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

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Vet uses ceramic art to reflect on war


September 10, 2015

“They’re just cups,” he says. “Just cups.”

He goes on to say that they’re not that special, and that they shouldn’t be considered fine works of art. But Ehren Tool knows better than that. Ehren Tool shapes a ceramic cup Visiting artist Ehren Tool shapes the final small ceramic cup out of a block of clay at the Arizona Artists Guild in North Phoenix on Wednesday morning on Sept. 8, 2015. The ceramic artist is featured in a show that will have an opening evening on Sept. 11 at the ASU Art Museum Brickyard in downtown Tempe. Download Full Image

Deep down, the ceramic artist from Berkeley, California, knows they’re an invitation to a conversation about the unspeakable and irreversible effects of war.

“My wife calls my work, ‘War Awareness Art,’ and it’s not necessarily for or against war but you’d better be aware of its long-term impacts,” Tool said on Thursday as he spun a potter’s wheel in front of a group of veterans and the general public.

“I don’t question my service. I still love the Marine Corps. It’s just that there’s a gap between the stated goal and the outcome. Rhetoric breaks down real quick after you’re in the battlefield or in the zone, and rounds are going both ways.”

Tool promises there will be no rhetoric at the exhibition, “Statement Piece: Erik Gronborg and Ehren Tool,” which opened in August and will run until Nov. 21 at ASU’s Art Museum Brickyard, located at 7th Street and Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe.

A free and open reception for the exhibition will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Friday, when Tool will make cups in the museum’s gallery and give them away.

Over the past decade, Tool has given away more than 14,000 of his handmade cups. He does this as a statement against the large cost of war.

The exhibition features some of his cups, but it also brings together two socially engaged artists from different generations.

Denmark-born Gronborg, who will not be present for the opening reception, spent several years in a work camp for conscientious objectors before moving to the United States, where he made his mark with a series of functional pots addressing the Vietnam War.

Tool joined the Marine Corps in 1989 and served in Operation Desert Storm as part of the Military Police. Upon his return, Tool began to study ceramics, using functional pottery as a way to explore his revolving views about military service and the human toll inflicted by warfare.

“Gronborg and Tool have been paired for this exhibition because of similarities in their work and parallels in their personal histories,” said Garth Johnson, ASU Art Museum’s curator of ceramics. “Both artists harness the power of images pressed into wet clay. Both create approachable, functional pottery with social content built in that causes the person using the artwork to contemplate their own relationship with the U.S. Military.

Tool says he’s had a lot of time to contemplate his reasons for joining the marines — he thought it would make him a man. But he says his gung-ho attitude going into the service was quickly blunted by the horrors of war.

“When I told my grandfather that I was going to join the Marine Corps, he laughed and then said, ‘They’re going to steal your soul,’ ’’ Tool said. “It wasn’t the Kodak moment I was looking for.”

The picturesque moments Tool experienced were mostly grisly and cynical, which are stamped and emblazoned on the side of his cups. They feature skeletons, bullets, bomber planes, flowers, dollar bills, war medals and the occasional quote – “It’s just business” or “Worst religion ever.”

The exhibition also features 393 broken cups, which Tool created and glazed, and then shot at close range with a pistol. The broken cups, he says, represent the number of U.S. combat casualties at the end of the second Gulf War.

“Each one of those cups had the potential to live 500,000 to a million years, but a little piece of lead found them,” Tool said. “Those soldiers could have gone on to have kids and grandkids, or they could have been engineers, doctors, lawyers or could have gone on to do great things.”

“I think peace is the only adequate war memorial.”

For more information about “Statement Piece,” call 480-965-2787 or visit asuartmuseum.asu.edu.

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-5176