Archive for the ‘Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture’ Category

Maine Reaps Benefits of 50-Year-Old Water Resources Research Act

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

The Maine Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI), a program of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, joins the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), stakeholders and academic partners in recognizing the importance of the pivotal Water Resources Research Act (WRRA) on it’s 50th anniversary.

Signed into law in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, WRRA established a research institute or WRRI in each state and Puerto Rico. In his official statement, President Johnson said the WRRA “will enlist the intellectual power of universities and research institutes in a nationwide effort to conserve and utilize our water resources for the common benefit. The new centers will be concerned with municipal and regional, as well as with national water problems. Their ready accessibility to state and local officials will permit each problem to be attacked on an individual basis, the only way in which the complex characteristics of each water deficiency can be resolved… The Congress has found that we have entered a period in which acute water shortages are hampering our industries, our agriculture, our recreation, and our individual health and happiness.”

Maine’s WRRI “provides leadership and support to help solve Maine’s water problems by supporting researchers and educating tomorrow’s water scientists. Our goal is to generate new knowledge that can help us maintain important water resources,” said John Peckenham, Director of the institute and Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Mitchell Center.

The Maine WRRI has supported the study of problems such as harmful algae blooms in Maine’s rivers and lakes, arsenic in drinking water, stormwater management, lake acidification and water pollution control techniques. The institute also sponsors the annual Maine Water Conference, bringing together people from across Maine who are connected with water resources to share experiences and make new alliances.

Mitchell Center scientists say WRRI grants have facilitated valuable research over the years.

“The grants help faculty and students conduct meaningful research that aids in the management of streams, rivers, and lakes in Maine,” said Sean Smith, Assistant Professor in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences. “It is difficult or impossible to manage and rehabilitate Maine’s freshwater resources effectively without knowledge of how the freshwater systems work and an understanding of how humans affect them. The WRRI grants provide a mechanism for advancing this knowledge and understanding in Maine.”

In 2014, the Maine WRRI is supporting research at Sebago Lake, the drinking water supply for the greater Portland metropolitan area. Led by Smith, the project seeks to quantify connections between geography, land cover, climate and hydraulic conditions within tributaries draining to the lake. The connections between these factors are at the heart of major pollution concerns throughout the Northeast. The research seeks to help guide land use planning, pollution management, aquatic habitat conservation, and public water supply protection.

Another WRRI project in Lake Auburn, a source of drinking water for the Lewiston/Auburn area, is focused on increased levels of phosphorus in the lake. This could compromise public health and eventually result in a water treatment filtration requirement that could result in a greater cost to the community. The work supplements the existing knowledge of the lake and its results will enhance lake and water supply management strategies. The research team is led by Aria Amirbahman, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Stephen Norton, Distinguished Maine Professor, professor emeritus, Climate Change Institute and School of Earth and Climate Sciences; Linda Bacon, Lakes Program, Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Contact: Tamara Field, 207.420.7755

Some Landowners Embrace Sustainability, Some Don’t — SSI Examines Why

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Why do some landowners embrace sustainability and conservation in their environs while others ignore these concepts altogether? This was one of the main questions Michael Quartuch explored in his doctoral research at UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI).

It’s a complex query. As part of SSI’s People, Landscape and Communities team (PLACE), Quartuch, a recent Ph.D. graduate of SSI and UMaine’s School of Forest Resources, wanted to know what lurked beneath the surface of land use decision-making.

“At a broad level, my research focused on understanding and predicting the ways in which humans interact with and shape the surrounding environment. I was very interested in identifying why people are motivated to act sustainably. Specifically, I wanted to explore whether and to what degree landowner stewardship ethics influence individual land use decisions. Similarly, I wanted to test the role landowner place attachment and sense of community play in terms of influencing behavior,” Quartuch said.

Led by associate professors Kathleen Bell and Jessica Leahy, the PLACE team studied small landowners in Maine to develop solutions on key fronts. The team surveyed landowners in an effort to better understand their concerns, attitudes and behaviors. The responses are helping the team to identify outputs of interest to landowners and key stakeholders who frequently interact with them, including local businesses and local and state governments.

“The ability to tap into landowners’ moral and ethical connections with their land, including sense of place and community, has the potential to influence attitudes and behavior. Research findings suggest that landowners feel real responsibility for their property, a sense of stewardship that is evident in both their environmental attitude and their perception of their ability to act on these beliefs,” Quartuch said. “With this information in hand, we can deviate from traditional outreach and education efforts, concentrating on future conservation and sustainable development initiatives.”

Quartuch, a native of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has accepted a postdoctoral research associate position at Cornell University in the Department of Natural Resources, Human Dimensions Research Unit. Quartuch’s research will focus on a variety of social aspects associated with wildlife management and conservation.

Supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.

UMaine Honeybee Research Cited in Huffington Post Article

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Research being conducted at the University of Maine was mentioned in a Huffington Post article titled, “Who grows our food: Wild blueberries, honeybees and Wyman’s of Maine.” According to the article, Wyman’s is funding honeybee preservation studies at UMaine and Pennsylvania State University because wild blueberries rely on honeybees for pollination, and the honeybee population is declining.

Trostel Featured in WalletHub Article on School Rankings

Friday, August 8th, 2014

University of Maine economist Philip Trostel was cited in a WalletHub article that ranked school systems in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. School systems were ranked using 12 metrics — including student-teacher ratios, dropout rates, test scores and bullying incident rates. WalletHub found New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont, respectively, have the best school systems. Schools in Washington, D.C. were ranked last. Those in Mississippi and Alabama rounded out the bottom three. Maine tied for 17th with Illinois. Trostel said from a public finance perspective, tax exemptions for school items are bad public policy because they benefit nonpoor families more than poor families and come with a high public cost. “There are probably about $20 in tax benefits to nonpoor families for every $1 of tax benefits to poor children,” he said. “If we really want to help poor children with their education, we should take those $21 and use them for programs that directly help them, and just them.” Peers are the single most-important factor of a top school, he said. When it comes to student success, Trostel said both family and school are important, but in general, family matters more.

Breece Quoted in Press Herald Article on Mainers’ Spending Habits

Friday, August 8th, 2014

James Breece, an economics professor at the University of Maine, was interviewed by the Portland Press Herald for an article about a report recently released by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis that found Mainers spent more than the national average on goods and services including gasoline, groceries and health care in 2012. Nationally, Maine ranked 13th in consumer spending and 32nd in median household income, according to the article. Being a relatively low-income state, the spending trends probably mean many Mainers are cutting back or forgoing savings, Breece said, adding “Mainers can’t afford to save money.” He also said many of the statistics make sense, including that Mainers spend more per capita on health care, most likely because of Maine’s higher population of older citizens.

WABI Reports on Weight-Loss Program for Kids at Rec Center

Friday, August 8th, 2014

WABI (Channel 5) spoke with participants in the Way to Optimal Weight, or WOW, program offered to children through a partnership between the University of Maine and Eastern Maine Medical Center. The program is designed to get children and their parents involved in building a healthier and more active lifestyle by offering instructional components on eating right and physical activities at the New Balance Student Recreation Center. Miles Gagnon, a UMaine student and physical trainer who works with WOW participants, told WABI he has seen improvement and more confidence among the children.

Media Report on $20M Grant to Launch Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network in Maine

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

The Portland Press Herald, WABI (Channel 5), Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Bangor Daily News and Mainebiz reported a $20 million National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant will establish a Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) program in Maine. Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine will use the grant to mobilize the collective capacity of Maine’s coastal science resources to establish SEANET, a research network focused on sustainable ecological aquaculture. The public-private partnership led by UMaine, in collaboration with the University of New England and other institutions, will use the state’s 3,500-mile coastline as a living laboratory to study physical oceanography, biophysical, biogeochemical, socioeconomic and policy interactions that have local, bioregional, national and global implications. Paul Anderson, director of SEANET at UMaine, told MPBN the grant offers a good opportunity to look at how aquaculture can be part of the seafood sector by working with the commercial fishing and tourism industries.

Forest Bioproducts Research Institute Cited in Working Waterfront Article

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

The University of Maine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute (FBRI) was mentioned in a Working Waterfront article about wood chips that will be shipped from Eastport to Killybegs, Ireland. Phyto-Charter LLC will be in charge of exporting the wood chips after heat treating them as required by the European Union, the article states. The company will phytosanitize the chips on board the shipping vessel with a heat-treating system developed with FBRI. Phyto-Charter recently received certification for its system, the first such certification in the U.S. for the wood chip product, according to Chris Gardner, port director.

Scientific American Interviews McCleave About Eels

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Scientific American spoke with James McCleave, a University of Maine professor emeritus of marine sciences and a leading expert on eels, for the article “Glass eel gold rush casts Maine fishermen against scientists.” Maine fishermen have been catching glass eels, or elvers, and selling them at modest market prices for years, but demand from Asia has caused prices to skyrocket, according to the article. Some fisheries biologists are now worried about the eel’s survival because of a decline in population, the article states. “We’re supposed to manage fisheries on the precautionary principle. If the trend is down, we don’t say it’s OK,” McCleave said, adding eels were once abundant in East Coast freshwater ecosystems. He called eels a “keystone species,” and cautioned that if they are removed, many predator–prey relationships will fall apart. The Maine Public Broadcasting Network also cited the Scientific American article.

UMaine Researchers Studying Availability of Iron in Ocean, Primary Production

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Understanding why phytoplankton — the base of the food web — are not able to use all the iron in seawater is the focus of a three-year study by University of Maine researchers.

Mark Wells, a marine science professor at UMaine, is leading the project that will look at how the chemistry of iron in seawater is controlled by tiny particles, where the particles are most important, and how the chemistry of the particles affects the ability of phytoplankton to grow on iron in seawater.

Oceans contribute about 50 percent of the world’s photosynthesis, with the majority coming from marine phytoplankton, Wells says. The growth of the single-celled organisms in many ocean regions is limited by the availability of micronutrient iron.

The researchers will meld chemistry, physics and biology to learn more about dissolved iron in the ocean that is tied up in colloidal particles, which are too small for gravity to control, and therefore don’t sink in seawater.

“The question is whether the marine colloids are releasing iron, or gathering it up, and this pattern almost certainly will change for different waters,” Wells says. “It is like a Tic Tac container. The Tic Tacs are there but you have to wait for the container to release them before you can eat them.”

Bioavailable iron is an essential nutrient for shaping the distribution and composition of marine phytoplankton production, as well as the magnitude of ocean carbon export, the researchers say. Iron exists in many phases in the ocean and colloidal, or nonsoluble, phases account for a significant portion of dissolved iron.

The colloidal phase of iron may serve as a biological source of stored iron, according to the researchers, but the physical and chemical characteristics of these phases are presently poorly understood.

“We know the particles are there, but we haven’t had the techniques to really see them in a technical way, and that’s what makes this project unique,” Wells says.

To better understand this key part of iron cycling, researchers will use new analytical chemistry methods to quantitatively separate the colloidal iron sizes present in a sample and measure the composition of the colloidal portions in shelf and oceanic waters.They will use flow field-flow fractionation (flow FFF) with multi-angle laser light scattering to make measurements of the uniformity or uniqueness of the colloidal size spectrum, as well as the physical and chemical characteristics of the phases. Flow FFF, according to Wells, uses flow in thin streams along a membrane to separate small particles by size.

“Researchers in the past have just used filters, but filters aren’t a very efficient way to separate size,” Wells says.

Using this method will allow the researchers to learn more about the shape, size range and chemical composition of the particles.

“A mixture of particle sizes go in one end of the channel but particles come out the other in order of their size. We can use the method to determine what particle sizes have the most iron in them,” Wells says.

The findings will aid future studies to better link the source and fate of iron in the marine environment, according to the researchers, who also expect the project will have broad implications in the fields of marine ecology and biogeochemistry and to modeling studies of ocean-atmospheric coupling and climate change.

“This study will help us understand where iron will be more available and less available in the oceans, which will help us understand why ocean productivity is lower in some areas than others,” Wells says.

The project, “Assessment of the colloidal iron size spectrum in coastal and oceanic waters” recently received a $269,334 grant from the National Science Foundation.

A former UMaine postdoctoral researcher, who is now a Texas A&M University professor, will serve as a principal investigator on the project that also will support the education and research training of one undergraduate student each year. The researchers plan to conduct outreach activities to K–12 students and teachers.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747