ASU Regents' Professor mines big data to monitor environment


September 10, 2015

Janet Franklin isn’t the sort of person who likes to raise alarms, but when she talks about the environment, people should take notice.

She says humans are wreaking havoc on Mother Earth, and her perspective carries the weight of big data as she monitors the dynamics of Earth’s changing climate and surface. Janet Franklin Janet Franklin, an ASU professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and a Regents’ Professor for the 2014-2015 academic year, says climate change is occurring with unprecedented speed. Download Full Image

“In a decade we had gone from having to rely on the predictions of models about climate change to having amassed heaps and heaps of observational evidence of climate change attributable to human-generated greenhouse gasses from use of fossil fuels and other activities,” said Franklin, an ASU professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and one of four Regents’ Professors for the 2014-2015 academic year.

“Rapidly melting mountain glaciers was the stunning one — this was even before the more recent dramatic losses of Arctic sea ice. I made a conscious decision to address climate-change impacts on ecosystems in my research and have done so ever since.”

The research started when she was 12. That’s when she attended a lecture by Linus Pauling at Stanford University with her father, who was a San Francisco-area physician. Pauling spoke about his Nobel Prize-winning research on sickle cell anemia.

“I was so excited about what he (Pauling) described, although I barely understood it,” Franklin said. “I decided I wanted to be a molecular biologist and solve life puzzle sciences.”

Franklin has been solving those puzzles ever since. Her research bridges the academic disciplines of geography and biology by using various kinds of satellite imagery, remote sensing and climate and topographic data.

“Everyone talks about big data these days, but they mean millions of tweets or stock-market transactions,” Franklin said. “I have always enjoyed the technical challenges of working with these big geospatial data sets to monitor the dynamics of the Earth’s surface.”

What she is finding isn’t exactly the kind of data that is encouraging or uplifting. However, it’s a message that needs to be taken seriously.

“Climate change is occurring with a speed that is virtually unprecedented in Earth’s history, but land-use change — deforestation, urbanization, conversion of prairies to crops and rangeland — over the past 10,000 years and especially 500 years has an even more immediate and profound effect on natural systems everywhere,” Franklin said. “Only by considering these global change factors together can we make evidence-based projections or recommendations of resource conservation and land management strategies.”

Franklin’s latest research project takes her to two sites in northern California — the Sierra National Forest and the Tehachapi Mountains — where she is studying refuge areas for plants and tall trees during the state’s most severe drought in recorded history.

As for Franklin’s career, it is anything but dry. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 for her pioneering work employing geospatial data and spatial analytical tools to examine the evolving biodiversity of ecosystems over time, as they relate to the physical environment, ecological processes and human influences. In June, she was named Regents Professor, an honor that has left her “flattered, honored, surprised and humbled.”

“This has been a big year,” Franklin said. “I’m the kind of scientist who has been quietly doing my work for three decades. I never expected this kind of recognition. It feels pretty nice.”

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-5176

ASU professor named Navajo Nation poet laureate


September 11, 2015

Growing up in a tiny town on the Navajo reservation, Laura Tohe relied on comics, fairy tales and books to stimulate her mind — even if that meant a four-hour round-trip drive to the nearest library.

“Since we didn’t have television, reading was a way out of the rez for me,” said Tohe, an English professor in Arizona State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Books took me to other places in the world and to other time eras.” Laura Tohe weaving Arizona State University English professor Laura Tohe is being named the poet laureate of the Navajo Nation for 2015-2017. She finds writing to be like weaving; she’s continuing the legacy traditions of her mother, aunt, grandmother and great-grandmother, using some of their tools as well. Here she weaves in her Mesa home on July 13. Photo by: Charlie Leight/ASU News Download Full Image

Today, the Tohe era will commence when she is named the new poet laureate of the Navajo Nation at an official ceremony in Crownpoint, New Mexico. Tohe succeeds Luci Tapahonso, who was named the nation’s first ever poet laureate in 2013.

The goal of designating a chief poet is to encourage other Navajo writers and artists and to underscore their contributions to Navajo culture.

Tohe has already contributed much to the Navajo Nation and the literary world.

She has written four books, published hundreds of poems and has had several translations of her work ­­— including into dance and music. In 2008, Tohe wrote the commissioned libretto for “Enemy Slayer: A Navajo Oratorio” for the Phoenix Symphony.

Tohe credits a vivid imagination and the lack of a family television to her success.

“I was introduced to reading with the ‘Dick and Jane’ series at school,” she said. “I gravitated to fairy tales, and when my mother could afford it, she bought me ‘Little Lotta,’ ‘Richie Rich’ comics and later my brothers reluctantly let me read their comics — ‘Superman,’ ‘Batman’ and others.”

Tohe grew up on the reservation in Crystal, New Mexico, near the Chuska Mountains on the eastern border of the Dine/Navajo homeland. The town’s population hovered just above 300 people, and outside of attending school, there wasn’t much to do. Storytelling was not only a way to pass the time, but an art form among her people.

“One time I drove with my grandparents down Highway 666, and they recounted all of the places where a relative died or some incident happened. It was a highway of stories,” Tohe said. “I grew up with an oral tradition, and that has been my biggest influence in developing my voice and my work as a poet and writer. ‘You don’t have anything if you don’t have stories,’ is what my mother used to say.”

Tohe said as a child she told such captivating stories that a family friend would come over to listen to her when she’d go on a tear. Her stories eventually grew into poetry and sometimes prose poetry.

“Dine people, like many indigenous peoples, have always had great reverence for language, for sacred words and how they are used in meditations,” Tohe said. “For example, prayers and song meditations are used to heal and restore health and wellness for someone suffering from a certain illness. It can also uplift the human spirit.”

In her duties as poet laureate, Tohe wants to help uplift the Navajo people, specifically the next generations.

“I would like to see our younger generation continue the tradition of writing poetry, what we call ‘Saad Naazhch’aa,’ which translates to ‘pictures with words,’ ” Tohe said. “We didn’t have a word for poetry a few years ago. Since our language has diminished with the boarding-school era, poetry can be one of the ways to revitalize and save the Navajo language.”

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-5176