Director of Agroecology & Assistant Professor of SEED Education
- (260) 799-5869
- Merry Lea
Geology, Meteorology, and Climate Science
The Earth is a system. As such, the “Earth” can be represented as a set of components interacting with each other. Interactions between the Earth’s crust, the molten core, oceans, ice sheets, and humans (among others) lead to emergent properties such as Earth’s prevailing climate, which in turn can affect weather. However, these emergent properties themselves feed back into the system and affect other components of the Earth System. Now…take a breath! What you have been wrapping your mind around is something called a complex system. In a complex system, it is not only necessary to understand what components are present, but how components interact with each other. The world is full of complex problems, and we cannot gain adequate insight into complex problems with linear cause-and-effect thinking. Instead, our understanding of Earth System problems must take on the appearance of a spider web, where all components are connected to each other and any single change in a link can have effects, both intended and unintended. In this course we will: (1) identify relevant components of the Earth System (including humans), (2) examine how these components interact with each other, (3) attempt to model these interactions, (4) compare our model to what has happened in the past, (5) determine what type of predictive power is possible with our present knowledge, and (6) brainstorm holistic and sustainable solutions to predicting, and in some cases reversing, serious and pressing issues confronting humankind regarding the Earth System (i.e. global warming / climate change, natural disasters, depletion of phosphorus reserves, soil erosion the spread of disease, etc.).
- Data: What data do we have from the Earth System? What patterns do we see? What could this tell us about how the Earth System functions?
- Modeling: Let’s test out our ideas with mental and quantitative models. Given our hypotheses regarding the data, do we get reasonable outputs from our models?
- Prediction: How much predictive power do we have when it comes to predicting how the Earth System behaves? What are these predictions based on? How well do we know what would happen if we “poke” the system?
- Mitigation & Adaptation: How equipped are we to adjust to these changing systems? Are some populations more equipped than others? What barriers prevent us from making progress on these issues? What does this mean for the future of the Earth System and humanity? What movements and technologies hold promise for the future?
Geographic Information Systems
This course (GIS/Remote Sensing) is designed to introduce you to how GIS and remotely-sensed data can complement each other, with the goal of answering questions you may have about the natural world (which includes humans!) and sociological phenomenon. Incidentally, you will also be introduced to a range of software (both open source and proprietary) that can be used for the processing, organization, and analysis of GIS/RS data. This single course is not enough to give you a full understanding of GIS/RS software systems and applications. Instead, my aim is to introduce you to the main concepts, methods, and software that are currently used in GIS/RS so that you can build a base of knowledge from which you can seek out resources that are pertinent to whatever analyses you need to conduct in the future.
The software and methods in this course will serve you well, regardless of whether you decide to go to work for industry, the government, academia, or an NGO. In fact, because many of these software tools are free and open source (FOSS), it can be quite straight-forward for you to gain the expertise and abilities you need to tackle almost any geospatial problem you can think of. While I will provide some learning activities that involve mastering the basic terminology and concepts in GIS/RS, most of our time will be spent “learning by doing”. You will not be following “recipes” to perform standard analyses. Instead, each module is designed so that you will perform never-before-attempted analyses on geographic areas of your choosing so that you will be learning techniques and generating new knowledge at the same time. The products you produce will be as useful as you want them to be and can be posted online for anyone to access.
I am a user and advocate of free and open source software. The free software philosophy is essentially the same as the academic philosophy of shared knowledge production for the common good. I try to incorporate open source software in my teaching, and to encourage students to use open source software for their research and writing and to find open knowledge outlets to share their research and writing. The labs in this course will be taught using a mix of FOSS (QGIS, R), free proprietary software (Google Earth) and expensive proprietary software (ArcGIS) to provide you with a diverse resumé.
McGovern, E. , J. Mischler, M. Bird, and J. Huffman. Ticks and tick-borne pathogens of black bears (Ursus americanus) from northeastern Pennsylvania. (2016). Journal of Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences. 90(2), p56-61
Mischler, J. A., P. T. J. Johnson, V. McKenzie, and A. R. Townsend. Parasitic infection by Cotylurus flabelliformis alters aquatic nitrogen cycling at the ecosystem scale. (2016). J Anim Ecol. 85, p817-828
Preston, D. L., J. A. Mischler, A. R. Townsend, and P. T. J. Johnson. Disease ecology meets ecosystem science. (2016). Ecosystems. 10.1007/s10021-016-9965-2, p1-12
Preston, D. L., P. Taylor, N. Brown, and J. Mischler. Using the scientific process to engage students about our changing planet. (2015). Science Scope Apr/May, p33-42
Mischler, J. A., P. Taylor, and A. R. Townsend. Nitrogen Limitation in a Pond
Complex on the Plains of Eastern Colorado. (2014). PLoS ONE 9(5): e95757.
McGlue, M.M., M.J. Soreghan, E. Michel, J.A. Todd, A.S. Cohen, J. A. Mischler, C.S. O’connell, O.S. Castaneda, R.J. Hartwell, H.H. Nkotagu, K.E. Lezzar. (2010). Environmental controls on rift lake shell carbonates: A view from Lake Tanganyika”s littoral, Palaios, v. 25, no. 7, 426-438, doi: 10.2110/palo.2009.p09-160r
Mischler, J. A., T. A. Sowers, R. B. Alley, M. Battle, J. R. McConnell, L. Mitchell, T. Popp, E. Sofen, and M. K. Spencer (2009), Carbon and hydrogen isotopic composition of methane over the last 1000 years, Global Biogeochem. Cycles, 23, GB4024, doi:10.1029/2009GB003460.
Walker, R.T., A. Bayasgalan, R. Carson, R. Hazelett, L. McCarthy, J. Mischler, E. Molor, P. Sarantsetseg, L. Smith, B. Tsogtbadrakh, G. Tsolmon, (2006), Geomorphology and structure of the Jid right-lateral strike-slip fault in the Mongolian Altay mountains. J Struct Geol. 28 (9), 1607-1622
I am formally trained across the sciences (Ecology PhD, Geosciences MS, Geology/Physics/Math BA) and my work and teaching have centered around the environmental effects of agriculture and their ramifications for human health and well-being. For example I have worked on: (i) the effects of agriculturally-induced sedimentation on the littoral zone of Lake Tanganyika East Africa (an important fishery), (ii) analysis of ice core methane isotopes for signs of agricultural forcing of the methane cycle over that last 2 millennia, (iii) the effects of consistent phosphorus loading from feed lots and cropping systems on pervasive nitrogen limitation in impacted freshwater systems, (iv) the effects of nutrient pollution and anthropogenic change on the prevalence of the parasite that causes Schistosomiasis (vectored by an aquatic snail), (v) land use and nutrient loads in tributaries of the Susquehanna river, and (vi) the effects of fragmentation on the prevalence and distribution of tick-borne disease.
I am devoted to on-farm education. Agricultural systems serve as rich education opportunities because so many relevant subject areas intersect across the farm landscape (i.e. nutrient cycling, botany, entomology, soil science, parasitology, water rights/law, water quality, environmental justice, sociology – just to name a few). Also, EVERYONE has a personal connection to food. Using agriculture as an educational tool is immediately accessible to any student and promotes the kinds of cross-disciplinary critical thinking important for today’s graduates. I see so much potential in the use of agriculturally-based curriculum, not only in raising a citizenry that is better equipped to make decisions regarding food system policy and personal consumer choice, but also a citizenry that has a better understanding of the interconnectedness of scientific disciplines through the highly relatable topic of agriculture!