The National Science Foundation has awarded University of Maine researchers $574,617 to study the effects of ocean acidification on the marine ecosystem of the Aleutian Islands.
UMaine professor Bob Steneck and postdoctoral research associate Doug Rasher, both based at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine, will work with Jim Estes of the University of California, Santa Cruz to determine whether ocean acidification, ocean warming and food web changes are reshaping species’ interactions in nature and threatening Clathromorphum nereostratum, a slow-growing coralline alga in the subarctic North Pacific Ocean.
During C. nereostratum’s 2,000-year lifetime it accretes massive bioherms, or mound-like reef structures, that form the foundation of the archipelago benthos upon which kelp forests grow. Preliminary research suggests the calcium carbonate skeleton of the coralline alga is weakening due to increased ocean acidification. With the recent ecological extinction of sea otters, the number of sea urchins has increased and, in places, they have grazed the kelp forest, leaving behind barren ancient coralline reefs.
During past cycles of sea otter/urchin/kelp booms and busts when ocean acidity was steady, C. nereostratum fared better. Now in a weakened state, it’s falling prey to urchins, crumbling away through bioerosion.
The three-year study will include a 2104 summer-long research expedition to the western portion of the Aleutians, from Adak Island to Attu Island. Researchers will survey kelp forests and urchin barrens, measure ocean acidity and collect samples of the ancient coralline bioherms.
Subsequent laboratory-based research will include urchin feeding experiments at past and present levels of ocean temperature and acidity to confirm processes driving patterns observed in the field. Additional studies will focus on the bands of calcium carbonate (similar to tree rings) in the coralline samples.
Contact: Linda Healy, 207.563.8220 or Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
A team of University of Maine researchers studying diatom algae populations and their effects on climate change in Greenland was featured in a report by The National Science Foundation’s Science Nation.
The researchers gathered samples of diatoms — a type of algae that respond rapidly to environmental change — to study how climate change is affecting the Arctic ecosystem.
The story and video focus on Jasmine Saros’ recent NSF-funded research. Saros is the associate director of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute and is a professor in the School of Biology and Ecology. Her research team included graduate student Ben Burpee, who was partially supported by a Dan and Betty Churchill Exploration Grant through the Climate Change Institute to do related research.
Paul Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine, was featured in a Q&A article for GlobalPost. Mayewski spoke about the importance of climate change for the article titled “Calamity Calling: Climate change expert says Earth is having its ‘Independence Day’ moment.” He is also the science adviser for Calamity Calling, GlobalPost’s yearlong investigation into climate change.
Aaron Putnam, a research associate at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, is a co-author of a journal article for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). Wallace S. Broecker, Newberry Professor of Geology at Columbia University’s The Earth Institute, is the lead author of the article titled “Hydrologic impacts of past shifts of Earth’s thermal equator offer insight into those to be produced by fossil fuel CO2.” As fossil fuel CO2 warms the planet, the researchers expect Northern Hemisphere continents to warm faster than the Southern Hemisphere oceans. The researchers predict a northward shift of Earth’s thermal equator, sparked by the temperature contrast, may produce hydrologic changes and warm periods causing the American West, Middle East and southern Amazonia to become drier, and Asia, Venezuela and Africa to become wetter, the article states.
An effort by the state to save a Popham Beach bathhouse with a temporary seawall of fallen trees and beach scraping is an example of an appropriate engineering endeavor to save beach-front property without harming the landscape, according to research by a University of Maine professor.
Joseph Kelley, professor of marine geology in the University of Maine’s Department of Earth Sciences and cooperating professor at the Climate Change Institute, studied a 2009 action by the Maine Division of Parks and Public Lands to save public property from beach erosion by mimicking natural processes.
“This paper points out that in special circumstances, engineering efforts, which typically destroy the dynamic of beaches and dunes, can prove beneficial,” Kelley says. “We hope these approaches work, but erosion on other parts of the beach is continuing.”
Previous approaches used to slow beach and property erosion in Maine are no longer allowed or economically feasible.
In Maine, seawalls were banned in 1983. Replacement of storm-damaged buildings is also not allowed, and a precedent case on Popham Beach in the 1980s ruled an owner had to remove an unpermitted building from a site where an earlier structure was damaged, the study states.
So when erosion threatened the newly built bathhouse on the parking lot at Popham Beach in 2009, the the remaining options for the state were moving the building back from the ocean — a costly choice — or applying temporary measures.
Because the inlet channel causing the erosion would eventually change course, the state decided to create a temporary seawall with fallen trees at the site. In December 2009, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands roped together fallen pine trees and secured them to standing trees on the top of the dune. The treewall was legal as a temporary structure and lessened wave and current energy in an attempt to reduce erosion. The creation of the treewall was also used to assure the public that action was being taken, according to the study.
Once the inlet channel changed course, beach scraping was used. Sand was scraped from the lower to the upper beach — without adding new material — to deflect the current away from the bathhouse.
The use of temporary solutions of beach scraping and biological barriers successfully saved the building without having to create a permanent structure or resort to expensive replenishment, Kelley writes.
“Popham Beach, Maine: An example of engineering activity that saved beach property without harming the beach” was published in the peer-reviewed science journal Geomorphology.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
University of Maine marine scientist Rhian Waller shares experiences and photographs from her recent deep-sea coral expedition in Chile in her blogs on the National Geographic website.
In September, Waller traveled to Huinay Scientific Field Station near the northern Patagonian fjords to collect final samples from a yearlong deep-sea coral monitoring program studying how climate change, salmon farms, fishing and oil exploration affect deep-sea coral reproduction, and what effect any altered life cycle could have on the marine ecosystem.
In her Oct. 11 blog, Waller wrote, “Corals are not just beautiful to look at … they’re also extremely important to the health of our oceans, and ultimately the health of the planet. Coral ecosystems have been called the ‘rainforests’ of the ocean and, while this is true, they’re actually so much more.” In addition to providing habitat for many other species of marine life, Waller says corals remove carbon dioxide from the ocean and are used in the development of pharmaceutical drugs to combat cancer.
Waller and Laura Grange from the University of Southampton in England dove to retrieve data loggers placed a year ago to record temperature, salinity and light. Waller, who was heralded as a risk taker in “New Age of Exploration” in the March 2013 edition of National Geographic Magazine, received grants from the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society to conduct the research.
Katherine Mills, a research scientist at the University of Maine and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), and Harold Borns, founder of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, were interviewed by the Bangor Daily News for the article “Climate, ecosystem linkages explain salmon declines in Maine rivers.” The article also referenced a study by scientists at the University of Maine and GMRI that found warming waters and reduced food supply off the coasts of the United States and Canada are threatening the North American Atlantic salmon. Mills was lead author of that report.
Alaska Dispatch reported on a collaborative ice core-drilling project in Alaska’s Denali National Park by the University of Maine, Dartmouth University and the University of New Hampshire. UMaine researchers include climate change scientist Karl Kreutz, Research Assistant Professor Sean Birkel and graduate students Seth Campbell and Tim Godaire. The project aims to help researchers better understand Alaska’s climate from the past 1,000 years.
ThinkProgress spoke with Robert Steneck, professor in the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center, and Andrew Pershing, professor in the Gulf of Maine Research Institute at UMaine, for the article “Lobster bubble: Maine’s lobster boom, and why experts predict a dramatic bust.” Steneck and Pershing spoke about the warming temperatures in the Gulf of Maine and what that means for Maine’s lobsters.
FIS, the website of Fish Information and Services, and the Bangor Daily News are among the latest organizations to report on research by Noah Oppenheim, a marine biology graduate student at the University of Maine, that suggests climate change is creating cannibalism among lobsters. Oppenheim came to the discovery after capturing on an underwater camera adult lobsters eating adolescent ones.