Faculty Research Interests, 2020-2021

This page is still being developed. If you are interested in working with a GGIS faculty member not listed here, please feel free to contact them.


Jim Best

Rivers lie at the very heart of human civilization, history and modern society and hold key importance for agriculture and food production, transport, ecological diversity, urban growth and human well-being. Yet, human influences on such large rivers and their deltas are placing enormous multiple stresses on these environments and demanding a holistic approach to river basin management and study. My research involves the study of modern rivers and deltas, how and why they are changing, what factors we need to consider in their sustainable management and how such rivers are represented in the ancient geological record. This research currently concerns a range of the world’s large rivers, including the Amazon and Mekong rivers, and studying various aspects of their natural geomorphology and anthropogenic change. If you have interests in how modern river valleys and river deltas are changing, and the intersection with human well-being, there are a range of projects suitable for a Roepke scholar. | jimbest@illinois.edu

Siân Butcher
sian butcher

I am a human geographer with research interests in the histories and politics of urban development in highly unequal, segregated cities (such as those of South Africa, my field site), predominantly utilizing qualitative methods (archival, interviews, ethnographic). To date, I have been focused on understanding the power dynamics around developer-driven suburban housing and land transformations on the edges of Johannesburg for a growing, but vulnerable middle class. My current project extends this focus on developers and financiers to explore how state actors and residents also shape these developer-driven spaces in greater Johannesburg, and how they may in turn be shifting or reproducing racial, economic and spatial inequalities in the post-apartheid city. | sbutcher@illinois.edu


Julie Cidell

I’m an urban geographer who studies transportation infrastructure and its effects on surrounding areas. I’ve also studied urban sustainability and local government in Chicago and Melbourne. I have a project underway that is studying the conversion of rail yards in urban areas to other kinds of land uses (like Hudson Yards in New York or Millennium Park in Chicago). If you’re interested in helping to identify such sites and collect information about how they’re being redeveloped, please contact me. | jcidell@illinois.edu

Piotr Cienciala

I have a new project well-suited for a Roepke Scholar. The project focuses on the detection of landscape/ecosystem responses to environmental change in temperate rainforests (climate and land use). The project uses a combination of remote sensing (satellite imagery) and GIS to document spatial pattern and temporal trajectory of the ongoing changes. Depending on the interests and skills of the student(s), the project could focus more on either of these two methodological components. Temperate rainforest landscapes/ecosystems are among the most productive on the planet, and there is urgent need to understand how sensitive they are to the ongoing global environmental change. | piotrc@illinois.edu


Chunyuan Diao

My research interests lie at the confluence of remote sensing, GIScience, and biogeography. The broad goal of my research is to develop advanced remote sensing frameworks to understand the interactions among land cover dynamics, hydrologic regimes, climate changes, and human activities. In today’s big data era, large volumes of remotely sensed information open up new paradigms for exploring these interactions. To date, my research has mostly focused on advancing time series of remote sensing at multiple spatial, temporal and spectral scales, to better understand vegetation phenological dynamics in response to climate and environmental changes. I am also interested in building advanced computational solutions to model large-scale agricultural and forest system dynamics under various natural and anthropogenic disturbances by integrating remote sensing, process-based models, deep learning, and high performance computing. | chunyuan@illinois.edu


Mark Lara

My research strives to advance knowledge of how Arctic and Boreal (permafrost landscapes) ecosystems have/will respond to historical/projected climate change and disturbance (permafrost degradation, wildfire, & herbivory). Ecosystem responses to such events are complicated, varying dramatically over space and time. Therefore, my research focuses on disentangling this ecological puzzle using a multi-scale observation trifecta (ground-based monitoring, aerial/satellite remote sensing, and empirical/machine-learning/process-based modeling). Recent projects use air and spaceborne remote sensing to characterize patterns in Arctic greening/browning, detect decadal patterns of permafrost degradation, and relate such patterns of change with climate and environmental forcing. If you are interested in participating in this line of research as a Roepke Scholar, contact me to discuss potential opportunities. | mjlara@illinois.edu

Bruce Rhoads

My research focuses on rivers and watersheds as important natural resources of the Earth system. I primarily look at how rivers change through time via mechanisms of erosion and deposition and how, at watershed scales, the delivery, transport, and storage of sediment results in changes in river processes. We live in a world increasing affected by humans - through changes in land use and climate - and I am particularly interested in how humans influence the dynamics of rivers and watersheds and how these effects link to the environmental quality of water resources, including biogeochemical and ecological conditions. My work also attempts to bridge physical and human geography by looking at how fluvial processes, i.e. the physical processes associated with rivers, are connected to social, political, and economic processes. Much of my research is conducted in the Midwest, both in urban and rural environments and on small streams and large rivers. My work is field oriented, but often includes GIS, laboratory, and modeling components. | brhoads@illinois.edu


Murugesu Sivapalan

My research is aimed at advancing hydrologic predictions (i.e., streamflow, including extremes, and stream water quality), at catchment scale through overcoming three major challenges to extrapolation: (i) across space (i.e., from small to large space scales); (ii) across places (i.e., across regional gradients of climate and topography); and, (iii) across time (e.g., in changing physical and/or social environments). With these in mind, the thrust of my fundamental research is to gain understanding of observed space-time variability of rainfall-streamflow-water quality processes, including extremes, at a range of time and space scales, and across places (i.e., across climatic, topographic and socio-economic gradients, both regionally and globally), and interpret these in terms of underlying climate-soil-vegetation-topography-human interactions and feedbacks. Advances in hydrological understanding are then used to develop hydrological models, both top-down and bottom-up, that can be used to make predictions of water quantity and water quality at the catchment scale, regionally across places, and in the future under human-induced climatic and land use and land cover changes and other human interferences in the hydrologic cycle. | sivapala@illinois.edu


Shaowen Wang

I pursue research on computation- and data-intensive geospatial discovery and innovation. The primary goal of my research is to create sustainable cyberGIS solutions while empowering computational and data-driven research in many geospatial-related domains. Scientific software tools and cyberGIS capabilities created from my research program have been used by tens of thousands of researchers in a number of domains (e.g., bioengineering, environmental engineering and sciences, geography, geosciences, and social sciences) for tackling computational and data challenges to achieve research and education advances. My research continues the development of cyberGIS and geospatial data science frontiers by creating and integrating novel computational and data-driven approaches to produce transformative discovery and innovation in a number of geospatial-related fields. Specifically, my current research focuses on the following three interrelated themes: spatial computational theories and methods for cyberGIS; geospatial data science for novel applications; and scalable solutions to complex environmental and geospatial problems. | shaowen@illinois.edu