Archive for the ‘Earth & Marine Sciences’ Category

Buoying Research

Friday, September 12th, 2014

Boss

The Southern Ocean that encircles Antarctica lends a considerable hand in keeping Earth’s temperature hospitable by soaking up half of the human-made carbon in the atmosphere and a majority of the planet’s excess heat.

Yet, the inner workings — and global importance — of this ocean that accounts for 30 percent of the world’s ocean area remain relatively unknown to scientists, as dangerous seas have hindered observations.

Princeton University and 10 partner institutions seek to make the Southern Ocean better known scientifically and publicly through a $21 million program that will create a biogeochemical and physical portrait of the ocean using hundreds of robotic floats deployed around Antarctica.
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Weathering the Storm

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Flood

Old-timers sharing childhood stories about growing up in Maine sometimes recount hiking 10 miles uphill in 3 feet of snow to get to school — and home.

Turns out those tales, of Maine winters anyway, might not be all that exaggerated.
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Importance of Iron

Friday, August 8th, 2014

Iron

Understanding why phytoplankton — the base of the food web — are not able to use all the iron in seawater is the focus of a three-year study by University of Maine researchers.

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Scientists Seek to Improve Prediction of Extreme Weather Events

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

extreme weather

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.

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NASA, UMaine Endeavor to Better Understand Phytoplankton, Carbon Cycling

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Gulf of Maine aerial

University of Maine oceanographer Ivona Cetinic is participating in a NASA project to advance space-based capabilities for monitoring microscopic plants that form the base of the marine food chain.

Phytoplankton — tiny ocean plants that absorb carbon dioxide and deliver oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere — are key to the planet’s health. And NASA wants a clear, global view of them.

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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

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

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