Perspectives from Project HEAT 2014

ProjectHEAT logo

logo design: G. Sadoti, T. Albright

We just wrapped up our middle school summer engagement workshop called Project HEAT and I’m exhausted (in a good way).


Project HEAT participants discover a Red-Winged Black Bird nest

Project HEAT participants discover a Red-Winged Black Bird nest.

Working with a team from UNR Geography, the Raggio Research Center for STEM Education, and the Dean’s Future Scholars program, we hosted 16 Northern Nevada middle schoolers and immersed ourselves in a week-long environmental science experience.

What’s Project HEAT about?

The “HEAT” in Project HEAT stands for hot environments, animals, and temperature.   Linking to our NASA-funded research project “Desert Birds in a Warming World”, we focused on how surprisingly variable temperature is in space and time, why temperature is important to plants, animals, and people, and how we measure temperature in the field and from space.   Perhaps more importantly, this theme was a vehicle to get the kids some experience with science: field observations, brainstorming questions and hypotheses, designing experiments to test them, and analyzing and reporting their data.  Along the way, the kids also learned a bit about GPS navigation, climate change, ornithology, remote sensing, physiological ecology, and geospatial science and engineering careers here in Reno and beyond.

Learning about radiation shields...

Learning about radiation shields…

...and constructing them!

…and constructing them!







Participants tending to their vertical temperature profile experiment

Tending to a vertical temperature profile experiment

The centerpiece of the week was a set of experiments that four different teams of kids designed, executed, analyzed, and reported.  The teams were provided several micro temperature sensors called “iButtons”, constructed radiation shields, and deployed their sensor experiments in Washoe County’s Rancho San Rafael Park, right next to the UNR campus.  In doing these experiments, the kids observed vegetation microclimates, topographic effects, and vertical stratification of temperatures.  They also learned that science is full of surprises (e.g. being closer to the sun does not necessarily make something warmer).

Project HEAT – the bigger picture

Presenting results

Presenting results

The world is a big, complex place; we can’t learn everything about it by staying in a lab.  We need the big picture that geography, geospatial data, and remote sensing can provide.   But we also need to get into the field.  Although it can be challenging and sometimes messy (for researchers and the data), going into the field keeps us both grounded and inspired.   I think our kids walked away with a new perspective on science and geography that they did not have before.   Personally, I was inspired by the kids’ reactions to seeing frogs in a pond, a lizard basking in the sun, fluffy killdeer chicks through 8x magnification, hyperspectral satellite applications, and their own portraits taken with a thermal camera.  It reminded me how lucky we are to get to do science… and to get to do it with the amazing tools, places, and data that we have.

Thanks to all the people, contributors, and supporters that helped Project HEAT happen:   Jacque Ewing-Taylor and Kerry Howard of the Raggio Research Center; The Dean’s Future Scholars program, staff, and mentors; Geography/LCB members Giancarlo, Denis, Andrew, and Keeley;  our local business community, including Terra Core International, SpecTIR, and Swag | Blue Moon; the NASA New Investigator in Earth Sciences program for major project funding.  And finally, thanks and good luck to this year’s outstanding project participants!

Project HEAT portrait

Project HEAT portrait

Project HEAT portrait - thermal version

Project HEAT portrait – thermal version

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2013 LCB potluck/Pétanque clash

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Just had our annual LCB cookout/potluck at Casa Albright.  And, following tradition, sharp elbows came out for the pétanque action.


Comings and goings at LCB


The new semester is underway and it is time to introduce a great batch of folks:

From left: Matthew Bromley, Nicole Shaw, & Andrew Vitale

From left: Matthew Bromley, Nicole Shaw, & Andrew Vitale

Matt Bromley joins the lab as Master’s student.  A Reno native, UNR alum, and decorated Army veteran, Matt is also a research assistant at DRI working on remote sensing and evapotranspiration.

Nicole Shaw is a new Master’s student working on a Great Basin conservation and landscape ecology project in conjunction with Conservation Science Partners.  Nicole enjoys family time outdoors and resides in the Lake Tahoe area.

Although he started in summer 2012, Andrew Vitale’s arrival was never trumpeted.  Yet, worthy of trumpeting it is.  Andrew comes to us with an environmental sciences degree from the University at Albany.  His Master’s research involves topoclimates and remote sensing data fusion.

We also welcome our intrepid pika-microclimate field team.  Team lead, David Fisher, comes with a freshly minted Master’s in geography from Oregon.  Alex Taylor, a recent UNR natural resources graduate, hails from the Central Sierra.

And we bid fond farewell to our undergraduate technician, Sarah Hardage.  Sarah completed her Bachelor’s in electrical engineering and now works for the department of defense at an undisclosed location.


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Profile in 2013 Tahoe Summit Report

Earlier this summer, in preparation for the recent 2013 Tahoe Summit, I was among a handful of UNR faculty to be interviewed about our research and teaching as they relate to the Tahoe Basin.  It was fun to get to talk a bit about birds, citizen science, topography and climate interactions, and our conservation motivations — even if Tahoe itself is only a small fraction of the pixels we look at.

The 2013 Tahoe Summit Report has come out and a link to the feature is below.    (Wonder if keynote speaker V.P. Al Gore read the report?)


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Project HEAT kicks off amid record setting heat wave

Project HEAT logo

Design: Giancarlo Sadoti, Tom Albright/UNR

Today we welcomed 21 students participating in the Dean’s Future Scholars (DFS) program for a 2-week workshop we organized with the Raggio Research Center (RRC).

Dubbed Project HEAT (hot environments, animals, and temperature), the workshop will provide students hands-on scientific experiences organized around the theme of temperature: How temperatures vary in space in time, why temperature matters for animals and humans, how they cope with extreme temperatures, and the various ways scientists measure and analyze temperature data.  Fittingly, the workshop began as Reno (and much of the Western US) experienced record-setting heat.  We were mostly inside today.  However, the students did get to experience the heat later in the afternoon as they practiced GPS navigation, which we’ll need later in the workshop when students carry out their own mini research projects involving micro temperature sensors.

Slated to run for the next three summers, the workshop is the centerpiece of the educational component of our NASA-funded Desert Birds New Investigator project that began earlier this year.  Its all hands on deck at LCB for this workshop and it is great to also be working with DFS as well as with Jacque Ewing-Taylor and our outstanding graduate research assistant Kerry Howard.


Project HEAT participants celebrate finding a geocache as they learn about GPS navigation. Photo: Tom Albright/UNR.
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LCB is now on Twitter

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Summer field techs

We are seeking up to two 2-month summer field technicians (with funding beginning mid-June 2013) to assist in research related to American pikas, alpine ecosystems, and landscape climatology.  The technicians will work in a team to travel to remote locations in Nevada and Oregon to retrieve, replace, and re-deploy microclimatic sensors and record observations of field conditions.   Applications preferred by Friday 31 May but if you missed that, send it in anyway!

For more detailed info, see below:

Field research/technician opportunity

We are seeking up to two 2-month summer field technicians (with funding beginning mid-June 2013) to assist in research related to American pikas, alpine ecosystems, and landscape climatology.  The technicians will work in a team to travel to remote locations in Nevada and Oregon to retrieve, replace, and re-deploy microclimatic sensors and record observations of field conditions.  Although breathtakingly scenic, accessing these locations is physically demanding, often requiring sustained hiking in remote, rocky, high-elevation locations.  Work will involve driving in a 4WD vehicle for up to tens of miles on unmarked dirt roads per day and then day-hiking or backpacking (often without a marked trail) to locations 1-12 miles from the vehicle, and arriving at exact sensor locations, which can be up to 900 m in elevation above the vehicle.  Equipment and instruction in field techniques and safety practices will be provided.  The technicians will be based in the Laboratory for Conservation Biogeography at the University of Nevada, Reno, and work with Erik Beever (U.S. Geological Survey) and other collaborators. There may be opportunities to continue involvement with this and related research.


Please see qualifications below and, if interested, provide 1) a resume, 2) a cover letter addressing these qualifications and your ‘fit’ to the position, and 3) contact information for three or more individuals who can verify your qualifications.  Please send the materials (subject: “UNR field tech”) or any questions to Thomas Albright ( talbright [at]; 775-784-6673).  Materials will be continuously accepted, but responses are encouraged by 31 May 2013.



-       Ability to hike on rockslides with a medium to moderately heavy backpack in rugged, high-elevation areas.

-       Familiar with navigation by maps, compass, and GPS

-       Comfortable working and camping in remote backcountry locations; solid decision-making in these contexts

-       Critical-thinking skills, attention to detail, and positive attitude

-       Valid U.S. driver’s license with good driving record.


Desirable qualifications:

-       Experience in collection of field data and identification of Great Basin plant species

-       Interest in ecology, wildlife, climate, physical geography, and scientific research

-       GIS, remote sensing, and statistics for applicants interested in research



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