Archive for January, 2013

Hitting Bedrock

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Climate Change

Climate Change Institute Involved in Successful Recovery of a New Deep Ice Core from Antarctica

A team of scientists from nine nations, which included two University of Maine graduate students, has made a breakthrough in Antarctica — successfully drilling more than 760 meters through the ice to bedrock on an island in the Ross Sea.

The international team, led by Nancy Bertler, Victoria University’s Antarctic Research Centre and GNS Science in New Zealand, completed the drilling on Roosevelt Island in late December when the drill bit brought sediment up from the base of the ice sheet.

The drill cores from the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution project will provide the most detailed record of the climate history of the Ross Sea region for the last 30,000 years — the time during which the coastal margin of the Antarctic ice sheet retreated following the last great ice age, says Bertler, who is an adjunct faculty member in UMaine’s Climate Change Institute (CCI).

Graduate students Skylar Haines and Tom Beers of the Climate Change Institute and the School of Earth and Climate Sciences each spent several months working in Antarctica on the ice core drilling project as part of their master’s research. Now they will work under the direction of Climate Change Institute Director Paul Mayewski and Research Associate Professor Andrei Kurbatov to develop highly detailed reconstructions of past climate in CCI’s W.M. Keck Laser Ice Facility.

Core analysis could help determine the stability of the Ross Ice Shelf and West Antarctica.

“With the success of the deep ice drilling at Roosevelt Island, Antarctica, we have the ice core material necessary to make significant insights into the past, current and future behavior of the West Antarctic ice sheet — one of the greatest potential contributors to future global sea level rise and one of the major controls on Southern Hemisphere climate,” Mayewski says.

More information about the Roosevelt Island project is online.

Plate to Plant

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Composting large

UMaine opens new campus composting facility

A joint collaboration between the University of Maine Dining Services and University of Maine Cooperative Extension will establish the first facility for advanced composting of food waste in Maine.

The effort involves the purchase of a 10-foot by 40-foot enclosed, automated composting unit called the EarthFlow 40, manufactured by Green Mountain Technologies, based in Washington state. This unique facility, along with the expertise of  UMaine Extension Professor Mark Hutchinson, has the potential to convert more than 1 ton of organic waste per day from campus dining facilities — from potato peels and lettuce leaves to meat scraps — into a rich soil amendment that will be used in UMaine landscaping and on university crop fields.

The composting facility, located off Rangeley Road on campus, also promises to save money and will continue the institutional advancement toward sustainability, while serving as a demonstration site for students, individuals and potential commercial users.

During the academic year, nearly 1 ton of organic waste is generated daily in UMaine’s three dining commons and the Marketplace, the largest retail dining facility on campus. UMaine Auxiliary Services, which oversees on-campus dining and other student services-related departments, has been composting organic waste for nearly 14 years in an effort to be as environmentally responsible and cost effective as possible by keeping the weighty discards out of the waste stream. Most recently, UMaine has contracted with a private composting firm at a cost of $65,000 annually.

The UMaine compost facility is expected to cost $25,000 a year to staff and maintain using Facilities Management personnel. The resulting compost will be used campuswide as a soil amendment that benefits soil structure.

The compost is a soil enhancer, not a fertilizer. The biggest benefit of compost is its ability to hold plant nutrients in place in the soil, says Hutchinson, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension professor who directs the award-winning Maine Compost School, based at Highmoor Farm, a UMaine Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in Monmouth, Maine.

Hutchinson, who has 10 years of research in composting, developed the “recipe” for the UMaine composting facility. Ingredients will include the pre- and postconsumer waste from the dining commons and the Marketplace, as well as used horse bedding — primarily wood shavings and sawdust — from UMaine’s J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center.

Compost directly from the facility can be used on farm fields. For use in landscaping, including ornamental gardens, the compost will be aged in an open-air shed for several months before it is used in ornamental gardens.

In addition, the compost will supply the new greenhouse located next to the compost facility, where students in the UMaine Department of Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences are growing edible greens to supply the dining commons.

The student-run greenhouse and compost facility are expected to be an educational resource, not just for UMaine students, but also school and community groups.

“This will allow us to close the loop, not only composting on campus, but producing a product that is used on campus,” says Dan Sturrup, executive director of Auxiliary Services. “At UMaine, we’ll go from plate to plant. And, with the help of the greenhouse, back to the plate again.”

According to Misa Saros, UMaine’s conservation and energy compliance specialist, the composting system is in keeping with UMaine leadership and commitment to sustainability — from its sustainable agriculture minor to its campuswide green initiatives, all of which have earned the university a citation in Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges for four consecutive years.

“We are very excited to be implementing a system that makes productive use of a valuable resource that is too often discarded in landfills or incinerators,” says Saros.

UMaine Study Assesses Bangor Concerts’ Economic Impact.

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Beat Benefits

Waterfront economic impact

Bangor’s Waterfront Concerts have had an economic impact of more than $30 million over the last three years, according to a new study by a University of Maine economist.

The impact was about $18.6 million in local spending by concertgoers, with an additional $11.8 million in indirect spending since 2010, according to Todd Gabe, UMaine professor of economics. The concerts attracted more than 200,000 people to the Bangor Waterfront Pavilion and supported an average of 160 local jobs per year — with an employment high of 252 jobs in 2012. Gabe’s study shows that the economic impact increased substantially in each of the last three years that Waterfront Concerts has staged outdoor performances.

Gabe estimates the direct economic infusion was almost $3 million in 2010, $5.8 million in 2011 and $9.8 million in 2012. Direct spending and indirect expenditures combined for each of the three years amounted to $4.9 million, $9.6 million and almost $16 million, respectively.

“The number of shows has increased since 2010, and people seem to be coming from greater distances,” Gabe said. “This explains the large increase in economic impact.”

The findings from Gabe’s study were presented to the Bangor City Council on Jan. 14. The analysis is based on taxable lodging and restaurant spending figures from Maine Revenue Services, ticket sales information provided by Waterfront Concerts, and data on overnight visitor spending from the Maine Office of Tourism.

Zip codes associated with ticket sales indicate that a quarter of concertgoers — an estimated 50,000 people — live within 30 minutes of the waterfront pavilion. About 15 percent of them traveled more than three hours to attend a concert, and as many as 27 percent of the longer-distance travelers probably were overnight visitors to the area, according to Gabe.

His analysis also estimates that Bangor-area residents who attended Waterfront Concerts reaped an additional benefit of $16.7 million by not having to pay travel costs.

“Not having to spend the money to attend shows in Boston or Portland is a benefit to locals, which goes beyond the impact to local restaurants and hotels,” Gabe says.

The concert series has featured 41 concerts since 2010 with such international performers as Toby Keith, Journey, Lynard Skynard and Bob Dylan.

Gabe’s research interests include the knowledge and creative economies, local industry clusters, and state and local economic development. Gabe also has conducted numerous economic impact studies.

Rethinking Permitting

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Renewable Energy

Environmental attorney says regulatory reform needed in the quest for renewable energy alternatives

Amid the economic and environmental realities of fossil fuel dependence in the United States, regulatory processes need immediate reform to allow renewable energy initiatives such as offshore wind to provide alternatives, according to the University of Maine’s first School of Economics Visiting Professor of Energy Law and Policy.

Indeed, argues Jeffrey Thaler, a nationally known environmental attorney, writing in the current edition of the journal Environmental Law, existing environmental laws and regulations actually tend to support increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have little time left to create a practical path to achieving an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050” (the deadline set by the National Research Council and other agencies to begin to stabilize atmospheric carbon concentrations), Thaler writes.

Failing to reduce fossil fuel reliance, he says, will result in average global temperatures rising more than the internationally agreed targeted ceiling of 2 degrees C.

In his article, “Fiddling as the World Floods and Burns: How Climate Change Urgently Requires a Paradigm Shift in the Permitting of Renewable Energy Projects,” Thaler for the first time integrates the ongoing and predicted effects of climate change — increased weather extremes, glacial melting, sea temperatures and drought conditions — with a “detailed roadmap” for reforming environmental processes used in reviewing proposed renewable energy projects.

Using offshore wind power as a case study, Thaler examines the obstacles confronting a potential developer and showed that in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, existing environmental laws and regulatory processes no longer achieve the long-term goal of ecosystem conservation.

“The existing regulatory process should be quickly reformed so that offshore wind and other clean, renewable energy sources can help us escape the escalating consequences of our carbon-intensive economic system,” writes Thaler.

Thaler traces the “byzantine labyrinth of laws and regulations” to the 1970s when “some of the nation’s fundamental environmental laws were enacted — before we were aware of climate change threats — so as to slow down the review of proposed projects by requiring more studies of potential project impacts before approval.”

Today, the outdated and often “self-defeating maze” of regulatory requirements poses significant barriers to domestic and international interest of increasing viable carbon emission-free renewable energy sources to decrease use of fossil fuel energy, Thaler says.

Regulation of renewable energy initiatives remains “unduly burdensome, slow and expensive,” and results in a chilling effect on investment and substantial growth in renewable energy initiatives.

That’s particularly unfortunate for a renewable energy initiative such as offshore wind projects, Thaler says, which “have the potential to generate large quantities of pollutant-free electricity near many of the world’s major population centers, and thus to help reduce the ongoing and projected economic, health, and environmental damages from climate change.”

Thaler’s article provides perspective on the primary federal permitting and licensing that typically affects offshore wind development: the Energy Policy Act; regulations of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement; the National Environmental Policy Act; Endangered Species Act; Marine Mammal Protection Act; and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

For offshore wind developers, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is “the most onerous statute,” Thaler says, because its broad scope has the potential to spark litigation. The lengthy NEPA process requires those not exempted to conduct an environmental assessment, which usually requires a year or more to complete.

Thaler calls for a paradigm shift in order to create new, targeted policy efforts to accelerate the implementation of clean, renewable energy sources. Such reform in licensing and permitting would make it possible for the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent in 2050 by increasing electricity production from renewable sources from the current 13 percent to 80 percent, he says.

According to Thaler, who has been involved in energy and environmental policy, law and ethics for almost 30 years, concrete steps to streamline regulatory and permitting processes and requirements to benefit renewable energy project would include prioritizing the regulatory review of renewable energy projects in new and existing laws; establishing expedited timelines for agency reviews and decisions; and amending the National Environmental Policy Act to expand the types of projects excluded — especially small-scale pilots — and to require that the “hidden” costs of energy from fossil fuel be taken into account.

“We must first understand where our carbon-driven energy and electricity technologies are taking us, and learn from the experiences and lessons climate change scientists are trying to teach us, because we are on the verge of losing — for the next thousand or more years — the environmental and economic quality of life that we inherited,” Thaler concludes.

“Second, we must understand, in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, how our existing environmental laws and regulatory processes no longer achieve their underlying goals of long-term ecosystem conservation,” he says. Third, we must “significantly revamp the legal process in order to greatly accelerate the development of renewable energy projects like offshore wind power.”

Thaler’s paper is available online. He can be reached at jeffrey.thaler@maine.edu.

UMaine Specialty Potatoes in Las Vegas Trade Show

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

The Bangor Daily News carried a Las Vegas Sun article that noted a new potato variety developed at the University of Maine specifically for potato chips was among the new or novel exhibits at the Potato Expo at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

Bluefin Biology

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Bluefin-TunaTuna research could inform fishing regulations on the Species of Concern

A University of Maine researcher is analyzing biological data from Atlantic bluefin tuna that could lead to refined population estimates and impact where restrictions on the historically overfished species should be placed.

“The Atlantic bluefin tuna is a big, sexy fish,” says Walter Golet of the tuna that can grow over 10 feet in length, weigh as much as 1,500 pounds and swim faster than 40 mph.

A year ago, a 593-pound bluefin sold for $736,000, says Golet, a postdoctoral research associate with UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

Commercial fishermen have been pursuing the prized, warm-bodied species for decades. Beginning in the late 1970s, worldwide demand and prices for large bluefins increased substantially, Golet says, and stock assessments indicated a rapid decline in the number of adult fish.

Since a rebuilding plan enacted in 1998, assessments suggest a minimal increase in the number of adult fish, says Golet. In 2011, the National Marine Fisheries Service was forced to conduct a status review on Atlantic bluefin tuna and listed it as a Species of Concern.

Golet’s research seeks to provide up-to-date, life history data of the bluefin stock that, in turn, would serve as a basis for effective, appropriately placed fishing regulations.

The data will be derived from biological sampling of the tuna’s dorsal spines, reproductive organs and sagittal otoliths — small, calcified structures inside the head that are sensitive to orientation and acceleration.

By studying these biological samples, he and fellow researchers can determine the age of the tuna, when it reached sexual maturity, and whether it was born in the Gulf of Mexico or Mediterranean Sea. This knowledge is vital to accurately estimating how many fish there are and how many can be harvested by fishermen from more than 25 countries pursuing bluefin in the North Atlantic, Golet says.

Otoliths log data throughout a bluefin’s life, Golet says.  Otoliths are small crystal-like structures that accrete minerals at different rates depending on the animal’s physiology and the chemical properties of the water. These characteristics make them ideal to determine age and where the fish was born, he says.

For his research, Golet is using biological samples of bluefin tuna caught by commercial and recreational fisherman from Maine to Rhode Island from June through October.

“Bluefin tuna come to the Gulf of Maine to fatten up,” he says. “A large bluefin tuna can gain 100 to 150 pounds in four to five months. They use those lipids to swim back to spawning grounds and to make sperm and eggs.”

Approximately 38,000 fishermen have permits to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna in waters from Maine to Texas; all but about 2,000 are recreation permit-holders, Golet says.

The study is part of a program for the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and the National Marine Fisheries Service. In addition to the University of Maine, study participants include the University of Massachusetts Amherst (Large Pelagics Research Lab), University of Maryland, Spanish Institute of Oceanography, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and National Marine Fisheries Service.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded Golet and collaborators $241,133 in 2011 and $196,133 in 2010 to conduct the research.

Contact Beth Staples, 207.581.3777