Archive for the ‘Alumni’ Category

Evelyn Fairman: At the Nano Scale

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

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Evelyn Fairman of Bangor graduated from the University of Maine in May with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, and minors in renewable energy engineering and mathematics. This fall, she has begun graduate work in energy science, technology and policy, with a disciplinary concentration in chemical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Upon graduation in May 2015, she plans to work with alternative liquid fuels in an industrial setting.

For two years while at UMaine, Fairman was involved in nanocellulose research. Her work, which applied cetyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) in order to dry and rehydrate nanocellulose for easier transport, was recognized with a 2013 UMaine Center for Undergraduate Research Fellowship. This spring, her work was featured in the Maine Journal, and Fairman was recognized by UMaine with the Edith M. Patch Award. Most recently, the poster from her Honors thesis, “Avoiding Aggregation During the Drying and Rehydration Phases of Nanocellulose Production,” was a finalist in the Society of Women Engineers Collegiate Technical Poster Competition.

Earlier this year, Fairman presented her research findings at the 2014 National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University. This summer, she also spoke at the 2014 TAPPI International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials in Vancouver, B.C.

In her research, Fairman was mentored by engineering faculty members David Neivandt, James Beaupre and Karen Horton; Honors College Dean Francois Amar; and forest operations professor Douglas Gardner.

Why did you decide to major in chemical engineering?
I chose to major in chemical engineering because I wanted to change the way energy is manufactured and distributed. I felt obligated as an educated citizen to reverse the effects of climate change by reducing our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. As a junior in high school, I hoped to one day design an alternative liquid fuel for the transportation sector. I was especially interested in the potential of fuel cells. I knew I wanted to major in engineering, but it was the University of Maine’s Consider Engineering summer program that convinced me to choose chemical.

How did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I contacted David Neivandt after I graduated high school. I had met him at the Consider Engineering program the previous summer, so I felt comfortable reaching out to him via email. He knew I was an incoming first-year chemical engineering major, and he was more than happy to assign me a student research assistantship under the guidance of one of his Ph.D, students, James Beaupre. The three of us continued to work on various research projects throughout my undergraduate career at the University of Maine.

What difference did the research make in your overall academic experience?
My classroom experience was richer because I was able to reinforce academic topics with hands-on experimental testing. I always loved math and science in high school, but I chose engineering because it was an applied field. It’s not often that an undergraduate has the opportunity to collect and analyze data for an independent research project, while getting paid. I was extremely lucky to have Dave and James as mentors. The research experience gave me the confidence to speak up in class, to ask questions if I didn’t understand the material, to present my results in weekly meetings, and to never hesitate to use upperclassmen and graduate students as resources. Indeed, my research experience convinced me by the end of the summer before my freshman year at UMaine that chemical engineering was the right field for me.

How do you describe your research to lay people?
That is a very good question. It is very important for scientists to be able to translate their research to layman’s terms, not just to fuel curiosity in those who work outside the field, but also for funding purposes. Here is what I usually say: The state of Maine has a strong pulp and paper industry. I am sure you know that we use trees to make paper. Well, trees — and all plant matter — are composed of cellulose. Cellulose is a useful material, but if you break it down into smaller pieces until it reaches nano-scale dimensions, we call that nanocellulose. Nanocellulose has very unique properties that allow it to be applied in a wide variety of fields. There is, however, a problem with the way nanocellulose is being produced industrially. Currently, nanocellulose is produced in an aqueous slurry. The water in this slurry eventually needs to be removed. However, when we remove the water, the nanocellulose clumps together and loses its nanoscale dimensions. Thus, its desirable properties are lost and it is no longer nanocellulose. My research project has a patented solution to this problem: We use the chemical additive CTAB to effectively dry and rehydrate nanocellulose.

Which faculty mentor did you work with most and what did you learn most from him or her?
I worked most closely with James Beaupre. James encouraged me to think outside the box and to consider all possibilities before drawing a conclusion. His guidance taught me to pay close attention to detail both during experiments and during data analysis. Outside the laboratory, his positive attitude reminded me not to forget the big picture.

Why did you choose UMaine?
I chose UMaine for the strong engineering program. Employers all over the U.S. recognize UMaine graduates as hardworking, genuine people. Having worked as an R&D intern for a chemical distribution company based in Delaware, I can say with confidence that UMaine engineers have a very good reputation outside of the state.

What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you took at UMaine?
I really enjoyed being in the Honors College. I know that’s not a specific class, but it allowed me to think about problems from alternative perspectives and to interact with students with different majors than my own. Also, my research project ultimately served as my undergraduate thesis for the Honors College. I cannot reflect on my academic experience at UMaine without thinking of the Honors College.

What was your favorite place on campus?
My favorite place on campus was the studio in 1944 Hall because I was actually really involved in the dance department at UMaine.

What advice do you have for incoming students?
Learn to manage your time and to study effectively. Never hesitate to reach out to upperclassmen in your major or faculty in your department. Once you’ve mastered the classroom environment, get involved in extracurricular activities, student clubs and/or Greek life. Join a professional organization (SWE, AIChE, etc.). Make a five-year plan. You’ll be surprised at graduation when you’ve achieved your original collegiate goals. Always push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Take a summer internship or study abroad if your program allows. Attend a hockey game and learn the Stein Song.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has shaped the way you see the world?
I was a member of Sophomore Eagles, one of the four traditions groups on campus. The Sophomore Eagles is composed of 12 second-year female undergraduate students who exemplify five personality traits: scholarship, leadership, friendship, dignity and character. I cannot speak more highly of the other 11 young women who were Eagles along with me.

Ten years from now, what do you hope to be doing?
I would love to use my engineering background to eventually move into a policymaking role, perhaps at the EPA or at the state level. If that doesn’t happen, then I can see myself working as an investment banker in the energy sector.

Casting a Long Shadow

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Ask University of Maine School of Policy and International Affairs students what they did in class and the reply could be “helped save the world.”

SPIA graduate students have assisted refugees in South Africa, worked to ensure free and fair elections in the Middle East, compiled security briefings for the FBI, tracked threats directed at the Olympic Games in London and helped reforest Katmandu.

“We tell them, ‘Dream big. Think big.’ It’s there for the taking,” says director Jim Settele with the assuredness that comes from nearly three decades serving on active duty in the U.S. Navy.

Capt. Settele, who logged more than 3,000 flight hours and more than 600 carrier-arrested landings, was military assistant to the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Now he helps SPIA students’ dreams take flight.

Settele asks the 25 SPIA students with a multitude of interests where they want to be two years after graduation. “And we figure out how to get them there,” he says.

When they get there, they’ll be armed with a Master of Arts in Global Policy and a concentration in international environmental policy, international trade and commerce, or international security and foreign policy and they’ll have experience and connections from internships and conferences around the globe.

Like Kate Kirby, an Orono, Maine, native who earned her degree in 2013. SPIA afforded her “space to dream big and the resources to achieve her ambitions,” she says.

“I was provided with unprecedented access to experts in the field on a regular basis,” says Kirby, who concentrated in sustainable community development in the International Environmental Policy track.

She participated in a Mercy Corps’ Fishing for Change pilot project that sought to increase income and protein consumption through improved fishing and agricultural productivity in Timor-Leste. Kirby assessed potential impacts of inland aquaculture development on protein intake by managing a questionnaire administered to fish farmers.

She conducted field visits and interviews with farmers as well as with nongovernmental organizations, international nongovernmental organizations, officials with the Timorese government and United Nations agencies.

“I learned that I could make a lasting impact on people’s lives working in the NGO sector, and that I really enjoy the daily challenges,” Kirby says. “That said, I concluded that with my particular skill set, I could potentially make a larger-scale impact in my short time on Earth.”

So Kirby set out to make her impact by exploring policymaking and enacting positive change through documentary filmmaking. During her final semester at UMaine, Kirby flew to Bolivia to film the daily lives of a quinoa-farming couple.

She sought to learn how the global rise in demand for Andean quinoa — a superfood trendy with health-conscious and gluten-free consumers — was impacting the couple and other growers in Bolivia. Since then, Kirby founded Kindred Planet Productions “to capture the interconnectedness of a 21st-century world, raise awareness around social justice issues and inspire action.”

The SPIA experience, she says, provided her with a “better understanding of the challenges and complexities we face as a global community, and possible solutions for solving these problems.”

Benjamin Levelius agreed. He’s on track to graduate in spring 2014 with a concentration in international security and foreign policy.

The 26 year old says SPIA helps people who want to make a difference in the world access the knowledge, people and positions that will enable them to do so. “Don’t give up on idealistic intentions just because they seem far-fetched,” he says.

Or far-ranging.

Levelius, from Stratford, Wisconsin, has attended conferences in the United Arab Emirates, Maine and Washington, D.C. He’s worked in India and Nicaragua and visited Bangladesh to observe work performed by NGOs in an urban setting. His internship was in Kerala, India, with Yearoutindia, an NGO that concentrates on water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives in tribal communities. He met with the new king of the Mannan Tribe and helped open a new base of operations with the Mudhuvan Tribe.

“As India emerges as a worldwide economic powerhouse, the cost of construction materials, food and transportation has risen faster than the wages of the people in this region, which has hindered the influx of volunteers and slowed the speed of development,” says Levelius, who researched alternative cost-saving toilet construction methods that suited the rainforest climate.

Classes were valuable, as well, Levelius says, including one in which the professor and students tracked developing situations, such as in the Ukraine in spring 2014, and one in which he learned to write grants. “Whether through the connections you can make through faculty and administrators, class work, conferences or internships, it will act as a catalyst to help you get to where you need to go,” Levelius says.

The United Nations is where SPIA student Hamdane Bordji wants to be. And that’s where he is.

In spring 2014, Bordji, who calls Algeria home, interned at the UN in New York City. In an April blog on the SPIA website about his internship he wrote, “The nature of my work … can be summed up in the following: Think differently and act as one … I have realized that it is with no doubt that I want to be a member of the UN community, to be surrounded with this type of people at my workplace, and to be in the midst of world affairs.”

In March, Bordji, who is on track to graduate in December 2014 with a concentration in international security and foreign policy, was in the midst of the International Women’s Day events at the UN. He shook hands with Ban Ki-moon, the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations and saw former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who during her address to the UN, said gender equality is the “unfinished business of the 21st century.”

Bordji blogged that he has applied much of what he learned with SPIA to his internship, “but there are so many things to learn outside of the classroom.”

“This experience did throw me into the profound workings of the United Nations — in a pool of deals and ideas made by contributions from a diversified group of prominent intellectuals, practitioners and policymakers of our times,” he wrote.

First-year SPIA student Shelby Saucier heard firsthand a speech delivered by one of the most prominent spiritual leaders of the time, the Dalai Lama. The Cumberland, Maine, native attended the January 2014 conference “Bounds of Ethics in a Globalised World” at Christ University in Bangalore, India, where the Dalai Lama delivered the keynote.

“The global economy has made our world one,” reads an excerpt from the speech he delivered. “We need a corresponding sense of the oneness of humanity. If we are realistic, truthful and honest, we can communicate with anyone and everyone.”

Saucier, who is concentrating in International Security and Foreign Policy with a special interest in development, plans to promote education advocacy and family planning education in East Africa. “SPIA is composed of dreamers,” she says, “… and the program nurtures the dreams and facilitates them.”

Settele says SPIA’s accomplished board of advisers helps students achieve dreams by forging connections. And primary benefactor Penny Wolfe’s funding enables students to travel to, and participate in, conferences and internships around the planet.

One member of the SPIA Advisory Board, His Excellency, Dr. Jamal Al-Suwaidi of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, is director general of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR). The ECSSR has funded two trips for graduate students to Abu Dhabi, Settele says.

“I have high expectations,” Settele says of SPIA, which admitted its first class in fall 2010. “We (SPIA) have a small footprint but cast a big shadow.”

Students aim to be a significant positive influence, as well.

“If you can point to a person in the world who is doing exactly what you want to do, you can do it too, and SPIA will try to move mountains to get you to where you want to go, but you gotta be down there, pushing with them,” says Levelius.

Outlets Cover UMainers’ Inductions into Maine Basketball Hall of Fame

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

A number of media outlets covered the induction of three University of Maine sports legends —Joanne Palombo-McCallie, Rachel Bouchard and Thomas “Skip” Chappelle — into the newly formed Maine Basketball Hall of Fame. UMaine graduate, former men’s player and Maine Basketball Hall of Fame vice chair Tony Hamlin emceed Thursday night’s inaugural event at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. The Portland Press Herald, 92.9 The Ticket, Bangor Daily News, WABI-TV5 and WCSH6 were among the outlets to cover the ceremony.

Researchers Advise Proactive Approach to Land Protection in Northern New England

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Since 1800 — two decades before the Pine Tree state existed as a state — the most rapid rate of land protection in northern New England (NNE) occurred from 1999 to 2010.

Forty-four percent of all the protected area (PA) in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire was added during those 11 years, says Spencer Meyer, former associate scientist for forest stewardship with the University of Maine Center for Research on Sustainable Forests.

Conservation easements on privately owned land fueled an abrupt increase in the protection rate from 1999 to 2010, he says. Conservation easements became financially appealing to both landowners and conservationists who partnered to save landscapes from development to ensure forests and ecosystem services — including water purification — remained intact.

For example, in 2001, the Pingree Forest Partnership — a landmark working forest conservation project — was forged. The 762,192 protected acres is bigger than all of Rhode Island and is still the largest of its kind in the nation.

The 11-year span from 1999 to 2010 was one of three distinct eras of PA growth, says Meyer, who earned his Ph.D. at UMaine in 2014. The other two were 1800–1979 and 1980–1999. All, he says, are characterized by new policies and an expansion of conservation tools.

To inform successful future conservation planning, a research team led by Meyer sought to explore socioeconomic and policy factors that influenced the rate, type and distribution of previous land protection.

“It is important to take pause occasionally and revisit our past,” he says. “This conservation history research was especially rewarding because it gave us a chance to examine how much has already been accomplished by conservationists. The frequent innovation and accelerating protection we have documented bodes well for the future of ecosystems and people in the region.”

Researchers found there has been a “significant influence of expanded policy and economic drivers guiding protection” and that it is important to develop “new conservation innovations for achieving future gains in protection.”

Short-term constraints — including real estate market conditions — impact conservation action, says Meyer, now a NatureNet Fellow at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where he collaborates with The Nature Conservancy.

Thus, the team recommends that conservation groups focus on priority areas and take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to protection, and be ready to capitalize on financial market conditions that make large conservation deals attractive to landowners.

Much of NNE is privately owned, Meyer reports; 16 percent of New Hampshire is federally or state owned, while eight percent of Vermont and five percent of Maine are. All three states are heavily forested. Maine has 84 percent forest cover, while Vermont and New Hampshire both have 67 percent.

A group of conservation scientists, led by the Harvard Forest, have proposed protecting 70 percent of New England’s forests from development to achieve a sustainable landscape by 2060. If the protection rate realized from 1999 to 2010 continues, Meyer says the 70-percent goal could be achieved in 2089.

Broad objectives of PAs in NNE include conservation of biodiversity, retaining benefits of ecosystems, public open space, recreation, and natural resource removal, such as timber harvesting, he says.

Tension exists due to people’s increasing demand to use land and the need to conserve land and ecosystem services, and land protection has been a global conservation strategy of a number of public and private groups for more than 100 years, Meyer says.

Land protection from 1800 to 1979 had an “evolving suite of conservation objectives,” he says, including watershed protection, open space and recreation. The 179-year era consisted of slow, incremental expansion of PAs, including (Acadia National Park, the Appalachian Trail and Baxter State Park) and multiple-use forests.

The middle era of conservation of PAs — beginning around 1980 and lasting until 1999 — included a surge in land trusts to protect private land from development. Public acquisitions, continued in a linear fashion during that time, according to researchers.

The rate of protection in NNE between 1999–2010 was four times what it was during the 19-year span from 1980 to 1999 and 20 times the rate between 1800 and 1979, says Meyer. During the span from 1999 to 2010, the accelerating rate of protection was the fastest in Maine, where 71 percent of the state’s total PA was safeguarded from development.

“Regardless of what the future holds, the 200-year history of conservation innovation in New England offers hope for future efforts to protect ecosystems and their myriad ecological, social and economic benefits in the face of rising human populations,” the team writes.

The Maine Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI) and the National Science Foundation EPSCoR program supported Meyer’s Ph.D. fellowship in UMaine’s School of Forest Resources.

Researchers from UMaine working with Meyer included Christopher Cronan of the School of Biology and Ecology, Robert Lilieholm of the School of Forest Resources and Michelle Johnson of the Ecology and Environmental Science Program, as well as David Foster of Harvard University.

The team’s findings are reported in “Land conservation in northern New England: Historic trends and alternative conservation futures,” published in May on the Biological Conservation website.

Meyer and another team earned the 2014 University of Maine President’s Research Impact Award for spearheading creation of the Maine Futures Community Mapper — an online mapping tool for planners to visualize future landscape scenarios. The Elmina B. Sewall Foundation and SSI funded the Maine Futures Community Mapper.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Media Report on $18M Grant Awarded to Network for Biomedical Research, Workforce Training

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

The Associated Press, Maine Public Broadcasting Network, WLBZ (Channel 2), WABI (Channel 5) and WVII (Channel 7) reported on an event held at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor on Aug. 4 where Sen. Susan Collins joined leaders from colleges and research institutions across Maine as well as dozens of Maine college students to celebrate the receipt of an $18.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The five-year award aims to strengthen biomedical research and hands-on workforce training in Maine through the continuation of the Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), a collaborative network of 13 Maine research institutions, universities and colleges led by the MDI Biological Laboratory. The University of Maine and UMaine’s Honors College are part of the network. Anne Campbell, who graduated from UMaine in 2012 with degrees in chemistry and biochemistry, spoke with MPBN about her experience with the program. As a member of UMaine’s Honors College, she took a weeklong course at MDI Bio Lab on functional genomics, which was paid for by Maine INBRE. Campbell said during that course she met her thesis adviser, and was able to develop a thesis project. The Portland Press Herald carried the AP report.

BOV Member Richard Higgins Has Passed Away

Friday, August 1st, 2014

University of Maine Board of Visitors member Richard Higgins of Santa Fe, New Mexico, passed away July 30. He was 64. Mr. Higgins was a member of the UMaine Class of 1979 and a member of the College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council. Mr. Higgins and his wife Jean established an endowment for the Boardman Hall materials testing laboratory that now bears their names. A reception is scheduled for Aug. 3 in Santa Fe. An In Memoriam notice is online.

Two UMaine Grads Recognized by Maine Art Education Association

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Two recent University of Maine graduates have been named the 2014 Higher Education Student Art Educators of the Year by the Maine Art Education Association (MAEA).

Elizabeth Miller of Kittery and Hilary Kane of Concord, New Hampshire, both graduated in May 2014. Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in art education with minors in studio art and art history. Kane received a bachelor’s degree in art education, as well as studio art.

The award is given to MAEA members who have completed their art student teaching internship within the academic year and have demonstrated outstanding evidence of professional leadership in schools and the community, use of new technology, and innovative teaching performance and written curricula. An award ceremony will be held in September during the 2014 MAEA conference at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine.

MAEA is the state chapter of the National Art Education Association, the leading professional membership organization for visual arts educators.

Miller, who is searching for a full-time teaching position, currently is an intern at the Piscataqua Fine Arts Gallery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and works at Art with a Splash, also in Portsmouth, teaching painting classes.

“This award is such an honor and I am very pleased to be able to represent the art education program at the university,” Miller said.

Kane plans to move to New Orleans in the fall where she will continue to focus on art education work and community arts.

Writer’s Toolbox

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Taking apart a broken laptop, learning how to repair it and putting it back together is a typical exercise in one University of Maine English class. For students in the technical editing and document design course, learning how to diagnose and repair electronics is essential to writing about the process in the form of easy-to-use consumer guides.

Since 2011, students in Charlsye Diaz’s class have been required to create an e-manual for iFixit, a website that offers free step-by-step guides to help consumers repair devices to keep more electronics in use and out of landfills. During the fall 2014 semester, Diaz’s students will write manuals for toys.

“This experience is important because it is messy,” says Diaz, an associate professor of English and coordinator of UMaine’s professional and technical writing program. “When things ‘fall apart’ or the projects don’t go as well as I would like, I love it. Because they’ll face those obstacles on the job every day.”

Students work with iFixit’s technical writers to adhere to the company’s guidelines. They receive feedback from someone besides the professor while working in a supportive classroom setting.

IFixit was started in 2003 by two Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo students who struggled to fix an iBook without instructions. In 2009, the company started the iFixit Technical Writing Program as a way to engage students with a hands-on, repair-focused technical writing project. Students from 20 universities — including UMaine — have created 5,000 repair guides for electronics, which have helped more than nine million people fix their devices, according to the company’s website.

Diaz says the project also benefits potential employers by sending students into the workforce with real-world experience.

“It’s one thing to go to an interview and claim to be able to write instructions because you practiced during a class assignment. It’s another thing to say you took apart a scanner and wrote instructions for replacing the scanner lamp and then provide a link to a published guide that people use,” Diaz says.

KC Collins Cook, a 2013 UMaine graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in professional and technical writing, is now an information developer for IBM in North Carolina. She says every day she applies the knowledge she learned from Diaz’s classes.

“My core understanding of technical documentation began in her classrooms, and it gave me a foundation to build on and innovate with my fellow IBMers,” Cook says. “From grammar to design software to how people read; it’s all vital to my job. In fact, all of my textbooks are in my desk for reference when I need them.”

Although many of Diaz’s students find aspects of the iFixit project challenging — learning how to take apart small devices, take photos without shadows and follow iFixit’s criteria — most are proud of the end result, she says.

“Some students embrace the project and really thrive working with and writing about small electronics. Others dislike it because the project falls outside their comfort zone,” Diaz says. “Who needs a toolbox for a writing class?”

The positive feedback comes later, Diaz says. Students have told her they’ve talked about their experience during interviews and appreciate having a professional portfolio piece.

“During the project, I see their confidence skyrocket,” she says.

An education in professional and technical writing is important, Diaz says, because almost everyone has to write at work in the form of reports, memos or emails. Professional writers take these skills a step further and learn to design documents, write for the Internet and edit — skills Maine employers seek, she says.

Professional writing is offered as a minor to any UMaine student, and English majors can concentrate in professional and technical writing. Diaz says graduates work in several areas including technology, marketing, health care, research and development, government, law, magazines and museums. She says most students find work within six months of graduation, and most have jobs before they graduate.

Since Cook began her full-time job in September 2012, she has seen IBM hire two more professional and technical writing students from UMaine.

“If you go in with a thirst to work, your resume and experience will be soundly rewarded,” Cook says. “We leave campus with a competitive skill set that sets us apart from other new college graduates in our field.”

More information about iFixit and the iFixit Technical Writing Program is online.

Phys.org Carries Report on NASA, UMaine Project on Phytoplankton, Carbon Cycling

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Phys.org published a University of Maine report about UMaine oceanographer Ivona Cetinic participating in a NASA project that brings together marine and atmospheric scientists to tackle optical issues associated with satellite observations of phytoplankton. The goal is to better understand marine ecology and phytoplankton’s major role in the global cycling of atmospheric carbon between the ocean and the atmosphere. “Teams involved in this project are working together to develop next-generation tools that will change forever how we study oceans,” says Cetinic, a research associate at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center.

NASA, UMaine Endeavor to Better Understand Phytoplankton, Carbon Cycling

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

University of Maine oceanographer Ivona Cetinic is participating in a NASA project to advance space-based capabilities for monitoring microscopic plants that form the base of the marine food chain.

Phytoplankton — tiny ocean plants that absorb carbon dioxide and deliver oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere — are key to the planet’s health. And NASA wants a clear, global view of them.

NASA’s Ship-Aircraft Bio-Optical Research (SABOR) mission will bring together marine and atmospheric scientists to tackle optical issues associated with satellite observations of phytoplankton.

The goal is to better understand marine ecology and phytoplankton’s major role in the global cycling of atmospheric carbon between the ocean and the atmosphere.

“Teams involved in this project are working together to develop next-generation tools that will change forever how we study oceans,” says Cetinic, a research associate at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center (DMC) in Walpole, Maine.

“Methods that will be developed during this experiment are something like 3-D glasses. They will allow us to see more details on the surface of the ocean and to see deeper into the ocean, helping us learn more about carbon in the ocean — carbon that is fueling oceanic ecosystems, as well as the fisheries and aquaculture.”

Cetinic will be a chief scientist aboard RV Endeavor that departs July 18 from Narragansett, Rhode Island. She received $1,043,662 from NASA’s Ocean Biology and Biogeochemistry program for her part in the three-year project.

Cetinic’s crew, which includes Wayne Slade of Sequoia Scientific, Inc., Nicole Poulton of Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and UMaine Ph.D. student Alison Chase, will analyze water samples for carbon, as well as pump seawater continuously through on-board instruments to measure how ocean particles, including phytoplankton, interact with light.

Chase, who recently earned her master’s in oceanography at UMaine, will blog about the experience at earthobservatory.nasa.gov/blogs/fromthefield.

Interim DMC director Mary Jane Perry, who is participating in another research cruise this summer (umaine.edu/news/blog/2014/07/08/under-the-ice), will be involved in future data analysis.

Mike Behrenfeld of Oregon State University also will be aboard Endeavor and he and his team will use a new technique to directly measure phytoplankton biomass and photosynthesis.

“The goal is to develop mathematical relationships that allow scientists to calculate the biomass of the phytoplankton from optical signals measured from space, and thus to be able to monitor how ocean phytoplankton change from year to year and figure out what causes these changes,” he says.

Another research team also will be aboard Endeavor, which for three weeks will cruise through a range of ecosystems between the East Coast and Bahamas.

Alex Gilerson of City College of New York will lead a crew that will operate an array of instruments, including an underwater video camera equipped with polarization vision. It will continuously measure key characteristics of the sky and the water.

The measurements taken from aboard the ship will provide an up-close perspective and validate measurements taken simultaneously by scientists in aircraft.

NASA’s UC-12 airborne laboratory, based at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will make coordinated science flights beginning July 20.

One obstacle in observing marine ecosystems from space is that atmospheric particles interfere with measurements. Brian Cairns of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York will lead an aircraft team with a polarimeter instrument to address the issue.

From an altitude of about 30,000 feet, the instrument will measure properties of reflected light, including brightness and magnitude of polarization. These measurements will define the concentration, size, shape and composition of particles in the atmosphere.

Polarimeter measurements of reflected light should provide valuable context for data from another instrument on the UC-12 designed to reveal how plankton and optical properties vary with water depth.

Chris Hostetler of Langley is leading that group. He and others will test a prototype lidar (light detection and ranging) system — the High Spectral Resolution Lidar-1 (HSRL-1). A laser that will probe the ocean to a depth of about 160 feet should reveal how phytoplankton concentrations change with depth, along with the amount of light available for photosynthesis.

Phytoplankton largely drive the functioning of ocean ecosystems and knowledge of their vertical distribution is needed to understand their productivity. This knowledge will allow NASA scientists to improve satellite-based estimates of how much atmospheric carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean.

NASA satellites contributing to SABOR are the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO), which view clouds and tiny particles in Earth’s atmosphere, as well as the Terra and Aqua satellites, which measure atmospheric, land and marine processes.

Analysis of data collected from the ship, aircraft and satellites is expected to guide preparation for a new, advanced ocean satellite mission — Pre-Aerosol, Clouds, and ocean Ecosystem (PACE), according to NASA.

PACE will extend observations of ocean ecology, biogeochemical cycling and ocean productivity begun by NASA in the late 1970s with the Coastal Zone Color Scanner and continued with the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view-Sensor (SeaWiFS) and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on Terra and Aqua.

SABOR is funded by the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777