Archive for the ‘Newsletter’ Category

Razor Clams are Cutting Edge Research at UMaine and Roger Williams University

Friday, December 9th, 2011

ORONO, Maine  – Clams of all kind are big business in New England, but the razor or jackknife clam, while worth between $2.50 and $6 per pound, has not been a focus of clam diggers. The elongated, elusive bivalve is hard to dig from the mud and usually only accessible at extremely low tides, resulting in an inconsistent supply. Market demand would likely increase if a steady supply of quality razor clams could be developed.

Paul Rawson of the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences is leading an effort to develop ways to grow razor clams on shellfish farms. With a $93,616 award from the Northeast Regional Aquaculture Center (NRAC), Rawson will work with Dale Leavitt of Roger Williams University, Diane Murphy of Woods Hole Sea Grant and Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, and Dana Morse of Maine Sea Grant and UMaine Cooperative Extension. The project is entitled: “Optimization of Hatchery and Culture Technology for Razor Clams.”

In previous work, Leavitt evaluated the equipment and techniques needed to culture razor clams. While the approaches showed promise, Leavitt reached a bottleneck in the hatchery.

“We had very promising results with the grow out stage of razor clam production in our earlier NRAC-sponsored research but had trouble supplying seed to the growers. So, with this grant, we hope to solve the early production stage problems that limited us the last time around,” he said.

Earlier trials and data from other countries indicate razor clams can have fast growth rates, making their culture potential even greater. The team hopes to produce 1 million juvenile razor clams in 2012, working at the UMaine Darling Marine Center (DMC), the Roger Williams University Blount Shellfish Hatchery, and the Aquacultural Research Corporation, in Dennis, Mass.

“The razor clam project is very exciting and I am glad that we’ve been asked to help work through several bottlenecks that presently exist in the culture of razor clams,” said DMC Hatchery Manager Michael Devin. “We will be challenged, but I’m looking forward to helping growers and the shellfish industry in general.”

“The shellfish culture industry in the northeast has a reputation for ingenuity and resourcefulness and we are excited to be helping them explore and solve issues related to the culture of alternative species,” Rawson added.

For project information and updates, visit:, or call Maine Sea Grant, at (207) 841-1435.

Contact: Catherine Schmitt, Maine Sea Grant,

UMaine Researchers Awarded Grant to Study Red Tide Effects

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

University of Maine Research Professor Laurie Connell will lead a team of researchers investigating methods that would provide early warning detection of toxic Alexandrium blooms, also known as red tides, in the Gulf of Maine.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is based in the U.S. Department of Commerce, announced the anticipated three-year, $574,028 project. UMaine is will receive $201,187 in the first year.

Some species of Alexandrium algae produce toxins that can become concentrated in shellfish tissue. Eating shellfish tainted with these toxins can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), a potentially fatal human illness.

The research will allow scientists to detect and measure levels of toxic Alexandrium cells in water samples, providing Maine officials with an early warning of increased potential of PSP contamination in shellfish. The project could pave the way to similar projects in other regions affected by harmful algal blooms.

“The ability to directly detect toxic Alexandrium species using the inexpensive monitoring devices we have developed will increase Maine’s ability to focus limited resources to areas that are either emerging PSP hot spots or to safely allow for targeted closures of shellfish harvests, focusing only on impacted beds,” Connell said. “Our project will serve as a demonstration model for other state and local agencies for the implementation of these detection platforms.”

The monitoring advancements will improve capabilities and cut costs for the red tide forecast system, a NOAA investment in New England to protect public health and jobs, and coastal economies.

This project was funded to UMaine through a national competition of NOAA’s Monitoring and Event Response of Harmful Algae Blooms (MERHAB) program. Research will be carried out at UMaine with research partners at the Maine Department of Marine Resources Biotoxin Monitoring program.

“These resources will enable the university’s world-class scientists and students, in collaboration with the critically important Biotoxin Monitoring program at Maine’s Department of Marine Resources, to explore cost-effective ways to properly detect the spread of red tide in the Gulf of Maine,” said Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. “The technological advances made by research like this, along with continued funding for shellfish monitoring programs, will ensure that our state’s hardworking harvesters have all the tools at their disposal to ensure the continued success of this vital fishery. While we have made great strides in bloom prediction and monitoring, it is clear these problems are continuing to increase in magnitude and demand our ongoing commitment and attention.”

Contact: Laurie Connell,

UMaine Researcher Developing Database of Environmental Reactions

Monday, November 14th, 2011

ORONO, Maine – University of Maine geochemist Amanda Olsen is part of a national research team that is starting a database to help scientists understand the speed at which environmental reactions take place.

Olsen is partnering on EarthKin – the name of the database, which alludes to reaction kinetics, the study of the rates at which chemical processes occur – with researchers from Saint Francis, Penn State and Columbia universities. The project is being funded by a $103,137 National Science Foundation grant, of which UMaine received $66,145.

The researchers will compile EarthKin will be a one-stop database that will allow access to researchers working on a range of projects, from the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and permanently storing it in the ground to cleaning up contaminated environmental sites.

When completed, EarthKin will be available to scientists free via the Internet at, an NSF-supported website and community-driven effort to facilitate the preservation, discovery, access and visualization of the widest and richest geochemical datasets. The web site will not only include existing data, but researchers will be encouraged to upload new results into the database.

EarthKin will be one of the first attempts to include experimental data in a web-based data management platform. In order to accomplish this, the researchers will build news tools and data structures that will allow the existing EarthChem platform to incorporation a new type of data.

The concept of EarthKin was made possible by recent advances in geoinformatics – the field of developing technological and computational tools to facilitate information dissemination in the geosciences – that have significantly increased access that researchers have to geological information. Recent endeavors include the online publishing of large data sets to make the data available to a larger community.

Contact: Amanda Olsen, (207) 581-2194 or; Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777 or

Economics Researchers Probe Potential Savings in Trash

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

A fully functional table saw, a $45 flashlight, a bag of canned food, baby strollers, car seats, plastic toys, bowling balls and returnable bottles and cans are some of the things residents of Maine communities have thrown in the trash this past summer and fall.

Those discarded items could have been reused or recycled, according to George Criner, professor and director of the University of Maine School of Economics, who is overseeing a statewide trash analysis project to determine the contents of Maine’s residential trash.

The research, commissioned by the Maine Office of State Planning, will help state and municipal policymakers understand for the first time in more than a decade just what people are throwing away that might be reused, recycled or composted, instead of buried or incinerated. The economic implications of recycling and composting more and discarding less could influence consumer behavior in addition to policy.

Early results have revealed that almost 20 percent of the household waste recently examined in 17 communities in 14 counties could have been recycled. If food and miscellaneous non-recyclable paper were composted, the household sector could divert roughly one-half of all waste from the landfill or incinerator, says Criner, the principal investigator of the state-funded project.

“Solid waste management is costly, and is not going to get any less expensive,” Criner says. “One purpose of the study is to update previous estimates on the content of Maine household garbage. Knowing the contents of the waste stream is helpful in designing effective and efficient recycling programs. Once all the data is in, we will correlate recycling rates with municipal programs. For example, does the data bear out our expectation that municipalities with pay-as-your-throw systems have higher recycling levels, and if so, by how much?”

The study is particularly important as more municipalities consider moving to single-stream recycling, and as many communities in the greater Bangor area are beginning to weigh the future of local solid waste management as waste-to-energy plant contracts are due to expire in 2018, says Criner, who has researched solid waste management issues since the late 1980s.

Whether trash is recycled, composted or burned in waste-to-energy plants, each option has an economic consequence. Some alternatives are more profitable than others, and some are extremely costly.

Economics undergraduate Travis Blackmer of Dedham, one of the students coordinating the analysis, compares selling a tractor-trailer load of recycled materials, such as compacted milk jugs, to a recycler for thousands of dollars with paying out thousands of dollars in hauling and disposal fees.

Once people understand “this is what’s in Maine’s trash and this is the money we’re leaving on the table,” more people will embrace recycling and waste stream reduction, he says.

“Towns are glad for the waste composition assessment,” says Karl-dieter Chandler, a civil engineering student from Bartlett, N.H. who is coordinating the project with Blackmer and David Silver, a Ph.D. candidate in ecology and environmental science from Orono. “They want the data in hand to get townspeople on board.”

The project is mid-way through its second sort. On designated sorting days at each site in July and August, researchers analyzed 400-700 pounds waste per day in the 17 participating municipalities — separating, sorting, weighing and documenting 65 subcategories of materials in the garbage. A second team is now revisiting and combing through trash in the same communities to compare “seasonal” garbage variations.

The project will end in early 2012 with each participating municipality getting a report, in addition to the publication of a paper outlining the study results.

“We will always have garbage, but we don’t have to keep the status quo in dealing with it,” Criner says. The research is showing that while the content of the trash is different from town to town, a general theme is emerging. “Maine can do better with recycling,” he says.

Contact: George Criner, (207) 581-3151; Karl Chandler, (207) 461-3516; Travis Blackmer, (207) 735-4574

Halog Receives Global Sustainability Research Fellowship

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Anthony Halog, assistant UMaine professor in Industrial Ecology, LCA and Systems Sustainability, has been awarded a month-long Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) “bridge” research fellowship to establish research networks with Japanese researchers.

Halog is a previous recipient of a JSPS two-year postdoctoral fellowship. The new grant is awarded to create and strengthen interdisciplinary, international scientific networks for research activities to develop new and effective global environmental and sustainability strategies to reduce global warming and pursue a low-carbon economy.

He intends to strengthen relationships with leading Japanese scientists and scholars at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, National Institute of Environmental Studies, University of Tokyo, United Nations University and Institute for Global Environmental Strategies. He also will introduce Japanese students to graduate studies options in industrial ecology and environmental sustainability at UMaine’s School of Forest Resources.

Contact: Anthony Halog, (207) 581-2944