ASU powers up with Green Sports Alliance


June 26, 2015

The maroon and gold will be adding an honorary green stripe to its school colors in a show of sustainable solidarity.

The Pac-12 Conference has announced that it has officially joined the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), making it the first collegiate sports conference to count all its members – including Arizona State University – as GSA participants. The Pac-12 Conference announced June 29 that it has officially joined the Green Sports Alliance, and is the first collegiate sports conference to count all its members as GSA participants. Photo by: Thomas Perez/Arizona State University Download Full Image

As members of the GSA, the conference and university athletics programs have committed to measure their environmental performance, develop strategies and goals to reduce their footprint, monitor progress and engage fans and community in the process. Most significantly, the Pac-12 and its members will support one another, and additional GSA members, in their sports greening efforts.

ASU’s Recycle and Solid Waste Manager Alana Levine said the partnership is significant and will help the university achieve its ultimate goal of zero-waste status.

“The alliance creates a platform for every university in the Pac-12 to share information with each other, which we can apply here at ASU,” Levine said. “Joining the alliance means we can also put our competitive natures to use and create opportunities to challenge each other.”

The zero waste principle aims for the diversion and aversion of more than 90 percent of trash away from the landfill. Diversion techniques include blue bin recycling, green bin composting and reusing or repurposing; and the avoidance of non-recyclable and non-compostable materials.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an average American generates 4.38 pounds of trash every day, of which 1.51 pounds is recyclable and compostable.  In 2013, Americans recovered over 64.7 million tons of waste through recycling, and over 22 tons through composting.

From zero-waste stadiums, to solar powered arenas, to robust-student and faculty-led initiatives, ASU and the Pac-12 are genuine leaders in college sports greening. Spurred by their common membership in the GSA, Pac-12 universities also recently completed the inaugural Pac-12 Zero Waste Challenge where rivals competed in athletic events for men’s basketball, women’s basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, soccer, softball and baseball.

Sporting events at ASU have specifically been targeted as a place to educate students and the community on how to become more sustainable. More than 51,000 people were in attendance at last year’s Game Day Recycling Challenge, when the Sun Devils took on Washington State in the final home football game of the season. That day more than 67,000 pounds of waste was collected at Sun Devil Stadium with almost 52,000 pounds of it being recycled.

“It’s very rare to find a red trash receptacle at any of our sporting events,” said Peter Wozniak, manager of ASU’s athletic facilities. “We really do try and lead by example.” Wozniak added that in addition to using LED lighting and providing recycle bins at their sports facilities, ASU purchases sustainable cleaning supplies and encourages food suppliers to use recyclable products.

“We still have a long way to go where we need to be, but we’ve also come a long way from when we first started.”

Since launching nationally in March of 2011, the Green Sports Alliance has grown from six teams from six leagues to nearly 300 teams, venues and university from 20 leagues in 14 countries. Currently, 30 NCAA affiliated universities are members of the alliance.

Reporter , ASU Now

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ASU professor develops artificial-intelligence tools for environmental research


June 29, 2015

In pre-computer times, engineers, environmental planners and scientists alike relied heavily on detailed topographic maps to do everything from plan projects to survey areas at risk of flooding or landslides.

But neither the traditional topographic map nor even the current digital equivalent tell us everything we’d like to know about terrain and how it changes over time. The U.S. Geological Survey is now seeking to develop richer geographic information sources. Wenwen Li ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Wenwen Li, a professor in ASU's School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, is using cutting-edge computer science techniques to support terrain and environmental research. Photo by: Andy DeLisle/ASU Download Full Image

Based on work she’d done already, the U.S. Geological Survey provided three years’ funding to ASU’s Wenwen Li to help work towards this goal.

The aim is to develop a methodology that automatically identifies features and their characteristics. For example, we’d not only know the boundary of a lake, but its shape, length, surface elevation and deepest point, and the land form or man-made structures that surround it.

The real-world applications are many.

One example: After a landslide, the tool could be used to automatically extract changes in slope, elevation and shape of the terrain. These characteristics could be compared to those of other landslides, and the cumulative knowledge could assist in identifying other locations at risk for landslides.

Another possible application is in the world of geology, where the new tools and data could support discovery and research of new terrain features both on Earth and other planets.

“The vision is that terrain features could be regenerated based on the machine-learning tools we’re developing,” Li said.  “This will allow us to assess change over time, and quantitative comparisons between similar geographic features.”

Imagery gathered by satellites will be a key source of data. In addition, unmanned vehicle technologies such as robotics and drones offer new opportunities to collect previously unavailable data.

The new machine-learning tools, used together with these new data sources, could provide a way to automatically detect, monitor and quantitatively describe the changes of terrain features over time. 

Applying computer science to geography

In attacking this problem, Li – a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning – is applying cutting-edge developments in computer science to the geographic realm. “Deep learning” or “deep machine learning” is an artificial intelligence method that tries to mimic how the brain works, in order to give computers powers similar to the human brain.

Deep-learning methods are behind technologies ranging from web search to speech and facial recognition. As the power of computers increases, deep learning can generate inferences in a way that better resembles the way the brain processes. It has potential to transform the process of identifying three-dimensional features as radically as computer-based searches have transformed how we look for text-based information.

“There is no existing solution that is intelligent enough to automatically accomplish this task,” Li said.

“Deep learning has a remarkable ability to derive patterns from complicated or imprecise data, have an ability to learn, are strongly self-organized, and can create their own representation of the knowledge received. Because of this, I hope to introduce this new research area into geography to support terrain research.”

“This is a very challenging and exciting project. If we can solve even some of the problems involved, this will be a major step towards being able to create a digital version of Earth and its changing environment for future generations.”

In addition to serving as principal investigator for this project, Li is principal investigator for three National Science Foundation grants. These include “Building a Polar Cyberinfrastructure Portal to Support Sustained Polar Sciences” (2014-2015) and “PolarGlobe: Powering up Polar Cyberinfrastructure Using M-Cube Visualization for Polar Climate Studies” (2015-2018).  In addition, she is also winner of a 5-year National Science Foundation CAREER Award, “CAREER: Cyber-Knowledge Infrastructure for Geospatial Data.”

The School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Barbara Trapido-Lurie

research professional senior, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning

480-965-7449