Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Pulse Morning Show Interviews Davids about HIAD

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Bill Davids, chair of the University of Maine Civil and Environmental Engineering Department and the John C. Bridge Professor, was a Tuesday morning guest of host Don Cookson on The Pulse Morning Show on AM 620. Davids talked about how UMaine engineers and students are helping NASA test Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) technology. HIAD — a spacecraft nose-mounted “giant cone of inner tubes” stacked like a ring toy — slows a spacecraft as it enters a planet’s atmosphere. The technology may make it possible for a spaceship large enough to carry astronauts and heavy loads of scientific equipment to explore Mars — 34,092,627 miles from Earth — and beyond. Davids said the minimum three-year project is a wonderful opportunity for the university, as well as the two full-time doctoral candidates and six undergraduate students taking part in the testing.

Past, Present Hemlock Declines Focus of UMaine Research Project

Monday, August 18th, 2014

The impact that hemlock tree die-offs have had — and continue to have — on freshwater forest ecosystems is the focus of a research project at the University of Maine.

Hamish Greig, a UMaine assistant professor of stream ecology, and Jacquelyn Gill, an assistant professor of terrestrial paleoecology at the Climate Change Institute (CCI) and the School of Biology and Ecology, are leading a research team that is studying past and present declines of the conifers known for their dense shade. The resulting biomass the dying trees introduce into the watershed, as well as the other tree species that take their place on the forest floor, affect freshwater systems, including streams and lakes.

Understanding those implications is particularly important in Maine, where hemlocks are now being threatened by the same exotic pest that, in recent years, has decimated the tree species in the southeastern United States.

“People in Maine have a huge affinity to their rivers and lakes. It’s huge economically; it’s huge socially, and through recreational activities,” says Greig, who is joined on the research team by research assistant professor Krista Caps, postdoctoral scientist Robert Northington, as well as several graduate, undergraduate and high school students.

About 5,500 years ago, the hemlocks of eastern North America sustained a massive die-off that lasted about 1,000 years, brought on by severe drought and the hemlock looper, a native pest, Gill says. Today, the tree species has been nearly decimated in the southeastern United States by the hemlock woolly adelgid, an exotic insect from Asia.

Maine’s cold winters typically protect against exotic pests. However, warmer temperatures have allowed exotic pests to thrive and move north. Since 2004, the hemlock woolly adelgid has been in southwestern Maine. This year, it has made it as far north as Owls Head, according to the researchers.

“As the climate warms, there won’t be anything preventing the woolly adelgid from hitting our hemlocks in Maine as hard as they’ve been hit elsewhere,” Gill says.

As part of their study, the research team has set up 36 livestock water tanks as experimental freshwater mesocosms, or isolated experimental environments. Hemlock needles, along with rhododendron and maple leaves, have been added to the ecosystems to observe what happens when a hemlock dies.

The mesocosms allow the scientists to study these isolated environments as they develop over time — in this case, into the fall.

“You can’t really control something in a natural lake,” Greig says. “And if you do experiments in the lab, you’re really simplifying things down to two or three species of invertebrates. By having this happy medium, we can have natural complexity with the controlled replication of a true experiment.”

Next, Gill and Northington will study radiocarbon-dated records from the bottom of lakes and bogs in southeastern, coastal and central Maine regions to help understand how aquatic systems were affected by hemlock die-off in the past. By linking the paleo record with a modern experiment, the team hopes to will new light on hemlock’s role in changing ecosystems.

Nelson Quoted in BDN Article on Acid Rain Effects

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Sarah Nelson, an assistant research professor with the Senator George J. Mitchell Center and cooperating assistant research professor in Watershed Biogeochemistry in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, was interviewed for a Bangor Daily News article about her research with Steve Kahl, a sustainability professor at Unity College, on acid rain. After a decades-long study, the researchers found the negative effects of acid rain have been reversed much faster than expected. Nelson said the study shows the value of long-term monitoring. “Because these lakes have been sampled for so long, they’re really sentinels of what’s been going on in the Northeast,” she said. “It’s really an amazing resource.”

CCAR Outreach Efforts Featured in Aquaculture North America Article

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

The University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture (CCAR) in Franklin was mentioned in an Aquaculture North America article about Acadia Harvest Inc. of Brunswick, Maine, reaching the final pilot phase of its work on land-based re-circ aquaculture of California yellowtail. The company also is laying the groundwork for commercial production of yellowtail, and hopes to add black sea bass in the future, the article states. Taylor Pryor, a chief scientist and marine biologist at Acadia Harvest Inc., said the company wouldn’t have accomplished as much in the past three years without the expertise at CCAR, which supports aquaculture business incubation. “The CCAR staff are wonderfully competent in their hatchery work,” Pryor said. “Having their expertise and the CCAR facility can vastly reduce the time needed to move projects forward.”

USDA Grant Funds Study of Caliciopsis Canker in White Pine

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

William Livingston, School of Forest Resources, has received a more than $77,700 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to study Caliciopsis in white pine. Many white pine stands in southern Maine and New Hampshire have suffered from declines and diebacks in the past 15 years. A fungal disease, Caliciopsis canker, has been frequently observed in these stands. Typically, the white pines stands suffering from Caliciopsis canker are those that are very dense, and foresters recommend that the stands should be thinned to improve tree growth. However, it is uncertain if stands infected with Caliciopsis canker will respond to stand thinning and improve growth; the uncut trees may not recover from the disease. The objectives for the study are to identify areas at greatest risk of Caliciopsis canker damage, assess effects of thinning in stands affected by Caliciopsis canker and develop management guidelines for reducing damage related to Caliciopsis canker.

UMaine Piloting Interdisciplinary Renewable Energy Course

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

The University of Maine is piloting an interdisciplinary course based on Maine tidal power development research that aims to better understand the process of applying a comprehensive approach to renewable energy projects.

The course, Marine Renewable Energy: Engineering, Oceanography, Biology and Human Dimensions, is coordinated by Gayle Zydlewski, an associate professor of marine biology, and is offered as an upper-level undergraduate or graduate course.

The course examines the basic science and field methods of understanding power generation, potential changes to the marine environment and effects on other users of marine resources, and how these disciplines intersect to provide a comprehensive understanding of coastal ecosystems.

Teaching is shared between Zydlewski; Michael Peterson and Raul Urbina from the Mechanical Engineering Department; Huijie Xue, an expert on physical oceanography; and Jessica Jansujwicz and Teresa Johnson, experts on human dimensions and sustainability science.

The last two weeks of the course are devoted to field work and final projects, where students are given the framework to apply concepts and “put it all together,” Zydlewski says.

Fieldwork is conducted on the Penobscot River, where students use acoustics, or sounds in water, to research and collect data about fish and water currents for their final project, which ties together what they learned in the field and in the classroom.

As part of the human dimensions aspect of the course, students visit Cianbro’s manufacturing facility in Brewer to learn about the company’s use of the river and the protocols it follows for development projects.

Since 2009, a group of UMaine researchers have been studying tidal power development independently while coming together to discuss their research, according to Zydlewski. The collaborative effort has resulted in integrated research approaches to better understand the marine environment and contribute to sustainable development through data-driven science with stakeholder input, Zydlewski says.

The focus of the class, she says, is to pass on the collective knowledge and information to the students, whose generation will be faced with all aspects of renewable energy development in coastal systems.

The majority of the 10 students in the course’s pilot year are engineers at the undergraduate and graduate level. Two students are marine science majors. Hometowns vary from York, Maine, to towns in Canada, Connecticut and Massachusetts, with half of the students coming from Brazil.

Even though the course is framed around what is happening with renewable energy in Maine, Zydlewski says, various forms of renewable energy development are also being considered in Brazil, and the students would like to be able to transfer and apply what they learn back home.

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 Mentioned in Boston Globe Report on Newton Startup

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Technology developed at the University of Maine was mentioned in a Boston Globe article about UltraCell Insulation, a Newton, Massachusetts startup that aims to recycle cardboard boxes into cellulose insulation for homes. The company’s technology was developed and tested at UMaine, where researchers came up with a process of separating contaminants from cardboard and adding a proprietary mix of borate chemicals to make the material fire retardant, the article states. The university owns the technology patent jointly with UltraCell.

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.