Archive for March, 2015

Forestry Researchers Surveying Residents Along Penobscot River for Economic Development Study

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

University of Maine professors and Center for Research on Sustainable Forests leaders Sandra De Urioste-Stone and Robert Lilieholm are conducting a survey under the Bay-to-Baxter initiative. The study seeks to identify sustainable economic development pathways for the Penobscot River corridor that protect and leverage the region’s natural resources and quality of place.

De Urioste-Stone, leader of the CRSF Nature-Based Tourism Program, and Lilieholm, Conservation Lands lead for CRSF, are mailing 3,000 surveys to residents along the Penobscot River to learn their views on recreational use of the river, as well as their thoughts on the community and its ability to adapt to changing social, economic and environmental conditions.

“It is extremely important to understand and incorporate residents’ views and feedback for effective land and sustainable development planning to occur,” De Urioste-Stone says.

The survey is part of the larger project, “Promoting Sustainable Economic Development and Quality-of-Place in Maine: The Penobscot River ‘Bay-to-Baxter Corridor’ Initiative,” which is led by De Urioste-Stone with team members Lilieholm; Claire Sullivan, associate dean for community engagement; Linda Silka, of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center; and John Daigle, associate professor in the School of Forest Resources.

The researchers hope the survey will inform ongoing and future sustainable economic development and environmental efforts in the region that stretches from Penobscot Bay to Baxter State Park.

The area faces sustainability threats, as well as opportunities, and the team will use community feedback to support improved land use and economic development decisions across the region.

Research objectives include determining:

  • Characteristics of residents’ use of the Penobscot River, including activities, predicting future recreation use and perceptions of environmental conditions of the river;
  • Characteristics of residents, including attachment to the Penobscot River, status of employment, education and other socio-demographic descriptions; and
  • Beliefs associated with community resilience to environmental and economic development changes.

The Lower Penobscot River Watershed offers an ideal setting for studying and integrating stakeholder participatory scenario modeling, community resilience and sustainable economic development, De Urioste-Stone says.

The region faces multiple sustainability challenges, including an aging population, poverty, energy and food insecurities, high dependence on resource extraction, heavy reliance on social assistance programs, strong urban-rural gradients, active species and watershed restoration efforts, and public health challenges.

The difficulties, which aren’t unique to Maine, pose risks to social, political and economic systems around the world, according to the researchers. They hope what they learn in Maine will have widespread applicability.

Even with its set of growing challenges, the watershed has several assets that can develop and leverage community health and economic growth. These assets include UMaine, the Greater Bangor area, the I-95 corridor, Bangor International Airport, an international border, an abundant coastline and natural and cultural amenities that attract tourists. Recent development proposals have sought to build upon and leverage those resources, the researchers say.

The project will integrate information generated through the resident and user survey for an alternative futures modeling study led by Harvard Forest and funded by the National Science Foundation that aims to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of decision making.

The study includes service-learning opportunities for several undergraduate and graduate students and is funded by UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the UMaine Rising Tide/NSF ADVANCE Award.

The Conservation Lands and Nature-Based Tourism programs at CRSF conduct applied and collaborative research to better understand, monitor and anticipate important issues regarding Maine’s conservation lands, and to understand the economic impacts of tourism.

UMaine Study: Residents Support Investing in Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Fifty-two percent of surveyed Maine adults supported increasing all Mainers’ monthly electricity bills to invest in renewable energy options and/or energy efficiency programs to reduce carbon emissions.

That’s according to a University of Maine study that also found 37 percent of the nearly 400 respondents viewed energy efficiency and renewable energy investments as complementary. They divided the money evenly — giving half to renewable energy investment and half to energy efficiency programs.

UMaine economist Caroline Noblet and colleagues conducted the study in 2013, the same year fossil fuels (81 percent) and nuclear energy accounted for more than 90 percent of energy use in the United States.

“Energy choice studies generally only gauge support (or not) for a policy, rarely do they take the next step — as we have done here — to look at how people would allocate these investment dollars,” Noblet says.

“Understanding how Maine people evaluate, and make tradeoffs between, energy policy options is important when we consider investments in our energy portfolio.”

The survey included four renewable energy options — hydroelectric energy, land-based wind, deepwater offshore wind and tidal energy; each survey participant evaluated one of these choices against energy efficiency.

The average dollar amount households were willing to pay for these programs was $6.76 a month, or more than $80 per year, per Maine household. When respondents had to choose how much funding to give to each option — renewable energy investments or to an energy efficiency program — participants allocated 56 percent of funds to energy efficiency and 44 percent of funds to renewable energy, on average.

In addition, 76 percent of respondents indicated they would distribute 50 percent or more of funds monthly to energy efficiency; 13 percent said they would allot all of the money to energy efficiency.

The authors said it is important for energy portfolios to include options attractive to multiple audiences.

Noblet conducted the study with Mark Anderson, senior instructor in resource economics and policy and Fellow in the George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions; Mario Teisl, director of the School of Economics; Shannon McCoy, UMaine psychologist; and Ed Cervone, executive director at Educate Maine.

A total of 397 randomly selected Mainers 18 years old and older took part in the survey — 63 percent were male, 57 was the mean age, $71,153 was the median annual household income and $100 was the average monthly electric bill.

The researchers noted the surveyed sample was older, had a higher percentage of males and a higher income than Maine’s 2012 census percentages.

The study was conducted as part of Maine Sustainability Solutions Initiative, a program of the Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Bloom Plankton Hitches Rides on Eddies

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
EddyJust as crocus and daffodil blossoms signal the start of a warmer season on land, a similar “greening” event — a massive bloom of microscopic plants, or phytoplankton — unfolds each spring in the North Atlantic Ocean from Bermuda to the Arctic.

Fertilized by nutrients that have built up during the winter, the cool waters of the North Atlantic come alive during the spring and summer with a vivid display of color that stretches across hundreds and hundreds of miles.

North Atlantic Bloom turns ocean into sea of plankton

In what’s known as the North Atlantic Bloom, millions of phytoplankton use sunlight and carbon dioxide (CO2) to grow and reproduce at the ocean’s surface.

During photosynthesis, phytoplankton remove carbon dioxide from seawater and release oxygen as a by-product. That allows the oceans to absorb additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If there were fewer phytoplankton, atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase.

Flowers ultimately wither and fade, but what eventually happens to these tiny plants produced in the sea? When phytoplankton die, the carbon dioxide in their cells sinks to the deep ocean.

Plankton integral part of oceanic “biological pump”

This so-called biological pump makes the North Atlantic Ocean efficient at soaking up CO2  from the air.

“Much of this ‘particulate organic carbon,’ especially the larger, heavier particles, sinks,” says scientist Melissa Omand of the University of Rhode Island, co-author of a paper about the North Atlantic Bloom published March 26 in the journal Science.

“But we wanted to find out what’’s happening to the smaller, nonsinking phytoplankton cells from the bloom. Understanding the dynamics of the bloom and what happens to the carbon produced by it is important, especially for being able to predict how the oceans will affect atmospheric CO2 and ultimately climate.”

University of Maine Darling Marine Center researchers Mary Jane Perry, Ivona Cetinić and Nathan Briggs were part of the team with Omand, Amala Mahadevan of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Eric D’Asaro and Craig Lee of the University of Washington that did just that.

They discovered the significant role that swirling currents, or eddies, play in pushing nonsinking carbon to ocean depths.

“It’s been a challenge to estimate carbon export from the ocean’s surface waters to its depths based on measurements of properties such as phytoplankton carbon. This paper describes a mechanism for doing that,” says David Garrison, program director in NSF’s Division of Ocean Sciences. The NSF funded the research.

Tracking a bloom: Floats, gliders and other instruments

During fieldwork from the research vessels Bjarni Saemundsson and Knorr, the scientists used a float to follow a patch of seawater off Iceland. They observed the progression of the bloom by making measurements from multiple platforms.

Autonomous gliders outfitted with sensors gathered data including temperature, salinity, as well as information about the chemistry and biology of the bloom — oxygen, nitrate, chlorophyll and the optical signatures of the particulate matter.

At the onset of the bloom and for the next month, four teardrop-shaped seagliders gathered 774 profiles to depths of up to 1,000 meters (3,281 feet).

Analysis of the profiles showed that about 10 percent had unusually high concentrations of phytoplankton bloom properties, even in deep water, as well as high oxygen concentrations usually found at the surface.

“These profiles were showing what we initially described as ‘bumps’ at depths much deeper than phytoplankton can grow,” says Omand.

Staircases to the deep: ocean eddies

Using information collected at sea by Perry, D’Asaro and Lee, Mahadevan modeled ocean currents and eddies (whirlpools within currents), and their effects on the spring bloom.

“What we were seeing was surface water, rich with phytoplankton carbon, being transported downward by currents on the edges of eddies. Eddies hadn’t been thought of as a major way organic matter is moved into the deeper ocean. But this type of eddy-driven ‘subduction’ could account for a significant downward movement of phytoplankton from the bloom,” says Mahadevan.

Perry, interim director of the DMC, says the discovery reminds her of a favorite quote from French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur: “Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.”

“I feel that this project is a wonderful example of the chance discovery of an important process in the ocean carbon cycle,” she says. “It all started when I was chief scientist on the R/V Knorr during the North Atlantic bloom expedition, spending hours and hours staring at profiles of temperature and phytoplankton.

“Initially it was very puzzling — how could high surface concentrations of phytoplankton and oxygen make it down intact to 300 and 400 meters? But the combination of many measurements from autonomous gliders and simulations from models lead to the unexpected finding that ocean eddies or whirlpools are important forces in transporting phytoplankton and their associated carbon to great depths.”

In related work published in 2012 in Science, the researchers found that eddies act as early triggers of the North Atlantic Bloom by keeping phytoplankton in shallower water where they can be exposed to sunlight to fuel photosynthesis and growth.

Next, the scientists will seek to quantify the transport of organic matter from the ocean’s surface to its depths in regions beyond the North Atlantic and at other times of year, and relate that to phytoplankton productivity.

Learning more about eddies and their link with plankton blooms will allow for more accurate global models of the ocean’s carbon cycle, the researchers say, and improve the models’ predictive capabilities.

“The processes described in this paper are demonstrating, once again, how important the ocean is for removal of atmospheric carbon and controlling Earth’s climate,” says Cetinić.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777