Fassnacht joins Swiss-Spanish River Field Course along Ebro in Spain

Colorado State Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Professor Steven R. Fassnacht recently joined a University of Geneva Master program field course along the Ebro River in Eastern Spain. This 5-day field course explored a river system with a variety of uses and demands, to study a set of issues linked to water use and management. The six students took on a role playing exercise to for the development of an optimization of water resource planning in the specific basin in an attempt to integrate socioeconomic, political, and environmental aspects. Climate change impacts are already evident along this river and these have been further impacted by land use and water management decisions over the past century.


Professor Martin Beniston of the University of Geneva was the lead faculty member and was assisted by Ms. Victorine Castex, Dr. Markus Stoffel, and Dr. Juan Antonio Ballesteros Canovas of the Climatic Change and Climate Impacts Research Group (Uni. Geneva). The field trip excursion was organized by Dr. Juan Ignacio López Moreno of the Pyrenees Ecology Institute. The trip explored issues related to reforestation, hazards and risk, climatic extremes including  droughts and floods, agriculture and irrigation, salinization, sediments, and dams.  


The trip started in Jaca in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, near the headquarters of IPE.  A number of research professionals spoke to the class about a variety of issues. Dr. María Estela Nadal Romero of IPE illustrated geomorphological changes to heawater badland areas as a result of land use changes. Dr. Jose M. García Ruiz of IPE gave an overview of long-term, larger scale geomorphological changes that helped formed the headwater regions of the system, as well as intense 1996 flash flood at the Biescas campground on a small tributary that killed 87 people and caused 10s of million of dollars in damaged 


He also provided insight into the agricultural practices across the Ebro Depression that include wells built in the 13th century. Professor Alfredo Ollero Ojeda of the University of Zaragoza showed elements of extensive flooding along the main stem of the river while Drs. Ramon Batalla and Dr. Damià Vericat of the University of Lleida present fluvial dynamics of the system, especially related to dams and sedimentation. The trip ended with a boat cruise through the Ebro Delta to examine salinity issues that influences the agriculture of the delta, including the growing of rice. The delta is a region that has been influenced some by climate change, but more dramatically by a decrease in the sediment loading into the system. Professor Enrique Morán of the University of the Balearic Islands also provided his perspectives on climate change across the area.


This was a multi-lingual course, with all presenters being native Spanish speakers, English being the working language of the course, and some discussions were held in French, which is the language of the University of Geneva.


CSU Professor Fassnacht offers a similar course, Issues in Hydrology, that explores the ecohydrological and cultural aspects of the Duero River in Northern Spain. His course is offered in the spring with the field trip occurring in January. In 2016, seven CSU students joined Fassnacht, beginning with a few days of cultural activities in Madrid including the Epiphany parade and a visit to the Prado Museum. The trip then followed the river from its headwater near Soria along the Spanish Central Range, through the cities of Segovia, Avila and Salamanca, to the largest natural lake in Spain (Lago de Sanabria). It then met up with the Duero (Douro in Portugese) at the confluence with the Rio Sabor. The trip concluded in Porto at the mouth of the river where it enters the Atlantic Ocean. In 2017, six students will join Fassnacht to follow a similar route.




Laituri encourages participation in Jefferson Science Fellowship

Professor Melinda Laituri recently completed a year as a Jefferson Science Fellow in Washington D.C. working as a science advisor for U.S. Foreign policy to the US. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Jefferson Science Fellows program was established in 2003 to strengthen the engagement of American academic science, technology and engineering and medical community in the formulation and implementation of U.S. foreign policy.

Professor Laituri is the fourth CSU faculty member to receive this honor, and CSU’s first female fellow in the program. CSU has had a successful history of participation in the fellowship program, with past Fellows including: Marvin Paule, Department of Biochemistry (2007), Rajiv Kholsa, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences (2012), and Mo Salman, Department of Clinical Sciences (2013.

“I would highly encourage senior faculty to apply for this fellowship,” Laituri said. “It’s not what you’d think it would be. The experience was full of surprises. The people I worked with at the State Department were dedicated and really the behind the scenes workers who make the government work.”

Working as a part of the Humanitarian Information Unit, Laituri assisted with responses to disasters by contributing data and mapping tools for agencies responding to crises. Her unit created maps that identified effective locations of medical clinics for aid organizations to address the Ebola crisis in Africa. They also determined that data for countries in West Africa were significantly lacking, and turned to a unique volunteer organizations to help fill in the gaps.

Facilitated by the Humanitarian Information Unit’s MapGive initiative, groups such as the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap hold ‘mapping parties’ where GIS experts and citizen volunteers get together to use high resolution satellite images to generate data sets for disaster response in areas where data are sparse.

In the case of West Africa, these groups were instrumental in helping provide critical data for the mapping efforts. Laituri worked with Unit team members to assist in data development for the Ebola outbreak response. In additional to contributing data about the physical environment, Laituri and the team contributed cultural and social data, highlighting the role of local burial practices in facilitating the spread of the disease and tracking such practices using geospatial tools.
Dr. Laituri will continue to work on projects she engaged in with the State Department now that she is back at CSU. The Secondary Cities project will examine the emergency preparedness, infrastructure and service needs of rapidly developing cities throughout the developing world. Using geospatial technologies, the Secondary Cities project will provide capacity building for mapping and analysis in those cities prone to disaster and experiencing rapid population growth. With this rapid growth comes challenges for infrastructure that need better planning for the future.

This ongoing research will help those governments be proactive in their planning efforts around natural disasters and potential security issues in these rapidly developing areas.

Dr. Laituri is a professor of geography in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at CSU’s Warner College of Natural Resources. She has been at CSU in over the past 20 years and teaches courses related to watershed science and sustainability, geographic information systems, and the geography of hazards. She is the director of the CSU Geospatial Centroid, a center that promotes GIS activities, education, and outreach at CSU and throughout Colorado.

As a Fulbright Scholar, she was at the Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Scientific Innovation at the University of Botswana. She is also a Rachel Carson Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center in Munich, where she contributes to geospatial applications in environmental history and river systems.

Dr. Falkowski contributes to a USDA project

ESS’ newest faculty member, Dr. Michael Falkowski, is contributing to a USDA project, The Sage Grouse Initiative to better target invasive species that are damaging sage grouse habitat and associated rangeland. He has created a Tree Canopy Cover layer of their new interactive online map, which shows where conifers are degrading sagebrush, and where predators might be lurking in Western states.