News & Resources

Featured Faculty: Mark Gathany, Environmental Applications for GIS

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Mar 26, 2015

Dr. Mark Gathany brings a rare combination of expertise to the Au Sable Institute, as well as to his students at Cedarville University, as a scientist with a Ph.D. in ecology, formal training and certification in conservation biology, and a specialist in ecosystem science and biogeochemistry.  Remarking on his own work, Mark says, “The overall objective of my research is to develop our understanding of nutrient cycling and energy flow within ecosystems.  Within this framework, I study carbon and nitrogen dynamics in response to disturbances (such as fire) and changing land use (urbanization, agriculture, forestry). ” Mark’s studies of the effects of wildfire on carbon storage in western forests has received support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and he has participated in studies that are part of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program. His publications have appeared in scientific journals like Forests, Global Change Biology, and the International Journal of Wildland Fire, and his current research is examining the effects of forest fragmentation on wildlife disease transmission.

Mark Gathany also brings expertise in what has become one of conservation’s most important new technologies, Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS technologies have revolutionized how conservation biology can be done because it permits biologists to examine issues like habitat conservation at landscape scales, to make use of satellite images and other remote-sensing technologies, and to then determine critical attributes of such areas through more complex spatial analysis. With such technology and the skills to use it, biologists can employ GIS to identify potential habitat conservation areas for endangered species, determine optimal areas for new agricultural efforts in developing countries by overlaying multiple attributes like soil type, rainfall and topography, and precisely relate animal locations to physical and biological attributes of their surroundings. Mark notes that, while a doctoral student at Colorado State University, “I was working in the field of fire ecology at the ecosystem and landscape scale and had the opportunity to be involved with a NASA-funded study to detect fire proneness in the Colorado Front Range. Since that time, I have seen how this skill set gives us a new way of viewing and caring for Creation.  Furthermore, I have seen its’ practical side as I have taught an introductory course and heard from many alums (just this week in fact) how important GIS is to their job, and sometimes getting that job.”Mark’s goals for his new GIS course at Au Sable are to teach students the theories and applications of GIS-based spatial analysis for applied social and ecological problem-solving. Students will not only learn how to use GIS, but how to employ Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies in field data collection, how to store, process, interpret and present spatial data, and how to integrate remote sensing technologies with GIS applications. Senior Professor of Biology Emeritus at Cedarville University, Dr. John Silvius noted of Mark that “His GIS course has been well enrolled on campus since he began to offer it upon his arrival. Students have appreciated the practical skills they gain in mapping and geospatial analysis, and they are motivated by their awareness that these skills will be essential for successful careers in ecology, environmental sciences, and in other fields.”                         

The Au Sable Institute is dedicated not only to its stated mission to educate and inspire people to serve, protect and restore God’s earth, but to provide skills needed to do so. Students with skills in GIS will find themselves in increasing demand in multiple disciplines and highly paid to employ these skills in a variety of ways. Au Sable looks forward to another offering of Environmental Applications in GIS, guided under the expert and skillful hand of Dr. Mark Gathany.