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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

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

Hanes, Grad Student to Study Influential Factors of Diversifying Pollination Sources

Samuel Hanes, an assistant professor of anthropology, received a $28,444 grant from the National Science Foundation for the proposal, “Social capital and policy networks: Exploring the factors that influence adoption of pollinator conservation.”

The project aims to better understand obstacles and influential factors growers face when attempting to diversify pollination sources.

According to the proposal, insect pollination produces about $19 billion worth of crops in the U.S. annually. Farmers rent commercial honeybees to supply most of their crop pollination but the number of hives in the U.S. has dropped by more than 30 percent since 1980, leading to interest in alternate pollination sources.

The project will look at factors affecting lowbush blueberry growers’ use of wild, native bees to supplement honeybees.

UMaine graduate student Kourtney Collum will conduct the doctoral dissertation research project under Hanes’ supervision, and as part of UMaine’s anthropology and environmental policy doctoral program.

Collum will examine the factors that influence farmers’ adoption of pollinator conservation practices through a comparative study of blueberry growers in Maine — where there is an adequate honeybee supply — and Prince Edward Island, Canada — where there is a severe honeybee shortage.

The researchers will look closely at growers’ interaction with and perceptions of agricultural agencies and programs, as well as effects of agricultural policies and overall farm management, according to the proposal.

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

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

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

Forbes Follows Researchers Tracking Horse Safety

University of Maine researchers Mick Peterson and Christie Mahaffey are featured in an article in Forbes about horse racetrack safety. Peterson, executive director of the nonprofit Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and Libra Foundation Professor at the College of Engineering at the University of Maine, is slated to make a presentation at The Jockey Club’s fifth Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit held July 8-9 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Peterson and Mahaffey, an affiliated researcher with the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and a doctoral candidate in interdisciplinary engineering at UMaine, analyze racetrack samples and maintenance data from around the United States and make models of how horses’ hooves interact with various surfaces.

They started working with Aqueduct Racetrack in New York after 31 horses died on its surface in 2012 (three per 1,000 starts). In 2013, 21 horses died (1.77 per 1,000 starts). Thus far in 2014, Forbes reports that nine have died. “The lives of horses and riders are on the line here. We have to keep working on it,” Peterson says in the article.

Pen Bay Pilot Advances Student-Produced Storytelling Event

Pen Bay Pilot promoted a live science storytelling event that University of Maine marine biology graduate student Skylar Bayer is co-producing at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 17, at Frontier in Brunswick.

Five scientists, including UMaine alums Jennifer McHenry and Ryan Elizabeth Cope, will share experiences of being caught “On the Hook” for The Story Collider, which produces live shows and podcasts where people tell stories about how science has affected their lives “on a personal and emotional level.” Tickets may be purchased at online.

UMaine Student Produces Science Storytelling Event

University of Maine marine biology graduate student Skylar Bayer is co-producing a live science storytelling event at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 17, at the Frontier in Brunswick.

Five scientists, including UMaine alums Jennifer McHenry and Ryan Elizabeth Cope, will share true experiences of being caught “On the Hook” for The Story Collider, which produces live shows and podcasts where people tell stories about how science has affected their lives “on a personal and emotional level.”

Bayer was featured in a February podcast for The Story Collider titled “Phoning Home from Alvin.” In the 15-minute podcast, the Massachusetts native shares a touching and humorous experience about facing her fears and taking part in a deep-ocean dive in a submersible named Alvin.

Bayer has dreamed of being a marine scientist since she was 8; she is pursuing her Ph.D. in marine reproductive ecology at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole. Bayer also manages, edits and writes the blog, Strictlyfishwrap. She might be better known as “the lonely lady scientist” from a 2013 feature titled “The Enemy Within” on “The Colbert Report.” Bayer is co-producing the storytelling event with Ari Daniel, who has reported for NPR’s “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” and “Weekend Edition.” Daniel earned a Ph.D. in biological oceanography at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Scheduled storytellers also include Jeffrey M. Schell, associate professor of oceanography with Sea Education Association; Meredith White, postdoctoral researcher at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences; and Nick Bennett, an environmental advocate. Tickets may be purchased online at eventbrite.com.  The theater is at 14 Maine St., Mill 3 at Fort Andross, in Brunswick.

FOX 22 Talks With Wheeler About $500,000 Grant

FOX 22/WFV Bangor featured Rob Wheeler, University of Maine assistant professor of microbiology, who received a $500,000 five-year grant to study how common pathogens can become killers.

Wheeler and students will study how Candida albicans, the most common human fungal germ, transforms from to a potentially fatal fungus in vital organs of a person whose immune system has been compromised. “One of the issues with Candida infection is people with dentures or a prosthesis can get Candida in those areas of attachment that then interact with the skin and can pass through the skin in ways that doesn’t in healthy people,” Wheeler said.

MPBN Interviews Wheeler About $500,000 Grant to Study Pathogen

The Maine Public Broadcasting Network spoke with Robert Wheeler, an assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Maine, who was awarded a five-year, $500,000 fellowship from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) to study a pathogen. Wheeler will study how and why Candida albicans — the most common human fungal pathogen — transforms from an innocuous yeast in the digestive tract of a person with a healthy immune system to a potentially fatal fungus in vital organs of a person whose immune system has been compromised. Wheeler said Candida albicans is the fourth most common bloodstream disease in hospitalized patients and one in three patients with impaired immune systems who contract the fungal infection while in the hospital will die from it. “A combination of better diagnosis and better drug treatment regimes could make a really big impact in the lethality associated with fungal infection,” Wheeler said. He called the fellowship a new high point in his career and a major boost for microbiology at UMaine. The Associated Press and WABI (Channel 5) also reported the research award.


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UMaine News
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
207.581.1110
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