Spatial Lightning Talks: Call for Presenters

Now recruiting presenters

for the 11th annual

Spatial Lightning Talks

to be held online via Airmeet on February 28, 2022 at 10:00 am PT

Submit your presentation idea here by February 11

Inspired by the Ignite Talks, the Spatial Lightning Talks feature intrepid presenters who have three minutes to deliver their idea, story, or argument. Topics may be wide-ranging, as long as they somehow relate to spatial thinking and/or analysis. Both serious and lighthearted presentations are  welcomed, as long as they stick to the mantra, “Enlighten us, but make it quick.”

Affiliates and non-affiliates of UCSB are invited to present and attend. With the online format, we hope to attract participants from around the globe.

2021 Lightning Talks screenshotExamples of past years’ titles:

  • “You Are Here” (Michael Goodchild, 2021; video)
  • “Human [reference] map” (Katy Börner, 2021; video)
  • “Your Smartphone, Organize It” (Thomas Crimmel, 2017; video)
  • “The Un-Spatial Talk” (Dan Montello, 2017; video)
  • “A Lovely Mess–A Brief History of UCSB Campus Plans” (Dennis Whelan, 2017; video)
  • “Acoustic Spatialization” (Elizabeth J. Hambleton, 2017; video)
  • “Why isn’t the US metric?” (Keith C. Clarke, 2015; video)
  • “Go West, Young Man: Consistency and Inconsistency in Cognitive Representations of Cardinal Directions” (Bernard Comrie,  2015; video)
  • “Polar Bears and Great Pyrenees Dogs: A Matter of Scale!” (Tommy Dickey and Hot Rod Linkin, 2015; video)
  • “Navigating Narratives as Networks” (Jeremy Douglass,  2014; video)
  • “Airports: The Good, the Bad, and the WTF” (Grant McKenzie,  2013; video)
  • “Marine Transportation: OOPS” (Rick Church, 2010; video)
  • and many more

We will try to accommodate all submissions, but if interest exceeds the available time slots, we will select talks based on their title and a brief description of the concept (1-3 sentences). Please submit your idea through this Google Form no later than February 11. Confirmation of presenters will be emailed by February 15.

Questions? Contact Kitty Currier, We look forward to your submission!


ThinkSpatial: Amanda Cravens

ThinkSpatial logo

The UCSB forum on spatial technologies presents

Effective decision support tools:
The importance of understanding user experiences and institutional barriers to doing so

Dr. Amanda Cravens

Social and Economic Analysis Branch, US Geological Survey

11:00 am (PT), Thursday, February 3, 2022 (online)

Please register here and confirm by clicking the link emailed to you upon registering.

Abstract: Adapting to climate change and variability, and their associated impacts, requires integrating scientific information into complex decision-making processes. Recognizing this challenge, there have been widespread calls for information providers and scientists to work closely with decision makers to ensure they produce datasets and tools that meet real-world needs. Despite the emphasis on integrating user needs into the design of resources, tool developers often do not understand the range of ways their tools are actually incorporated into the decisions of potential users nor the reasons why someone might opt not to use a seemingly-relevant tool. Therefore, there is a need to better understand the specific social and institutional factors that influence why users use (or do not use) particular resources as well as the strategies that tool developers use to engage with users. Using the Upper Colorado River Drought Early Warning System as a case study, this study explored both the process of tool development and the process by which tool users find relevant information for drought decision making. Understanding these two groups’ experiences suggests ways to more effectively design and implement decision support tools in the future.

Amanda CravensBio: Amanda Cravens is a Research Social Scientist with the US Geological Survey’s Social and Economic Analysis Branch in Fort Collins, CO. Amanda’s interdisciplinary research interests include the translation of scientific information into decision making, policies and institutions that influence environmental management, and understanding the cognitive and social processes that make decision support tools work effectively. She is also very interested in the practice of interdisciplinary science and has served as a member of multiple working groups as well as published on the role of creativity in science. She earned her PhD from Stanford University’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources and her MA in Geography from the University of Canterbury (New Zealand).

The objectives of the ThinkSpatial Forum are to exchange ideas about spatial perspectives in research and teaching, to broaden communication and cooperation across disciplines among faculty and graduate students, and to encourage the sharing of tools and concepts.

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ThinkSpatial: Janet Nackoney

ThinkSpatial logo

The UCSB forum on spatial technologies presents

Geospatial information informs conservation and community forest management in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Dr. Janet Nackoney

United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
& Department of Geographical Sciences at the University of Maryland

11:00 am (PT), Thursday, January 13, 2022 (online)

See presentation slides, below.

Abstract: Geospatial tools and data are increasingly applied to help conservation managers develop more effective strategies for the protection and long-term conservation of species and the habitats they rely on. These data can help inform the quality or condition of habitats, locate areas most important for conservation prioritization, and systematically monitor areas that are vulnerable to land cover and land use change. Recent advances in satellite-based forest monitoring have significantly increased awareness about the geographic extent of the world’s tropical forests; decision-makers now have much greater access to valuable data and tools to detect forest loss and change over time. Here, geospatial data and tools were utilized to assist habitat monitoring and conservation prioritization for the bonobo (Pan paniscus), an endangered great ape that is endemic to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Community mapping, geospatial analysis and modeling have helped identify conservation priorities for bonobos and other terrestrial species, monitor forest loss and habitat destruction, and promote community-based forest management with local communities.

Janet NackoneyBio: Dr. Janet Nackoney is jointly affiliated with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Land and Resource Governance Division and the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences. Janet is a trained geographer who uses geospatial data and technology to monitor tropical forests, conserve wildlife, manage land more sustainably, and promote food security. She is passionate about exploring the intersections and tensions between human and environment systems and helping to promote more inclusive and equitable access to land and property in the developing world. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Society for Conservation GIS (SCGIS) and for Congo Education Partners, which assists a small rural college in northern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).



The objectives of the ThinkSpatial Forum are to exchange ideas about spatial perspectives in research and teaching, to broaden communication and cooperation across disciplines among faculty and graduate students, and to encourage the sharing of tools and concepts.

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ThinkSpatial: Chris S. Renschler

ThinkSpatial logo

The UCSB forum on spatial technologies presents

Building Interdisciplinary Teams for Environmental Management and Conservation Across Scales

Collaborative modeling exercise

Chris S. Renschler, Ph.D.

Dept. of Geography, University at Buffalo (SUNY), Buffalo, NY, USA

11:00 am (PT), Thursday, December 9, 2021 (online)

Time-lapse video of participatory mapping exercise pictured above

Abstract: Over the past two years, the National Science Foundation funded the initiation of a regional research network on sustainable development and community resilience in the Lower Great Lakes. utilizes a novel approach to engage scientists, stakeholders, and Indigenous Rightsholders to look at natural and social processes from a new perspective when addressing regional climate change and land use changes in coastal watersheds. The approach creates interdisciplinary teams to investigate spatial and temporal patterns around conservation and development challenges under climate change. Team individuals identify their expertise and interest in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the seven PEOPLES Resilience Framework Dimensions. This approach allows participants to converge as matching research partners creating interconnected teams working collaboratively on innovative research questions hypotheses at the regional scale. Several projects at the local scale feature a focus on assessing more detailed process patterns in environmental management and conservation. Among them are process-based modeling of runoff and soil redistribution, bioacoustics and bat habitat assessment, and a discussion to integrate social-cultural aspects in climate change impact and adaption assessment at the local scales.

Bio: Chris S. Renschler is a Professor in Geography and Director of the Geographic Information and Analysis Lab (GIAL) at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), Buffalo, NY. He is also the Director of the Landscape-based Environmental System Analysis & Modeling (LESAM) Lab. Renschler is recognized internationally as an expert and scholar in soil and water conservation, integrated watershed, natural resources, and hazards management. His research, teaching, and outreach activities include the development, validation, and application of integrated hydrology and sediment modeling tools developed collaboratively by scientists, engineers, and practitioners to support effective decision- and policy-making under global climate and land use/land cover change.

The objectives of the ThinkSpatial Forum are to exchange ideas about spatial perspectives in research and teaching, to broaden communication and cooperation across disciplines among faculty and graduate students, and to encourage the sharing of tools and concepts.

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ThinkSpatial: John Gallo

ThinkSpatial logoThe UCSB forum on spatial technologies presents

A Spatial Decision Support System and Open Knowledge Network for Fire-Risk Reduction in Santa Barbara County

John Gallo, Ph.D.

Conservation Biology Institute

11:00 am (PT), Thursday, December 2, 2021

View a PDF of the presentation’s slides.

Abstract. Extreme wildfire events are an increasing threat to both human and natural communities in the Western United States. Efforts to mitigate this threat are extremely complex and involve a bevy of jurisdictions and competing interests. Spatial Decision Support Systems (SDSS) can help these socio-political processes come to consensus on where people should do what treatments. Open Knowledge Networks (OKN), in addition, can help with the aspatial aspects of decision-making and action. Through this “Regional Priority Planning” project, funded by the California Coastal Conservancy and in part by the National Science Foundation, we pilot an SDSS and an OKN for Wildfire Risk Reduction in Santa Barbara County. The SDSS uses the Environmental Evaluation Modeling System (EEMS), a multicriteria combination software with a graphical user interface in and SDSS development continues as part of the Regional Wildfire Mitigation Program funded by the National Wildlife Foundation. I will detail the SDSS and give a demonstration of its use. The OKN, which is in a more preliminary phase, will be described in terms of its underlying science, path and process.

John GalloBio. John Gallo is a geographer and landscape ecologist performing “action research” for the past 20 years in conservation planning, spatial decision support systems, citizen science, habitat connectivity software development, and community knowledge sharing. Action research uses best practices and explores scientific frontiers while performing applied projects. He received a Ph.D. in Geography at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), under the direction of Professor Michael Goodchild, with several fellowships including the Jack and Laura Dangermond award for exceptional “promise in Geographic Information Science.” He received his B.A. in Environmental Studies and his B.S. in Ecology and Evolution, also at UCSB, with top honors. He is Senior Scientist at the Conservation Biology Institute, a non-profit organization that bridges science and practice, and that has built many spatial applications such as, a participatory GIS platform with 40,000 users and 30,000 datasets. Gallo’s favorite hobbies are birdwatching, ultimate frisbee, surfing, and hiking.

The objectives of the ThinkSpatial Forum are to exchange ideas about spatial perspectives in research and teaching, to broaden communication and cooperation across disciplines among faculty and graduate students, and to encourage the sharing of tools and concepts.

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Spatial Data Science Hangout Series: Reproducibility

The Center for Spatial Studies invites you to join us on Thursday May 20 at 9:00 a.m PT for the next Spatial Data Science Hangout on Reproducibility in Data Science Research. For this special event, we are thrilled to welcome two reproducibility experts as speakers: Daniel Nüst (Institute for Geoinformatics, University of Münster) and Casey O’Hara (BREN School, UC Santa Barbara). 

Don’t miss this event! Everyone is welcome to participate, just keep in mind that these hangouts are meant to be a comfortable environment for graduate students and early career researchers to brainstorm, talk through their imaginative ideas, discuss, and learn from each other.  

To participate in this event, please register here

Upon registration, you will receive a confirmation email with Zoom login details

Casey O’Hara is a PhD candidate in the BREN School at UCSB. After completing his MESM degree in 2014, Casey has worked on the Ocean Health Index, applying data science to communicate the range of economic, ecological, and cultural benefits people can sustainably derive from healthy oceans. In his research, he applies spatial analysis and data science principles to examine the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of human activity and climate change on marine biodiversity.

Abstract: In his talk, Casey will give a short introduction to his paper on better science in less time using open data science tools, including a quick introduction to GitHub for version control and communication, and a comparison of the pros and cons of spatial analysis using ArcMap GIS, ArcMap ModelBuilder, and R. Casey will wrap up his talk by presenting some quick results from his most recent paper: At-risk marine biodiversity faces extensive, expanding, and intensifying human impacts.

Daniel Nüst ( is a researcher at the Spatio-temporal Modelling Lab at the Institute for Geoinformatics at the University of Münster. Daniel pursues a Ph.D. in the context of the DFG project, Opening Reproducible Research, where he develops tools for creation and execution of research compendia in geography and the geosciences. His professional interest is improving the scholarly publication process with new information technology—of course, with Open Source software! Daniel is reproducibility chair at the AGILE conference series and vice chair of the German association for research software engineering.

Abstract: In his talk, Daniel will give a short introduction to his paper on practical reproducibility in geography and geosciences and present some advanced technologies for reproducibility (notebooks, containers, Binder). Daniel will wrap up his talk by discussing  how reproducibility should be taken into account during peer review and give a brief overview of the initiatives CODECHECK and Reproducible AGILE. 


ThinkSpatial: Armin Haller

thinkspatial_log<strong></strong>oThe UCSB forum on spatial technologies presents

What Are Links in Linked Open Data? A Characterization and Evaluation of Links between Knowledge Graphs on the Web

Armin Haller

Australian National University

3:00 p.m. (PT)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The recorded video of this talk can be found here.

Slides can be found here.


Abstract. Linked Open Data promises to provide guiding principles to publish interlinked knowledge graphs on the Web in the form of findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable datasets. I will argue that while as such, Linked Data may be viewed as a basis for instantiating the FAIR principles, there are still a number of open issues that cause significant data quality issues even when knowledge graphs are published as Linked Data. In this talk I will first define the boundaries of what constitutes a single coherent knowledge graph within Linked Data, i.e., present a principled notion of what a dataset is and what links within and between datasets are. I will also define different link types for data in Linked datasets and present the results of our empirical analysis of linkage among the datasets of the Linked Open Data cloud. Recent results from our analysis of Wikidata, which has not been part of the Linked Open Data Cloud, will also be presented.

Bio. Armin Haller is an Associate Professor of Business Information Systems at the Australian National University. His research interests include knowledge graph engineering, ontology engineering, linked data, the Internet-of-Things and the semantic Web in general. Haller has received funding from organisations including: the Department of Finance, to develop an ontology framework for government information and an open-source software that allows domain experts to maintain knowledge graphs called Schímatos; and from the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Program, for a project with Sydney Trains. He has published in the premier journals and conferences in his field, including Semantic Web Journal, Journal of Web Semantics, Applied Ontology, World Wide Web Conference and the International Semantic Web Conference. Haller has been an active contributor to several W3C working groups and chaired the Semantic Sensor Network Ontology working group. This work has resulted in an international standard for the description of sensors and actuators on the Internet-of-Things. Haller is a passionate evangelist of Open Government Data and, to this end, has chaired the Australian Government Linked Data Working Group for the last 7 years.

The objectives of the ThinkSpatial brown-bag presentations are to exchange ideas about spatial perspectives in research and teaching, to broaden communication and cooperation across disciplines among faculty and graduate students, and to encourage the sharing of tools and concepts.

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2021 Lightning Talks

The Center for Spatial Studies’ Lightning Talks are designed to be serious or funny, as long as the mantra is followed: “​Enlighten us, but make it quick​.

This year the talks were held on ​Tuesday, March 16, 2021. This annual series of ​3-minute​ lightning talks typically brings together speakers from across the UCSB campus and the local community to enlighten the crowd on thought-provoking ​spatial topics of all kinds​. Since this year the event was held online, it had much broader participation from across the globe with an exciting lineup of speakers from the spatial community worldwide. See the list of selected speakers and the titles of their talks below. Recorded videos can be found here.

Special note: ​The 2021 annual Center for Spatial Studies ​Lightning Talks​ were dedicated to the memory of Paul Wilson, who was one of the Center’s most avid and constant participants of all things spatial. Paul’s presence at our ongoing activities will be sorely missed. See his 2014 Lighting Talk on Whale Traffic Control:

Rui Zhu

Spatial Data Science Hangout Series: Reminder

Our Spatial Data Hangout will take place tomorrow (Thursday), December 3 from 10:00 to 11:00 am (Pacific Time). Please join us for this special session focused on Graph Data and Networks, and led by Rui Zhu, Su Burtner, Gengchen Mai, and Mike Johnson.

Zoom Meeting Link:

Meeting ID: 886 9383 0517
Passcode: geohangout

We look forward to seeing you!

ThinkSpatial: Gengchen Mai

thinkspatial_log<strong></strong>oThe UCSB forum on spatial technologies presents

Space2Vec: Multi-Scale Representation Learning for Spatial Feature Distributions using Grid Cells

Gengchen Mai


University of California, Santa Barbara

11:30 a.m. (PT)

Tuesday, Dec 1, 2020


Upon registration, you will receive access to this link

Abstract. Unsupervised text encoding models have recently fueled substantial progress in NLP. The key idea is to use neural networks to convert words in texts to vector space representations (embeddings) based on word positions in a sentence and their contexts, which are suitable for end-to-end training of downstream tasks. We see a strikingly similar situation in spatial analysis, which focuses on incorporating both absolute positions and spatial contexts of geographic objects such as POIs into models. A general-purpose representation model for space is valuable for a multitude of tasks. However, no such general model exists to date beyond simply applying discretization or feed-forward nets to coordinates, and little effort has been put into jointly modeling distributions with vastly different characteristics, which commonly emerges from GIS data. Meanwhile, Nobel Prize-winning Neuroscience research shows that grid cells in mammals provide a multi-scale periodic representation that functions as a metric for location encoding and is critical for recognizing places and for path-integration. Therefore, we propose a representation learning model called Space2Vec to encode the absolute positions and spatial relationships of places. We conduct experiments on two real-world geographic data for two different tasks: (1) predicting types of POIs given their positions and context, (2) image classification leveraging their geo-locations. Results show that because of its multi-scale representations, Space2Vec outperforms well-established ML approaches such as RBF kernels, multi-layer feed-forward nets, and tile embedding approaches for location modeling and image classification tasks. Detailed analysis shows that all baselines can at most well handle distribution at one scale but show poor performances in other scales. In contrast, Space2Vec ’s multi-scale representation can handle distributions at different scales.


Bio. Gengchen Mai is a Ph.D. candidate at the Space and Time for Knowledge Organization Lab in the Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara. His Ph.D. adviser is Prof. Krzysztof Janowicz. His research interests include Machine Learning/Deep Learning, GIScience, Geographic Question Answering, NLP, Geographic Information Retrieval, Knowledge Graph, and Semantic Web. Currently, Mai’s research is highly focused on Geographic Question Answering and Spatially-Explicit Machine Learning models. He received his B.S. Degree in Geographic Information System from Wuhan University. Thus far, he has completed four AI/ML research-based internships at Esri Inc., SayMosaic Inc., Apple Map, and Google X. He now serves as a machine learning consultant/advisor for Google X.

The objectives of the ThinkSpatial brown-bag presentations are to exchange ideas about spatial perspectives in research and teaching, to broaden communication and cooperation across disciplines among faculty and graduate students, and to encourage the sharing of tools and concepts.

Please contact Marcela Suarez (, or Karen Doehner (, to review and schedule possible discussion topics or presentations that share your disciplinary interest in spatial thinking.

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