The following links are to recent and/or ongoing research projects by Geography and Planning faculty.  More information on individual faculty research is available on each faculty member's webpage.

GIS and GIScience

vineyardDr. Jeffrey Colby,with the assistance of graduate and undergraduate students, have initiated an effort to develop GIS-based site suitability models for locating vineyards in North Carolina. This application of GIS to viticulture, the science of growing grapes, complements a larger research agenda here at ASU. The Appalachian State Enology Group (ASEG) recently received a $1 million dollar federal grant to develop the Appalachian Enology and Viticulture Services Center. We have begun exploring the use of GIS, remote sensing, and GPS technologies for implementing site suitability models. Anticipated future research includes the application of geographic information science (GIScience) and technologies to assist in enhancing vineyard management, and economic development strategies.

water surface profileDr. Colby and graduate student Greg Dobson have been applying the linkage of GIS and hydraulic models for flood modeling in the coastal plains and mountains of North Carolina. In particular, they are investigating issues of scale in regards to the representation of terrain models derived from LIDAR data. In addition Greg's thesis research involves comparing results obtained from a public domain hydraulic model HEC-RAS with a proprietary model developed by a leading water resource consulting firm in a local mountain watershed.

Watauga River

Dr. Colby is continuing research efforts into developing anisotropic reflectance correction models for multi-spectral satellite imagery in mountainous terrain. Anistotropic reflectance correction refers to removing the differential illumination effects found in satellite imagery in the mountains. This research has been undertaken in the Rocky Mountains, in tropical montane areas of Central and South America, and in the Himalayas. In support of the international Global Land Ice Monitoring from Space Program (GLIMS), students in the Department of Geography and Planning have also assisted in the development of methods for detecting transient snow altitude (TSA) using ASTER satellite data in the Hindu Kush and Karakorum Mountain range of northern Pakistan. 

Colby fieldwork3-D view of Hindu Kush

Human Geography

Dr. Schroeder is examining the contemporary political geography of Bolivia. With a grant from the University Research Council, she explored Bolivia 's current political instability and the heated debate over the sale of natural gas. She is closely watching current developments in Bolivia and recommends the following links if you are interested in Bolivia 's current political geographic situation.

This is a map that depicts one view of the future of Bolivia.

Bolivia map

Physical Geography

Bolivia map with highlight area of study in AndesChristian DeGrassi recently completed a thesis analyzing changes in glacial ice extent and condition in a portion of the Andes of Bolivia. Mayfield and Degrassi are continuing that research and plan to publish the results in the near future. Mountain glaciers and ice caps are sensitive indicators of climate change and may be especially useful in the detection of enhanced greenhouse warming (Thompson 2000). Due to the narrow range of climate conditions under which glaciers and ice caps develop, monitoring the distribution, intensity, and rate of change of ice masses is of utmost importance in delineating spatial and temporal variations of the Earth's climate system. The purpose of this research is to analyze snow and ice cover changes of the glaciers of the Cordillera Real (Bolivia) during the period 1987-2001. The study is based on analysis of satellite images, and seeks to enhance the understanding of regional trends and dynamics of glacier retreat observed on benchmark glaciers.

Floods are the most common, damaging, and life-threatening of all natural hazards in the United States as well as in North Carolina (O'Connor and Costa 2003). Floods occur in the High Country as a result of a variety of storm types, including wave cyclones, local convection, and tropical storms. Most recently, devastating floods occurred throughout the area during the fall of 2004 when hurricanes Frances and Ivan passed through the area. Mayfield and former graduate student Jess Salo are working on a project that attempts to place those floods in the context of the meteorologic processes that generate flooding in relation to the geomorphology of the watersheds. The watershed of the South Fork New River is a prime example. The headwaters region of the watershed includes the towns of Blowing Rock, Boone, West Jefferson and Jefferson. 


High-elevation measurements are essential to understanding a number of regional atmospheric issues including air pollution transport, high-impact weather events, climate variability, and climate change. Air quality and climate data from high elevations are regionally representative because the values are not greatly influenced by local sources. Yet, there is currently very little air quality and climate related measurements in northwestern North Carolina. The Appalachian Atmospheric Interdisciplinary Research Program (AppalAIR) is an interdisciplinary air quality and climate research initiative that will satisfy the data needs of the state and the region. Learn more at

Dr. Baker Perry is currently involved in a long-term research project with Dr. Charles Konrad (UNC-Chapel Hill) focusing on the spatial and synoptic patterns of snowfall across the Southern Appalachians . He is nearing completion on the first phase of this project, which looks specifically at Northwest Flow Snowfall (NWFS) events. He is also currently participating in a collaborative effort that brings together academic researchers and National Weather Service forecasters to better understand NWFS across the region. More information on this project, including recently submitted manuscripts, is available on Baker's faculty webpage.

Blizzard of 1960 photograph1960 snowfall totalsBlizzard of 1960 (photograph) and 1960 Snowfall Totals (map)

Baker maintains a strong interest in heavy rainfall, with particular interest in Western North Carolina (WNC). He, along with Dr. Charles Konrad (UNC-Chapel Hill) and Adam Smith (National Climatic Data Center) have recently completed a study of the synoptic climatology of heavy rainfall across the Eastern U.S. and plan to further focus this research on the Appalachian Plateau and Southeastern U.S. Baker and Dr. Konrad have also initiated a study of the synoptic climatology of extremely heavy rainfall in WNC, with preliminary results presented at the National Environmental Modeling and Analysis Conference (NEMAC) in 2005.

rainfall mapflooded river

This project was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation ($342,955) and was collaborative with Dr. Paul Knapp of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Dr. Soulé began work on this project in August 2009 with funding through 2013 and continues to work on manuscripts related to the fieldwork.

Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine forests of the Northern Rockies (NR) USA will grow under conditions of an increasingly CO2-rich atmosphere and a projected warmer and drier climate. This project investigated the growth responses of two co-occurring and economically important western USA conifers growing under natural conditions to these changing environmental variables. Matched DF and PP tree-ring chronologies, which show the average rate of tree growth annually, were being developed and radial growth patterns examined prior and after atmospheric CO2 concentrations became significantly elevated using growth/climate regression models, carbon isotope analysis, and analyses of growth rates during various levels of drought severity. The purpose of this research was to determine if: 1) rates of intrinsic water-use efficiency (iWUE) of both DF and PP are trending significantly upward through time because of increasing levels of CO2; 2) increasing iWUE is positively impacting the radial growth rates of these two tree species growing in water-limited environments; and 4) if there are both differential responses to CO2 fertilization between the species and spatial variation in these responses. To date, the work has resulted in publications in Geophysical Research Letters, Ecology and Evolution, Journal of Arid Environments, and Journal of Biogeography.

All photos are from fieldwork in Montana (vicinity of Missoula):

2009 team

Photo 1: the 2009 team.

Back row left to right: Justin Maxwell and Paul Knapp (UNCG). Front row left to right: Steve Shelly (USFS), Pete Soulé and Phil White (ASU).

 Hiking to trees at the Rock Creek East study site

Photo 2: Hiking to trees at the Rock Creek East study site

Photo 3: Phil White taking a core sample from a tall ponderosa pine tree.

Photo 3: Phil White taking a core sample from a tall ponderosa pine tree.

Photo 4: An old, bonzai-looking Douglas fir tree (~500 years) at the Boulder Creek Research Natural Area study site.

Photo 4: An old, bonzai-looking Douglas fir tree (~500 years) at the Boulder Creek Research Natural Area study site.

Photo 5: Phil White taking a core sample from a rather large ponderosa pine.

Photo 5: Phil White taking a core sample from a rather large ponderosa pine.

Photo 6: Pete and Phil hiking some steep terrain at Rock Creek East.

Photo 6: Pete and Phil hiking some steep terrain at Rock Creek East.

Accelerated warming in the Northern Hemisphere polar region, termed the Arctic amplification, is concurrent with the rapid loss of Arctic sea-ice (about 11%/decade) measured by satellite data since 1979. In turn, Arctic sea-ice extent (ASIE) and the strength of the polar vortex have been linked, with some of the most noticeable impacts experienced as anomalous cold winter conditions in the eastern North American mid-latitudes. However, warm-season impacts associated with increased meridionality and persistence also occur. Here we examine a linkage between ASIE and radial growth rates of alpine larch trees (Larix lyallii Parl; LALY) growing in high elevations of the western United States. Specifically, we posit that ASIE influences upper-level atmospheric flow patterns, and thus growing season temperature and radial growth for LALY. Our specific hypotheses are: 1) variations in summer surface temperature are a significant driving force for radial growth of LALY; 2) variations in ASIE exhibit meaningful and significant control over upper-level flow patterns that in turn control surface temperature in the NR and NC; and 3) the tree-ring record of LALY will allow for the reconstruction of summer temperature patterns and ASIE in the northern Rockies for several centuries. From dendroclimatic analyses at three sites in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains near the southern extent of LALY (near 45.8°N, 114.3°W) we have found significant relationships between radial growth and June-August temperature (r = 0.52, p < 0.001, n = 121) and radial growth and April sea-ice extent (r = -0.53, p < 0.001, n = 37). 

Dr. Soule at Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area, Montana

Dr. Soule at Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area, Montana

Dr. Maxwell taking a core sample from an alpine larch tree.

Dr. Maxwell taking a core sample from an alpine larch tree.

Dr. Knapp coring a large alpine larch tree.

Dr. Knapp coring a large alpine larch tree. 

This project is collaborative with Dr. Paul Knapp of UNCG and Dr. Justin Maxwell of Indiana University and is funded by a 3-year, $300,886 grant from the Geography and Spatial Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation. The grant allows us to expand the project throughout the range of longleaf pine trees in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.

This study is designed to provide paleo perspectives regarding the hydroclimatic importance and variability of rainfall derived from landfalling tropical cyclones (TCs; tropical depressions,tropical storms, and hurricanes) in the Southeast Atlantic coastal region (SACR) of the United States through development and application of multiple proxy tree-ring records. Latewood growth (i.e., summer/autumn growth) of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris Mill.) growing within the SACR principally occurs from mid-June through mid-October, thus coinciding with tropical-cyclone season, and has strong statistical power when used to reconstruct precipitation. Through a combination of live trees and remnant wood, proxy tree-ring data in the SACR will extend the climate record several hundred years beyond that available from instrumental data. The objectives are to: 1) extend the TC-derived precipitation (hereafter TCP) record to at least the 17th century; 2) examine the spatio-temporal variability of TC activity and evaluate rates of change associated with this variability; 3) determine the sensitivity of TCP to variations in climate-forcing factors including the NAO and AMO; and 4) determine if actual and reconstructed TCP values correspond with changes in delta 18O values, thus confirming the applicability of TCP as a proxy measure of TC occurrence.

All photos are from fieldwork in the vicinity of New Bern, North Carolina:

From left to right, Dr. Maxwell, Knapp and Soule.

From left to right, Dr. Maxwell, Knapp and Soule.

A typical longleaf pine ecosystem. Mature trees are approximately 200 years old.

A typical longleaf pine ecosystem. Mature trees are approximately 200 years old.

Dr. Knapp and Maxwell examining core samples they just obtained with increment borers (blue instrument) from a longleaf pine tree.

Dr. Knapp and Maxwell examining core samples they just obtained with increment borers (blue instrument) from a longleaf pine tree.

Nature Conservancy logoDr. van de Gevel has received funding from The Nature Conservancy to continue to study forest stand dynamics on Bluff Mountain during the Summer of 2009. She worked closely with Phil White (Geography graduate student) and undergraduate research assistants to synthesize results and present at the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers in Knoxville, Tennessee in November 2009 ,the Association of American Geographers Meeting in Washington D.C. in April 2010, and the Southeastern Division of the Association of American Geographers in Savannah, Georgia in November 2011.

Bluff Mountain is one of the most ecologically significant natural heritage sites in the southeastern United States. The plant communities present on Bluff Mountain include a Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana) forest, oak/hickory (Quercus/Carya) dominated forests, and a flat rock plant community. A unique southern Appalachian fen also contributes to the species diversity and importance of this site. The purpose of this project was to assess how tree species composition and age structure have changed as a consequence of chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) in hardwood forest communities on Bluff Mountain.

Bluff Mountain trees

During the last century, eastern North America (ENA) has functionally lost two major tree species (American chestnut and American elm), two more, eastern and Carolina hemlock, will be functionally extinct over much of their ranges within ten years. This is a great loss for ecological diversity and paleoecological studies in ENA. Hemlock species are a keystone/foundation species found throughout ENA, but the invasive pest hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) is causing rapid decline and mortality in a large portion of hemlock's range, especially in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Hemlock is approaching functional extinction in our region. Hemlock are one of the longest-lived tree genera in ENA and are sensitive to climatic variation and ecosystem disturbance, making them ideal species for the reconstruction of environmental history.

hemlock fieldwork

Unlike American chestnut, we have the opportunity to salvage environmental histories from hemlock species before they are lost. The proposed study will collect, analyze, and archive tree-ring samples from Carolina hemlock in western North Carolina. Results from this study would advance our understanding of disturbance regimes in eastern deciduous forests, elucidate recent changes in species composition and structure, and establish the Carolina hemlock response to climatic changes on a regional spatial scale.

Dr. Nicholas Fuhrman, Assistant Professor and Evaluation Specialist, University of Georgia

Dr. A. Christian Morgan, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia

Dr. Carolyn Copenheaver, Associate Professor, Virginia Tech

Dr. Saskia van de Gevel, Assistant Professor, Appalachian State University

Dr. John Seiler, Professor of Forestry, Virginia Tech

The Ambassadors for Conservation Education (ACE) Program is an effort to recruit urban high school students from Washington, DC and Atlanta, Georgia to consider pursuing college majors in forestry or agricultural communication. The University of Georgia, Virginia Tech, and Appalachian State University are collaborating to offer a course that would allow current undergraduates in forestry and agricultural communication to travel to Appalachian State for team leadership training during weekends in Fall 2010 and Fall 2011. The undergraduates will then visit with high school students at wildlife refuges near Washington, DC and Atlanta, GA where they will teach students how to be “citizen scientists” and teach content from their majors.

Photo Caption (below): In October 2010, Appalachian State University hosted a field weekend for 34 students and professors from Virginia Tech and University of Georgia at the Broyhill Inn and Conference Center. The group then went to Indian Spring State Forest, Georgia, and Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge, Virginia for our "citizen scientist" field days with high school students. Appalachian State University will be hosting another weekend even in October 2011.

ACE PROGRAM 2010-2012 participants

Whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis Engelm.) ecosystems have been shown to be highly sensitive to climate variability, with relatively small changes in temperature and precipitation causing significant effects on species productivity, community structure, and disturbance regimes. However, interactions between biotic and abiotic disturbance processes set in the context of changing environmental conditions may confound our ability to identify a pure climate signal in this complex ecosystem. Our understanding of how whitebark pine communities have been influenced both by changing climate conditions and disturbance is therefore critical for providing the ecological context of the growth declines observed in many whitebark pine communities today. In this study, we interpreted radial growth patterns of six whitebark pine chronologies to distinguish the relative influences of climate and mountain pine beetle activity on growth patterns exhibited by whitebark pine populations in western Montana.   For more information about whitebark pine ecosystems:

Photos taken in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in Montana. Dr. Evan Larson (University of Wisconsin-Plattville) and Dr. Saskia van de Gevel with an old-growth whitebark pine on top of Ajax Peak. Summer 2006.

Dr. Evan Larson (University of Wisconsin-Plattville) and Dr. Saskia van de GevelMontana landscape

Dr. van de Gevel has incorporated her tree-ring research into lectures and laboratories for multiple grade levels (kindergarten through university instruction) for the past seven years. Her research has been integrated into education programs of the National Science Foundation GK-12 Earth Science Project at University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Geographic Alliance, and the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. She has supervised undergraduate and graduate students as a Group Leader at four North American Dendroecological Fieldweeks (2004 in Minnesota, 2005 in Idaho, 2007 in Tennessee, and 2009 in Massachusetts).

The North American Dendroecological Fieldweek (NADEF) provides an intensive learning experience in dendrochronology. Previous experience in field and laboratory-based tree-ring techniques is not required. Participants range from new initiates in the field to seasoned veterans with over 20 years or longer of experience. Group leaders of the fieldweek are
among the top scientists in the various fields of global environmental change. Everybody that participates in the fieldweeks learns new things because the projects and locations are different every year.

Find out more about the North American Dendroecological Fieldweeks and see this year’s NADEF Stand Dynamics Group Harvard Forest final report:

Photo caption: Saskia van de Gevel and the 2009 Stand Dynamics Group at Harvard Forest, Massachusetts. June 2009.  

NADEF poster for Hampshire College June 2009 meeting

Saskia van de Gevel and the 2009 Stand Dynamics Group