very well.

With the losses from the meeting, we expected to take a loss in FYE20, and we did: Official losses were $2M. This figure does not include additional spending that occurred as a result of the COVID-19 Rapid Response program. In total, $900k was approved from reserves to fund nine programs.  For example, our support for students included Bridging the Digital Divide, providing direct funds to purchase hardware and software for students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities. These programs are meant to help members cope with the economic challenges of the pandemic.

After the initial FYE21 budget was approved in April 2020, the AAG Council re-convened in June 2020 to adopt a new budget. The first draft of the revised budget projected a loss of $1.5M due to loss of membership and projections for the Annual Meeting with reduced attendance. To offset these projected losses, we reduced expenses by $846k, with the other half being approved from reserves. This approach cut nearly all expenses except for staff. Remarkably, we expect to end the year without the need for any reserves, ending in positive territory, even without considering revenue from investments.

While AAG has experienced a 19% loss in membership year over year during the pandemic, this is far lower than the feared 50% loss. Three out of four of our lost members are either graduate students or members making under $75k per year. Therefore, Council has expanded eligibility for membership renewal fee coverage to all those making less than $75k and expanded the membership window for qualifying to two years. The job market appears to be recovering: Between March 1, 2019 and 2020, job postings at AAG dropped 38%. Postings have rebounded in 2021, and are now up 31%, suggesting at least some postings were merely delayed in the early pandemic.

The whole world turned upside down in the last year, and none of us are untouched. And still, it’s a good day for Geography.

The AAG has managed to get through a pandemic with surprising ease. To be sure, there are serious challenges ahead and much work to do. However, there is also reason to expect tomorrow will be a better day. Our work to replace our membership database and website is moving forward. On April 7th, we offered members the first preview of the site, and the full site is expected to launch in early summer. (We are welcoming feedback from members about a new tagline; share your ideas for a new tagline here). Together these new systems will open up greater possibilities for membership retention and a range of new and improved services. Multi-year membership, automatic renewals, tagged content, and much more will be possible. We continue to invest in creative, more inclusive approaches to meeting, including a climate-forward dispersed-meeting model for a new fall meeting, and a hybrid meeting that blends the best possible options for international virtual access and in-person convening in New York City.

Nearly two-thirds of graduate students in the AAG Methods workshops found the interactions highly valuable.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the last year is how popular our online seminars have been. In February, we kicked off a GeoEthics series, bringing together experts to talk about locational ethics. We also offered methods training workshops that have connected more than a thousand graduate students to a whole range of experts to discuss research challenges and solutions—and to one another at a time when peer support was also important. In all these cases, we showcase our membership’s expertise, connecting our members to it and each other. Traditionally, we might offer all these things only at the Annual Meeting. However, online platforms allow us to share year-round, to feature topics and presenters that reflect the AAG we want for the future. With minimal new expenses, we can showcase the expertise of our members while connecting and building community.

All respondents to the survey on AAG Methods workshops found resources helpful; nearly two-thirds found them very or extremely helpful.

If you attended any of these sessions, you know that it really matters to attendees. Three hundred people were on one three-hour session, engaged and eager for more. Students shed tears as they connected to methods experts and one another, gaining access and answers they needed during the pandemic. More to come on this experiment, but it gives me hope. During the troubling days and nights this past year, one thing kept coming back to me. Even as the pandemic loomed over all aspects of our personal and professional lives, we still found the energy, funding, and resolve to launch the COVID Rapid Response programs and to support one another. We put the members and our community first.

The whole world turned upside down in the last year, and none of us are untouched. And still, it’s a good day for Geography.

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0090

Please note: The ideas expressed by Executive Director Gary Langham are not necessarily the views of the AAG as a whole. Please feel free to email him at glangham [at] aag [dot] org.


Robert Thomas Kuhlken

Robert Thomas Kuhlken, retired professor of geography and former geography department chair at Central Washington University, died on January 1, 2021. He was 67.

Kuhlken was a lifelong scholar, educator, and tireless observer of the natural world. He was more comfortable outdoors than in, and always eager to explore new terrain. He studied at the University of Virginia at Wise and Oregon State University and was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to study agricultural terracing in the Fiji Islands while earning his doctoral degree in geography from Louisiana State University.

His specialization in human geography and his focus on land management fit perfectly with his desire to learn and explore. He favored traveling via public transportation on excursions throughout Mexico, South America, Polynesia, New Zealand, and Europe to get an unfiltered view of the local culture.

Kuhlken brought the results of these travels to the classroom, sharing his firsthand experience with his students. He taught college geography for more than three decades, spending most of his career at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, where he retired in 2015 as professor emeritus in geography.

He taught thousands of students at CWU. Countless first-year students with little knowledge of the rest of the world were captivated by Kuhlken’s enthusiastic spirit of adventure, his colorful stories, and deep insights into human and physical landscapes across the globe.

Kuhlken also taught courses focused on cultural geography, Oceania and North America, and urban and regional planning. His planning courses drew, in part, on his nearly 10 years of experience as a professional planner in Oregon before beginning his academic career. Quite a few of his students have gone on to successful careers as planners themselves.

As a scholar, Kuhlken’s work emphasized cultural ecology, historical geography, and environmental literature. He co-authored A Rediscovered Frontier: Land Use and Resource Issues in the New West which Rowman & Littlefield published in 2006.

He also published on topics as varied as Pacific archeology, zydeco music, and arson. In more recent years, his passion for fishing led to new scholarship on the geography of recreational fishing and the sport of angling.

More than anything, Kuhlken loved to be outdoors with friends and family—hiking, fishing, sailing, biking, gardening or just feeding the birds in the backyard. In remembrance, please donate to the National Park of your choice.

He is survived by his wife, Cynthia McGill Kuhlken; his stepson, Jeff Acker; and his brothers William Kuhlken, Kevin Kuhlken, and Karl Kuhlken.


Regional Divisions Announce Outstanding Student Papers During their Fall Meetings

While most of the 2020 AAG Regional Division Meetings shifted to an online format due to the effects of COVID-19, students continued to present outstanding work in their respective regions. An exciting addition to the student presentations this year was the creation of a new award to recognize the increased participation of undergraduate students at the AAG Regional Division Meetings.

The AAG is proud to announce the Fall 2020 student winners of the AAG Council Award for Outstanding Undergraduate and Graduate Student Papers at a Regional Meeting. The AAG Council Award for Outstanding Undergraduate and Graduate Student Papers at a Regional Meeting is designed to encourage student participation at AAG Regional Division conferences and support their attendance at AAG Annual Meetings. One graduate student and one undergraduate student in each AAG Regional Division receives this yearly award based on a paper submitted to their respective regional conference. The awardees receive $1,000 in funding for use towards their registration and travel costs to attend the AAG Annual Meeting. The board members from each region determine student award winners. This year, due to COVID-19, students can use their funds to attend the fully online 2021 AAG Annual Meeting with the remainder being put towards attendance at either their 2021 Regional Division Meeting or the 2022 AAG Annual Meeting.

The winners from each region will be presenting their papers in two dedicated paper sessions at the upcoming 2021 AAG Annual Meeting online.

MSDAAG: Sheovoney O’Bryan, Undergraduate Student, Church Teachers College: Mandeville; Paper Title – The Challenges of Farming in Manchester, Jamaica.

Matthew Walter, PhD Student, University of Delaware, Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences; Paper title – Invasive Species Mapping in Estuarine Wetlands Using High-Resolution Aerial Imagery

WLDAAG: Michael Cullen, Undergraduate Student, DePaul University, Department of Geography; Skateboarding, Urban Public Space, and Identity

Austin Holland, PhD Student, University of Iowa, Department of Geography and Sustainability Sciences; Paper title – Complying with Conservation Compliance? An Assessment of Recent Evidence in the United States Corn Belt

SEDAAG: Lilian Hutchens, Undergraduate Student (co-winner), University of South Carolina, Department of Geography; Poster Title – “Improving Conservation Planning for the Congaree Biosphere Reserve”

Sierra Moore, Undergraduate Student (co-winner), Virginia Tech, Conservation Management Institute; Poster Title – “Effects of Clearing Linear Features through Forest Patches in WV and VA”

Yasin Wahid Rabby, PhD Student, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Department of Geography; Paper Title – “Exploring the effects of Mahalanobis distance-based absence data sampling method on the landslide susceptibility mapping”

NESTVAL: Shayla Peterson, Undergraduate Student, Southern Connecticut State University, Department of Environment, Geography, and Marine Sciences; Paper Title – “Climate Change and the Green New Deal: Attitudes Towards Climate Justice in Connecticut”

Shaina Sadai, PhD Candidate, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Geosciences; Paper Title – “Using climate modeling and interdisciplinary theory to analyze climate justice impacts of the Paris Agreement”

SWAAG: Madison Wilson, Undergraduate Student, University of Oklahoma; Paper Title – “Integrated analysis of fallow/idle cropland patterns and drivers of change in the United States Rio Grande Basin”

Daniel Silva, MA Student, University of Texas at Austin; Paper Title – “Climate oscillation effects on Brazilian soybeans yield, and the farmers’ response”

*Note: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, APCG and GPRM postponed their fall 2020 meetings to fall 2021. MAD did not have any paper submissions this year.


Melanie Vanderhoof

Education: Ph.D. in Geography (Clark University), M.A. in Geography (San Francisco State University), B.S. in Biology and Society (Cornell University)

Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks or duties for which you are responsible?
I lead research that uses diverse sources of satellite imagery to help us understand how ecosystems respond to stressors, such as a drought, flood, or fire. I am responsible for proposing research ideas, leading data acquisition and analysis, publishing results in peer-reviewed journals, and collaborating with others.

What attracted you to this career path?
I started my career in the private consulting industry as a biologist. Although I loved the field work, I quickly got bored with my position. What is so attractive about my current career path is that I can take every project as an opportunity to learn something new and push myself outside of my comfort zone, either technically or within the fields of ecology and hydrology. I also really enjoy the flexibility to pursue research that I find interesting and that I hope is relevant and useful to other scientists, land managers, and society at large.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
To me, geography is a way of thinking. Instead of thinking about a topic in isolation, geography embraces complexity, looking for patterns across space and time, making connections across disciplines, and seeking to understand the global context in which a phenomenon occurs. This perspective drives my approach to research. I tend to include as many different types and sources of data in a single analysis as I can. I think of it as throwing all the data in a pot and stirring it until I start to understand how each dataset informs the others and fits together into a single story.

More directly, my most useful courses were technical courses that explored remote sensing and ecology as well as courses that pushed me to think critically about research and knowledge.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often?
I use my geographic skills in remote sensing and GIS the most often in my work. Other general skills and information that I rely heavily on include writing, statistics, programming, ecology and hydrology.

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them?
The field of remote sensing continues to evolve rapidly as “big data” approaches have become the new normal. My skills in programming were inadequate from my academic training, entirely due to my own initial aversion to programming. My programming skills in JavaScript, Python, and R have improved over time mostly from self-teaching as well as learning from colleagues and collaborators more skilled in programming than myself.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for?
Yes, I participate in hiring, screening and training new employees. In research we are always trying something new, which means that there tends to be less structure and more trial and error in any given project. I look for people who show a demonstrated interest in science and the natural world, are resilient, responsible, and enjoy problem solving and being creative.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
Go for it! I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to be both a geographer and a scientist! To someone who was interested in a job like mine, I would advise them to find an area of research that you can get excited about, get involved in research projects with different scientists, talk to as many people as you can who have jobs that you might want, and publish!

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers?
I think geography is an exciting place to be right now. Most of my friends and colleagues in the field have successfully obtained jobs either in academia or with the federal government. And skills in GIS, remote sensing, data analysis, and machine learning are currently widely marketable.


Tim Fullman

Education: Ph.D. in Geography (University of Florida), M.S. in Interdisciplinary Ecology (University of Florida), B.S. in Animal Biology (University of California, Davis)

Describe your job. What are some of the most important tasks or duties for which you are responsible?
My job can be broadly defined in two buckets: 1) conducting novel research to better understand wildlife species and their behavior as a means of informing management and conservation, and 2) reviewing and commenting on development proposals or other management actions to advocate for use of the best available scientific information in decision-making.

My current research focuses on caribou movement, habitat use and response to human activities in northern Alaska. In partnership with scientists from federal, state, and regional agencies, industry, and non-governmental organizations, I conduct primary research to identify key caribou migration areas and seasonal habitats and to understand what impacts development may have on caribou populations and the people that rely on them. This information is shared with policy makers to inform decisions about new development proposals, helping to identify where negative impacts to caribou and people can be reduced and what areas should be avoided to provide habitat for caribou and other species. We also publish our findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals to share the information with the broader scientific community.

When new development proposals or management plans, such as environmental impact statements, are made available for public comment by the government, I review them to see how the current state of science regarding caribou is represented. If there are statements or conclusions that appear contrary to scientific understanding, then I make this clear as part of public comments submitted by my organization or other partner groups. For example, during the recent planning process to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas leasing, I provided thorough review and numerous comments about ways that impacts to important caribou calving and post-calving habitat was misrepresented and made suggestions for improvement. The hope is that such efforts will lead to stronger final decisions that balance the needs of people, wildlife, and a healthy environment.

What attracted you to this career path?
In many ways I stumbled into my career field. As I was nearing completion of my Ph.D. I sought a job as a professor. I applied for various jobs, but nothing came of it. Then I saw a posting for a large herbivore ecologist to study caribou movement in Alaska. I had never been to Alaska, nor studied caribou, but having studied elephants in southern Africa I knew something about large herbivore movement, so I applied and got the job. I am so glad that I did!

Working for a non-profit conservation organization has been an excellent fit for me. I get to do research that is tangibly applied to make a difference for conservation. I also have greatly appreciated the flexibility and emphasis on work-life balance shown by my organization. With two young children, I am grateful to avoid the publish or perish mentality faced by friends in academia. I still do scientific research and publish, but do not face the same pressures of possibly losing my job if I do not publish enough.

I also get to step into other opportunities, like serving on the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group. This advisory group of Alaska Native subsistence hunters, reindeer herders, hunting guides, transporters and conservationists works together to ensure the long-term conservation of the Western Arctic Caribou Herd and the people who rely upon it. I have also been able to pursue my interest in building bridges between the scientific and faith communities in Alaska, such as with a series of talks by Dr. Katharine Hayhoe about climate change, energy development and Anchorage that I helped organize in 2019. These opportunities add variety to my work.

How has your education/background in geography prepared you for this position?
I pursued a degree in geography to add a spatial mindset and tools to my wildlife ecology background. This training served me well and was a large part of why I got my job, even without having experience in Alaska or with caribou. Over the last six years working in Alaska, I have met several other geographers working broadly in the field of conservation for universities, agencies and non-profit groups. Our ability as geographers to think spatially about challenges and solutions is very important to enabling us to serve as problem solvers, especially when it comes to land management over broad spatial scales. In addition to the spatial perspective, the specific tools I honed during my geography degree continue to be critically important in both my research and other conservation activities. Whether it is analyzing spatial animal movement datasets or creating maps of areas where caribou calving habitat is expected to be lost under different development proposals, my geography training features strongly in my current work.

What geographic skills and information do you use most often in your work? What general skills and information do you use most often?
I use GIS skills regularly – obtaining/creating spatial data, analyzing it with respect to other data, and creating visualizations to share with colleagues or for publications. I also spend a great deal of my time working in R to conduct analyses, many of which are spatial in nature. While not an exclusively geographic skill, this is one that I learned while earning my geography degree. General skills include scientific writing and communication, strategic thinking and problem solving, and public engagement – from meeting with resource managers, to stakeholders, to community members in the region where I do my research, to members of the general public.

Are there any skills or information you need for your work that you did not obtain through your academic training? If so, how/where did you obtain them?
Yes. Wildlife ecology is a rapidly changing field, with new tools and technologies being developed frequently. One of the most important things I took away from my geography Ph.D. is learning how to learn – the ability to teach myself new things. Now, I may need to learn a new statistical approach, or about a new remote sensing data source, or how to use a platform like Google Earth Engine, yet the baseline of skills I have built during my academic training and the wide array of resources available on the internet, along with the knowledge sets of colleagues who are willing to share their expertise, have been invaluable in allowing me to attain these things.

Do you participate in hiring, screening, or training of new employees? If so, what qualities and/or skills do you look for?
I have served on one hiring committee as well as in the onboarding of new employees. Specific skills vary widely depending on the position. In general, however, we want someone who is passionate about the mission of our organization to unite people to protect America’s wild places. We want someone who thinks strategically and creatively about how to fulfil that mission. We also want someone who cares about doing these things in an equitable and inclusive manner, recognizing that this unfortunately has not been the case too often in the past.

What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
Build a strong toolkit that includes both analytical skills and a demonstrated ability to communicate clearly in both written and spoken formats. It is important to show what you can do through experiences working with people in communities, even as you conduct research. This shows that you can not only do sound science, but also engage well with stakeholders and other interested parties. In the past, getting hired in many non-profit groups was strongly influenced by who you knew and the connections you had. While this still may be important for many organizations, I am noticing a trend away from this in my organization and some others. There is a recognition that such a perspective reinforces the lack of diversity in many conservation organizations and that we need to be more intentional about casting a wider net and really focusing on must-have skills, rather than prior relationships, when making hiring decisions. This could create new opportunities for job seekers. In light of this, search widely for potential positions that may fit your interests and do not give up even if you do not have specific experience in the field to which you are applying. If you have the necessary skills you still could be very successful in a given role.

What is the occupational outlook for career opportunities in your field/organization, esp. for geographers? At our organization, jobs for researchers are relatively rare. We have hired only one other scientist in the six years that I have been here. There are, however, other opportunities for geographers. For example, we hired both a Cartographer and Enterprise GIS Manager since I started working for The Wilderness Society and have two GIS analysts on staff. While people seem to like working for our organization and turnover is low, there will undoubtedly be other opportunities from time to time in the future. Other organizations may have additional opportunities, both in scientific and non-scientific positions. For example, one of our partner organizations posted both permanent positions for GIS analyst/data managers and short-term positions for staff to work on a specific project over the last few years.


An Interview with AAG Executive Director Gary Langham (Part 2)

Last month I shared Part 1 of an interview I conducted with AAG’s Executive Director Gary Langham to help the membership learn a bit about his perspectives, goals, and personal history that led him to AAG.

We met on August 19, close to the one-year anniversary of his first week in this role—half of which has been during the coronavirus pandemic. The interview lasted for over an hour, generating far too much to publish as a single column. This is the second part, which has been edited for content and clarity.

AMY: What drew you to AAG?

GARY: For the last nine years, I had worked for an environmental and conservation non-profit, the National Audubon Society, where I was Vice President and Chief Scientist. I managed a similar-sized budget and almost twice as many staff. Staff was spread all over the country and worked in different research programs, ranging from marine conservation to climate change research. Many people like birds, but they’re also great for setting conservation priorities and monitoring environmental health. You can use science to show policymakers the connection between bird populations and protected areas, like marine reserves. If the fish-eating birds like puffins aren’t doing well, then the fish stocks aren’t either.

It was a great job with great staff, so the truth is I wasn’t looking for a new position. The AAG’s headhunters called, and they asked me who I thought would be right for the job. So, I gave them some recommendations, and then they said, how come you’re not applying for the job? And I said, what? I’m not a geographer. And they said, no, you should look at the job description again because of your experience—with management, media, fundraising, policy, and non-profits—is what they’re looking for. And I realized that as a trained ecologist, I really am a physical geographer of sorts—I should have been going to the Annual Meeting all along!

AMY: So we had some good headhunters. Excellent! Let’s just stay within the vein of AAG. This is a question that I never really thought about until I took on my current role. AAG just sort of seemed opaque to me until I stepped in as vice president. So what does the AAG Executive Director actually do?

GARY: That’s a great question. My job is to lead our fantastic staff: to help them succeed if they need it and stay out of their way when they don’t. I also oversee our budget and enter into contracts. Council approves the annual budget. It’s my job to keep revenues and expenses in line, develop and maintain partnerships, and ensure that staff is enacting the strategic plan and the long-term vision set by Council.

Those are the nuts and bolts of the job, but I also think about the value proposition for members. How can AAG be the best organization possible for all geographers? For 100 years, it was enough to hold the Annual Meeting and deliver the journals in the mail every month. AAG is at its best when it connects members to each other and to the rest of the world—public, professional, and government. We can help them make connections at any stage of their careers and provide professional services. Our members’ research and ideas are essential to shaping a just and diverse world. AAG must ensure that geographers’ interests are represented in conversations about ethics, policy debates, public perception, and higher education. Geographers are influencers. And, we need to expand our membership base.

AMY: Well, a new model, depending on how it’s structured, would do exactly that: expand and broaden the membership base. As an aside, I have to admit one of the things that I used to love so much about my AAG membership was exactly what you mentioned—getting the journal in the mail. I loved that. But, then that journal just turned into a stack of guilt because I would get them in the mail, and I‘d say, “I’m reading this cover to cover today.” But, eventually, I would put it on top of the previous one, and they all just became this stack of guilt. I still always loved getting it in the mail.

I don’t want to put words into your mouth, so correct me if I’m wrong. But, it sounds like over the past year, you have been thinking that there need to be new models, new approaches to modernize the AAG, so it can be relevant to more groups of geographers. Currently, what do you think that we’re doing well, and where is there an opportunity to grow?

GARY: We have to continue fostering the multi-generational sense of belonging to the AAG. The glue that seems to hold us together is the bonds between mentor and student stretching back in time. We represent 364 academic departments, and I want us to consider this our core to protect and maintain. At the same time, we can offer more to professional geographers and grow our base. When I was interviewing and reading everything online about AAG to understand it, I noticed significant growth in membership numbers over the last 15 years. I thought it must be GIS professionals, and I was shocked to learn that wasn’t true. Instead, it was our international expansion, another area where I think we have lots of growth potential. My biggest regret by far is that I haven’t been to an Annual Meeting yet. So many members to meet and sessions to attend. I can’t wait to do that.

AMY: Okay. Let’s pivot a bit. I’m going to give you the question that I, along with, I assume, many academic geographers get from students and parents. And I’m curious how you answer it. What do you say when someone asks you, “what do geographers actually do?”

GARY: I think of geography as the intersection of people, place, and the environment, though it doesn’t have to be all those things all the time. Truly, you can’t understand anything in this world, past, present or future, without understanding places and spaces. Part of what makes geography so compelling to me is the endless number of ways to explore place and space—you can never run out of new things to learn.

That question and answer then naturally progressed to a discussion about academia and the relevance of geography. I will bring some of the remaining discussion into future columns, though not as an interview transcript. Until we can all meet again in person, I hope that these two parts of the interview allow you to know a bit more about the person who is now running the American Association of Geographers.

—Amy Lobben
AAG President and Professor at University of Oregon
lobben [at] uoregon [dot] edu

DOI: 10.14433/2017.0079


Woody Gagliano

Sherwood M. “Woody” Gagliano, a geologist, geographer and archaeologist who documented Louisiana’s rapidly eroding coastline in the 1970s in a process that alerted the state to the problem, died on July 17, 2020 at the age of 84.

“History has shown that one person can make a difference, and that certainly applies to Woody Gagliano,” said Bren Haase, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “Louisiana owes him a great debt for not only sounding the alarm in our coastal crisis, but for never giving up when few would listen.” Gagliano advocated tirelessly for a state comprehensive coastal protection program.

Dr. Gagliano;s work marked a turning point in coastal science and in the state’s decision to meet the challenge of coastal erosion at scale. “His vision allowed Louisiana to be years or decades ahead of where we would have been without Woody Gagliano,” said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, and former chairman of the CPRA board. “He will be missed, but thank God we can stand upon his shoulders.”

Gagliano received his bachelor’s degree in geography and master’s degree and Ph.D in physical geography from Louisiana State University. He also served a stint in the U.S. Army.

In 1967, Gagliano founded Coastal Environments Inc., the Baton Rouge-based archaeological and applied sciences firm, while still working as a researcher studying river delta processes for the LSU Coastal Studies Institute.

Beginning in 1969, Gagliano was instrumental in documenting and designing solutions for Louisiana’s coastal erosion–a problem unrecognized by state officials before 1970, on the basis of Gagliano’s work. Don Boesch, former director of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Studies and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, told a local paper that the work was forward-thinking: “Fifty years later, we are still trying to execute his exact concept.” Boesch said. Gagliano assisted state officials in developing Coast 2050 in 1998, the first comprehensive effort to outline steps towards restoring or saving coastal wetlands, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the state’s creation of its first formal Coastal Master Plan in 2007.

Gagliano also produced groundbreaking research showing how some wetland loss was caused by slipping blocks of coastal soil along fault lines, and how the faulting could threaten levees, navigation routes, and coastal restoration projects. He and his company also developed new ways to create artificial oyster reefs – called Reef Blk – to assist in coastal restoration efforts.

Gagliano was the founding president of the Louisiana Archaeological Society and vice president of the Intracoastal Seaway Association. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana honored him with its Coastal Stewardship Award in 1996 and its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. He is survived by his wife, Betty Ann (Huxen) Gagliano, son Mark Huxen Gagliano, daughter-in-law Kristie Gagliano, and granddaughter Marguerite Lucy Gagliano.