Observatory (HERO) Project
Geographers at Kansas State University are involved in a multi-university research project studying regional change. The study also involves scientists at Pennsylvania State University, Clark University, the University of Arizona, and the US Geological Survey. KSU will receive $290,000 in research funding over 5 years [2000-2004] as part of the "Infrastructure to Develop a Human-Environment Regional Observatory (HERO) Network."
Four human-environment regional observatories (HEROs) are located in the Southwest-Mexico border region, the High Plains of Kansas, central Pennsylvania, and central Massachusetts. They represent a diverse set of natural and human environments for addressing land-use change, social and economic influences, and climate impacts. The project will contribute to human science and policy research related to human dimensions of global change and ideas of vulnerability and sustainability. The overarching question that will be approached by studying a variety of conditions in study areas is "how does evolving/changing land use affect the vulnerabilities of people and places in the face of climate variation and change?" Researchers will be cooperating to develop comparable data sets, and to make research results available to other researchers and the public, while focusing on the specific conditions in these different areas. Teams from each of the four areas will collaborate so that similar questions are addressed in each location.
The High Plains (Kansas) research site includes 19 counties in the southwestern part of the state. This is an excellent location for examining agricultural land-use change, human adjustment to climate change, local vulnerability, and human impacts on regional sustainability. The area is both the heart of the 1930s dustbowl and a region of extensive dryland cultivation and rangeland. Parts of the region have been transformed by the addition of irrigated agriculture, large feedlots, and giant beef-packing plants. Concerns about the status and use of Ogallala aquifer groundwater are very important in this area, where rapid population growth has been seen by some communities, although the entire area sits in a vast area of long-term population decline.
Geographers at Kansas State University have a distinguished history of human-environment research in the High Plains-Ogallala region. Research grants from the Kansas Water Resources Research Institute, the General Service Foundation, and the Ford Foundation have supported studies on attitudes concerning groundwater depletion, the diffusion of water-saving practices, institutional and irrigator response to groundwater policy and management, and the relationship between irrigated agriculture and demographic change. NASA, through the Association of American Geographers, and the National Institutes for Global Environmental Change supported KSU geographers as a part of the Global Change in Local Places (GCLP) program. GCLP research examined greenhouse gas emissions in 6 counties in southwestern Kansas, factors related to change in the area, and compared human response to Ogallala aquifer depletion to possible future adjustments to global climate change. The HERO research team includes K-State geographers Stephen E. White, John A. Harrington, Jr., Douglas G. Goodin, Lisa M.B. Harrington, David E. Kromm, and Max Lu.
In the first few years of the project, Kansas HERO
research will investigate how land use and land cover have responded to
1) climate fluctuations, 2) agricultural & other policy changes,
3) socio-economic conditions, 4) resource availability, and 5) local
thinking & decisionmaking. How crop and animal production,
groundwater depletion, petroleum and natural gas exploitation, and land-use
change impact long-term social, economic, and demographic stability of
the High Plains-Ogallala region are critical issues that are being
Home Page of HERO Project at Pennsylvania State University