Students strive for deeper understanding of urban desert meteorology

September 8, 2015

Three Arizona State University engineering and science students are hoping to contribute to knowledge of the complex interplay of energy and water fluxes in our built urban environments.

With the support of a grant from the Earth Materials and Processes program of the U.S. Army Research Office, they have deployed a 30-foot metal tower equipped with environmental and meteorological sensors in an irrigated grassy area at ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa. Vivoni meteorological flux tower A meteorological flux tower assembled by three ASU students is being deployed at various campus sites to study factors that impact urban desert climates. Checking out sensing devices on the tower are students (from left) Adam Schreiner-McGraw, Nicole Pierini and Ivan Lopez-Castrillo and professor Enrique Vivoni. Photo by: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

The sensing devices mounted on the meteorological flux tower track changes in moisture, carbon dioxide, energy and wind speed and direction, among other things.

The tower had been set up on the Tempe campus this spring – first in a sparsely vegetated desert area near the Biodesign Institute building, and then in an asphalt-paved parking lot near a high-traffic intersection.

The project team is comparing how energy and water fluctuations change as the land cover varies from engineered surfaces to irrigated landscaping at the three Tempe and Polytechnic campus settings. The aim is to better understand the interactions of engineered surfaces, soils and vegetation with the surrounding atmosphere, and how they affect evaporation, gas and heat-transfer processes.

What they find could reveal important information about fluxes in energy and moisture levels in urban environments, says team member Nicole Pierini, a doctoral student in the hydrosystems engineering program.

She’s working with civil engineering undergraduate Ivan Lopez-Castrillo and geological sciences doctoral student Adam Schreiner-McGraw, under the direction of Enrique Vivoni, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, and the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

By putting the flux tower in a greenbelt setting at the Polytechnic campus site during the summer, the students have been able to measure environmental interactions during Arizona’s monsoon.

“We’ll be able to see the relationship between the energy fluxes and varying moisture input in very different weather conditions than at other times of the year,” Pierini says. “We hope this will give us insight into how regularly irrigated grass plays a role in evapotranspiration rates within an urban environment.”

After mid-August, the team began comparing data from the three sites to identify what locations promote heat emissions that cause the urban heat-island effect, and to quantify the effect of irrigation on ameliorating or altering these heat emissions at each site. The role of irrigation can also be compared to the landscape’s natural responses to rain events during the spring and summer seasons.

“The deployment of this new mobile tower in the three different urban-cover types has really opened our eyes to the large differences in energy and water fluxes within the built environment,” Vivoni says. “We have also been lucky to have been monitoring the sites during unusually wet periods in the spring and early summer, as well as during our monsoon season. The results should be very telling about how the surface energy budget varies within our desert urban region.”

Team members say more extensive research data from such studies could help regions cope more effectively with the implications of changes in urban climate – including changes in air quality, energy and water conditions and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Army Research Office is interested in the research because of its potential to increase understanding of the impacts of climate conditions in the types of desert environments in which the nation’s military could be called on to carry out more operations in the future.

The project is giving the students valuable experience in seeking out collaborators whose assistance and expertise is necessary for carrying out their work, Pierini says.

Help in obtaining permission to set up the tower, finding appropriate locations for the structure and providing irrigation data has come from Raymond Humbert, associate director of operations for ASU Parking and Transit Services, and from Polytechnic campus facilities management director John Herrera and grounds supervisor Jimmy Mastalsz.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Author appearances a highlight of ASU Book Group

September 8, 2015

As a child, Joan Burtnett always looked forward to the days when the bookmobile would stop at the top of the hill where she lived.

Nowadays, the retired elementary school teacher and Arizona State University alum gets her literary fix at the ASU Book Group’s meetings, held from noon to 1 p.m. on (mostly) the last Wednesday of every month at the Virginia G. Piper Writers House on the Tempe campus. ASU Book Group titles This year's titles featured at the ASU Book Club include: “Gettysburg, 1913: A Novel of the Great Reunion," by faculty member Alan Simon; Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love and Die at the Movies,” by associate professor of English Tara Ison; and “The Best of a Better View,” by ASU graduate Chris Benghue. Download Full Image

This fall, the group kicks off its fifth year. It began in the fall of 2011 at the behest of Judith Smith, then an ASU media relations officer and contributor to ASU News. (Smith has since retired after 25 years with the university but remains active within the group and the ASU community in general.)

“I decided to start the book group because I … was privileged to meet many of the faculty at ASU who wrote interesting books on a variety of topics,” she said. “The average person at ASU does not get that chance, so I thought it would be great to invite ASU faculty, staff, graduates – and local authors – to [participate in the group].”

At each meeting, members discuss that month’s book, which, more often than not, is presided over by the authors themselves. Afterward, they can join the author and Smith for lunch at the University Club.

Past books have included “Desert Wind,” by local author Betty Webb; “Available Surfaces: Essays on Poesis,” by ASU English professor T. R. Hummer; and “A World Apart,” by Camelia Skiba with ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Skiba isn’t just a featured author of the book group, though; she’s one of its most enthusiastic members.

“Books bring people together, feed our imagination and nourish our souls; we find ourselves inside their pages, living through the hero’s eyes and being exposed to things real life doesn’t always allow us – like traveling to places we can’t afford to go, other cultures and traditions, etc.,” she said.

ASU College of Law staffer Carolyn Landry has been a member of the group since its inception. She doesn’t hesitate when asked what she likes most about it:

“Meeting the authors!”

Among some of her favorites is Jewell Parker Rhodes, ASU English professor and director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, whose award-winning book “Ninth Ward” the group discussed.

“Jewell was really amazing, dynamic and fun to talk to,” said Landry.

Despite the ASU Book Group’s shining reviews, members like Burtnett and Skiba lament that not enough people seem to know about it.

“The authors are always so interesting, and I’m sorry and surprised that more people don’t come because I’ve always had a good time,” said Burtnett.

Not much of a reader? No problem, Smith said.

”I encourage people to come to the meetings even if they haven't read the book. It's a great learning experience, and just plain fun to hear the authors talk about what motivated them to write the book, and how it all took place,” she said.

The ASU Book Group is sponsored by the Department of English. It is free and open to all members of the ASU community.

“It’s free and at your feet; all it takes is a walk through the campus and you’re there,” Skiba said. “Make friends, learn something, discover new subjects, enhance your imagination … the list can go on.”

The schedule for the ASU Book Group’s fifth year:

Sept. 30 – “Gettysburg, 1913: A Novel of the Great Reunion,” by Alan Simon, a faculty member in the Information Systems Department of the W. P. Carey School of Business and an ASU graduate.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, more than 50,000 Civil War veterans ranging in age from 61 to more than 100 converged on the scene of the battle exactly half a century earlier in the real-life occasion of healing that was known as the Great Reunion. Simon’s novel tells the story of the Great Reunion through a cast of characters from both sides of the war as well as those charged with the success of the occasion.

The book is available as an e-book on

Oct. 28 – “Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love and Die at the Movies,” by Tara Ison, an associate professor of English at ASU.

“Reeling Through Life” looks at how film shapes identity. Through 10 cleverly constructed essays, Ison explores how a lifetime of movie watching has, for better or worse, taught her how to navigate the world and how to grapple with issues of career, family, faith, illness, sex and love.

The book is available at bookstores.

Dec. 2 – “My Son Dave (The Duck): A Story About Loving and Letting Go,” by Plynn Gutman, an ASU graduate.

Gutman discovers a baby duck alone on a neighborhood street at a serendipitous moment in her life. Sensing her own sons growing away from her, the emptying hole in her heart fills when Dave (the Duck) imprints on her as his mother. With sensitivity and wit, Gutman shares her account of the challenges and joys of adopting Dave and raising him with the same love and care she gave her own sons.

The book is available as an e-book on, and a print edition is in the works.

Jan. 27 – “The Best of a Better View,” by Chris Benghue, an ASU graduate who has written for People Magazine and the National Enquirer, among other publications. He is a columnist for The Catholic Sun.

“The Best of a Better View” is an inspiring pick-me-up that helps the reader put the news, as well as their own personal experiences, into meaningful and hopeful perspectives.

The book is available through the publisher, Amor Deus Publishing, or on

Feb. 24 – “Pachacuti: World Overturned,” by Lori Eshleman, an instructor in ASU’s College of Letters and Sciences at the Polytechnic campus.

Eshleman has always been drawn to those spaces in time where cultural and religious traditions encountered each other, from the European Middle Ages to colonial Latin America to the American West. Her new book of historical fiction explores the overlap of issues of race, gender, politics and religion through characters whose lives become entwined during an uprising in the Andean kingdom of Quito in the 1700s.

The book is available through ACMRS Publications.

March 30 – “Classic Tales from the Firehouse,” by Rebecca Joy and Betty Hammer Joy. Rebecca Joy is an ASU graduate and was among the first group of women hired by the Phoenix Fire Department.

“Classic Tales From the Firehouse” focuses on the sometimes poignant, often lighthearted, but always human side of the fire service career and the heroes and heroines who choose it. The book captures the diversity of situations that firefighters encounter on the streets and in day-to-day life with their crews. Entertaining, historical and even educational, these stories reflect the forward progress of fire service over the decades.

The book is available through the website Classic Tales From The Firehouse.

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU Now

(480) 965-9657