Professor of Geographical Science & Urban Planning
Co-Coordinator, Arizona Geographic Alliance
Link to my CV
Life is NOT a journey to the
grave with the intention of arriving safely in one pretty and
well-preserved piece, but to skid across the line broadside,
thoroughly used up, worn out, covered in sweat and dirt and
blood, screaming "holy sh*t, what a ride!"
My view of life, but the saying is adapted from Mavis Leyrer, Octogenarian, of Seattle
My responsibilities as an ASU Professor revolve around
For the last several years, I have developed an interest in
whether the steep mountain slopes that abut metropolitan Phoenix
pose hazards for people and infrastructure. Thus, I have been
studying debris flows, rock falls, and rock slides that occur all
around metroPhoenix. Students are most welcome to
participate in this hazards research. There are a host of
different opportunities for students to map out the dimensions and
volume of these mass wasting events, and hopefully, publish your
Also, for the past few years, I have been honored to be part of a
team of researchers trying to unravel the story of how the Salt
River came into existence. The Salt River's sudden arrival changed
the landscape evolution of central Arizona, and its story can
provide a general model drainage evolution in extensional
My primary research interests rest on the geography of rock and
mineral decay (weathering). In particular, we are losing our
collective priceless global cultural heritage of rock art daily
through human and natural weathering processes. Thus, I feel
an imperative to focus my expertise to help rock art researchers
understand what geographical information can be extracted rock art
before it is lost forever. If you want to obtain an
understanding for why the study of rock art is so important,
please read Cave
The Origin of Creativity and Belief (Amazon
link) and listen to this
NPR interview with Dr. David Whitley. This review of Dr.
Whitley's book should convince you of its importance. However,
if you want the cliff notes version, please watch this
TED talk by Dr. Whitley.
I am also saddened by the loss of my partner in a lot of varnish research, Dr. David Krinsley. Dave hastled me constantly. In fast, at our first encounter, he told me that he thought much of my research was hogwash and challenged me to show him otherwise. I was delighted to find such a colleague who would never hesitate to point out flaws. But in the end, it was Dave who found the most wonderfully clear evidence for the power of budding bacteria in making rock varnish. To the end of my own days, I will always point to Dave as someone who constantly adopted new techniques to explore old and new questions in what he called diagenesis and what I call rock decay.
|This graphic reflects
what science is all about and what very few "scientists"
And if you have ever read Dune by Frank Herbert, the planetologist Liet-Kynes has this dying thought that seems to ring true:
"Then, as his planet killed him, it occurred to Kynes that his father and all the other scientists were wrong, that the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error."
|This is a
great article about how science really works.
And yet, another expression of the idea:
"We are here for this — to make mistakes and to correct ourselves, to stand the blows and hand them out. We must never feel disarmed: nature is immense and complex, but it is not impermeable to the intelligence; we must circle around it, pierce and probe it, look for the opening or make it."
Primo Levi, The Periodic Table (1975)
If you want another take on this issue, watch Kathryn Schulz's TED talk on the importance of being wrong.
Teaching rests at the heart of my job and the reason why I chose to be a Professor instead of a Research Scientist at a laboratory.
Some professors desire to be a Sage on the Stage or a Professor
on the Pulpit; I do not. There are others who consider
themselves the Gatekeeper of Grades, giving out only a few As and
Bs; I eschew this perspective as unethical (Reading).
to earn As. Guy Kawasaki, author of Enchantment:
The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions stated the
reason for my view best: "There are two types of people in this
world: bakers and eaters. Eaters think if they wind, you lose and
if you win they lose. Bakers think that everyone can win with a
bigger pie." I want students to go create bigger pies by taking
your knowledge and spreading around by mentoring others.
I maintain a consumer-oriented approach, because college is
enormously expensive in your money and time (click
here to see research indicating that professors can save
students lots of money by investigating the use of online
readings, instead of outrageously expensive textbooks).
Through my hopefully entertaining and enthusiastic teaching, I
want to help students achieve their goals. Sometimes, this
involves one-on-one discussions on how to succeed in
college. Other times, it involves helping students master
course material. Still other times, I simply help with minor
corrections to a student's path and then act as cheerleader.
Basically, I am fascinated with case studies in the metamorphosis
of students -- from people who have the goal of obtaining a
college degree -- into someone who develops a passion. What I
really enjoy is helping students develop that passion for research
as a key to deep learning. That is why I hope that you will get
engaged in research at ASU. You might also enjoy reading this personal take
by another person who has this same interest in student
Another thing that fascinates me is student etiquette. How
students interact with faculty seems to have changed a lot, and in
particular the use of email. Student expectations for faculty
response to their emails are completely different from faculty
expectations for students. This giant offset between student
email etiquette and faculty reading of emails upsets both students
and faculty. A New York Times
editorial by Molly Werthen (along with links to her and a
colleague's etiquette pages, as well as comics) could help
both understand each others' perspectives.
The bottom line is that I want each student to master my course
objectives and receive top grades. Since the current educational system does
not address the need to find spatially gifted students, I
love to identify these students -- who in many cases never found
academic comfort until they discovered the spatial thinking of
A wonderful new piece of research can help students with test
anxiety. These researchers found that if students write
about their thoughts of an upcoming big test -- even undergoing a
brief expressive piece of writing would significantly improve
student exam scores -- the most so for students "habitually
anxious about test testing." The authors explain: "[s]imply
writing about one's worries before a high-stakes exam can boost
Some students are a bit overwhelmed by my high level of
enthusiasm -- for the subjects I teach and for teaching college
students. This can be intimidating, especially when many old
"gray beards" are looking forward to retirement [I have no plans
to retire] or slipping into administration [the dark side of
college, in my view]. Please do not be intimidated. I find
it a giant challenge to figure out new ways to engage an
ever-changing student body. This challenge is exciting,
which generates my enthusiasm.
I also enjoy helping students find the best ways to learn, such as this concise compilation by some chemistry professors. However, the job of mastering course objectives remains the responsibility of the student. Ma ka hana ka 'ike says it all in Hawaiian: in the work is the knowledge. I cannot and should not do this work for you to learn. Ultimately, this old axiom remains true even of today's texting-addicted students:
I hear for the first time, I forget.CURRENT OR UPCOMING CLASSES
I read for reinforcement, I try to remember.
I see, I question.
I do for myself, I learn.
I teach to others, I understand.
I reflect after teaching, I improve.
GPH 111: Introduction to Physical Geography (Session A i/o)
GPH 211: Landform Processes (Session B i/o) - to be taught by Ara Jeong
GCU 414: Teaching Geography Standards (instructor permission only; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a secondary ed geography BAE major)
GPH 494: Arizona Landscapes (Session B: i/o) - 1 credit class
PUP 200: Cities in Cinema (Session B i/o)
GCU 113: United States and Arizona Social Studies - Session A
GPH 111 Session A: Introduction to Physical Geography i/o
PUP 200 Session B: Cities in Cinema (i/o)
Graduate Students Completed Degrees
I am very proud of the success of our Geography Department's
graduate students. I have been privileged to advise
fabulous minds and these persons contribute greatly to the
development and dissemination of new geographic knowledge.
Within the last few years, these have been:
|Student||Title||Year, Degree||First Appointment After Degree|
|R. Evan Palmer
||Analysis of the Spatial Thinking of College
Students in Traditional and Web-facilitated Introductory
Geography Courses using Aerial Photography and
||2014, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Assistant Professor, Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs|
||Conceptual field-based models to elucidate the distribution and nature of desert fluvial terraces: Case studies within the Sonoran Desert, Basin and Range, Arizona.||2013, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State
||Assistant Professor, Minnesota State at
|Emma Harrison||Introducing a terrestrial carbon pool in desert mountains||2013, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||Visiting Instructor, University of Wyoming
|Elyssa Gutbrod||Implementing Rapid Assessment of the Trail Environments of Arid Regions: Indicator Development and Implementation Scenarios||2013, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||GIS Professional Employment (Titan Mapping
Solutions), Calgary, Canada
||Using rock art as an
alternative science pedagogy
||2008, Ph.D. Dissertation,
Arizona State University
University of Colorado-Denver
||Explorations into a Dynamic
Process-Oriented Soil Science
||2007, Ph.D. Dissertation
Valdosta State University
||Historical biocomplexity in
irrigation agriculture. The Akimel O'Odham (Pima) and the
Gila River, Arizona
||2007, Ph.D. Dissertation,
Arizona State University
Southern Illinois University
|Niccole Villa Cerveny||A weathering-based perspective on rock art conservation (as well as other research projects)||2005, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Full-time Instructor, Mesa Community College|
|Susan Johnson||Combining geography instruction with reading: Exploring the interplay in 3rd and 5th grade classrooms||2005, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||Elementary School Teacher, Virginia|
|John C. Douglass||Criterion approach to transverse drainages (as well as other research projects)||2005, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Full-time instructor, Paradise Valley Community College|
|Kathleen Bergmann||Urban impacts on Rillito Creek||2004, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||Army Corp of Engineers|
|Daniel A. Gilewitch||Military Geography: The Interaction of Desert Geomorphology and Military Operations||2003, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Assistant Professor, United States Army Military Academy, West Point|
|Kevin A. Green||Debris slope/pediment adjustment to hydraulic processes through analyses of particle size-slope relations in different lithologies||2003, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||Ph.D. Student, University of Oregon|
|Rebecca S. Beard||Stream channel change in response to cattle exclosures in semi-arid riparian ecosystems||2003, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||Research Assistant, Ecuadorian Andes Land Use Change Project, University of Texas, Austin|
|Kathryn Anne Gross||Analysis of lateral channel stability for a portion of New River, Arizona, Between 1964-2000||2002, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||Hydrologist, Maricopa County Flood Control District|
|Evan Palmer||Feasibility and implications of a rock coating catena: Analysis of a desert hillslope||2002, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||United States Air Force|
|Mike Applegarth||Interpretation of pediment form using geographic
technology and field data
|2001. Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Assistant Professor, Shippinsburg State University|
|Lorenzo Vazquez Selem||Glacial Chronology of Iztaccihuatl
Central Mexico. A Record of Environmental Change on the Border of the Tropics
|2000, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Research Professor, UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL AUTÃ“NOMA DE MÃ‰XICO, Mexico City|
|Niccole Cerveny||Relationships between internal fractures and surface microtopography of quartz grains||2000, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||Instructor, Mesa Community College (Red Mountain)|
|Brandon Vogt||Weathering of a tombstone sphere, Tempe, Arizona||2000, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||Ph.D. Student Arizona State University|
|Michael Henze||Sediment yield on Spook Hill Pediment, Arizona||2000, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||Consultant, J.E. Fuller|
|Steve Gordon||An analysis of volcanic glass weathering, El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico, USA||1999, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Assistant Professor, United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs|
|Donald Friend||Evolution of desert colluvial boulder fields, eastern California||1997, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Assistant Professor, Mankato State University (now Associate Professor, Minnesota State University)|
|Molly Pohl||Radiocarbon dating in drylands||1995, M.A. Thesis, Arizona State University||NSF Graduate Fellow, Ph.D. Student at Arizona State University; now Assistant Professor, San Diego State University|
|Gregory Pope||A weathering boundary layer model to interpret spatial variation in quartz weathering||1994, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Assistant (now Associate) Professor
Montclair State University
|Tanzhuo Liu||Visual microlaminations in rock varnish: a new paleoenviron-mental and geomor-phic tool in drylands||1994, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University|
|Thomas R. Paradise||Weathering-constrained erosion of sandstone at the Roman Theather, Petra Jordan||1993, Ph.D. Dissertation, Arizona State University||Professor at University of Hawaii at Hilo; now Professor at University of Arkansas|
|Thad Wasklewicz||Importance of environment on basalt weathering, Hawaii||1992, M.A. Thesis Arizona State University||Ph.D. Student at Arizona State University; now Professor at University of Memphis|
Because intelligence and hierarchy do not mix well, professors
try to maintain a system of distributed responsibility to ensure
that a department's mission is not only met, but exceeded. This
"service" takes different forms, based on desires and abilities of
different faculty members. In my case, most of my service activity
rests in helping coordinate and assist K-12 geography education in
Arizona as co-coordinator of the Arizona Geographic
Officially, I advise those interested in receiving a B.A.E.
degree in geographic education (please
click here to see a PDF of the Geography BAE check sheet)
and honors students in geography. I am also very happy to
discuss classes, careers and and other matters related to
geography and education. For advising, please stop by during
office hours or, even better, e-mail me to make an appointment at
My FAVORITE Book: Cave
The Origin of Creativity and Belief (Amazon
Listen to this NPR interview of Dr. David Whitley.
My FAVORITE DISCOVERY: Desert Pavement
Formation from Accumulation of Aeolian Fines
Mabbutt, J.A. 1979. Pavements and Patterned Ground in the
Australian Stony Deserts. Stuttgarter Geographische Studien,
volume 93, p. 107-123
p. 112-3: "Very commonly an aeolian origin is postulated for the silty clays which commonly constitute the stone-free horizons beneath stone pavement sin the Australian deserts. This is in accord with their size-grading, in which they resemble other deposits of acknowledged aeolian origin in arid south-eastern Australia (BUTLER 1956), and with their uniformity and great extent over the southern Australian arid zone. A transportational origin is suggested by the way in which they uniformly blanket a wide range of country rocks, including many which could not have weathered into residual clays; on the other hand, they extend unbroken over tablelands and uplands in a way that excludes fluvial or lacustrine deposition. On the ridges of the northern Barrier Range of western New South Wales for example, mantles of this type rest with abrupt unconcormity on little weathered sandstone, quartzite and dolomitic limestone alike (MABBUTT et al. 1973) ... It is that windborne dust may have been trapped by the surface stone, which was then displaced upwards pari passu with accumulation, by relatively shallow wetting and drying as demonstrated experimentally. Under this reasoning the existence of a rough stone pavement may have been a factor in the accumulation of the sediment now underlying it.
Other geomorphologists at ASU (who do far cooler research than I attempt):
VML (Varnish Microlaminations) Dating Lab, the best place to date your rock varnish: http://www.vmldatinglab.com/.
Association of American Geographers - http://www.aag.org
and Geomorphology Specialty Group Homepage - http://www.cla.sc.edu/geog/gsgdocs
American Geophysical Union - http://earth.agu.org/kosmos/homepage.html
British Geomorphological Research Group - http://boris.qub.ac.uk/bgrg
And the BGRG Useful Websites and Links page in GeomorphologyCanadian Geomorphological Research Group - http://office.geog.uvic.ca/dept/cgrg/cgrg.htm
A Favorite Thinker - Horace Walpole• Thought to have coined the term serendipity