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.
Dr. Rajendra Singh, a University of Maine graduate and leader in wireless telecommunications, will deliver the 2013 University of Maine Distinguished Presidential Lecture on Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. in Arthur St. John Hill Auditorium in the Engineering Science Research Building.
The Distinguished Presidential Lecture Series, which is free and open to the public, provides a forum for highly accomplished individuals with UMaine ties to share personal stories and perspectives on important societal issues of interest to the UMaine community. “My Journey” is the title of Singh’s lecture. He grew up in a rural village in India with no telephones or electricity; today he is internationally recognized as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist.
Singh is the chief executive officer and principal owner of Telecom Ventures, a private investment firm in Florida that has launched wireless service providers around the world. He and his wife, Neera, who have two children, have co-chaired the business since 1994. Dr. Singh and Neera Singh were instrumental in founding or starting Appex, Inc. (a billing services firm which was sold to EDS system in 1990), Portatel (a cellular operator in Mexico), BPL (a cellular operator in India), Wireless Ventures of Brazil, Avantel (a specialized mobile radio operator in Brazil and Colombia), Infonet (a GSM operator in Venezuela), Teligent (a competitive local exchange carrier), LCC International (a consulting services company), and Mobile Satellite Ventures (a communication services provider in North America). Dr. Singh continues to play a leading role in the development and deployment of emerging wireless technologies.
Singh also serves on the board of trustees at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the board of overseers of the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In 2012, he received the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations’ Ellis Island Medal of Honor and was inducted into the Wireless Hall of Fame.
In 2006, the Singhs received UMaine’s Stillwater Presidential Award for Achievement. Dr. Singh has also received the Edward Bryand Distinguished Engineering Award from UMaine’s College of Engineering and has been inducted into the Francis Crowe Society Hall of Fame. In 2004, Singh established the Rajendra & Neera Singh Engineering Scholarship Fund at the University of Maine Foundation to provide financial assistance to deserving students in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.
The avid runner and skier earned an undergraduate degree at Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, his master’s in electrical engineering at UMaine in 1977, and a doctorate from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
For more information, or to request a disability accommodation, contact Sarah Penley at 207.581.1159 or DevelopmentOfficeRSVP@maine.edu.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
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
A University of Maine researcher is participating in five projects aimed at improving nationwide science instruction and assessments.
Michelle Smith, assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, is the principal investigator on four projects and co-principal investigator on another granted $6.8 million in total funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF); UMaine’s portion is $1,012,269.
The projects, three of which are collaborative with other universities, involve UMaine administrators, faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students, undergraduates and area K-12 teachers. “All of these stakeholders … will contribute to national initiatives to improve science education,” says Smith, a member of the Maine Center for Research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education (Maine RiSE Center).
In August, Smith was returning from a reunion with family members when she learned about the possible funding. “We stopped for lunch and I looked down at my phone and realized my inbox was full of messages from the NSF requesting that I provide them with more information on four different grants within 48 hours,” she says. “I told my family they had to eat ‘right now’ because we had to get home.”
Susan McKay, UMaine professor of physics and director of the Maine RiSE Center, as well as Smith and several other colleagues, will receive $299,998 to transform K-12 STEM education by restructuring teaching methods courses to align with national standards. They’ll also work to attract and retain STEM majors in college as educators and form partnerships with area school districts.
Researchers say the project could make a difference in Maine, where more than 50 percent of students in more than half the school districts are eligible for free or reduced lunch and the resource-based economy could benefit from more technology jobs.
Smith and colleagues MacKenzie Stetzer, Susan McKay and Jeff St. John will receive $249,851 to establish a UMaine program to broaden use of evidence-based teaching and learner-centered practices in STEM courses. UMaine faculty and area K-12 teachers will observe and document instruction in university STEM courses. Their data will be used to develop workshops targeting faculty members’ needs and implement innovative teaching practices.
Smith will receive $219,966 of a $528,459 collaborative project to develop assessments called Bio-MAPS (Biology-Measuring Achievement and Progression in Science) that gauge whether undergraduate college biology students understand core concepts. The University of Washington and University of Colorado-Boulder are partners in the endeavor “to articulate common learning goals and monitor longitudinal student learning in biology.”
The assessments will identify areas in biology in which students struggle. They’ll also help two-year community colleges evaluate how effectively they’re preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions. Assessment data will inform faculty about where changes need to be made in the biology curriculum.
Smith will also receive $187,968 to expand a national network for open-ended assessments called Automated Assessment of Constructed Response (AACR) in which computer software programs analyze answers of students in large-enrollment science courses. The assessments provide more insight into student thinking on common conceptual difficulties than multiple-choice questions.
Michigan State, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Georgia, and Stony Brook University, are also participating in the $5 million project, in which researchers will create a community Web portal to improve alliances among STEM education researchers and promote nationwide implementation of innovative instruction materials.
Smith will receive $54,486 of a $718,000 collaborative award with four other universities to build a national network of Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) that provide professional development opportunities so more faculty can use constructed response assessments to reform teaching in biology. UMaine faculty members Seanna Annis, Farahad Dastoor and Brian Olsen will work with Smith to develop the UMaine FLC.
The project seeks to provide insight into factors that facilitate or hamper faculty using modified teaching materials and practices. It also lays the foundation for a national network of FLCs and subject-based virtual communities with access to real-time automated analysis of AACR assessment items, faculty-developed teaching resources and support.
Smith, who says she chose a faculty position at UMaine in order to work with fantastic researchers and supportive peers, appreciates that her colleagues helped her think about research questions and mentored her during the grant-writing process.
She’s also grateful for the contributions of K-12 teachers. “The pilot data the K-12 teachers collected about university-level STEM instruction was featured in the grant to broaden use of evidence-based teaching and learner-centered practices in STEM courses,” Smith says. “That grant earned the highest scores of any I submitted. My colleagues and I are incredibly lucky to work with such a talented group of teachers who are also excellent researchers.”
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
“The State of Our Nation: Hardball vs. Civility” will be the focus of the William S. Cohen Lecture at the University of Maine on Nov. 7 featuring former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
Simpson will be joined by former Secretary of Defense William Cohen in the discussion, moderated by alumnus Mark Woodward, former Bangor Daily News executive editor.
The 3 p.m. event in the Collins Center for the Arts is free and open to the public. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis by calling the Collins Center for the Arts box office, 581.1755 or 1-800-MCA-TIXX. Box office hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
The moderated discussion on hardball versus civility in Washington is the second time a question-and-answer-style discussion format has been featured in UMaine’s William S. Cohen Lecture Series, which began in 1998. Cohen, the Bangor native who represented Maine in Congress for 24 years before joining President Clinton’s cabinet, established the series when he donated a collection of papers chronicling his Congressional career to the university’s Fogler Library.
Taking the stage this year with Cohen will be Simpson, a U.S. senator from 1979-97. From 1985-95, he was assistant Republican leader. In his Congressional career, Simpson sponsored legislation that dealt with the establishment of federal standards for clean air and water, toxic waste cleanup, and nuclear regulation. He was active on issues regarding veterans, aging, the environment and immigration laws.
In 2006, Simpson was named to the 10-member Iraq Study Group, a Congressionally appointed panel co-chaired by Lee Hamilton and James Baker, charged with assessing the Iraq War and offering policy recommendations. In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Simpson and Erskine Bowles to co-chair the 18-member National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly referred to as the Deficit Commission or Debt Panel.
Simpson will be the ninth Cohen Lecturer since the start of the series, established to bring to UMaine a distinguished speaker with informed perspectives on matters related to international policy and commerce. Cohen delivered the first lecture in the series in March 1998; Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, followed in 1999; retired U.S. Senator and former astronaut John Glenn, 2001, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, 2003; former CBS News correspondent Dan Rather, 2005; Washington Post journalist and author Bob Woodward, 2007; Attorney General Eric Holder, 2009; retired U.S. Marine Gen. James Jones, 2011.
The 2013 Cohen Lecture is a function of UMaine’s William S. Cohen Center for International Policy and Commerce, established in 1997. Cohen, who is a former UMaine business faculty member, donated his collection of papers to UMaine’s Fogler Library when the center was established. In January 2001, Cohen gave the papers from his tenure as Secretary of Defense to the university.
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745
A research team recommending that greater conservation measures be applied to two rare, dense coral garden communities that it discovered in the Gulf of Maine has three University of Maine connections.
Rhian Waller, associate research professor at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole; Steven Auscavitch, master’s candidate in marine biology; and Les Watling, Professor Emeritus in the School of Marine Sciences and now a faculty member at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, were part of the team headed by Peter Auster of the University of Connecticut that found two deep-sea coral communities in July 2013 in the western Jordan Basin and Schoodic Ridge regions of the Gulf of Maine.
While deep-sea octocorals have been in the Gulf at least since the late 19th century when fishermen delivered them to museums as bycatch, researchers say bottom-scraping fishing gear has reduced their presence to small refuges. Due to the corals’ vulnerability and sensitivity to disturbance, the team advised that spatially explicit protection measures be applied to them.
“Discovering these lush coral gardens in the Gulf of Maine was an amazing experience this summer; some of the large coral trees we saw were over 2 meters high and have been growing in these protected pockets for an extremely long period of time,” Waller says. “These corals provide really important habitat for many of our local fisheries species, so finding areas where these corals have survived intense fishing pressure is a real boost to our understanding of habitat diversity and functioning in the Gulf of Maine.”
The team located the two deep-sea coral communities at depths greater than 200 meters. The topography was complex and areas with steep vertical rock faces had the highest densities of octocorals, say the researchers. The large-bodied corals extend up into the water and capture food with their hollow tentacles.
Pandalid shrimp were frequently found with the coral colonies, says the team. In addition, the team viewed Acadian redfish taking cover in the corals and saw Atlantic cod, cusk, pollock and silver hake catching prey among the octocorals.
Morgan Kilgour of UConn and David Packer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also took part in the research. The team’s preliminary findings, “Octocoral gardens in the Gulf of Maine (NW Atlantic)” were published Oct. 16 in the online edition of Biodiversity.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Modest longitudinal decline in renal function in early stages of kidney disease is associated with stiffening of the arteries, which is a risk for stroke and dementia, according to a University of Maine-led research team.
Worsening of kidney function is associated with higher pulse wave velocity (PWV) values and, by inference, higher levels of arterial stiffness in the heart and brain, says team leader Merrill Elias, UMaine professor of psychology and cooperating professor in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering.
“[E]ven modest associations constitute unacceptable risks at a population level and become major associations in late-stage renal disease,” he says. “Effective management of multiple cardiovascular disease risk factors associated with renal disease could be a way for successful early intervention.”
PWV, which is a measure of arterial stiffness, is the velocity of a pressure wave created when blood returns to the heart from the periphery of the vascular system. A fast return indicates greater stiffness in arteries; a slower return indicates arteries are flexible. PWV is a relatively new technology; Elias calls it the gold standard measure of arterial stiffness.
A strength of this study, says Elias, is that researchers related decline in renal functioning over four to five years to PWV. The study involved 482 community-based men and women with a mean age of nearly 61 years. They had normal blood pressure and arterial hypertension and investigators were unaware of the participants’ kidney disease status during data collection. Those with diabetes, other hypertension-related risk factors or diseases detected at various stages of the study were referred to their physicians for active treatment.
The findings, which were observed with controls for demographic factors, heart rate, mean arterial pressure and other potential confounders, are the most recent in a 38-year Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study that examines cardiovascular risk factors in relation to cognitive performance.
Elias and Syracuse University physician David H.P. Streeten began the longitudinal study in 1975. In previous studies, researchers found mild to moderate kidney disease was related to a drop in cognitive functioning, abstract reasoning and verbal memory, and that PWV was higher in those with the lowest cognitive performance.
Thus, says Elias, early detection of mild to moderate kidney disease is an important public health concern.
Elias, a psychologist and cardiovascular epidemiologist, and Michael Robbins, a UMaine colleague and psychologist, conducted the study with support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). UMaine colleague Gregory Dore; as well as Adam Davey, a developmental psychologist, and Avrum Gillespie, a nephrologist, both from Temple University; and Walter Abhayaratna, a cardiologist from Australian National University, also participated in this latest study.
“Deterioration in Renal Function is Associated With Increased Arterial Stiffness” was initially published online in September in the American Journal of Hypertension.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
A University of Maine graduate student is one of 22 scholars nationwide awarded a $15,000 Switzer Environmental Fellowship for driving positive change.
Caitlin Cleaver, whose master’s thesis is titled “The Maine green sea urchin fishery: Scale mismatches, trophic connectivity, and resilience,” is on target to graduate in May 2014 with dual master’s degrees in marine biology and marine policy.
For marine resource management to be effective, Cleaver says it’s important to understand how science, policy and the fishing industry intersect. She’s interested in incorporating sea urchin harvesters’ knowledge into science and management processes to better understand the collapse of sea urchin stocks and to develop effective strategies for maintaining the fishery.
Cleaver, who grew up in Kennett Square, Pa., works as a marine programs associate at the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine. In 2010, she earned a Master of Public Administration in environmental science and policy at Columbia University and in 2006, she received a bachelor’s in environmental policy at Colby College.
The Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation, which is based in Belfast, Maine, annually awards $15,000 to at least 20 promising environmental leaders. The foundation has awarded nearly $14 million in grants over a 27-year period.
“Today’s environmental issues are increasingly complex and require an ability to translate scientific, ecological and social knowledge across disciplines and apply it in real world settings,” says Lissa Widoff, executive director of the foundation. “The 2013 Switzer Environmental Fellows are at the cutting edge of science and policy and will be supported with funding, professional coaching and a network of leaders to help them achieve results. Their problem-solving abilities and innovation will make a difference.”
Other 2013 fellows attend Yale and Stanford universities, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California Los Angeles. Fellows are pursuing degrees in such areas as library and information science; veterinary medicine; urban planning, human and environmental geography; and biological engineering.
To read an interview with Cleaver, visit http://go.umaine.edu/explore-umaine/student-profiles/.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Assessing the potential for emergence of new cropland weeds in northern New England as a result of climate change is the focus of the first study to be supported by the Northern New England Collaborative Research Funding Program.
The program is a partnership of the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station at the University of Maine, the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire, and the Vermont Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Vermont. The goal of the program is to mobilize coordinated research on high-priority needs for the region.
The program awards a two-year seed grant to regional research teams through an annual competition, with priority given to teams that have the potential to serve northern New England beyond the proposed study.
The program’s initial priority area focuses on adaptation to and mitigation of climate change in relation to agriculture.
“One of the reasons we chose to encourage more research related to climate change is that is has the potential to impact almost every element of agriculture,” Frederick Servello, associate director of the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, says. “Whether it’s crops or livestock or pest problems or disease problems, all have a potential to be affected by changes in climate.”
Servello, who is also the associate dean for research in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture and a wildlife ecology professor at UMaine, clarifies that the program’s intent is less about studying climate and more about understanding the effects of climate change, such as changing temperature and precipitation, on current agricultural practices and determining how to take advantage of those changes to improve agriculture in the future.
The proposed research may address specific agricultural issues, needs or opportunities within the context of climate change and variability or address the topic more broadly. The research must address issues or needs important to all three participating states and must be more effective and efficient conducted as a regional project than it would be as independent state projects.
Eric Gallandt, an associate professor of weed ecology and management at the University of Maine, is one of five co-principal investigators of the cropland weeds study along with researchers from UNH and UVM.
The project, which runs from June 1, 2013 to May 31, 2015, aims to assess the potential for and prediction of range expansion in a variety of common and rare weed species as a consequence of climate change and to develop strategies to reduce effects on growers.
The group predicts ongoing environmental changes will make new habitats suitable for both native and invasive weeds in northern New England, creating more problems for weed management and potentially added costs to growers.
“Knowledge of weed biology and ecology is increasingly important to guide management,” Gallandt says. “Predicting tomorrow’s weed communities, and knowledge of the genetic variability in existing weed species will allow us to begin working on management strategies and educational programs that will help northern New England farmers adapt to changing weed problems.”
The goal of the project is to establish a knowledge base for planning responses to a variety of possible changes in weed pressures and effects on agriculture in the region. Researchers will collect this data by defining the current distributions of cropland weed species in the area and the environmental characteristics of each species’ suitable habitat.
The project also aims to integrate the research of weed scientists at all three universities, setting the stage for follow-up projects among the institutions that would have a greater chance of attracting funding from other sources.
Seed bank germination studies conducted by Gallandt in 2010 determined the principal cropland weeds for Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. The results of his study helped lay the foundation of the cropland weeds project.
The group believes although their initial focus is on weeds, the idea of assessing agriculturally relevant species and genetic diversity in relation to habitat suitability and environmental change could also be applied to study insects and other pests, disease organisms and other biological factors related to agriculture.
“The NNE Collaborative Research Funding Program allowed us to initiate field, greenhouse and laboratory research that will characterize the existing weed flora across northern New England and develop essential proof-of-concept data sets that will allow our research team to compete for larger external grants to expand our efforts,” Gallandt says. “This year we sampled weed communities on 30 Maine farms and genetic analysis of selected species is underway at the sequencing lab at the University of New Hampshire’s Hubbard Center for Genomic Studies.”
Servello said the cropland weed study was chosen as the first project to be funded by the Northern New England Collaborative Research Funding Program because of the important results to come from the two-year study as well as its potential as a multiyear effort.
“What we saw was a dynamic team, a first-class proposal and an important question for all three states,” Servello says.
Over the past several years, the experiment station directors have been discussing ways to best work together to address common research needs, according to Servello.
The directors heard about a similar collaborative program at a meeting in another region of the country in 2012 and immediately began organizing to initiate the Northern New England Collaborative Research Funding Program.
“We’re three universities in three neighboring states with a lot of similarities,” Servello says. “We’re in the same general region from an agricultural perspective, we have different skill sets at each university and different capabilities to address research problems. The thought was we could work together in a regionally coordinated way to be more effective.”
Servello says the program is the first of many discussions on ways the northern New England experiment stations can continue to work together.
“At first inclination you might think reducing duplicative effort between states is the big advantage here,” Servello says. “I think, what’s most important is bringing together the skill sets we have that can complement and reinforce each other into more effective teams to reach answers to these questions more quickly and effectively.”
Applications for the program’s 2014 seed grant are now being accepted. The deadline to apply is Feb. 6, 2014, and the winning research team will be announced Feb. 27, 2014.
The Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station is UMaine’s College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture’s center for applied and basic research in agriculture and food sciences, forestry and wood products, fisheries and aquaculture, wildlife, outdoor recreation, and rural economic development.
The station’s programs strive to enhance the profitability and sustainability of Maine’s natural resource-based industries, protect Maine’s environment, and improve the health of its citizens.