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Natural Sciences Education Abstract - Articles

Riparian Areas of the Southwest: Learning from Repeat Photographs


This article in NSE

  1. Vol. 39 No. 1, p. 63-69
    Received: Dec 1, 2009

    * Corresponding author(s): zaimesgeorge@gmail.com
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  1. George N. Zaimes *a and
  2. Michael A. Crimminsb
  1. a Univ. of Arizona, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Biological Sciences East, P.O. Box 210043, Tucson, AZ 85721
    b Univ. of Arizona, Dep. of Soil Water and Environmental Sciences, P.O. Box 210038, 429 Shantz, Tucson, AZ 85721


Spatial and temporal variability of riparian areas, as well as potential impacts from climate change, are concepts that land and water managers and stakeholders need to understand to effectively manage and protect riparian areas. Rapid population growth in the southwestern United States, and multiple-use designation of most riparian areas, makes understanding these concepts even more important. To assist in this endeavor, the Watershed/Riparian and Climate Science Extension programs at the University of Arizona developed two experiential learning exercises with repeat photographs of riparian areas. Experiential learning is the process of learning from direct experiences; repeat photography, a tool for long-term monitoring, provides visual details of landscapes across large temporal scales. The goal of the exercises was to increase the participant's knowledge on certain topics through active participation, communication, problem-based learning, critical thinking, and empowerment. The first exercise examined precipitation, stream flow, and potential climate change impacts on riparian areas. The second exercise investigated how riparian areas change around the state of Arizona and through time while trying to understand the factors that cause these changes. The participants’ evaluations indicate that their knowledge level increased after conducting the exercises. In addition, the exercises are a more pleasant way of learning than the traditional teaching methods. These exercises were specific to the southwestern United States but could easily be adapted by extension professionals in other regions of the United States as well as for university courses. The plethora of repeat photographs is an unexploited resource that should be utilized for educational purposes.

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