Rebecca Holberton, University of Maine professor of biology and ecology, was quoted in the International Business Times article “Puffins return to Maine for nesting season, but climate peril looms.” Holberton’s quote, “It’s our marine canary in a coal mine, if you will,” came from an Associated Press article in June about the risk of starvation puffins and other seabirds are facing in the United States.
WLBZ (Channel 2) covered the Maine Beaches Conference on Friday, July 12 at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. The conference, coordinated by Maine Sea Grant and a steering committee of public and private partners, focused on the effects of Superstorm Sandy and the lessons Maine can learn from the storm.
A state-of-the-art sensor buoy system has been deployed in Jordan Pond at Acadia National Park to begin a high-tech water quality monitoring program in light of recent concerns about decreasing clarity in what is considered one of the clearest lakes in Maine.
The monitoring program is made possible by a partnership led by Friends of Acadia, Acadia National Park and the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions, is the official sponsor for the program. Through Canon’s support, Friends of Acadia was able to purchase a NexSens CB-400 Data Buoy and hire a full-time aquatic scientist, Courtney Wigdahl of Topsham to monitor the study.
Friends of Acadia is a nonprofit organization dedicated to projects that preserve and protect Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island communities. Wigdahl is an alumna of the University of Maine, where she did her Ph.D. and postdoctoral research with Jasmine Saros, associate director of the Climate Change Institute.
The 187-acre Jordan Pond is 150 feet deep — the deepest and the second largest of the 26 lakes and ponds on the island. Described as one of Acadia’s most pristine lakes with exceptional water quality, Jordan Pond is the water supply for Seal Harbor.
Since 1985, the Park Service has manually monitored water quality on a monthly basis throughout Acadia’s waterways. In Jordan Pond, data analysis has shown that water clarity has been declining since the mid-1990s. In the past four years alone, water clarity has shifted from 14 meters to 12 meters, as measured using a secchi disk.
To determine the potential causes of clarity loss, as well as the effects on the broader ecosystem, the water quality monitoring will be automated with the help of the buoy sited in the deepest part of Jordan Pond. With the latest sensor technology, the buoy will monitor nearly 100 data points every day, including the amount of algae and organic material in the water column, and water pH and temperature. The data will be compiled and transmitted every 15 minutes to a receiving station located at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant.
The buoy, which will be visible approximately 2 feet above the water surface, will be in Jordan Pond for the next four months, and then will be redeployed in the spring.
The automated monitoring will provide a more comprehensive perspective on water conditions, and inform decisions about lake protection measures. Just as important, it will monitor conditions before, during and after major weather events to understand the changes the pond undergoes.
“This is likely not an isolated case. We think it is indicative of what’s happening in many lakes in Maine,” says Saros, who has been studying the lakes in Acadia National Park for the past five years, looking at the effects of and recovery from acid rain, and the effects of climate change. “Many lakes in Maine are brown because of natural organics. Jordan has a low concentration of that, but it may be increasing.
“If the changes in Jordan Pond are largely because of air pollution reduction, it’s important to know that the lake is returning to a previous state and the reduction in clarity is not a concern,” says Saros, who will lead the data analysis. “If it’s more of a sign of changes in climate with the increased frequency and severity of storms, we will be more concerned and will have to consider what we can do to mitigate the effects. For the park and for lakes across Maine, it is an important question.”
By next year, Jordan Pond’s high-resolution sensor data will be available to the public on a website and at an information kiosk at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant. The data also will be entered in the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON), which shares and interprets information from around the planet in an effort to understand the role and response of lakes to a changing environment.
Wigdahl will be blogging about her work with the buoy on the Friends of Acadia news site.
A Wall Street Journal article about the Canon U.S.A. sponsorship with Friends of Acadia is online.
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745; 207.949.4149
The Sun Journal, Portland Press Herald, WABI (Channel 5) and WLBZ (Channel 2) were among several news organizations to carry an Associated Press report previewing the Maine Beaches Conference. The conference, coordinated by Maine Sea Grant and a steering committee of public and private partners, takes place Friday, July 12 at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. The effects of Superstorm Sandy and the lessons Maine can learn from the storm will be the focus of the conference, The Associated Press also reported recently.
Last month in Boston, University of Maine Sustainability Coordinator Dan Dixon accepted an Environmental Merit Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency New England on behalf of the university. The University of Maine is a charter signatory of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which was initiated in 2007 by Second Nature Inc., a Boston-based organization focused on education for sustainability at higher education institutions nationwide. The EPA Environmental Merit Award to Second Nature recognizes outstanding efforts in preserving New England’s environment. Representatives of Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, Colby College and UMaine represented the New England signatories of ACUPCC. In its description of the award winners, the EPA website noted that higher education was the first U.S. sector with a coherent, critical mass publicly committed to climate neutrality. In New England, 92 institutions representing 36 percent of the colleges and universities in the region have signed on. This represents 530,817 students and 138 million square feet of built environment. Nationwide, 670 institutions have joined the commitment, representing 6 million students. More than 30 of those who joined have set a climate neutrality date within the next 20 years. Four New England ACUPCC institutions — Colby College, Southern New Hampshire University, College of the Atlantic and Green Mountain College — have already reached the goal of climate neutrality. Some 20 New England institutions together saved $29.5 million in energy costs, according to the EPA website. The hundreds of institutions that are part of this commitment are generating innovative approaches to addressing climate change. Second Nature recognizes the leaders among them through the annual Climate Leadership Awards. Since Second Nature initiated the awards in 2010, eight New England colleges and universities have been recipients. Since its launch in 2007, international higher education representatives have approached Second Nature about expanding the model beyond the U.S. In Scotland, Peru, Australia and Canada, programs have been crafted with Second Nature work as a model.
Last summer’s ocean heat wave has provided researchers from the University of Maine and Gulf of Maine Research Institute with unique insights into how fishery managers and policymakers might best sustain marine ecosystems in the face of climate change.
The study found the abnormal water temperatures, which were 3 degrees to 5 degrees above the long-term average, caused some species to move north and seek refuge in cooler waters, and others to migrate earlier than usual. These behavioral changes had substantial ramifications for commercial fishermen, affecting both the species variety and the selling price of their catch.
“Longfin squid, which are generally found off the shores of Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey, made their way to the Maine coast,” said Katherine Mills, one of the scientists who published the findings in the June issue of Oceanography. “Local fishermen quickly took advantage of the catch, and new local markets for the squid developed.”
The warmer temperatures also caused Gulf of Maine lobsters to molt about a month earlier than usual, bringing an early start to the summer harvest. While lobstermen proceeded to catch a record number of these crustaceans, the abundance flooded the market and caused the price of lobsters to plummet.
“In order to sustain marine ecosystems, scientists and fishery managers also need to be able to rapidly adjust in response to abrupt changes in climate,” Mills said. “In the paper, we outline a number of recommendations to help them prepare for and react to events like the 2012 ocean heat wave.”
The researchers advocate for development of climate-ecosystem models that link physical changes to biological outcomes and economic impacts. These models would help fishery managers identify and evaluate climate change adaptation strategies.
In addition, they assert that targeted predictive models that take into account multiple real-time data streams would be valuable for supporting fishery management decisions in the era of climate change.
They also state that fishery management processes may need greater flexibility to accommodate and adjust to future climate events. One such example is a responsive permitting structure for commercial fishermen that may be helpful in case one species leaves the area and another species moves in.
Additional collaborators on this research included SUNY Stony Brook and NOAA, as well as researchers from France and Taiwan.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Boron, a semimetallic chemical element, may be most commonly known for its various inorganic compounds such as the antiseptic boric acid, the cleaning agent borax and tourmaline, Maine’s state mineral.
But scientists have discovered this element may have had more of an effect on life on Earth than forming semiprecious gemstones and aiding with household chores. Boron has been credited with playing a crucial role in the formation of life on Earth.
Researchers have found that when boron is present in its oxidized form, or borate, it can stabilize ribose, a sugar present in the backbone of ribonucleic acid, or RNA, which plays a vital role in the expression of genes.
Scientists have suggested that borate present in the Earth’s crust or its oceans about half a billion years after the Earth was formed helped keep ribose from decomposing, allowing it to form RNA, which led to the stabilization of prebiotic organic compounds critical to forming life.
The possibility that boron could play a critical role in the origin of life is at the core of the latest research on boron isotopes by Edward Grew, a research professor in the University of Maine School of Earth and Climate Sciences.
Although working with boron is a familiar topic for Grew, who began collecting minerals in grade school and started focusing on boron and beryllium 30 years ago, the study of how minerals relate to the creation of life is an area he has only recently started to examine.
Grew is a member of a five-person team analyzing the world’s oldest reported tourmaline for the two isotopes of boron to determine the boron-isotope composition of the ocean not long after the critical period when life was forming, he says. Leading the team is Robert Hazen, senior staff scientist in the Geophysical Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution for Science, which is known legally as the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
The goal of the study, funded by a $15,000 grant from the Carnegie Institution for Science, is to estimate what boron concentrations were 4 billion years ago.
“There have been several scientists that have tried to deduce how you can get organic compounds to self-organize and ultimately evolve and become life,” Grew says. “One of the agents that would promote that is boron.”
Grew, along with researchers at institutions in the U.S. and Scotland, will analyze tourmaline that is up to 3.8 billion years old, found in the Isua complex in West Greenland. The tourmaline was contributed to the project by Robert Dymek, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.
Starting in July, the team will use microprobe techniques at the University of Maine, under the direction of laboratory manager and instructor Martin Yates, and at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, overseen by Simon Harley, professor in the School of GeoSciences.
The electron microprobe data are needed to properly calibrate the isotope analyses, allowing the researchers to work backward using a model developed by French geochemists relating seawater boron isotope composition to the proportion of boron extracted from the Earth’s mantle to determine the isotopic composition of the ocean water at the same time the tourmaline was formed, according to Grew.
“Whether you had enough boron at that time for these scenarios to be possible is still quite an open question,” Grew says. “This idea that boron played a critical role [in the formation of life], I can’t really answer because I’m not an organic chemist. But the question of whether there was enough boron around, that’s the question we’re trying to answer.”
Since 2008, Hazen and Grew have been collaborating on mineral evolution research — in particular, whether there could have been boron-rich minerals at the time organic compounds were forming.
“Mineral evolution has a lot of parallels with biological evolution as we understand it,” Grew says. “Basically you think of minerals as though they’ve always been here, you don’t think of them in terms of time. So what mineral evolution does is introduce the idea of time as well as physical and chemical properties into the study of minerals.”
Grew began researching the topic and published the article “Borate minerals and origin of the RNA world” in the journal Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres in January 2011, setting the groundwork for the current project.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa NASA Astrobiology Institute, or UHNAI, also found relatively high concentrations of boron in a meteorite from Mars, according to a study in the journal PLOS ONE reported in a ScienceDaily article.
“Unexpected large amounts of boron in this Martian meteorite suggests that on Mars — at about the same time as West Greenland — there may have been enough boron to also go through this process of stabilizing prebiotic organic compounds,” Grew says.
He adds the Mars findings could add valuable perspective to his current research. Plate tectonics has played a major role in transferring boron to the crust from the mantle over much of Earth’s history, but it is still controversial whether there were plate tectonics either on Mars or on the early Earth.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 581.3747
Researchers and students from the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine are featured in an article and video by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The report cites work by Climate Change Institute researcher Gordon Bromley and UMaine anthropologist Kurt Rademaker.
Many Mainers earn their livelihoods from harvesting bounty — including blueberries and lobsters — from the land and sea.
And Samuel Belknap and Kourtney Collum, the first students to enroll in the University of Maine’s new anthropology and environmental policy doctoral program, want to preserve those storied traditions, as well as the state’s natural resources.
Belknap and Collum say the doctorate program, which focuses on “understanding human society and culture in cross-cultural perspective and their pivotal role in implementing successful environmental policy,” is an ideal fit for their interests.
“It is so applicable and has an interdisciplinary framework,” says Collum. “I can look at issues holistically.”
Collum favors a multifaceted approach. She double-majored in anthropology and environmental studies at Western Michigan University, and earned her master’s in forest resources at UMaine.
Belknap agrees. He earned his undergraduate degree in anthropology and a master’s in Quaternary and climate studies, both from UMaine. “No problem is one-dimensional and no one person can solve everything,” he says.
His doctoral thesis, “Abrupt Climate Change and Maine’s Lobster Industry,” proposes collaboration between lobstermen and policymakers to better protect the state’s iconic industry, especially in the wake of abrupt environmental changes.
Experienced lobstermen possess valuable information, says Belknap. They have knowledge of the industry, concerns about both climate change and fishing regulations, and about how they’ve adapted their behavior in response to both.
Policymakers will be better informed and better positioned to craft policies customized for various situations if they routinely involve lobstermen in the regulatory process, Belknap says.
Belknap, who grew up in Damariscotta, Maine, knows his way around a lobster buoy. He learned to haul traps from his grandfather, a retired physician.
“I grew up lobstering,” Belknap says. “My wife jokes that I’m clumsy because I learned to walk on a boat, not land.”
Belknap worked as dock manager at his family’s lobster pound prior to starting his doctorate and respects lobstering as a way of life.
Abrupt climate change could threaten that way of life for the roughly 5,000 lobstermen in the state, as well as coastal communities in Maine and around the planet, he says.
Last summer, warmer water temperature in the Gulf of Maine contributed to lobsters molting a month or more earlier than usual, which resulted in a glut of crustaceans on the market. And then the price per pound plummeted.
“It’s humbling,” Belknap says of how quickly a temperature fluctuation of 1.5 to 2 degrees caused the drastic ripple effect. Another sudden change in temperature might have the opposite effect on the lobster population, he says.
Belknap doesn’t have to look far in space or time to see examples of that.
In September 1999, huge numbers of lobsters died within a few days in Long Island Sound. It devastated the local industry, which languished for more than a decade. Scientific reports have indicated warmer ocean water was — and remains — a culprit.
And last summer, lobsters in water off New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut were afflicted with a shell disease, with warming ocean water was again cited as a factor.
How policymakers and Maine lobstermen work together to deal with abrupt climate changes could be a model for other fisheries regionally, nationally and globally, says Belknap.
Practical application of knowledge is also important for Collum, whose doctoral dissertation will explore the impact of the declining bee population on wild blueberry growers and the growers’ ability to conserve wild pollinators.
Because many crops rely on insect pollination to produce fruits and vegetables, the global decline of bees – due to pesticides, habitat loss and disease — threatens food security and the livelihood of farmers who produce food.
The lowbush blueberries that grow in Maine are completely dependent on insect — mostly bee — pollination to produce fruit. Without bees, there are no blueberries for Sal — or anyone else.
Commercial honeybees are crucial for the intensive agriculture practiced in the U.S, says Collum. But research suggests, through conservation efforts, native bees can provide a significant amount of pollination without the cost associated with renting commercial hives, she says.
Last year, Maine blueberry growers imported 70,000 commercial honeybees to pollinate about 60,000 acres of wild blueberries, she says. The busy bees trucked to Maine generally start their trek in California, where they pollinate almonds, and make multiple work stops en route.
The cost to blueberry producers to pay for pollination has risen significantly, says Collum, bringing into question whether the practice is financially sustainable.
She’ll therefore explore the ability of farmers to integrate the use of both wild and commercial bees to pollinate crops and increase the yields.
Because Maine has more than 240 bee species — at least 40 of which pollinate blueberries, Collum says it’s a good place for farmers and researchers to collaboratively figure out the best practices to protect, promote and utilize wild, native bees to pollinate crops.
Collum will explore obstacles that growers in Maine and Canada have to increasing their use of wild bees to pollinate lowbush blueberries. She’ll also study what influence government policies and programs have on the way growers manage pollination of crops and how growers can adapt to changing ecological conditions.
Growers of other crops that want to transition to utilizing wild bees, where applicable, could apply the findings, she says.
Collum, who grew up in Monroe, Mich., near the border of Ohio, is used to working in the field and on the trails.
She fell in love with Maine when she was a college intern working on a trail crew at Baxter State Park in Millinocket. As a field coordinator for Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in Colorado, Collum battled the pine beetle infestation. And she worked on an ecotourism project in New Zealand, building trails, battling invasive gorse and planting native trees.
Collum urges people to know where their food comes from, to build relationships with local farmers and to support those doing their best to reduce chemical inputs. She also encourages people do what they can to protect bees, including not using pesticides around their homes and planting bee-friendly gardens.
Collum and Belknap both want to make a positive difference in the state they love and ensure that ensuing generations of lobstermen, farmers and foresters have the opportunity to make livings from the land and sea.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777