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
Julie Gosse, University of Maine assistant professor of molecular and biomedical sciences, is examining how a synthetic antimicrobial common in soaps and deodorants inhibits cells that sometimes fight cancer.
Triclosan (TCS) was once limited to use in hospitals. But in the 1990s, manufacturers began putting the chemical into antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, body washes, facial cleansers and a multitude of other over-the-counter hygiene products.
TCS also is used in fabrics, plastics and clothing — from yoga mats to kitchenware to socks — to slow or stop the growth of bacteria and mildew. Because of its pervasive presence in products, Gosse says it’s also now in waterways.
When TCS inhibits the function of mast cells in skin, allergic disease may be eased. But Gosse says mast cells are complex players and are involved in both pro- and anti-cancer roles, in fighting bacterial infections and in central nervous system disorders such as autism.
“The results of this study will fulfill an urgent need by providing insights into the impact of TCS on public health, as well as insights into the inner workings of this crucial cell type, and will point to either pharmacological uses for or toxic impacts of this ubiquitous chemical,” she says.
The National Institutes of Health awarded Gosse more than $420,000 for the three-year project that begins Aug. 1.
In 2012, she and several UMaine undergraduate and graduate students published a paper about TCS that concluded it “strongly inhibits several mammalian mast cell functions at lower concentrations than would be encountered by people using TCS-containing products such as hand soaps and toothpaste.”
This grant, she says, will allow continued exploration of the molecular mechanisms underlying the effects. She and her research team will use a variety of methods and tools — including the fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) technique invented by UMaine physicist Sam Hess. The technique images individual molecules.
Hess is participating in the research, as are Lisa Weatherly and Juyoung Shim, graduate students in Gosse’s lab, and students from the Hess lab.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
A Huffington Post quiz titled “How much do you know about the sex lives of college students” cited a 20-year study conducted by Sandra Caron, a University of Maine professor of family relations and human sexuality. Caron surveyed more than 5,000 college students between 1990 and 2010 for her research on the sex lives of college students.
Vernal pool research being conducted at the University of Maine was cited in a Maine Public Broadcasting Network report titled “Maine scientist: Wood frogs at risk after unprecedented die-off.” Nat Wheelwright, a professor of biology at Bowdoin College, who has found evidence of a mass die-off of wood frog tadpoles says the deaths underline the importance of stepping up monitoring efforts and mobilizing citizen scientists. “There’s a wonderful program of monitoring vernal pools done by the University of Maine at Orono, and mostly they look at egg-laying, but maybe we want to be involving citizen scientists to go back to those same vernal pools to see how the tadpoles actually do, just to understand if this pattern of die-off is common,” he said. The report also linked to more information on UMaine’s vernal pool monitoring efforts.
Elizabeth J. Allan, an associate professor of higher education leadership at the University of Maine, was interviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education for an article about a recent hazing incident at Ohio State University. Allan, co-author of a national study on hazing with UMaine research professor Mary Madden, described why few hazing victims identify themselves that way and what might help prevent hazing. “When we ask students to define hazing, they can often articulate the key components: That it’s doing something that could be potentially harmful emotionally and/or physically in order to become a member of the group. But then there’s this disconnect between defining it and recognizing it when it happens to them,” Allan said.
The Associated Press and the Portland Press Herald reported the Maine Ocean Acidification Committee will hold its first meeting on Aug. 1 at the University of Maine Darling Marine Center (DMC) in Walpole. The committee is studying the effects of ocean acidification on the state’s environment and economy. “Maine is taking the lead on ocean acidification on the Eastern Seaboard. We understand that it is a real threat to our marine environment, jobs and way of life,” said Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, House chairman of the commission and sponsor of the bill that created the panel. Devin also is a researcher and shellfish hatchery manager at DMC. The Maine Public Broadcasting Network and WLBZ (Channel 2) carried the AP report.
The St. John Valley Times reported an Aug. 14 “fact-finding conference” will address the past, present and future efforts of local organizations, including the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine, to preserve the history and cultural heritage of the upper St. John Valley. The conference, put on by l’Association Française de la Vallée St-Jean, will be held at the St. David Catholic Church. The public is invited to attend and participate in the discussion.
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.
The Maine Edge published a report about an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that documents nearly 15 years of vernal pools research and management by the University of Maine’s Aram Calhoun who is leading an interdisciplinary team at the Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI), a program of the Sen. George J. Mitchell Center. In the article, Calhoun and three co-authors analyze a timeline of action and scholarship that spans from 1999 to the present. In that time, the professor of wetland ecology and director of UMaine’s Ecology and Environmental Sciences program has collaborated closely with academic colleagues, government at all levels, nongovernmental organizations, landowners, developers and concerned citizens in an effort to create an environment in which these small, but significant, wetlands can flourish.
University of Maine student Ray Peck spoke with Bill Green for a segment on WLBZ (Channel 2) about Maine’s declining heron population. This summer, Peck is assisting biologist Danielle D’Auria of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. To study the birds, Peck and D’Auria are visiting dozens of heron colonies and monitoring bird behavior and reproductive rates. “There’s an aura to them — the way they act, the way they look,” Peck said. “They don’t look like they should be able to fly but they do. They’re really beautiful creatures; really amazing.”