Archive for July, 2012

Handling the Effects of Abrupt Climate Change

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Floodwaters surrounding houses in Dhaka, Bangladesh

UMaine Gets $3 Million NSF IGERT Award For An Adaptation To Abrupt Climate Change Program

The need to adapt environmental policies and management strategies to meet the social and ecological challenges caused by abrupt climate change events around the world is the focus of a new graduate program at the University of Maine beginning this fall, funded by a five-year, $3 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The program, called Adaptation to Abrupt Climate Change, is a collaboration between UMaine’s Climate Change Institute and School of Policy and International Affairs, funded through NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. It will support the international research of 24 Ph.D. students in Earth sciences, ecology, economics, anthropology and archaeology. Their focus will be on threats of abrupt climate change to global security; ecosystem sustainability under abrupt climate change; and adaptation of economic, social, political and ideological systems to abrupt climate change.

In addition to collaborative interdisciplinary research, the students will participate in policy and management internships with international, federal and state agencies and organizations.

In the new graduate training program, students will become experts and leaders in their fields, understanding the dynamic relationship between the environment and the security of humans in response to abrupt climate change, says Jasmine Saros, associate professor of biology in UMaine’s Climate Change Institute and the principal investigator on the project. They will be the next generation of scientists charged with anticipating, managing and meeting the environmental and social challenges of abrupt climate change.

“The risks of abrupt climate change are globally pervasive and include increased numbers of environmental refugees from storms, sea level rise and inundation of coastal areas, disruption of vital ecosystem services such as potable drinking water,
and erupting conflicts over changing resource availability,” says Saros. “This is why abrupt climate change is recognized as one of the major challenges to global sustainability. Meeting this challenge will require a stronger integration of both the
social and natural sciences — exactly what our new IGERT program is designed to do.”

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program defines abrupt climate change as “a large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades, and causes
substantial disruptions in human and natural systems.”

UMaine’s program will be led by Saros and a team whose research looks at the causes and effects of abrupt climate change: Climate Change Institute director Paul Mayewski; Kristin Sobolik, professor of anthropology and climate change; Mario Teisl, professor of resource economics and policy; and Ivan Fernandez, professor of soil science.

UMaine’s new program received one of 18 NSF IGERT awards made this year. Since the inception of the IGERT program started more than a decade ago, UMaine has received three of the highly competitive awards. The first two are Ph.D. programs in Sensor Science, Engineering and Informatics, and Predoctoral Training in Functional Genomics in Model Organisms, funded in 2005 and 2002, respectively.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, (207) 581-3745

Discovery in the North Atlantic

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012


Scientists Discover Eddies Trigger Phytoplankton Blooms in the North Atlantic

The spring phytoplankton bloom in the subpolar North Atlantic can begin up to 30 days earlier than previously thought as the result of eddies stratifying the near-surface waters, according to the results of a study reported today in the journal Science and announced by the National Science Foundation.

The discovery has implications for the Gulf of Maine, which is fed by the waters of the North Atlantic and supports similar species.

The study, part of the autonomous North Atlantic Bloom Experiment conducted in 2008, was led by Amala Mahadevan of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Eric D’Asaro and Craig Lee of the University of Washington, and Mary Jane Perry of the University of Maine.

Until this latest research, scientists using climate models understood that springtime warming of the ocean surface triggered the near-surface vertical density gradation, known as stratification. That stratification, which prevents vertical mixing of the phytoplankton, and the increased seasonal light exposure that occurs every spring were thought to be the primary prompts of the bloom.

However, the research revealed that a different mechanism — eddies or small whirlpools of swirling seawater — also has the capacity to switch on the bloom and to allow the bloom to develop far earlier than the natural confluence of seasonal heat and light.

The NSF-funded study, which involved continuous observations by robots and four research cruises of up to 21 days in the waters south of Iceland, was the first to put marine scientists in the North Atlantic to actually observe the entire progression of the spring bloom over a three-month period. Their observations, which included data collected by optical, chemical and physical sensors on four autonomous underwater Seagliders, a mixed-layer water-following float and the ship, when coupled with a three-dimensional biophysical model, resulted in their discovery of a previously unknown phenomenon — eddy-driven stratification that resulted in a patchy bloom beginning 20 to 30 days earlier than it would occur through seasonal warming.

This new understanding of an underlying physical mechanism of the spring bloom will inform modeling by marine and climate scientists.

The spring phytoplankton bloom in the North Atlantic is one of the major life-sustaining events on the planet. Phytoplankton are microscopic plants at the base of the marine food web that fuel the ecosystem. These photosynthetic organisms also help maintain the health of the atmosphere by absorbing and sequestering carbon dioxide. The North Atlantic is especially important because it is responsible for more than 20 percent of the entire ocean’s uptake of carbon dioxide.

“We now know that events, such as the spring bloom, make the difference in terms of what will happen in carbon flux,” Perry says. “And because there is connectivity between the North Atlantic and the Gulf of Maine, with some of the northern water traveling to Maine, the North Atlantic is a harbinger of what may happen here.”

A team of 26 researchers from five countries was involved in the major North Atlantic research cruise in 2008. The researchers included physical and biological oceanographers with expertise in biology, chemistry and physics.

Undergraduate and graduate students were onboard, including six from UMaine.

“This experiment was an outstanding example of collaboration,” says Perry, a biological oceanographer based at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center. “One person would not have the expertise to do all of this. Together, we were able to pull this project off and come up with this new insight, and many others.”

To further collaboration efforts beyond the team, “big data” from the North Atlantic Bloom Experiment is now online and fully available in the Biological Chemical Oceanographic Data Management Office.

Last summer, the research of the scientists involved in the North Atlantic Bloom Experiment was the focus of a webinar series offered by the Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence – Ocean Systems (COSEE-OS) — one of 12 such centers funded by the National Science Foundation. COSEE-OS, directed by Annette deCharon at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center, focuses on improving science literacy in the context of the ocean.

The five weekly North Atlantic Bloom webinars, featuring Perry and six other scientists involved in the research, attracted 68 participants from 21 states, as well as from Canada, Iceland and Germany. More than half of the participants were educators.

The archived materials from the webinars — transcribed webinar video, data sets, and interactive concept maps with images, animations and teaching resources on the spring phytoplankton bloom and its role in the ocean ecosystem — has become the second most visited section of the COSEE-OS website.

NSF’s news release about the discovery is online.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, (207) 581-3745

Researcher Noted in Report on Dead Whale Calf

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Dan DenDanto, a UMaine researcher in the School of Marine Sciences, is involved in the investigation into what may have killed a 6-month-old humpback whale calf that washed up on Little Cranberry Island last week, according to the Bangor Daily News. DenDanto, who is a research associate of Allied Whale, a mammal research group that salvaged the skeleton of the whale, will articulate the skeleton so that it can be displayed at a museum or school.

Contact: Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777

Media Coverage of North Atlantic Phytoplankton Study

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The Science Codex website posted a report about a marine research project by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Washington and University of Maine oceanographer Mary Jane Perry. The scientists published this week an article in the journal Science about the discovery of a new trigger of the North Atlantic phytoplankton bloom, which absorbs enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and produces oxygen in exchange. The researchers found evidence the bloom is triggered up to 30 days earlier than previously thought as a result of eddies stratifying the near-surface waters. The Cutting Edge website and Environmental Protection Online also posted the story.

The Bangor Daily News also reported on a marine research project by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Washington and University of Maine oceanographer Mary Jane Perry that identified a new trigger of the seasonal North Atlantic algae bloom, which plays a major role in reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The scientists published their findings last week in the journal Science. The researchers found evidence the bloom occurs up to 30 days earlier than previously thought as a result of eddies stratifying the near-surface waters. A report also appeared on the MSNBC website and the Bunsen Burner website

Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

Column Cites Gabe Economics Research

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Research by University of Maine School of Economics researcher Todd Gabe was cited in a column in The Atlantic Cities, an affiliate of The Atlantic Monthly magazine. In the column, economist Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” used Gabe’s research findings about the so-called creative class to defend his theories about how local economies benefit from an influx of people working in creative or artistic fields. Florida wrote that Gabe found that the creative class is a distinct measure from educationally based human capital, and that the creative class adds considerable economic value on its own.

Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

Hunter in MPBN Discussion on Clues to Climate Change

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Malcolm Hunter, University of Maine professor of wildlife ecology, participated in a Maine Public Broadcasting Company discussion with host Keith Shortall and Andrew Whitman of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences about clues found in Maine’s forests and ocean indicating nature’s ways of accommodating changing climate. Some species of plants and animals move or disappear, while others move into areas previously not environmentally suitable for them, Hunter said.

Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

AP Reports on UMaine Trash Analysis Project

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The Kennebec Journal carried an Associated Press article about a recently concluded University of Maine School of Economics research project assessing the contents of household trash discarded in 17 Maine communities to see what could be composted or recycled to reduce solid waste costs. The study found that as much as 60 percent of waste could have been diverted from the sampled waste stream.

Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

Media Outlets Cite UMaine Participation in Ocean Expedition

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The BloombergBusinessweek website carried an Associated Press article about UMaine researchers who are joining scientists from state agencies and nonprofits for five days at sea to map the ocean floor in an 800-square-mile, 300-foot-deep area, 15 miles off the Maine coast. The information is intended to aid in managing shipping, fishing, aquaculture and energy development. Maine Public Broadcasting Network also carried a report, as did the Portland Press Herald.

Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

Maritime News Cites UMaine Ocean Research Advancement

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The website posted a photograph of UMaine School of Marine Sciences graduate student Jennifer McHenry along with a report about a new, technologically enhanced, remotely operated underwater vehicle McHenry and colleagues will use to broaden their abilities to study oceans and waterways. The article said UMaine’s Darling Marine Center is home to world-renowned research and education.

Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756

Graduate Student Wins Fellowship for Bird Migration Research

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Adrienne Leppold, a University of Maine Ph.D. candidate in the School of Biology and Ecology, has been awarded a Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation fellowship for her work studying songbird migration in the Gulf of Maine.

Leppold works with UMaine bird biologist Rebecca Holberton, who leads the Northeast Regional Migration Monitoring Network.
More information about Leppold’s contributions to Holberton’s research is available in a Winter 2010 UMaine Today story.

The fellowship provides a 1-year, $15,000 cash award for graduate study as well as networking and leadership support. It is open to graduate students in New England and California. Fellowship applicants are evaluated based on their commitment to environmental problem-solving and their potential for creating positive environmental impact.

Contact: Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777