Honors Council Lecture: 18th-Century Bayesian theorem applied to geography

BEMIDJI, Minn. (April 2, 2012) — In the mid-1700s, an English Presbyterian minister named Thomas Bayes devised a theorem to address how beliefs should be modified in the face of additional information, while stating that the accuracy of that additional information could only be determined by the truth of the initial belief. Applications of Bayes’ theorem were used to help crack Germany’s Engima cyphers in World War II and to hunt Russian submarines during the Cold War, and it is still used today in the logic that controls spam filters in email clients.

Dr. Jeff Ueland, associate professor of geography at Bemidji State University, will discuss Bayes’ theorem and its applications in geography at an Honors Council Lecture Series presentation entitled “18th Century Ideas; 21st Century Landscapes.” His lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 5, in Hagg-Sauer Hall room 112 on the Bemidji State campus.

“With high-end computational environments accompanied by massive datasets, our ability to understand and analyze patterns in our world is better than at any time in our history,” Ueland said. “However, much of the way we examine our ‘big data’ is limited by methods that were created for, and work best with, small datasets and samples. Baynes’ theorem has made it possible for us to reassess how we examine our ever-expanding, data-rich society.”

Ueland will discuss the Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, a 61,500-acre refuge established in Marshall County in 1937. The refuge is an important area for waterfowl nesting and is a key location in the drainage network of the Red and Red Lake rivers. The refuge has seen increases in winter temperatures over the last several decades; this increase is believed to have impacted wildlife and increased the exotic-invasive species in the area. Ueland’s lecture will present a project to map the terrain of the refuge, which contains territory difficult to reach on foot or by motorized vehicles, using Bayes’ theorem to create a classification scheme for the park’s land cover.

“This research is meant to provide a better understanding of these highly complex and dynamic environments, while producing a viable and cost-effective method for classifying and monitoring wetland vegitation,” Ueland says. “It is also hoped that this effort will help the National Fish and Wildlife Service implement management plans for key habitats in the refuge.”

Ueland an associate professor of geography at Bemidji State and has years of experience in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in both the academic and private sectors. Ueland received his doctorage from Florida State University in 2005 and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of North Dakota. After attending North Dakota, he worked in the private sector for Vista Information Solutions and CB Richard Ellis in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area until going to Florida State in 2000. Ueland came to Bemidji State after spending three years on the faculty at Ohio University as an assistant professor of geography. There, he taught GIS courses at all levels, including spatial statistics and basic application development.

Ueland has given more than 30 invited and conference presentations and has published nearly a dozen peer-reviewed journal articles. In addition, he has been involved in several projects where he has utilized GIS and spatial analysis. These include work on mangrove habitats in Florida; chagas disease in Ecuador; the impacts of marine recreational fishing in the United States; the spatial dimensions of housing value, crime, and education in Jacksonville, Fla.; and an examination of race and elevation in urban areas of the southern United States.

The Honors Council Lecture Series is hosted by the Bemidji State University Honors Council. The council is the advisory group to the Honors Program comprised of 12 faculty members from all three of the University’s colleges. Student representatives also are elected to the council by their cohorts for one-year terms.

For more information about the Honors Council Lecture Series, please contact the honors program at (218) 755-3984.