Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Turning Down The Heat

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Peppers

A new pepper variety has been developed with a high capsinoid content to make it less pungent while maintaining all the natural health benefits of the fruit, according to researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maine.

The researchers — Robert Jarret from the USDA/Agricultural Research Service in Griffin, Georgia, and Jason Bolton and L. Brian Perkins from the University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture — developed the new small-fruited Capsicum annuum L. pepper through traditional breeding methods in an effort to make the health benefits of hot peppers available to more consumers.

In hot peppers, capsaicinoids are the compounds associated both with their signature heat and health benefits, which include being a source of antioxidants. But that pungency can limit their use in foods and pharmaceuticals.

Capsinoids, closely related compounds of capsaicinoids, provide the same benefits without the pungency.

Starting in 2006 with a USDA seed grant, Perkins, a UMaine assistant research professor and director of the Food Chemical Safety Laboratory, and Bolton, then a food science graduate student, screened about 500 subspecies of Capsicum annuum. They forwarded their data to Jarret, who selected those with the highest concentrations of capsinoids.

Jarret then began to classically breed the selected varieties at the USDA facility in Georgia. Perkins screened the results and they repeated the process, selecting the best capsinoid producers from each generation.

The culmination of their work is germplasm 509-45-1. The peppers are very small, with each plant producing up to 1,000 peppers. According to Perkins, there will likely be additional selection to prepare the plants for marketability, both as a food product and for medical experiments.

Currently, small quantities of seed are available from the USDA for research purposes.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Bulking Up

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Green sea urchins

Enhancing green sea urchin egg production to aid Maine’s depressed urchin market is the research focus of a University of Maine marine bioresources graduate student.

Ung Wei Kenn, a second-year master’s student from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, hopes to increase the egg or roe yield of farm-raised green sea urchins through high-quality feed, a process known as bulking. His research is part of a two-year, more than $215,000 research project funded by the National Sea Grant National Strategic Initiative and led by director Nick Brown and biologist Steve Eddy of UMaine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research (CCAR) in Franklin, Maine.

“I was always interested in the vertical integration of aquaculture and seafood processing,” says Ung, who completed his undergraduate work at the University of Tasmania, Australia. “I am also passionate about seafood that is popular in Asia. This topic is a blend of all that.”

Ung came to UMaine because he was attracted to the project, but he praises CCAR, where he conducts his research, as a key part in his decision to work at UMaine.

“I always felt that aquaculture is not just a science; it is a business as well,” says Ung. “CCAR is special in that it is specifically set up to assist aquaculture businesses by providing scientific and technical know-how. I would not have this luxury at most other places.”

Ung’s research potentially could have significant economic benefit for the state. Maine exports roe to Japan, where it is considered a delicacy. Since the late 1990s, Maine has suffered a dramatic sea urchin industry decline, dropping to a 2.6 million-pound yearly harvest after 1993’s 42-million-pound high, according to information on the Maine Sea Grant website.

“(Using bulking), we can produce out-of-season urchins, enabling the industry to get the best prices, such as when there is a festival in Japan,” Ung says.

Ung places wild green sea urchins, which are harvested from Hancock County’s Frenchman Bay, in a recirculating aquaculture system, where they are fed fresh and dried kelp and a commercial diet that fosters higher-quality eggs. Harvested sea urchins are usually 57 mm in diameter.

Ung hopes his research will lead to increased roe yield and improved roe quality. After four months of urchin dieting, Ung analyzes roe yield, texture and color data at the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department’s physical properties lab. Taste testing is completed at the UMaine Consumer Testing Center. Roe pre- and post-experimentation aspects are compared to determine if quality has been enhanced.

High-quality roe is sweet, smooth and yellow, gold or orange in color, while poor-quality roe has a watery appearance or bitter taste.

“There is a commercial component where we want to demonstrate that the urchins can be enhanced at a commercial scale,” Ung says. “A higher-quality roe yield would mean better selling prices.”

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Bataineh Awarded Funds to Research Spruce Budworm Effects

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Mohammad Bataineh, an assistant research professor of quantitative silviculture and forest modeling at the University of Maine’s Center for Research on Sustainable Forests, was awarded $69,747 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service for his proposal, “Incorporating spruce-budworm impacts into the Acadian Variant of the Forest Vegetation Simulator.”

Outbreaks of the native spruce budworm insect (Choristoneura fumiferana) cause tree mortality and growth reduction, which negatively affect forest productivity. Outbreaks also cause uncertainty in predicting future wood supplies and forest conditions. Sustainable management of the Northern Forest requires accounting for outbreak effects in forest management planning and wood supply forecasts, according to the proposal.

Bataineh’s five-year project aims to modify the Acadian Variant of the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) to account for spruce budworm effects on tree and stand development.

Aaron Weiskittel, an associate professor of forest biometrics and modeling, is the project’s co-principal investigator.

The FVS is a system of forest growth simulation models that have been calibrated for specific geographic areas, or variants, of the country. The system can simulate a range of silvicultural treatments for most major forest tree species, forest types and stand conditions, according to the Forest Service’s website.

The research project also proposes to establish the Acadian Variant as the base stand growth model in the Spruce Budworm Decision Support System.  The Canadian Forest Service developed the Spruce Budworm Decision Support System to assist foresters in planning and carrying out management activities that potentially reduce the damage caused by spruce budworm.

Researchers will compile a regional dataset on individual-tree growth and mortality under Maine’s most recent spruce budworm outbreak that occurred in the 1970s and ’80s.

The new capability of the Acadian Variant will provide Northern Forest managers with improved growth and yield projections and the ability to assess the potential impact of spruce budworm outbreaks on wood supply and forest level planning through the Spruce Budworm Decision Support System, according to the researchers.

On The High Seas

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Malta

University of Maine professor of oceanography Emmanuel Boss advises students to pursue their passion.

And he leads by example.

This summer, Boss and UMaine master’s graduate Thomas Leeuw will board Tara — a sailboat for the planet — to collect data and conduct research in the Mediterranean Sea.

They’ll study the ocean color, composition and pigments of surface particles.

And in addition to collaborating with international scientists, they’ll talk with schoolchildren about the ocean, swim in warm aqua water and eat delicious meals with backdrops of beautiful Mediterranean vistas.

“It’s a wonderful career,” Boss says. “You should do something you’re passionate about,” he says. “You can be serious about science and have fun in the process.”

Boss finds the work and play aboard Tara so valuable and fun, he’s gearing up for his third voyage. In August, he’ll be one of the scientists aboard during the 10-day leg from Israel to Malta. Boss, who participated in water sports growing up in Israel, says he’s most comfortable in the water and knew from an early age he wanted to pursue a career in oceanography.

Tara is three months into its seven-month, nearly 10,000-mile 2014 international expedition that includes stops in 11 countries, including France, Greece, Israel, Italy and Spain. Tara departed in May from Lorient, a seaport in northwestern France, and is scheduled to return in December.

During the trek, a host of other scientists are exploring the impact of plastic on the Mediterranean ecosystem and the degree to which microplastics in the ocean are part of the food chain. Researchers also seek to raise awareness about the Mediterranean’s environmental issues and encourage policymakers in the region — where approximately 450 million people live  — to develop better waste management plans.

At each stopover, the team that generally includes five sailors, two scientists, a reporter and an artist — invite the public to tour the 118-foot-long, 33-foot-wide, 120-ton research vessel. And they take part in outreach projects. May 31 on No Tobacco Day, for instance, crewmembers of Tara removed 53 gallons of trash, including cigarette butts, from a beach.

French designer Agnes B. founded the nonprofit Tara Expeditions in 2003 to “understand the impact of climate change and the ecological crisis facing the world’s oceans,” according to its website.

Boss says the mission, outreach, interdisciplinary science, sharing of chores, stunning scenery and immersion in various cultures make for a valuable and inspiring venture.

And he’s eager to have students experience it as well. Last summer, then-graduate students Leeuw and Alison Chase participated in the 2013 Tara Oceans Polar Circle expedition, as did the husband-and-wife Boss pair — Emmanuel and Lee Karp-Boss, associate professor in UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences.

They utilized a $149,714 grant from NASA to gather biogeochemical information from the Arctic Ocean — information that NASA uses to verify data that its satellites glean daily from the same water.

This summer, Boss and Leeuw, who this spring earned his master’s degree in oceanography, will utilize an additional NASA award of $27,000 to continue collecting data in the Mediterranean.

Boss says he was persistent in his efforts to get NASA to provide the follow-up funding. “If you want to make something happen, put all of your weight and belief behind it to make it happen,” he says. “You only live once; go for it. Don’t give up on your dream.”

He gives similar advice to students.

Leeuw says his interest in oceanography emerged when he took an undergraduate course with Boss. Leeuw, a marine science major, subsequently became a research assistant in the University of Maine In-situ Sound and Color Lab.

Multiple opportunities subsequently became available, he says.

Leeuw and Boss analyzed data collected from 2009 to 2012 during the Tara Oceans expedition. This past year, the two developed an iPhone app that measures water quality.

And after this summer’s monthlong Mediterranean trek, the Lincoln, Vermont, native will drive cross country to Washington state, where he has accepted a job developing environmental sensors at Sequoia Scientific, Inc.

The lesson: “Don’t be afraid to make friends with faculty; some of the best learning and research opportunities can happen outside the classroom,” Leeuw says.

Leeuw says last summer’s Arctic trip was unlike anything he had ever experienced.

“It was empowering to work as a scientist,” he says. “It prepared me for this upcoming situation. I’m more confident.”

He monitored a suite of optical instruments and as water was pumped into the vessel’s flow-through system, he recorded its temperature, salinity profile and fluorescence.

Leeuw calls the data that UMaine collected last summer — which is free and accessible to the public — unparalleled.

“We drifted up to an ice pack and took a bunch of samples,” he says. “The water was below freezing but there were massive plankton blooms. Just amazing.”

A UMaine student is currently working to identify the types of species, he says.

During that trek, Tara was blocked by ice in the Vilkitsky Strait for about a week. When Tara was able to forge ahead, she arrived late at the next destination — Pevek, Russia. The scientists departing the vessel after that leg of the trek, including Leeuw, had missed that week’s one flight out of the northern port.

This summer’s adventure begins for Leeuw on June 26, a couple of weeks after World Oceans Day. He’ll board Tara in Nice, France, work for just over a month and debark in Cyclades — a dazzling Greek island group in the Aegean Sea.

Results of the voyage are expected to provide scientific insight into “what is in the ocean — where species are and why they are there,” Leeuw says, all of which advance researchers’ understanding of the ocean and the mission of Tara Expeditions.

Etienne Bourgois, president of Tara Foundation, says Tara’s quest is to understand what is happening with the climate and to explain it simply.

“This exceptional ship must pursue her mission as ambassador of the world’s citizens, must remain a catalyser of energy and desire to tackle without glitter the main question that arises for each one of us: What future are we preparing for our children?” he says on the website.

To learn more, visit oceans.taraexpeditions.org.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Who Attempts to Drive Less?

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Driving Journal

Multiple factors, including structural, social and psychological motivators, contribute to whether a person attempts to drive less, and policy efforts to alter travel choices should address all factors, according to University of Maine researchers.

Caroline Noblet, an assistant professor of economics at UMaine, worked with John Thøgersen, a professor in the Department of Business Administration at Aarhus University in Denmark, and Mario Teisl, director of the UMaine School of Economics and professor of resource economics and policy, to investigate how structural constraints and psychological motivators interact in determining the travel choice of those living in the northeastern United States. The researchers also looked at how the factors can be used to create effective policy interventions that encourage cutting back on personal car use in an attempt to improve environmental, personal and societal conditions.

“Our study indicates that people are moved to different travel behaviors by different factors,” Noblet says. “What makes me drive less doesn’t necessarily make me want to bike more; a one-size-fits-all policy may not be efficient in changing travel behaviors.”

In 2009, the researchers surveyed 1,340 residents from New England states — Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island — as well as New York. Residents were asked about their use of alternative travel modes, attempts to drive less and potential psychological and structural aspects.

The researchers found external infrastructure constraints, including price and availability of local options, as well as household and personal characteristics, combine with an individual’s problem awareness, attitudes and perceived norms, when it comes to deciding whether one should seek carpooling, walking/bicycling or public transportation over driving a personal vehicle.

“An individual’s travel choices have extensive impact on our global environment, personal/societal health, and infrastructure by influencing carbon dioxide emissions and other air pollutants, traffic congestion and the spread of a sedentary lifestyle,” the researchers wrote in an article documenting their findings.

The article, titled “Who attempts to drive less in New England?,” appeared in the March 2014 journal “Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour,” which is supported by the International Association of Applied Psychology and published by Elsevier.

The results showed differences across the states, indicating policy interventions should be tailored for each region.

Finding no difference between Maine and New Hampshire drivers, the researchers used results from those states as a base model, comparing drivers from other states to those in Maine and New Hampshire, Noblet says.

Massachusetts residents were found the least likely to attempt to decrease how much they drive, but use public transportation more than residents of other New England states. New York residents were found to use all three alternative modes of transportation (carpooling, biking/walking and public transportation) more than other residents. Vermont residents were found to walk or bike to work the most, while those in Rhode Island and Connecticut walk or bike the least.

The researchers found the attempt of New Englanders to reduce driving time primarily depends on each individual’s attitude toward driving less. People who think they have limited control over how much they drive are less likely to cut back, and the more a person drives in an average week, the more likely they are to make an attempt to decrease drive time.

Perceptions regarding the behavior of others also appeared to have a positive, but smaller influence, the researchers say.

The results showed specific psychological factors affect one’s decision to use each mode of alternative transportation. Deciding whether to carpool depends on how often someone’s acquaintances do; walking or biking depends on the person’s perceived ease or difficulty; and the use of public transportation depends on the person’s attitude about driving less.

Knowing that the decision to seek out alternative modes of transportation is based on specific contributing components offers additional policy development information.

For example, the researchers say, efforts focused on changing perceived social norms, such as the belief that others drive less, would likely be more effective in decreasing personal car use than campaigns aimed at changing one’s environmental concern.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Spawning Sea Lampreys Amplify Streambed Diversity, Say UMaine Scientists

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Lamprey

Sea lampreys impact rivers for months, perhaps years, due to their disturbance of streambeds when they spawn, say University of Maine researchers.

Robert Hogg, a master’s graduate who participated in the study, writes in a journal article that sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus) are ecosystem engineers.

The physical disturbance caused by their “nest-building activity was significant and persistent” and increased “habitat heterogeneity” and favored “pollution-sensitive benthic invertebrates and, possibly, drift-feeding fish,” according to the researchers.

Sea lampreys increase the complexity of a streambed by “creating and juxtaposing shallow, swift, rocky habitat patches with deep, slow, sandy habitat patches,” says the article. The effects are “similar to those of Pacific salmon.”

As an adult, sea lampreys are parasitic fish that resemble eels. They use their circular mouths filled with circular rows of teeth to latch onto other fish and feed on their blood.

Hogg and the research team examined spawning sea lampreys in Sedgeunkedunk Stream, a tributary of the Penobscot River, in 2010 and 2011. The team says it conducted the study during “a modest run” of sea lampreys, since access to Sedgeunkedunk Stream had only recently been restored due to dam removal.

“The scale of this reported influence, therefore, is a fraction of the potential ecological impact that larger populations of sea lampreys may formerly have delivered to habitats throughout their native range,” the scientists say.

The research team also included UMaine Associate Professor of Freshwater Fisheries Ecology Stephen Coghlan Jr., Joseph Zydlewski with the U.S. Geological Survey, Maine Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and Kevin Simon of the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

The team’s research results are included in “Anadromous sea lampreys (Petromyzon marinus) are ecosystem engineers in a spawning tributary,” which will be published in the June edition of Freshwater Biology.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Breaking Barriers

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Rob Wheeler Grant

How does a normally peaceful agent break through a previously impenetrable barrier and become a potential killer?

Robert Wheeler has just received a five-year, $500,000 fellowship from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) to figure that out.

The University of Maine Assistant Professor of Microbiology will study how and why Candida albicans — the most common human fungal pathogen — transforms from an innocuous yeast in the digestive tract of a person with a healthy immune system to a potentially fatal fungus in vital organs of a person whose immune system has been compromised.

“This award marks a new high point in my research career,” says Wheeler, one of 12 scientists nationwide to receive the 2014 Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award. After internal competitions at colleges and universities, each institution may nominate two investigators; this year, 144 scientists were put forward.

“This provides substantial funding that we can use to pursue high-risk projects with the potential to change our perspective on how dangerous infections begin.”

The goal, he says, is to improve diagnosis and therapy of fungal infection due to better understanding of the interactions between host and pathogen cells.

Wheeler’s lab will explore the host-fungal dialogue at mucosal surfaces where C. albicans — the leading cause of hospital-acquired infection that annually kills several thousand patients in the U.S. — is normally kept in check. “We expect that this will allow us to understand how the healthy immune system normally inhibits infection and how C. albicans invades past the epithelial wall,” he wrote in his application.

What happens at the earliest stages of active infection is one of the biggest mysteries about opportunistic pathogens, he says. And solving that mystery is imperative as infections complicate treatment of diseases, including leukemia, that require suppressing the immune system.

Wheeler’s lab will use zebrafish models of candidiasis at multiple levels — holistic, cellular and molecular genetic — to investigate the interaction between fungal cells and host cells during the earliest stages of infection. The integrated approach will utilize a new set of tools to address questions that have previously been inaccessible, he says.

His lab already has conducted pioneering studies with transparent zebrafish, which model infections caused by bacterial and fungal pathogens of humans. The resulting findings, he says, “opened the door to a deeper understanding of host and pathogen activity at the beginning stage of infection.”

Wheeler credits the previous scientific breakthroughs, and the work on the grant, to the talented, highly motivated and hard-working students and post-doctoral fellows in the laboratory. “The award is based on the pioneering work that they have done to change our perspective on fungal infection over the last five years,” he says.

With this fellowship, Wheeler says his lab will seek to exploit “that opening to discover the mechanistic underpinnings of the dialog between C. albicans and innate immunity at the epithelial barrier.”

On a personal level, Wheeler says he’s humbled to join the creative group of scientists that have previously held or currently hold BWF grants. “It pushes me to further excel and tackle the most important problems in infectious disease,” he says.

Wheeler’s peers lauded both his prior research and his potential.

Aaron Mitchell, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, says Wheeler has “been an insightful innovator for his entire scientific career.”

This award, Mitchell says, will allow Wheeler to build upon his initial findings “to look at the way that the host manipulates the pathogen, and how the pathogen manipulates the host. The remarkable zebrafish toolbox will allow Rob to look for key features of host defense that we can strengthen to thwart the pathogen before it gets a foothold.”

Joseph Heitman, chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University Medical Center, says Wheeler’s research on how “Candida albicans … shields its immunogenic cell surface from immune surveillance in a variety of ways, which can in part be circumvented by drugs that unveil immunogenic signals” has blazed trails.

Heitman says the award will allow Wheeler, a “highly creative and innovative” investigator, to continue to be a leader in the field.

Gerald Fink, the Herman and Margaret Sokol Professor at the Whitehead Institute/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the award “recognizes [Wheeler’s] preeminence as a leader in the battle to combat Candida, a feared human fungal pathogen … for which we have no satisfactory protection.”

Fink anticipates Wheeler’s research will “provide critical insights into our natural immunity from Candida infections, which is the first step towards developing antifungal agents.”

And Deborah Hogan, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, says, “Ultimately, this work is likely to provide important insight into better ways to prevent and fight these often dangerous infections” in babies, in people undergoing chemotherapy and in those with suppressed immune systems.

The first installment of the award will be sent to UMaine on July 15, according to BWF, an independent private foundation based in North Carolina that supports research to advance biomedical sciences.

Victoria McGovern, senior program officer at BWF, says Wheeler’s selection was “based on the scientific excellence and innovation” of his proposal, as well as the strength of the scholarship at UMaine and Wheeler’s accomplishments as a researcher.

Wheeler says he’s pleased the award showcases UMaine and the laboratory to the national research community and he’s excited for opportunities to be in “contact with a number of the best and brightest infectious disease investigators in the U.S., through yearly meetings and a number of networking opportunities at national conferences.”

“The University of Maine is very proud of Dr. Wheeler’s achievement,” says Carol Kim, UMaine vice president for research.

“The BWF is a very prestigious award and identifies Rob as a leader in his field.”

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Accelerated Recovery

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Acid_Rain

Lakes in New England and the Adirondack Mountains are recovering from the effects of acid rain more rapidly now than they did in the 1980s and 1990s, according to a study led by a former University of Maine researcher.

Acid rain — which contains higher than normal amounts of nitric and sulfuric acid and is harmful to lakes, streams, fish, plants and trees — occurs when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere mix with water and oxygen.

In the United States, about two-thirds of sulfur dioxide and one-quarter of nitrogen oxide result from burning fossil fuels, including coal, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sulfate concentration in rain and snow dropped 40 percent in the 2000s and sulfate concentration in lakes in the Northeast declined at a greater rate from 2002 to 2010 than during the 1980s or 1990s, says Kristin Strock, a former doctoral student at UMaine, now an assistant professor at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

Also during the 2000s, nitrate concentration in rain and snow declined by more than 50 percent and its concentration in lakes also declined, Strock found.

The Clean Air Act enacted in the U.S. in 1970 has been modified several times, including amendments implemented in 1994 that regulated emissions, especially from coal-burning power plants. The Clean Air Interstate Rule issued in 2005 by the EPA sought to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by 70 percent. Total emissions of sulfur and nitrogen in the U.S decreased by 51 and 43 percent, respectively, between 2000 and 2010, Strock says, which was twice the rate of decline for both in the 1990s.

Strock and the research team analyzed data collected since 1991 at 31 sites in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and southern New York and 43 sites in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

The research team included Sarah Nelson, 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; Jasmine Saros, associate director of the Climate Change Institute at UMaine and professor in UMaine’s School of Biology & Ecology; Jeffrey Kahl, then-director of environmental and energy strategies at James Sewall Company; and William McDowell of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of New Hampshire.

“Data collection for over two decades in this study is part of the EPA-LTM network, which also includes over 30 years of research and monitoring at 16 remote lakes in Maine, and over 25 years at the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine,” Nelson says.

“These long-term monitoring data allow us to observe patterns like changes related to climate, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental regulations like the Clean Air Act. The new findings reported here underscore the importance of such long-term monitoring, which can often be difficult to keep funded.”

While results reveal a recent acceleration in recovery, the researchers say continued observation is necessary due to variability of results. In New England, Strock says variability might be due to the effect of human development, including road salt, on lakes.

A number of other factors can affect watersheds and interact with acid rain, say the researchers, including depletion of calcium in forest soils, long-term increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, long-term changes in air temperature, and changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme wet and dry seasons.

The study, “Decadal Trends Reveal Recent Acceleration in the Rate of Recovery from Acidification in the Northeastern U.S.” was published online in March on the Environmental Science & Technology website.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Living Dangerously

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

Paul_Mayewski

University of Maine professor Paul Mayewski is featured in the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously starring Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Matt Damon.

It’s a thriller with an ending that hasn’t been written yet.

Executive producer James Cameron, who has also directed the blockbusters Avatar, The Terminator and Aliens, describes Years of Living Dangerously as the biggest survival story of this time.

The documentary, developed by David Gelber and Joel Bach of 60 Minutes, depicts real-life events and comes with an “adult content, viewer discretion advised” disclaimer.

The nine-part series that premiered April 13 shares life-and-death stories about impacts of climate change on people and the planet.

Correspondents, including actors Ford and Damon, as well as journalists Lesley Stahl and Thomas Friedman and scientist M. Sanjayan, travel the Earth to cover the chaos.

They examine death and devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy; drought and lost jobs in Plainview, Texas; worsening wildfires in the U.S.; and civil unrest heightened by water shortage in the Middle East. The correspondents also interview politicians, some of whom refute the science or are reluctant to enact legislation.

And they speak with scientists who go to great lengths, and heights, to do climate research. Mayewski, director of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute (CCI), is one of those scientists. He is scheduled to appear in the series finale at 8 p.m. Monday, June 9.

Climate change, he says, is causing and will continue to cause destruction. And he says how scientists and media inform people about the subject is important.

“There are going to be some scary things that happen but they won’t be everywhere and it won’t be all at the same time,” he says. “You want people to think about it but not to terrify them so they turn it off completely. You want them to understand that with understanding comes opportunity.”

In February 2013, Sanjayan and a film crew joined Mayewski and his team of CCI graduate students for the nearly 20,000-foot ascent of a glacier on Tupungato, an active Andean volcano in Chile, to collect ice cores.

Sanjayan calls Mayewski “the Indiana Jones of climate research” for his penchant to go to the extremes of the Earth under challenging conditions to retrieve ice cores to study past climate in order to better predict future climate.

Sanjayan, a senior scientist with Conservation International, wrote in a recent blog on the Conservation International website that while people may distrust data, they believe people they like.

He thought it would be beneficial to show the scientific process at work and to introduce the scientists’ personalities to viewers. “He’s the sort of guy you’d want to call up on a Wednesday afternoon to leave work early for a beer on an outdoor patio,” Sanjayan writes of Mayewski.

So for the documentary, Mayewski was filmed in the field — gathering ice cores at an oxygen-deprived altitude of 20,000 feet atop a glacier with sulfur spewing from nearby volcanic ponds. “It’s a strange place to work,” Mayewski says, “but it’s where we can find amazing, productive data.”

He was also interviewed at home, where he enjoys his family, dogs and sailing.

Mayewski likes the series’ story-telling approach. Scientists, he says, need to explain material in a way that is relatable, relevant and empowering.

Take for instance Joseph Romm’s baseball analogy. Romm, a Fellow at American Progress and founding editor of Climate Progress, earned his doctorate in physics from MIT.

On the Years of Living Dangerously website, Romm writes, “Like a baseball player on steroids, our climate system is breaking records at an unnatural pace. And like a baseball player on steroids, it’s the wrong question to ask whether a given home run is ‘caused’ by steroids. Home runs become longer and more common. Similarly climate change makes a variety of extreme weather events more intense and more likely.”

Mayewski says it’s also imperative to provide tools that enable people to take action to mitigate climate change as well as adapt to it.

“When we have a crystal ball, even if the future is bad, we can create a better situation,” he says. “We have no choice but to adapt.”

Maine is in a good position to take action, he says, especially with regard to developing offshore wind technology. “Who wouldn’t want a cleaner world, to spend less money on energy and have better jobs? We will run out of oil at some point but the wind won’t stop,” he says.

Wind is up Mayewski’s research alley. He has recently been studying ice cores from the melting glacier that serves as the drinking water supply for 4 million residents of Santiago. Temperature in the region is rising, greenhouse gases are increasing and winds from the west that have traditionally brought moisture to the glacier have shifted, he says.

And the glacier is losing ice.

“Our biggest contribution is understanding how quickly wind can change,” Mayewski says. “Wind transports heat, moisture, pollutants and other dusts.”

By understanding trends, Mayewski says it’s possible to better predict where climate events will occur so plans can be made. Those plans, he says, could include determining where it’s best for crops to be planted and where seawalls and sewer systems should be built.

Harold Wanless, chair of the University of Miami geological sciences department, says sea levels have been forecast to be as much as 3 to 6 feet higher by the end of this century. On the Years of Living Dangerously website he says, “I cannot envision southeastern Florida having many people at the end of this century.”

In Maine, Mayewski says climate change is evidenced by the powerful 2013–2014 winter, the lengthening of summers, increased lobster catches and northward spread of ticks.

While climate change has become a political topic, Mayewski says it’s a scientific and security issue. He says it’s notable that previous civilizations have collapsed in the face of abrupt, extreme changes. And climate change, he says, is far from linear in the way it evolves.

For decades, Mayewski has been interested in exploring and making discoveries in remote regions of the planet. “When you go all over the world, you get a global view,” he says. “By nature, I’m an optimist. That is tempered with this problem. I do believe there will be a groundswell of people, or governments, or some combination so that there will be a better future in store.”

To watch clips from previous episodes of Years of Living Dangerously, as well as the entire first episode, visit yearsoflivingdangerously.com.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Improving U.S. Fishing Industry

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Harbor

Three University of Maine researchers have been chosen to receive funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Saltonstall-Kennedy (S-K) Grant Program to pursue research that will benefit the U.S. fishing industry.

Two of the 40 grants were recommended to be given to projects led by UMaine researchers and one to a collaborative effort between UMaine, the University of Maine at Machias and a Massachusetts laboratory. UMaine professors Heather Hamlin, an assistant professor of aquaculture, and Yong Chen, a professor of fisheries population, are the principal investigators of the two UMaine-led studies. Paul Rawson, an associate professor of marine science and a cooperating assistant professor of biological sciences at UMaine, will receive an S-K grant as a collaborator of a study led by Scott Lindell of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass.

Hamlin’s study, “The Effects of Regional Temperature Cycles on the Development and Disease Susceptibility of the American lobster (Homarus americanus),” will receive $249,516. The project seeks to determine if increasing ocean temperature is a causative agent in the population decline of lobsters in southern New England.

“The American lobster is an iconic species whose fishery is steeped in tradition in New England,” Hamlin says. “Understanding the effects of increasing ocean temperatures is extremely important to Maine and its economy.”

For more than a decade, lobsters have been experiencing a dramatic population decline in southern New England, according to the project proposal. If the decline spreads into the Gulf of Maine, it would threaten the livelihood and culture of fishing communities, as well as the multibillion-dollar industry they support, the proposal states. The project will examine the effects of increasing ocean temperatures on lobster growth, development and disease susceptibility as they relate to the crustaceans’ population decline in the region.

Co-principal investigators of the project are Deborah Bouchard, a laboratory manager and research coordinator with the UMaine Animal Health Laboratory (AHL) and Aquaculture Research Institute; Robert Bayer, a professor of animal and veterinary sciences and executive director of the Lobster Institute; Ian Bricknell, a professor of aquaculture biology; and Anne Lichtenwalner, an assistant professor of animal science, Extension veterinarian and AHL director.

Chen will receive $229,326 for the project, “Improving survivability of cusk and Atlantic cod bycatch discarded in the Gulf of Maine lobster trap fishery.”

Chen’s study seeks to identify the time and areas where cusk and cod are likely to be caught in lobster traps; identify factors in handling which may significantly influence the survival rates of discarded cusk and cod; evaluate the effectiveness of recompression and venting in improving the survivability of released cusk and cod discarded from lobster traps; develop a protocol to reduce the discard mortality; and conduct an outreach program to educate stakeholders on the discarded groundfish in lobster fisheries.

Rawson is collaborating on a project with Brian Beal, a professor of marine biology at the University of Maine at Machias, and researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass. The researchers will receive $373,088 to use the experimental shellfish hatcheries at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center (DMC) in Walpole, Maine and the MBL to develop technology to cost-effectively produce mussel seed to meet the needs of the Northeastern United States mussel culture industry.

According to the group’s proposal, the Northeast’s mussel culture industry is poised for expansion. In past years, an inconsistent local supply of wild mussel seed has caused reliability problems for businesses both in the region and around the world. Moving toward hatchery-reared seed could improve the availability and volume of seed and help mussel farmers in the Northeast succeed.

“Our project is proactive in that we will develop cost-effective, steady and reliable hatchery-based seed production so the success of Maine’s blue mussel farms will not be hampered by problems associated with seed availability,” Rawson says.

The Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program is a competitive program administered by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce. The program provides financial assistance for research and development projects to benefit the U.S. fishing industry, according to the program’s website.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 581.3747