An introduction

The little “About Me” gadget over there has a little blurb about me…grad student, geographer, blah blah blah. To the academics and professionals among you who find my casual writing style shocking (am I daring to address you, as though I am the Abby behind Dear Abby?), let me plainly say that I will be keeping this rather informal. The author wishes to avoid the detached narrative voice of the third person (omniscient?) who so often describes what methods were carried out (without an actor? of their own agency?) or what results imply (free from the presence of an interpreter?). Forgive me. May I point out that in a sense, I am first a writer, then a geographer, as my first degree is a B.A. in English, writing minor. I was trained to despise passive voice, but it so often seems the only way to avoid “I” or “we” or “me”. It was my years of wondering what to write about that drove me back to college–partially, anyway–and only then did I stumble into the discipline of geography. I will write this blog informally, and stream of consciousness (punctuation be damned!), as it is my blog, not an article for submission to a peer-reviewed journal.
I would like to expand upon my rather expansive list of interests listed over there, “About Me”. I do consider myself a physical and environmental geographer, although I would like to stress that this does not mean I have zero interest in the human, the cultural, the social. I just don’t know as much about it, because there isn’t enough time in the day to learn all that I want to learn, and so I must prioritize. I prioritized geography over geology, though I am always eager to learn more about rocks and minerals and geochemical cycles and the force of flowing water in shaping the landscape, both in terms of erosion and deposition, dissolution, transport, and sedimentation and in terms of the relationship with life, with plants and animals and humans. I have a fondness for bugs…insects, arachnids, and the bugs of the sea…invertebrates in the tidal zones…but unfortunately I have not a biology class since high school. I am certainly capable of learning things on my own, but again, not enough time in the day to learn everything. Bugs and little invertebrates, microbes, and so on are so nearly invisible, or thought creepy, but they are little ecological engines playing such crucial roles. I have two cockroaches…Gromphadorhina portentosa. But back to geography…
So similarly, I have learned a bit here and there about water policy, watershed management, land use, and environmental justice, political ecology, and the like. I have learned a bit about physical hydrology and hydrogeology. And yes, I have spent quite a bit of time with GIS, at this point. Initially, I took a GIS class at Santa Monica College simply to make myself more marketable for environmental jobs. My sister, an anthropologist, had studied environmental science and environmental studies, and reported to me that she and her fellow students in those majors were being asked about GIS skills when seeking jobs or internships. So I figured I had better get on board. In that first GIS class I immediately understood…a geographic information system is a powerful tool for environmental analysis. It can be used as an analytical tool in itself, or be used for pre-processing data for other models, and for assembling output maps for presentation.
Fast forward, and I have just finished the last class I needed for a GIS certificate. I have also finished all of the coursework required for the M.A. (and then some)–all I have left is the thesis. My thesis topic is DEMs as a source of uncertainty in modeling the Barbara’s Lake watershed. This is an area in which my advisor and a colleague in Geology have conducted research, and in which they hope to continue to conduct research. I hope to find out how the uncertainty in the digital elevation model impacts the actual predictions of runoff patterns in the watershed and pollutant loadings in the lake.
I suspect it will be negligible compared to other sources, considered strictly in terms of accuracy, that is, whether the elevation one would actually find at a given location in the field is, within the error of the measuring instrument and method, what is shown on the map. The most obvious error encountered so far actually appeared in work a fellow student, Brian Nagy, has been doing in creating a digital model to serve as the guide for a solid terrain model. The DEM, it seems, was created from a USGS topographic map dating to the 1970s. In the time since the source map was created, cuts and fills and leveling have changed the lanscape. In terms of real world application at this site, the temporal sampling interval is the limiting factor on accuracy, here, not the spatial resolution or the intrument precision or what have you. If the landscape was unchanged from the source map, some uncertainty would still exist from these other sources…this is the uncertainty I wish to measure the impact of. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

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