After a bit of a hiatus (I blame Twitter), I’m going to start blogging again. I’ve also learned (though I’m not surprised) that the Fulbright program is under threat, and since I’m currently on a Fulbright in Nicaragua right now, that seems like another reason to share a bit what’s going on here.

First of all, why Nicaragua?


Clockwise from upper left: Howler monkey (T. Albright), Turquoise-Browed Motmot (M. Albright), spiny-tailed iguana (T. Albright).

As a biogeographer and conservation scientist, I have to start with the amazing diversity of ecosystems and organisms that Nicaragua has. Nicaragua is the largest country on the Central American Isthmus that linked North and South America and simultaneously separated the Atlantic from the Pacific some 3 million years ago (when one door opens, another closes, I guess). Nicaragua is a crossroads, with both typically North American and South American flora and fauna as well as marine fauna that in some cases has been separate long enough to see different species in Caribbean and Pacific coasts. And of course, we’re in the tropics, with plenty of light, hospitable temps, and (mostly) plenty of water for massive biodiversity. Add to that mountains, volcanoes, and isolated lakes and you get not just more species but oftentimes endemic species (found nowhere else) that evolved in or are stubborn hold outs in their isolated habitats

Want specifics? How about some 9000 different species of vascular plant (~ not mosses and stuff like that) and nearly 700 bird species. By comparison, my adopted home state of Nevada, which is surprisingly one of the most diverse in the US, is twice as large bat has a mere 488 birds and about 3000 vascular plants.

Is Nicaragua the most biodiverse in the world? Or in the Western Hemisphere? No. One needs to look no further than its neighbors Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia, which all boast more species and species density in most taxa. But while some of its neighbors have long-established research stations, a (relatively) long standing park system with community support and an established ecotourism sector, Nicaragua is a relative newcomer in these areas. Furthermore, Nicaragua is experiencing some of the most rapid forest loss in the world (down about 12% of its forest since 2000), worrisome drought (although 2017 is off to a great start), and is among the most vulnerable nations in the world to climate change. In short, Nicaragua has a ripe combination of potential and need.

The other part of the story is that I personally happen to love Nicaragua as a place. It has amazing cultural diversity, underrated food, a safe environment to work in and bring a family to, and I just so happen to be married to a woman who was born in Nicaragua (¡por gracia de Dios!).

So for me, all of this was the perfect motivation to jump into Nicaragua so I could learn more and hopefully contribute to understanding and sustaining the amazing natural resources and biodiversity in Nicaragua. I’ll share more about that, and some fun aspects of life in Nicaragua in later posts. Nos vemos!

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New opportunity at LCB/UNR for Masters/PhD Geography or PhD in EECB

I anticipate bringing on a new graduate student (funded by an assistantship) for Fall 2015 at the University of Nevada, Reno ( There are several active and overlapping projects that a new student could participate in; these involve avian landscape ecology and physiology, the American pika, remote sensing, GIS, climate change, and microclimatology. However, a new student could also develop a project along her/his own interests.

A diverse set of skills and backgrounds could be useful, but most of our work involves coding (R, Python, IDL, Matlab), statistics/modeling, and geoprocessing (remote sensing, GIS). Some LCB members are conservation/ecologically oriented, while others are more towards hydrology and climate science.  All are spatial.  All are good lab-mates.

If you are interested, please send an e-mail [subject: “grad application”] to talbright [at] and attach 1) a cv/resume, 2) unofficial transcripts/GRE scores, and 3) a one page letter letting me know your interests, goals, and key qualifications.

Please send me materials by 11 Jan, so I can provide feedback giving you time to submit a full application to the university by 1 Feb.

Currently the Lab of Conservation Biogeography ( consists of 3 masters students, 2 PhD students, a postdoc, and me, Professor Tom Albright.  I can advise students in the Geography Masters and PhD programs ( and in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology PhD Program ( We have collaborations at several other universities and government agencies and field sites in Nevada and Arizona.

Most likely, initial funding will come from a TAship ($1650 monthly stipend, tuition paid, other benefits (incl. health plan)) however opportunities for fellowships and research funding will be pursued.  Current students have been supported fellowships and grants funded by NASA, NSF, LCC, and other sources. TAs for Masters students are typically offered 2 years and for PhD students are offered for 3 years.  Life in Reno is very good with an affordable cost of living and many opportunities for outdoor (and indoor) recreation.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

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Student learning outcomes for intro remote sensing course

As with many universities, UNR is seeking to make explicit each course’s student learning outcomes (SLOs).   I teach an advanced-undergrad/grad introductory remote sensing course here.   Students come from a variety of backgrounds but tend to be from geography, geological sciences and engineering, ecology, atmospheric sciences, and natural resources and environmental sciences.  A few have some calc under their belt, but most don’t.  I want all students to have an appreciation for the physical basis for remote sensing, its capabilities and limitations, a sense of the diversity of applications, and the relationship between these and a variety of sensors, platforms, and systems.  Mostly, I want them to be able to intelligently use remote sensing information and be prepared for more advanced classes (e.g. imaging spectroscopy/hyperspectral).

Anyway, here is a draft of my SLOs along with course objectives for “Remote Sensing: Principles and Applications”.

I welcome any feedback from remote sensing (or non-remote sensing) folks via e-mail or Twitter ( @AlbrightLCB).

Course Objectives:

  • Attain a foundational knowledge and comprehension of the physical, computational, and perceptual basis for remote sensing.
  • Gain familiarity with a variety of physical, biological, and human geographic applications of remote sensing.
  • Gain basic experience in the hands-on application of remote sensing data through visual interpretation and digital image processing exercises.
  • Analyze and synthesize understanding by identifying and developing a research and application proposal using remote sensing.

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs):

  1. Students will be able to recognize and explain at a basic level fundamental physical principles of remote sensing, including the electromagnetic spectrum; the emission, scattering, reflection, and absorption of electromagnetic (EM) radiation; how EM radiation interactions vary across a limited number of substances, geometries, and temperatures; and geometric properties of photographs and imagery.
  2. Students will be able to recognize and explain basic computational properties of remote sensing data acquisition, storage, and processing.
  3. Students will be able to apply mathematical relationships (at a pre-calculus level) describing fundamental physical, geometric, and computational principles relevant to remote sensing.
  4. Students will be able to identify key applications of land, marine, aquatic, and atmospheric remote sensing and relate them to the properties of historical, current, and planned remote sensing instruments, approaches, and datasets.
  5. Students will demonstrate proficiency and conceptual understanding in using software or manual techniques to carry out remote sensing image processing and analysis through a series of laboratory exercises and reports.
  6. Students will describe a remote sensing application and assemble and summarize relevant literature in a written assignment.
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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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