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.

Grad student’s art featured on cover of annual climate report compiled by NOAA

Art created by University of Maine graduate student Jill Pelto is featured on the cover of an international climate report compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Pelto’s environmental artwork appears on the front and back of the State of the Climate in 2015, an international, peer-reviewed publication released each summer as a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. The annual summary of the global climate is compiled by NOAA’s Center for Weather and Climate at the National Centers for Environmental Information and is based on contributions from scientists from around the world, according to the AMS.

The report provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments located on land, water, ice and in space.

The front cover features Pelto’s piece, “Landscape of Change,” which uses data about sea level rise, glacier volume decline, higher global temperatures, and the increasing use of fossil fuels. The data lines compose a landscape shaped by the changing climate, “a world in which we are now living,” according to Pelto.

“Salmon Population Decline” is on the back of the report and uses population data about the Coho species in the Puget Sound, Washington, to depict the struggle the population is facing as their spawning habitat declines.

Pelto graduated from UMaine in December with a double major in Earth science and studio art, as well as honors. In the fall, she will return to UMaine to pursue a master’s degree in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences.

During graduate school, she plans to work with geology professor Brenda Hall on a paleoclimate research project that will include five weeks in the Antarctic.

“I am looking forward to the experience of working on an intensive research project and paper for my master’s. I know it will be a really rewarding and challenging two years,” Pelto says.

This summer, Pelto participated in the Rozalia Project, a program that protects and cleans the ocean using technology, innovation, solutions-based research and engaging STEM programs. She spent a week onboard the project’s 60-foot sailing research vessel; cleaning the ocean and educating others about the work.

For the eighth consecutive year, she also spent part of her summer working with the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project. The program is led by her father, a professor of environmental science at Nichols College in Massachusetts.

“This is a project my father, Dr. Mauri Pelto, started — and still runs — when he was working on his Ph.D. at UMaine in the ’80s,” she says. “It is a long-term monitoring project of a series of glaciers in the North Cascades in Washington state.”

In the past year, reports about Pelto and her artwork have been published by local and national news organizations, including Climate Central, GlacierHub, onEarth, Public Radio International (PRI), Co.DesignPBS NewsHour and Bangor Daily News. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio also shared Pelto’s art on his official Instagram account, which focuses on climate issues. Most recently she was featured in National Geographic as part of the series, “20 Under 30: The Next Generation of National Park Leaders.”

Pelto says now that she has professionally begun an art career, she plans to work as an artist for the rest of her life.

“I will always be involved in the sciences, but I don’t yet know the degree to which my work will entail being a research scientist or a scientist communicating art,” she says.

Pelto’s artwork also was featured on the cover of the 2015 issue of MINERVA, a publication of the UMaine Honors College. An article about Pelto and her artwork was included in the annual magazine that highlights current students, faculty, alumni and friends of the college.

More of Pelto’s art can be seen on her website.

From UMaine News.

Ph.D. student featured in Island Institute film series ‘A Climate of Change’

Samuel Belknap, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology and the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine, was featured in a four-part film series produced by the Island Institute.

“A Climate of Change” highlights fishing communities threatened by the effects of a changing climate and what they are doing to adapt. The final film in the series focuses on the future of Maine aquaculture, and explores how some fishermen are turning to sea farming to stay afloat in a rapidly changing environment and economy.

Belknap’s research is focused on how climate-driven changes in the Gulf of Maine impact the region’s fishermen. In the fourth film, Belknap comments on the viability of aquaculture in Maine, and the work he is doing to ensure fishermen have the tools necessary to diversify and be successful in their own aquaculture ventures.

“Fishermen are going to want to keep working on the water,” Belknap says in the film. “This allows them a way to invest in their future on the water. And I think that’s huge in maintaining Maine’s cultural identity. Especially when it comes to coastal communities”

UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences, Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant partner with the Island Institute and several other fishing and aquaculture nonprofit organizations to offer the Aquaculture in Shared Waters project. The initiative provides classes to help the state’s fishermen diversify their business models to include various types of shellfish and seaweed aquaculture — “an opportunity for Maine’s iconic seafood harvesters to maintain their livelihoods, as well as the identity of their coastal communities, while facing unprecedented environmental changes,” Belknap says.

More about the Aquaculture in Shared Waters project is on the Maine Sea Grant website. “A Climate of Change: The Future of Aquaculture” also can be viewed online.

From UMaine News.

Saving salmon, one embryo at a time

Read transcript

For the past 15 years, aquacultural salmon farmers in Maine have struggled with plummeting embryo survival rates, forcing them to drastically increase the number of eggs they produce — which comes with a hefty price tag. LeeAnne Thayer, Ph.D. candidate in marine sciences at the University of Maine, is determined to find out what is causing the declines. Working with Heather Hamlin, assistant professor of aquaculture and marine biology, the researchers are studying the embryonic development of salmon in order to increase their survival rates, save farmers money and keep Maine’s aquaculture industry afloat.

From UMaine News.

Doctoral student seeks to end trial-and-error aquaculture

Locals and tourists flocking to the coast to eat fresh shellfish may not know about costs and risks that aquaculturists encounter getting the seafood to the table.

One of the biggest issues for aquaculture farmers is selecting lease sites without knowing the physics and biology of the estuary environment, which can result in unpredictable productivity.

With more and better information, the industry could become increasingly sustainable, both economically and environmentally.

Katie Coupland, a doctoral candidate in oceanography at the University of Maine Darling Marine Center, is working to make that happen.

Coupland’s mentor, assistant professor Damian Brady, describes her work as “beginning the end of trial-and-error aquaculture.”

“In aquaculture, we’re at a point where there isn’t enough information out there to decrease risk, so what we’re pursuing in the SEANET program is bringing new information to this field so we can make better decisions and decrease the risk,” Brady says.

“What’s really innovative about our approach is to take those same tools that we’ve been using for water quality and start applying it to the aquaculture industry, so that we can make viable predictions about a particular marine species and the environment.”

Coupland utilizes buoys, handheld sensors, computer models and biweekly boat trips to gather water samples that can improve understanding of shellfish growth in different areas of the river and understand the potential for climate to impact the aquaculture industry.

She does a lot of work on a computer in her lab, a small building nestled in the pine trees just up the hill from the Darling Marine Center’s boat launch. Coupland also regularly gets out in the field, or rather, in the water. During her river research cruise, she obtains data and water samples in additional locations over a much larger area.

“Just being out there and feeling — physically — the differences in temperature between the upper and lower river is a lot more meaningful than just seeing the numbers being read out from a buoy,” she says.

“I love being out there in the field and seeing those differences firsthand and being able to get an idea and that instinctual feeling of how the system is different from the head down to the mouth.”

Coupland came to UMaine after earning an undergraduate degree in environmental science and management and a master’s degree in biological oceanography at the University of Rhode Island.

She enrolled in UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences to take part in the Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) project to learn numerical modeling, a skill that’s “applicable and has a direct impact on people outside of academia,” more specifically, the community and shellfish growers.

The Damariscotta River grows more than 50 percent of the oysters in Maine, which Coupland says makes it a great laboratory in which to learn about the economic value of shellfish aquaculture.

Coupland’s developing a water current model to estimate the temperature, salinity and the speed of currents in five estuaries of midcoast Maine. The information will enable her to know more about how changes in temperature and precipitation impact shellfish growth differently across the estuaries.

She’s also developing a water quality model to explore how nutrients and light penetration change based on the physics of the estuaries and how this affects algae and shellfish growth in the Damariscotta River.

To do the research, she uses LOBO (land/ocean biogeochemical observatory) buoys, which measure temperature, salinity and pH (acidity of the water), as well as nutrient and chlorophyll levels and turbidity (cloudiness of the water).

Because the models provide hourly high-resolution estimates of both the physics and the biology of the river, Coupland can examine short- and long-term responses to weather and climate change.

Optimally, her research will yield information about variables in aquaculture, which could bolster economic and environmental sustainability in Maine’s changing climate. All of which could help aquaculture farmers reduce their costs and risks as they work to supply seafood for diners on the Maine coast.

More information is on the SEANET website.

Contact: Kristen Doherty, 207.581.2289

From UMaine News.

Building bridges for the future

Without a sound, safe and efficient transportation infrastructure, Bill Davids says we wouldn’t have an economy.

“That truck that just drove over this bridge carrying goods to wherever wouldn’t be able to make its trip; the ambulance wouldn’t be able to get to your house; you wouldn’t be able to get to work in the morning,” says Davids, the John C. Bridge Professor and chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Maine.

“Imagine if it was just you and your feet, or you and your horse. What would the world be like?” he asks.

The Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) has teamed up with the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center to find new and innovative ways to evaluate aging bridges around the state.

The team of engineers is attaching sensors to bridges to take live load readings and deflection measurements to determine the strength of bridges, their lifespans and whether they can allow heavier trucks in the future.

“For the Maine Department of Transportation, the potential savings are very large. We are able to take that data in real time and apply it to damage models of the structures. So not just civil infrastructure projects, like the bridge behind me, we are also able to apply it to buildings, to energy infrastructure, water infrastructure and roadways,” says Scott Tomlinson, research engineer in the Advanced Structures and Composite Center at UMaine.

Researchers will share information they gather with consulting engineers who work for DOT and eventually with the wider engineering community.

The project also will allow for more targeted use of tax dollars in replacing and improving infrastructure that needs it, says Tomlinson, who came to UMaine as a visiting undergraduate researcher in 2001 and now is pursuing his Ph.D. in civil engineering, also at UMaine.

“There are a lot of bridges all across the country and in Maine that are slated to be either repaired or replaced because we don’t know exactly how strong they are,” says Andrew Schanck, an undergraduate civil engineering student at UMaine. “This project will help with that.”

The Pittsfield, Maine native is helping evaluate the strength of the bridges, and how different materials respond to certain stressors. By live load testing the bridges, they are looking at how girders, or support beams, and the concrete slabs within the bridge interact in a composite way, rather than independently.

Having the materials work in a composite fashion could increase the longevity of bridges, factor into the load rating of bridges, and save the state money.

These variables are not classically taken into account when evaluating a bridge, but knowing this information can help engineers plan for the future, explains Schanck.

“If we know that the materials are working in a composite way, we can say, ‘OK, we have this much more strength in this bridge,’ or going forward we can design a bridge with a little less concrete or a little less steel because we know that the composite action will be helping in our favor,” Schanck says.

The project could decrease infrastructure costs and provide advancements in the field that will have significant impacts on our society as a whole, he says.

“The wireless sensors we are using here and the quality of information we get out of these advanced systems are far beyond what we could have done even a few years ago,” Davids says.

Another goal of the project is to involve undergraduate and graduate students in hands-on projects that allow them to apply their classroom knowledge in the field to make an impact on infrastructure in the state.

“Without engineers, our daily lives would be vastly different. A growing economy needs engineering in nearly every aspect. Everything from infrastructure, automobiles, phones, electrical power — you name it, engineers are behind that,” Davids says. “UMaine’s role in training the next generation of engineers is absolutely essential.”

Contact: Amanda Clark, 207.581.3721

From UMaine News.

Allan to testify on hazing prevention before U.S. Senate Committee

University of Maine Professor of Higher Education Elizabeth Allan will provide expert testimony to the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. Allan’s testimony will be part of a roundtable discussion entitled “Campus Safety: Improving Prevention and Response Efforts.”

The roundtable will examine a range of campus safety issues including bullying and hazing at institutions of higher education and efforts designed to reduce and prevent incidents. Allan will discuss the occurrence of hazing on college campuses and its impact on student learning. In addition, she will offer recommendations for how campuses can improve student safety through hazing prevention, including further research about hazing and evaluation of prevention strategies.

Allan was principal investigator for the National Study of Student Hazing and is currently directing the national Hazing Prevention Consortium — a research-to-practice initiative designed to contribute to an evidence base for hazing prevention. Her research and perspectives on hazing have informed hundreds of news articles for numerous outlets including the Associated Press, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Times, USA Today, National Public Radio, PBS, CNN, CBS and others.

The Senate HELP committee’s roundtable starts at 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday. It will be live-streamed and archived on the committee’s website.

From UMaine News.

Chantel Banus: Exploring consumer acceptance of seaweed products

Chantel Banus, second-year master’s student in human nutrition at the University of Maine, is working to determine the factors that influence consumer purchase of seaweed products in the United States.

Banus is conducting a survey to see what consumers are looking for in seaweed products and what influences their decision to purchase them. She wants to inform Maine seaweed farmers and aquaculture industry members in order to better market their products. Her research is advised by Mary Ellen Camire, professor of food science and human nutrition.

“Although seaweed, also known as macroalgae, has long been wild-harvested along the Maine coast, several species now form an emerging aquaculture industry in the state,” said Banus.

Though there are more than 250 species of sea vegetables in the Gulf of Maine, only 11 species of seaweed are commercially harvested.

Banus recently traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a public policy workshop hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She met with Maine legislative offices to discuss nutritional issues such as diabetes, obesity and child nutrition.

“It was rewarding to see dietitians, students and interns from across the country all in one room advocating for our work and the health of America,” said Banus, whose interest in human nutrition was sparked in her high school biology class.

At UMaine, Banus has worked closely with Adrienne White, professor and director of the internship program in the School of Food and Agriculture. Part of Banus’ graduate work is an accredited dietetic internship, which focuses on nutritional services and professional advocacy.

When she doesn’t have her head in the books, Banus can be found at the UMaine New Balance Student Recreation Center doing crossfit, yoga, pilates or running. She also loves to travel.

Hailing from Ashby, Massachusetts, Banus graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a B.S. in dietetics. After she graduates from UMaine in August 2017, she will be qualified to take the National Registration Examination to become a Registered Dietician. Although she is unsure what her future career holds, she aims to find a position that combines her interests in human nutrition and policy.

Contact: Amanda Clark, 207.581.3721

From UMaine News.

Brichacek receives $1.2M NIH grant to study glycans

University of Maine research to provide molecular-level understanding of glycan-associated disorders, such as inflammation, pathogen infection and cancer, has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Matthew Brichacek, UMaine assistant professor of chemistry, leads the research to develop methods to synthesize glycans — a family of carbohydrates — that can attach to a wide variety of biological molecules. Ultimately, the glycans produced by Brichacek and his team would enable investigations of numerous glycan-binding proteins in glycan-associated disorders.

“As a new investigator, I am poised to approach the complex field of glycoscience in innovative ways that will aid in the diagnosis and treatment of human diseases,” says Brichacek.

Glycans play an integral role in cell signaling, immune response and modulation of protein activity. Though researchers have long understood the importance of glycans in biological processes, the ability to study such structures has been inhibited by the complexity of the molecules, and by available tools and technologies.

Brichacek aims to develop tools for studying carbohydrates that will enable researchers in all biomedical fields to dramatically advance their understanding of the roles these complex molecules play in health and disease.

The technology being developed by Brichacek would enable scientists from a wide variety of disciplines interested in carbohydrates to acquire the desired molecules inexpensively and without highly specialized training.

Brichacek, who joined the UMaine faculty in 2014, received his doctorate from Cornell University and was a NIH postdoctoral fellow at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Contact: Amanda Clark, 207.581.3721

From UMaine News.

Vekasi selected for the U.S.-Japan Network for the Future Program

A University of Maine political scientist is one of 12 scholars selected to participate in the two-year U.S.-Japan Network for the Future program, designed to identify and support American professionals with the potential to become Japan specialists and policy experts.

Kristin Vekasi, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and the School of Policy and International Affairs, is a member of the network’s fourth cohort. Established in 2009, the U.S.-Japan Network for the Future is sponsored by the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

During the two-year program, Vekasi and the 11 other newly selected scholars will participate in a Washington, D.C.-based workshop and meetings, and a weeklong Japan study trip. They also will conduct research and write on U.S.-Japan policy issues.

Vekasi’s research focuses on international political economy, and the dynamics of political conflict, foreign direct investment and nationalism. She specializes in northeast Asia, and has spent years conducting research in Japan and China. Her current research looks at how Japanese multinational corporations mitigate political risk in China.

Last October, Vekasi was a member of the Maine trade mission delegation to Japan and China. Vekasi received her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2014. Prior to joining the UMaine faculty, she taught at New College of Florida, was a visiting research fellow at the University of Tokyo and a Fulbright Fellow at Tohoku University.

A news release about the new cohort of the U.S.-Japan Network for the Future is online.

From UMaine News.

Emerging environmental leader earns prestigious Switzer fellowship

Kimberley Rain Miner, Ph.D. candidate in Earth and climate sciences at the University of Maine, was recently selected as a Switzer Environmental Fellow by the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation.

This year, the Switzer Foundation awarded 20 fellowships of $15,000 each for emerging environmental leaders who are pursuing graduate degrees and are dedicated to positive environmental change — which is pretty much Miner’s motto.

Focusing on communication between cultures and disciplines, Miner is a knowledge broker for scientists, policymakers, and the public in order to develop solutions to address climate change.

The second-year doctoral student has traveled to some of the world’s coldest climates to study pollutants that are trapped — and released during a warming event — from glaciers.

Between the years of 1960 and 2004, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as DDT, dioxin and PCB have been released into the atmosphere and deposited by precipitation in glaciers around the world. Although this family of compounds is released in very small amounts (think parts per million), they are extremely resistant to environmental degradation.

Miner’s research focuses on developing risk assessment models for the release of legacy pollutants — chemicals released into the environment that have long-lasting effects — in glacial outflows. She aims to develop a framework to assess the conditions under which glacial release of POPs are a risk to the health of downstream communities.

Hailing from Los Angeles, California, Miner received a B.A in environmental science from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a M.P.A in environmental science and policy from Columbia University.

Miner was recently awarded numerous grants and fellowships including a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant, a Science, Mathematics & Research for Transformation (SMART) Graduate fellowship. She’s currently a fellow in the Climate Change Institute’s Adaptation to Abrupt Climate Change Integrated Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT).

Contact: Amanda Clark, 207.581.3721

From UMaine News.