High-performance computer modeling to tackle fisheries future

Timely forecasts of storms and effective management of commercial fishing are essential in the wake of extreme weather events and unprecedented warming in the Gulf of Maine.

Damian Brady, University of Maine assistant professor in the School of Marine Sciences at the Darling Marine Center, is working to advance both of those goals.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Brady and colleagues a $266,309 grant to advance UMaine high-performance computer modeling tools to do just that.

The project — “Major Research Instrumentation Program Track 1: Acquisition of High Performance Computing to Model Coastal Responses to a Changing Environment” — includes buying a system that nearly triples computing power at the university and acquiring an off-site backup system for project data.

The project is ideal because it joins world-class researchers and experts in cyberinfrastructure to create a platform that advances goals of the research and creates a platform that benefits research and education across all disciplines, says Bruce Segee, the Henry R. and Grace V. Butler Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and director of the Advanced Computing Group.

“Computing and storage are the test tubes and microscopes of the 21st century. They support the creation of knowledge, collaboration, communication and economic growth,” he says.

“Maine is fortunate to have a High Performance Computation facility available to its researchers and students, and this grant will help significantly increase the complexity of the questions that can be asked and the number of users it can support. Demand for computing resources is growing at a rapid pace, and this grant provides a great step forward to help meet the demand.”

The tools will help scientists better predict climate changes and extreme weather, as well as understand ensuing ecological and physical consequences, and weigh costs and benefits of adaptation or mitigation.

“The effects of climate change are not likely to be straightforward. There are species and ecosystems that will benefit and those that will not,” says Brady.

“The purpose of running computer models is that they ask the really tough questions like: What will happen to the lobster industry under a 1-, 2-, or 3-degree (temperature) increase? What will the impact of increased rainfall be on shellfish along the coast? Although models will not perfectly predict the consequences of these changes, they can give us a range of potential futures.”

Maine is uniquely positioned physically and economically to be affected by climate change, Brady says. The state is on one of the sharpest latitudinal temperature gradients in the world and has one of the longest coastlines in the United States.”

And the potential impacts of climate change are significant for Maine, where the economy is linked to marine resources and infrastructure. The aquaculture industry (predominantly salmon and shellfish) doubled in value from 2005 to 2013. And Maine’s commercial fisheries were valued at a record $585 million in 2014, says Brady.

Boosting computing capacity at UMaine will allow coastal modelers to inform local decisions and increase undergraduate and graduate student access to high-performance computing, Brady says.

UMaine colleagues Huijie Xue, professor of oceanography; Fei Chai, professor of oceanography; Qingping Zou, assistant professor of coastal engineering, and Sean Birkel, research assistant professor with the Climate Change Institute, are taking part in the three-year project with Brady and Segee.

Researchers study lobster shell disease to protect Maine’s iconic industry

When Sam Belknap saw “fishermen losing money despite catching record numbers of lobsters,” he knew that he had to do something to help save the industry that he has dedicated almost 20 years of his life to. Belknap, now an Anthropology and Environmental Ph.D. student, studies how environmental factors affect the lobster population. He is particularly interested in epizootic shell disease (ESD), and how it affects hard-shell lobsters. Belknap stresses the importance of his work perfectly when he says, “Since hard-shells are the most sought after by restaurants locally and because hard-shells can be shipped all over the world, any disease that impacts them will have significant economic impacts for fishermen and the state.” For more about Belknap research, which he conducts with fellow Ph.D. students Kisei Tanaka and Jared Homola, go to UMaine News.

Ruleo Camacho: Promoting coral reef health

Ruleo Camacho, a graduate student at the University of Maine Darling Marine Center, received a Young Investigator Award Honorable Mention at the 9th Florida State University Mote Symposium in October. For more information visit UMaine News.

Graduate School Open House


Annual Graduate School Picnic 2015

 Updated Location: 57 Stodder HallPicnic

All Graduate Faculty, Graduate Students with their Families and Support Staff are invited to the Annual Graduate School Picnic Stodder Hall Patio (East Side) on September 30, 2015 from 4-6pm.

Doctoral student examines combat fatigue in War of 1812

Iraq War veteran Joe Miller has experienced combat and, like many other soldiers, he lives with its long-lasting effects. The doctoral history student at the University of Maine is using his personal insight and knowledge of history, as well as psychology literature on trauma, to better understand soldiers’ mental illness in the War of 1812.

In his dissertation, “Veterans reintegration in North America following the War of 1812,” Miller contends historical perspective is an effective mode to study trauma and battle fatigue.

The conflict between the United States and Great Britain was an obvious research focus for Miller, who studied the American Revolutionary War before his deployment.

Defining war trauma is difficult, Miller says, because research continues to discover conditions linked to traumatic experience. The most common definition Miller has seen describes war trauma as a shift in character following combat that becomes an all-encompassing and life-altering change in temperament. Trauma also is a condition drawn from specific experiences and, therefore, can be different in successive generations, Miller says.

Miller is applying his research on stress and his perspective of trauma to past events to show that combat fatigue can be seen in historical contexts.

Miller, who dealt with trauma issues following his service, initially felt reluctant studying war and the associated suffering, as well as sharing his own experiences. He has since found the openness beneficial for himself and others.

“To me, overcoming trauma is a result of survival,” Miller says. “Even if they’re awful experiences; it’s a good thing to survive, even if it’s hard to get to a good place. I want to do what I can to help vets get to that place; give them words, let them see what others are going through.”

Through research and writing, Miller says he’s able to look at life more deeply. He educated himself about psychology, learned how to write for a more general audience and pushed himself to be more expressive about his own struggles.

“I’ve had to be very open,” Miller says. “I’m not just using personal experience, but the experiences of all the people I’ve been through it with.”

Miller says it’s easier to spot mental illness or a traumatic event in history records now that he has seen it firsthand. And that initial finding is what pushes him to look for more evidence, as well as to help today’s soldiers.

Veterans coming home need community, Miller says, adding it can take the average veteran about four to five years to readjust to civilian life, with often lifelong consequences. Today, towns don’t rally around returning veterans and provide the jobs and support they used to, he says.

“If people can understand trauma, they can help people come home,” Miller says. “The more people can understand my research, the more insight they have, the more useful they will be for this generation of Mainers coming home.”

While studying to become a military officer, Miller read a lot of military history that resonated with him, and he fell in love with the subject.

“I wasn’t a good student in high school, but I was good in college because I really enjoyed history,” he says. “And now it’s my job.”

By the time the Georgia native left the Army, he had served three tours in Iraq and was ready for a fresh start in a new, rural environment. Miller got a job in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Department at UMaine, where he feels welcome, and viewed as a resource and an asset.

After learning about tuition benefits for ROTC faculty, Miller started to pursue his master’s in history and began his research on the War of 1812; he plans to finish his dissertation by spring 2017. Throughout his interdisciplinary research, Miller has worked with faculty in the History Department, Psychology Department, and the Department of Modern Languages and Classics.

A few scholars in Canada are studying PTSD during the War of 1812. Soldiers from New England are an ideal group to study, he says, because the region was opposed to conflict during the war and the soldiers’ level of introspection was different from those who supported the war.

Part of his research will address camp illnesses and how stress likely played a role in exacerbating ailments, such as malaria and dysentery.

Miller has discovered several fatigued veterans throughout history who found solace in agricultural pursuits after the war. He also sees evidence in Canada pension records that battle fatigue was often experienced, but commonly silenced as people, especially men, refused to talk about the issue.

William Hull is one prominent figure Miller has researched. Due to Hull’s heroic service during the American Revolution, he led the Northwest Army’s invasion of Upper Canada at the outset of the War of 1812.

In an article published in the Canadian Military Journal and in his master’s thesis, Miller explored Hull’s command in 1812 and how his actions greatly differed from his time in the American Revolution. During the War of 1812, Hull surrendered Fort Detroit and his Army to the British without a fight. After Hull’s questionable leadership in Detroit, he faced charges of treason, cowardice, neglect of duty and unofficer-like conduct, but was only acquitted of treason, Miller wrote. A month after the trial, President James Madison spared his execution.

Miller argues that without the benefit of contemporary psychological methods, it would be difficult to rationalize the fall of Detroit unless Madison recognized Hull’s condition on a subconscious level.

“It is important to explore the idea of a subconscious knowledge of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The absence of a specific dialogue in the historical record may seem disheartening, but it would be impossible to assume that veterans of the fighting wars in the Early Modern Period were not subject to such a condition,” Miller wrote.

In his research, Miller has become grateful for the level of awareness of trauma and availability of related care for veterans today. While reading historical texts, Miller was inspired by veterans, such as Hull, who survived without practical medicine by focusing on agriculture.

When he’s not writing or researching, Miller likes to run. The ultramarathoner picked up the habit while in Iraq and says it’s a good outlet to clear his head and push himself through seemingly hopeless situations.

Miller has run in three 50-mile races, three 50K races (about 31 miles) and five marathons. He often runs with the charity Team Red, White and Blue, which aims to create a community of veterans through physical activities.

Miller, who lives in Old Town, has written several publications about his personal experiences with trauma. He’s driven to write and research by the feeling of hopelessness he sees among his generation, and his biggest motivator is receiving positive feedback and messages of thanks.

“You have to find something you really enjoy doing, it’s as much for me as it is for other people,” Miller says of his research. “There’s tons of work to do, so it’s nice to be personally invested.”