Conference participants seeking stonesWith nearly 25,000 students, a quarter of whom are graduate students, Western Michigan University is a student-centered research university ranking among the top 50 largest colleges and universities in the United States.

The Department of Geography advances research and creativity through the work of faculty in the following areas.

Physical and environmental geography

Climate variability and climate change

This research focuses on the impact of climate variability and change on hydrological and terrestrial ecosystems. It employs the Community Earth System Model to investigate hydrological and biogeochemical processes that are interactive with climate. Specific focus on land-atmosphere interactions, climate change and terrestrial ecosystem modeling, and soil moisture modeling (Dr. Lei Meng).

Water resources management, water hydrology and nonpoint source pollution in the United States and China

This research asks:

  • How can hydrologic models and spatial technologies be incorporated in planning processes to support watershed management and ecosystem protection?
  • How can we utilize new remote sensing, computing, modeling, tracing and mapping technologies to better observe, analyze and visualize the dynamics of water resources over space and time? (Dr. Chansheng He).
  • How does land use or cover change resulting from human and environmental interactions affect the watershed hydrologic processes over space and time?
  • How much freshwater is available to support the multiple demands for water for domestic supplies, industrial development, agricultural irrigation (the largest consumptive water use in both the United States and the world), and hydropower generation while satisfying the needs for ecosystem maintenance?


Using GIS to reduce the impact of sensitive weather on profitable crop production in the United States

The USDA is funding a million dollar research effort to use GIS to develop methods for multi-scale, multi-crop, multi-regional crop disease forecasting system and web-based delivery system. The research will benefit a variety of cropping systems throughout the United States including the leaf spot of peanuts in Georgia and northern Florida, Fusarium head blight of barley in the northern Great Plains and late blight of potato in Michigan are used as regional case studies. (Dr. Kathleen Baker)

Using satellite imagery to evaluate the quality of rice paddies in South Korea

This research uses satellite imagery to evaluate the quality of rice paddies in western South Korea that has been reclaimed from the sea (Dr. Charles Emerson and Dr. Gregory Veeck)

Using geospatial technologies and Eocene Mammalian fossils

NSF-funded research to use geospatial technologies (satellite image analysis, geographic information systems, and the global positioning system) to improve the likelihood of finding productive Eocene mammalian fossils in the Great Divide Basin, Wyoming (Dr. Charles Emerson). 

Students in labCommunity development and planning

Environmental modeling, social justice, spatial communication and urban governance

This research entails the modeling of biophysical processes to inform more sustainable (i.e., ecologically sound and socially equitable) urban policies as well as evaluating how spatial communication can inform just processes of environmental governance.

Projects include:

  • The Environmental Impact of Housing Segregation: An analysis of home-to-work commuting behavior in Orange County, California.
  • The Social-Ecological Effects of Air Pollution on Urban Agriculture: A Detroit case study (Dr. C. Scott Smith).
  • Toxic Transfers: Distributing risks from hazmat shipments using TRI data.
  • Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities (Dr. C. Scott Smith).
  • University Transportation Center (Dr. C. Scott Smith).
  • Explorations into the Equity Dimensions of United States Bicylcle Sharing Systems (Dr. C. Scott Smith).

Small and medium-sized city analysis

Research focuses on understanding the spatial, social, and economic dynamics of medium and small and medium-sized urban areas and their implications for community economic development and planning. Topics include growth and change in Micropolitan Michigan and size and scale in the urban hierarchy (Dr. Benjamin Ofori-Amoah).

Michigan Heritage Water Trails

The Michigan Heritage Water Trails are routes on navigable waterways designed and implemented to foster an interactive historical educational experience. Research focuses on developing a trimodal leisure corridor that integrates bike, sea kayak and driving routes. This research is funded by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Coastal Zone Management (Dr. David Lemberg).

Economic geography

Agriculture, rural development and rural environmental and ecological issues

This research examinations agricultural, rural development and ecological issues with particular reference to Asia. Topics include agricultural activities on reclaimed lands in South Korea (Dr. Gregory Veeck and Dr. Charles Emerson). 

Economic development of Africa

This research explores problems, issues and prospects of development with respect to Africa. Specific focus is on theory and practice of economic development; problems and issues in rural, urban and transportation development; and the role of the human factor in the development of Africa (Dr. Benjamin Ofori-Amoah). 

Geographic education

Analysis and mapping of the impact of content standards and statewide assessment on geography

This research examines student geography achievement in Michigan schools. Beginning in 1997, baseline data were collected by survey from Michigan school districts regarding their instructional programs in geography. The State content standards were introduced in 1998 and the initial statewide testing of students in geography at the fourth, eighth and 11th grades began in February 1999 (Dr. Joseph Stoltman).


Agri-tourism in Southwestern Michigan

This research investigates how apples, hard cider and value-added products produced through the agricultural realities of the area can lead to enhanced tourism opportunities. Additionally, many of the same products that Michigan produces are found around the world. These areas present research opportunities for geographers as well as tourist possibilities for comparisons (Dr. Lucius Hallett and Dr. Gregory Veeck).

Ethnic tourism

This research focuses on tourism planning and development issues with an emphasis on ethnic tourism in China. Topics have ranged from analysis of tourism impacts, destination planning and related socio-cultural issues, tourism demand management and rural tourism (Dr. Li Yang).

Michigan Heritage Water Trails

Dr. David Lemberg oversees the Michigan Heritage Water Trails (Also see community development and planning above.)

Centers and institutes

The W.E. Upjohn Center

The W.E. Upjohn Center for the Study of Geographical Change provides preservation and protection of historic maps and documents and is a world class facility for digitizing large format originals at very high resolutions (Dr. Benjamin Ofori-Amoah).

Student theses

 Recent Theses