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Fine-Tuning Forecasts

University of Maine scientists are partnering with multiple agencies to improve the accuracy of forecasts of hurricanes, superstorms, blizzards and floods that endanger people and animals and destroy property.

UMaine received $1.5 million of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s $5.5 million award to increase the precision of predictions of extreme weather events and coastal flooding in the northeastern United States.

“This project allows us to develop rapid response capability and deploy ocean observing assets before extreme weather events, and use these targeted observations to constrain ocean models and issue timely forecasts for coastal cities and towns in the Northeast United States,” says Fei Chai, professor and director of UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences, and one of four university co-investigators taking part.

The three other UMaine co-investigators are Neal Pettigrew, professor of oceanography; Mary Jane Perry, professor of oceanography and interim director of the University of Maine Darling Marine Center; and Huijie Xue, professor of oceanography. In addition, program manager Linda Magnum, research associate Ivona Cetinic, graduate student Mark Neary and postdoctoral researcher Saswati Deb, will take part in the project.

The UMaine faculty and researchers are among the 39 researchers engaged in the two-year study. The group will build, deploy, garner and analyze data from state-of the-art outfitted floats, gliders and moorings during two winter storms and two summer storms that hit the Gulf of Maine or the area from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

As a severe storm approaches, aircraft will deploy 15 miniature, expendable floats along the forecasted storm track and launch four reusable gliders in the middle of the shallow continental shelf. Researchers will also anchor 10 portable buoy moorings near estuary mouths where storm surge causes significant flooding and damage.

The floats, gliders and moorings are designed to collect three new levels of ocean observations. The new data will be integrated into computer models that predict currents, sea level and turbulent mixing of cold sub-surface water with the surface ocean.

Meteorologists will be provided with a more complete picture about sea surface temperature and upper-ocean heat content, which will result in better-informed storm forecasting, say the scientists.

In addition, more targeted ocean surface data (air pressure, air and sea temperature, ocean waves, sea-level, etc.) collected by the moorings, in conjunction with current coastal flooding models, should enhance forecasting of flooding, they say.

Pettigrew is taking part in the design and manufacturing of the moorings for atmosphere and surface ocean measurements and he and Perry are in charge of glider deployments and data analysis. Chai is heading up ocean ensemble modeling and Xue is specializing in coastal flood modeling.

“Integrated Rapid-Response Observations and Ocean Ensemble Optimization to Improve Storm Intensity Forecasts in the Northeast U.S.” is the name of the study, which is being led by Glen Gawarkiewicz, senior scientist in the Physical Oceanography Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Rutgers University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are partners, and the Cooperative Institute for the North Atlantic Region (CINAR) is the cooperating institute.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Scrubbing Below the Surface

Julie Gosse, University of Maine assistant professor of molecular and biomedical sciences, is examining how a synthetic antimicrobial common in soaps and deodorants inhibits cells that sometimes fight cancer.

Triclosan (TCS) was once limited to use in hospitals. But in the 1990s, manufacturers began putting the chemical into antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, body washes, facial cleansers and a multitude of other over-the-counter hygiene products.

TCS also is used in fabrics, plastics and clothing — from yoga mats to kitchenware to socks — to slow or stop the growth of bacteria and mildew. Because of its pervasive presence in products, Gosse says it’s also now in waterways.

When TCS inhibits the function of mast cells in skin, allergic disease may be eased. But Gosse says mast cells are complex players and are involved in both pro- and anti-cancer roles, in fighting bacterial infections and in central nervous system disorders such as autism.

“The results of this study will fulfill an urgent need by providing insights into the impact of TCS on public health, as well as insights into the inner workings of this crucial cell type, and will point to either pharmacological uses for or toxic impacts of this ubiquitous chemical,” she says.

The National Institutes of Health awarded Gosse more than $420,000 for the three-year project that begins Aug. 1.

In 2012, she and several UMaine undergraduate and graduate students published a paper about TCS that concluded it “strongly inhibits several mammalian mast cell functions at lower concentrations than would be encountered by people using TCS-containing products such as hand soaps and toothpaste.”

This grant, she says, will allow continued exploration of the molecular mechanisms underlying the effects. She and her research team will use a variety of methods and tools — including the fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) technique invented by UMaine physicist Sam Hess. The technique images individual molecules.

Hess is participating in the research, as are Lisa Weatherly and Juyoung Shim, graduate students in Gosse’s lab, and students from the Hess lab.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

 

A Shot in the Arm

The University of Maine School of Nursing has been awarded a federal grant to defray educational costs of family nurse practitioner (FNP) students who will provide primary health care for rural Mainers in medically underserved areas.

The Advanced Education Nursing Traineeship grant, totaling nearly $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will aid eligible, full-time FNP students in the School of Nursing master’s degree program in 2014 and 2015.

“Reducing the financial burden associated with graduate education is a tremendous benefit for the RNs enrolled in UMaine’s rigorous FNP program,” says Nancy Fishwick, director of UMaine’s School of Nursing.

Family nurse practitioners provide comprehensive primary health care services to people, from infancy through adulthood. Since the inception of UMaine’s FNP program in 1992, the majority of its graduates have lived and worked in medically underserved and rural areas in the state.

Maine is both the oldest and most rural state in the nation, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau. More than 61 percent of Mainers — whose median age is nearly 43 years — live in areas with fewer than 2,500 people.

Mary Shea, UMaine assistant professor of nursing and graduate program coordinator, is directing the project titled “Ensuring Access to Primary Health Care for Rural Maine.” The project’s objectives align with federal health care workforce goals and initiatives that seek to improve access to quality health care for all.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Bringing Sustainable Engineering to Ecuador

Members of the University of Maine student group Engineers Without Borders will travel to Ecuador for two weeks in August on an assessment trip they hope will open the door to a long-term project to improve water security in the region.

From Aug. 16–28, six UMaine students and two mentors will stay in La “Y” de La Laguna in the coastal rain forest of Ecuador. La “Y,” which means the “Y” or a fork in the road, is a 300-person community that is struggling with an insufficient supply of drinking water.

A long dry season and inadequate storage is responsible for the low water supply. Residents are now dependent on buying untreated river water from an improvised tanker truck, according to EWB-UMaine members. The group aims to improve water security by helping the community find an adequate source, appropriate treatment, and reliable distribution.

“This trip will help us assess the needs of the community and build relationships that are vital to project success,” says EWB-UMaine member Logan Good. “Thinking ahead, this trip is just the beginning of a great companionship with the people of La ‘Y’ and a fantastic chance to experience global engineering.”

EWB-UMaine is a student chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA. It was founded in 2007 and is made up of students and professional mentors who introduce communities in developing countries to sustainable engineering projects that aim to improve residents’ quality of life. Students from any major can join the group.

Good, a mechanical engineering student from Presque Isle, Maine, is the team’s project leader, co-design leader and assistant health and safety officer. During the trip, he will be responsible for ensuring all scheduled tasks are accomplished and for providing a safe, educational and exciting experience for team members.

This is the second EWB-UMaine trip for Good, who traveled with the group to Honduras in March 2013.

“Engineers Without Borders provides many opportunities to enrich students’ global perspectives and create responsible leaders,” Good says.

During the summer assessment trip, EWB-UMaine members will meet with the community, collect water quality and health data, and discuss possible storage solutions.

Edwin Nagy, a civil and environmental engineering lecturer at UMaine, is the group’s interim adviser and will attend the trip as an engineering mentor. His focus will be on the students’ relation-building efforts as they try to understand the community’s needs and organizational structure. Robert Sypitkowski, an environmental engineer and UMaine alumnus, will provide the main technical guidance on the trip, Nagy says.

Sypitkowski traveled to La “Y” in December to meet community members. While there, he learned that five years ago, a water pump system was constructed, but the system immediately failed and there is no funding to fix it. After conducting water quality tests, he determined a new source and a storage system are needed, and the community agreed, according to Sypitkowski.

Involving the community is an important aspect of the project, according to Nagy. Community members also will be given cameras and encouraged to take photos to spark discussions with EWB-UMaine about future potential projects.

“Having the community involved from the beginning means that the people who benefit from the project are involved in keeping it alive, and it means that needs identified are needs that the people themselves believe they have,” Nagy says, adding the group’s short-term goal is to get to know the community well enough to assess and understand their needs while making friends.

“I am very interested to know their story, make new stories with them, and of course, play some futbol,” Good says of the local residents.

After the assessment trip, the students will work with the mentors to design a suitable water system. Over the next several years, the group will take a series of implementation and monitoring trips to assist La “Y” with at least water storage, if not water quality. Nagy expects the project will take three to five years to complete.

In between trips, the group will work on perfecting their design; raising funds; and analyzing data on water quality, health, satisfaction and political status collected from the community. The data will help the group determine what effect their work is having on the perceived quality of life in the region.

Educational programs will be provided to community members throughout the project term to keep residents informed and encourage sustainability. Programs will include discussion about coliforms and related health risks, as well as information about operation and maintenance of the water system the group implements.

“If all goes well, this will overlap with other projects within this community or neighboring communities and we can have a long-term relationship with the people in and around La ‘Y,’ slowly helping them get to a point where they have the infrastructure for long-term, self-directed growth,” Nagy says.

In 2013, EWB-UMaine completed a five-year effort to implement a community septic system for 28 homes in Dulce Vivir, Honduras. In 2012, the project earned a $25,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation and the EWB-USA “Premiere Project Award” — the only award of its kind given to a student chapter that year. The project taught students how to work with a community to develop and implement a sustainable project, such as the one they are now pursuing in Ecuador.

“I hope the students will gain an appreciation for the many alternative ways of living in the world, a more practical approach to engineering and an increased sense of the options available to them as engineers,” Nagy says.

In February, the group was awarded a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant for work to be completed in Ecuador during the summer. Projects for Peace grants are funded by the Davis Foundation and are awarded to efforts that address conflict resolution and reconciliation, foster understanding, provide opportunity and build community, according to the foundation.

UMaine chemistry student Bryer Sousa also won a Projects for Peace grant in 2013 to install biosand water filters in 50 households in an impoverished rural region of Honduras.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

NASA, UMaine Endeavor to Better Understand Phytoplankton, Carbon Cycling

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

Volunteers Sought for Maine Hello, Welcome Weekend Day of Service

The University of Maine’s First Year Center is recruiting faculty, staff and student volunteers to welcome UMaine’s Class of 2018. Volunteers can help during Maine Hello from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 29 and/or the Welcome Weekend Day of Service on Saturday, Aug. 30.

Maine Hello volunteers assist with greeting families, answering questions, directing traffic and moving first-year students’ belongings into their dorm rooms.

Student volunteers who will be living on campus can move into residence halls two days early on Wednesday, Aug. 27. Registration is online. For more information, call the First Year Center at 207.581.1420.

Brady to Study Impact of Climate Change, Farmers’ Practices on Water Quality

A University of Maine marine scientist will examine implications of climate change on farmers’ practices and the ensuing consequences for downstream coastal water systems.

Farmers are planting earlier than they were a few decades ago and that means applying fertilizer earlier and, for some crops, being able to plant twice in a growing season, says Damian Brady, assistant research professor at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine.

Brady will examine where the fertilizer goes and how changes in farming practices affect estuaries downstream that also are being impacted by other climate-related factors, including increased frequency of extreme storms and higher temperatures.

His research will concentrate on understanding these dynamics in Chesapeake Bay; but the findings are expected to apply to agricultural watersheds around the world.

Brady also anticipates learning how management policies with different rules and incentives affect farming behavior and, subsequently, impact watershed and estuary health.

The National Science Foundation awarded Brady nearly $124,000 to create multidisciplinary data-driven simulation models to test scientific hypotheses. The entire project team will provide training for approximately 10 master’s and doctoral students, share tools and knowledge with federal and state environmental management agencies and train 15 high school teachers.

Brady is the project’s assistant director. Collaborators are from The Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

He’ll start the four-year project, titled “WSC-Category 3 Collaborative: Impacts of Climate Change on the Phenology of Linked Agriculture-Water Systems” on Sept. 1.

Arctic Research Expected to Provide Unprecedented Views of Phytoplankton

University of Maine research this summer in the Arctic’s Marginal Ice Zone (MIZ) is expected to provide one of the first comprehensive views of the spatial distribution and abundance of phytoplankton under the ice.

UMaine oceanographer Mary Jane Perry, interim director of the Darling Marine Center, was awarded $196,000 from the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Naval Research to sample the biogeochemistry of the Marginal Ice Zone from a Korean icebreaker, the R/V Araon, and with underwater gliders. UMaine scientist Cameron Thompson will participate in additional cruises from Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay; Ivona Cetinic, also at the Darling Center, will be involved in data analysis.

On July 30, Perry will join an international group of over 40 scientists to study the retreat of sea ice in the Arctic. The Arctic has experienced a dramatic decline in sea ice thickness, aerial extent and age distribution. Changing patterns in sea ice have significant implications for the planktonic food web, and flow of carbon and nutrients in the Arctic, including timing, magnitude and location of plankton blooms.

The Marginal Ice Zone Program, led by the University of Washington, is an Office of Naval Research initiative that will use a combination of autonomous robotic technologies, ships, aircraft and satellites to study the breakup of ice in the Beaufort Sea and its northward retreat in summer. It is expected to contribute to our understanding of ice dynamics, including feedbacks in the ice-ocean-atmosphere system that affect rates of sea ice decline. More about the MIZ Program is online, as is a story about the research tracking the breakup of Arctic summer sea ice (washington.edu/news/2014/07/16/tracking-the-breakup-of-arctic-summer-sea-ice).

Perry will use small underwater gliders to repeatedly sample open water, the MIZ and water under full ice cover. The optical data collected from the gliders over a two-month period will offer the first comprehensive view of the spatial distribution and abundance of phytoplankton under ice in the Arctic. Relatively few observations of under-ice blooms exist, due to the logistical constraints of sampling under thin and melting ice.

Thinner ice and greater abundance of melt ponds facilitate greater penetration of visible light through the ice, allowing planktonic photosynthetic organisms to grow. Perry will use measurements from the icebreaker to calibrate the glider sensors. She hopes to assess how changing ice patterns affect plankton productivity in the Arctic, and better understand the role of phytoplankton on the heat budget under the ice.

Phytoplankton are microscopic photosynthetic organisms at the base of the marine food web; their production of carbon fuels the ecosystem. For more than a quarter-century, Perry has studied marine phytoplankton in an effort to understand its biomass variability and production dynamics. Her research has taken her to the subpolar North Atlantic and North Pacific on several major expeditions, the last in 2008, as well as other regions in the world’s ocean.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

UMaine Researchers Focus on Improving Urchin Roe Production

Enhancing green sea urchin egg production to aid Maine’s depressed urchin market is the research focus of a University of Maine marine bioresources graduate student.

Ung Wei Kenn, a second-year master’s student from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, hopes to increase the egg or roe yield of farm-raised green sea urchins through high-quality feed, a process known as bulking. His research is part of a two-year, more than $215,000 research project funded by the National Sea Grant National Strategic Initiative and led by director Nick Brown and biologist Steve Eddy of UMaine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research (CCAR) in Franklin, Maine.

“I was always interested in the vertical integration of aquaculture and seafood processing,” says Ung, who completed his undergraduate work at the University of Tasmania, Australia. “I am also passionate about seafood that is popular in Asia. This topic is a blend of all that.”

Ung came to UMaine because he was attracted to the project, but he praises CCAR, where he conducts his research, as a key part in his decision to work at UMaine.

“I always felt that aquaculture is not just a science; it is a business as well,” says Ung. “CCAR is special in that it is specifically set up to assist aquaculture businesses by providing scientific and technical know-how. I would not have this luxury at most other places.”

Ung’s research potentially could have significant economic benefit for the state. Maine exports roe to Japan, where it is considered a delicacy. Since the late 1990s, Maine has suffered a dramatic sea urchin industry decline, dropping to a 2.6 million-pound yearly harvest after 1993’s 42-million-pound high, according to information on the Maine Sea Grant website.

“(Using bulking), we can produce out-of-season urchins, enabling the industry to get the best prices, such as when there is a festival in Japan,” Ung says.

Ung places wild green sea urchins, which are harvested from Hancock County’s Frenchman Bay, in a recirculating aquaculture system, where they are fed fresh and dried kelp and a commercial diet that fosters higher-quality eggs. Harvested sea urchins are usually 57 mm in diameter.

Ung hopes his research will lead to increased roe yield and improved roe quality. After four months of urchin dieting, Ung analyzes roe yield, texture and color data at the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department’s physical properties lab. Taste testing is completed at the UMaine Consumer Testing Center. Roe pre- and post-experimentation aspects are compared to determine if quality has been enhanced.

High-quality roe is sweet, smooth and yellow, gold or orange in color, while poor-quality roe has a watery appearance or bitter taste.

“There is a commercial component where we want to demonstrate that the urchins can be enhanced at a commercial scale,” Ung says. “A higher-quality roe yield would mean better selling prices.”

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Nutrients of Peppers Promoted with the Development of a Less Pungent Variety

A new pepper variety has been developed with a high capsinoid content to make it less pungent while maintaining all the natural health benefits of the fruit, according to researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maine.

The researchers — Robert Jarret from the USDA/Agricultural Research Service in Griffin, Georgia, and Jason Bolton and L. Brian Perkins from the University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture — developed the new small-fruited Capsicum annuum L. pepper through traditional breeding methods in an effort to make the health benefits of hot peppers available to more consumers.

In hot peppers, capsaicinoids are the compounds associated both with their signature heat and health benefits, which include being a source of antioxidants. But that pungency can limit their use in foods and pharmaceuticals.

Capsinoids, closely related compounds of capsaicinoids, provide the same benefits without the pungency.

Starting in 2006 with a USDA seed grant, Perkins, a UMaine assistant research professor and director of the Food Chemical Safety Laboratory, and Bolton, then a food science graduate student, screened about 500 subspecies of Capsicum annuum. They forwarded their data to Jarret, who selected those with the highest concentrations of capsinoids.

Jarret then began to classically breed the selected varieties at the USDA facility in Georgia. Perkins screened the results and they repeated the process, selecting the best capsinoid producers from each generation.

The culmination of their work is germplasm 509-45-1. The peppers are very small, with each plant producing up to 1,000 peppers. According to Perkins, there will likely be additional selection to prepare the plants for marketability, both as a food product and for medical experiments.

Currently, small quantities of seed are available from the USDA for research purposes.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745


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