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National leader in land change science comes to ASU

March 13, 2008

Billie Lee Turner, a national leader in sustainability science and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, is joining Arizona State University as the inaugural Gilbert F. White Chair in Environment and Society in the School of Geographical Sciences.

Turner, whose research deals primarily with human-environment relationships focusing on land-use change, is currently the Milton P. and Alice C. Higgins Professor of Environment and Society at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. He also is director of the Graduate School of Geography and a research professor in the George Perkins Marsh Institute.

In his work, Turner uses methods and approaches crossing the natural, social sciences and spatial sciences, including remote sensing and GIS, combined with extensive field work, primarily in Mexico and Central America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia, to understand the causes and consequences of deforestation and desertification. His recent research focuses on the concept of vulnerability of place, combining insights from cultural and political ecology with an analysis of risk and hazard.

Turner has published widely on these topics, including three books, 10 edited volumes and more than 175 journal articles and book chapters. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, National Aeronautic and Space Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities and the A.W. Mellon Foundation, among others.

“We are delighted that Professor Turner is joining ASU as the first to hold the Gilbert F. White Chair in Environment and Society, and as the first member of the National Academy of Sciences in the School of Geographical Sciences. With the addition of Billie to our geography faculty, ASU takes a significant leap onto the national climate hazards arena, one of the most salient sustainability issues of our time,” says ASU President Michael M. Crow.

Turner’s study of the causes of land change and land management decisions and their environmental impacts in both ancient and modern contexts “makes him one of the pioneers of the new interdisciplinary efforts toward establishing a land change science,” says Luc Anselin, founding director of ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“He brings vast experience in human and environment interaction, and will be a great catalyst to move the sustainability agenda forward at ASU,” Anselin says.

As the Gilbert F. White Chair in Environment and Society, Turner will strengthen the interdisciplinary links between geographical sciences and other sustainability initiatives at ASU. The chair was established to recognize the importance of connections between science and society and the role of geographical sciences in contributing to the greater understanding of the interaction between human behavior and the environment.

White was the Gustavson Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Colorado from 1980 until his death in 2006. He was a pioneer in the scientific study of hazards and a preeminent environmental geographer.

"The life and accomplishments of Gilbert White set the standards by which all other researchers of human-environment relations are judged,” says Turner. “He was an inspiration and mentor to me, both directly and through his students."

During his long career, White made many significant scientific contributions to the study of floodplains and water management, providing some of the initial foundations for what later became known as sustainability science, Anselin says. Naming the chair for White honors his vast contributions to the broader science of sustainability, a core transdisciplinary theme at Arizona State University.

“One critical issue in my decision to come to ASU is its vision of a New American University,” says Turner. “I am most excited about the intellectual and programmatic directions taken by ASU and the overall vision and links between the new School of Geographical Sciences and the School of Sustainability.”

“I see this as a tipping point in our ability to address important and urgent issues at the conjunction of human and natural systems,” says Charles Redman, director of ASU’s School of Sustainability and the Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and the Environment.

Turner has a doctorate in geography from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and master’s and undergraduate degrees in geography from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He has served on numerous national and international boards and committees, including the National Research Council (NRC) committees on Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change and on Geography, the NRC boards on Earth Sciences and Resources and on Agriculture and Natural Resources, and various land change science efforts of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, International Human Dimensions Program and National Ecological Observatory Network.

Turner is a former Guggenheim Fellow and Fellow of the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences. He is the recipient of Honors in Research from the Association of American Geographers and the Centennial Medal from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Like White, Turner is one of the few geographers who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He also is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

With Turner’s hire, Arizona State University will have 10 faculty members in the National Academy of Sciences and seven in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Turner is the latest in a series of strategic hires in the School of Geographical Sciences this academic year, notes Linda Lederman, dean of social sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Luc Anselin, one of the principal developers of the field of spatial econometrics, was hired as founding director of the school and began in July. Since then, he has led efforts to expand our strengths, build a diverse graduate program and put the new school on the map as the leading center in geographical sciences,” Lederman says.

Before coming to ASU, Anselin was the Faculty Excellence Professor and director of the Spatial Analysis Laboratory in the Department of Geography at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is best know for his book “Spatial Econometrics” and his development of the applications SpaceStat and GeoDa.

Anselin also serves as director of the GeoDa Center for Geospatial Analysis and Computation, in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences. The new research unit is devoted to the development, implementation and application of state-of-the-art methods of geospatial analysis to policy issues in the social and environmental sciences.

“We are building a critical mass at ASU,” Anselin says.

Other recent hires include:

• Alan Murray, an expert in location modeling and spatial analysis and editor of Geographical Analysis. Murray is a professor of geography and the director of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at Ohio State University. He begins at ASU this fall.

• Sergio Rey, an expert in spatial analysis and geocomputation and the main developer of Space-Time Analysis of Regional Systems (STARS), open source software designed for dynamic exploratory analysis of data measured for areal units at multiple points in time. Rey is chair of the Department of Geography at San Diego State University. He begins at ASU this fall.

• Janet Franklin, an expert in landscape ecology and biophysical remote sensing. Franklin is professor and associate chair of the Department of Biology and adjunct professor of geography at San Diego State University. She will have a joint appointment at ASU with the School of Life Sciences and will begin in fall 2009.

• Emily Talen, an expert on new urbanism. Talen was a professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before joining ASU last fall. Her latest book, “Design for Diversity: Planning for Socially Mixed Neighborhoods,” is due out this month.

“With these new hires we have the most sophisticated group and advanced methodology know-how in geo-spatial analysis,” Anselin says. “We will develop methods, implement them in software and apply them to solve societal problems.”