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.

National Communication Association Honors Scott-Pollock’s Article as One of Year’s Best

Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock, associate professor of communication studies, was formally honored with the award for Best Ethnographic Journal Article by the National Communication Association at the NCA’s annual meeting in Philadelphia in November.

Narrative Performance Research: Co-Storying “Almost Passing,” was originally published in the Departures in Critical Qualitative Research journal in 2015. “Ethnography” is research that describes a culture, while ethnographers investigate cultural meanings and practices through observation and interviews.

“Through this auto-ethnographic essay, I explore how a critical qualitative researcher’s disclosure of her personal reactions to participants’ narratives can offer an opportunity to resist cultural marginalization,” said Scott-Pollock. She explains that this requires a level of vulnerability and disclosure that can feel risky but is often necessary in the pursuit of identification and transformative understanding in daily performance.

“Scott-Pollock’s article is exceptionally well-written and superlative in all aspects,” one reviewer noted. “But its greatest merit comes from disrupting the apparent dichotomy of the researcher and researched. She productively disturbs this binary and exposes intersections between these elements of ethnographic research.”

Scott-Pollock received the UNCW Distinguished Award for Scholarly Engagement and Public Service in 2015 and was recognized as a “Woman to Watch” in Education by Wilma Magazine. She was also nominated by the Wilmington YWCA as a 2015 Woman of Achievement.

Scott-Pollock earned a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Maine. She teaches courses in performance studies, storytelling and qualitative research methods. A faculty member at UNCW since 2010, she also directs the UNCW Storytellers and Hawk Tale Players, two UNCW performance troupes that perform in K-8 classrooms.

— Caroline Cropp

From University of North Carolina-Wilmington News.

NASA technology key to Boss’ exploration of polar phytoplankton dynamics

Free-floating ocean phytoplankton, often too small to be seen without a microscope, are a big deal.

The tiny marine plants consume carbon dioxide and produce half of all the oxygen molecules that people and animals breathe. And, as the base of the ocean food web, they’re nourishment for zooplankton, fish, seabirds and whales.

To gain greater understanding of the annual cycles of these life-sustaining organisms in the Arctic and Antarctic, University of Maine oceanographer Emmanuel Boss and colleagues from around the country utilized NASA’s Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) instrument.

Lidar is an active sensor that emits a pulse of light and measures, as a function of time, the return signal due to interaction with matter along the light path. Return signals from the ocean measured by CALIOP have only recently been found to provide a good predictor of particle concentration in the upper ocean, Boss said.

Return signals are similar to fields generated with passive satellite sensors, with the added advantage that measurements can be taken at night and through thin and broken clouds.

With this technology, the team examined a decade of uninterrupted growth-decay cycles of polar phytoplankton biomass (microscopic algae), including when no light was available during polar winters.

Boss said the project yielded several important takeaways.

One is that if NASA optimizes lidar technology for ocean measurements (CALIOP was designed for atmospheric measurements), quantifying phytoplankton vertical distribution on a global scale will be possible.

CALIOP’s vertical resolution is 100 feet but an ocean-optimized lidar could have a vertical resolution as short as 5 feet. This could revolutionize knowledge about plankton distribution, which have strong vertically varying distribution at certain places, including near sea ice and river mouths.

Second, Boss and his colleagues concluded the annual cycle of plankton biomass can be explained as a slight imbalance in herbivore-phytoplankton dynamics.

High-latitude phytoplankton accumulate when their growth rate consistently improves, with maximal biomass occurring when they grow the fastest. Once their growth rate stays the same or slows, their concentrations start dropping, most likely due to predation and viruses.

Third, the team learned that during the last 10 years, ice cover changes dominated the variability in Antarctic phytoplankton stocks and that ecological processes —light, nutrients and grazing — predominantly drove changes in Arctic phytoplankton stocks.

The team’s findings were published in the Dec. 19 online article “Annual boom-bust cycles of polar phytoplankton biomass revealed by space-based lidar” in Nature Geoscience.

In addition to lead author Michael J. Behrenfeld of Oregon State University and Boss, co-authors are: Robert T. O’Malley and Jennifer Schulien at OSU; Yongxiang Hu, Chris A. Hostetler, Johnathan Hair, Xiaomei Lu, Sharon Rodier and Amy Jo Scarino at NASA Langley Research Center; David A. Siegel of the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Jorge Sarmiento at Princeton University.

This team also is collaborating on the five-year North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystem Study (NAAMES) NASA Venture project. UMaine’s portion of the project’s $30 million award is $1.5 million.

During four, targeted monthlong expeditions, a lidar optimized for ocean exploration flies over a research vessel and in-water robots to study a subarctic North Atlantic phytoplankton bloom and its multiple links to atmospheric processes, such as providing a source for aerosol and cloud condensation nuclei.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

From UMaine News.

New study indicates weekly consumption of chocolate associated with lower incidence of diabetes

New research from the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS) confirms that persons who eat chocolate at least once a week have a lower prevalence of diabetes and are at lower risk for a diagnosis of diabetes four to five years later.

The study also indicates that the relation between the frequency of chocolate consumption may be due to an active choice on the part of diabetics. For example, diabetics may choose to reduce their frequency of chocolate consumption in an effort to reduce sweets, noted the researchers, who published their findings in the journal Appetite.

The research team is led by nutritionist and psychologist Georgina Crichton of the University of South Australia, and University of Maine psychology researchers Merrill “Pete” Elias, Peter Dearborn and Michael Robbins. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia.

The MSLS study of 908 community-dwelling nondiabetic and 45 diabetic participants found that persons who ate chocolate less than once a week were at twice the risk of diabetes mellitus compared to those who ate chocolate more than once a week. Consumption more than once a week did not decrease risk further.

Persons who never or rarely ate chocolate had almost twice the risk of having diabetes five years later, compared to those who ate chocolate more than once per week.

Cause and effect relations between chocolate consumption and diabetes have not been established in any study in the literature, but in their research, the MSLS investigators concluded that a bidirectional relationship couldn’t be ruled out, modest amounts of chocolate protect against diabetes, but some diabetic individuals chose to eat modest amounts of chocolate.

After 2000, when the health benefits of chocolate became more widely known, persons who ate moderate amounts of chocolate had less incidence of developing diabetes. Indeed, the study shows that the number of new cases of diabetes mellitus did not rise significantly for the next four to five years.

The MSLS investigators emphasize that their data do not argue against a causal relation between eating chocolate and developing diabetes. But they point out that the direction of the association may be reversed in some individuals.

“Regardless of the direction of the relation between chocolate consumption and diabetes mellitus, consuming chocolate at least once a week very much appears to be a win-win with regard to health benefits and cognitive performance for those who do not have special health restrictions on chocolate,” says Elias, who directs MSLS.

In the MSLS study, specific quantities of chocolate eaten were not measured. However, findings from a number of studies would suggest that a moderate consumption of approximately one ounce (or 25 grams) of chocolate once a week, i.e. about a third of a typical chocolate bar, may be associated with health benefits, such as reduced arterial stiffness and better cognitive performance.

It is unclear if the benefits of chocolate are limited to dark chocolate. It is widely hypothesized that the cocoa flavanols, found in larger amounts in dark chocolate, are responsible for its health and cognitive benefits. Elias points out that clinical trials are necessary to establish whether only dark chocolate is beneficial.

This is the latest collaborative study involving the University of Maine and University of South Australia researchers using MSLS to examine the health benefits of chocolate, including increased cognitive function.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

From UMaine News.

UMaine wireless leak detection system scheduled to launch to International Space Station

This December, a wireless leak detection system created by University of Maine researchers is scheduled to head to the International Space Station (ISS).

The prototype, which was tested by NASA and in the inflatable lunar habitat and Wireless Sensing Laboratory (WiSe-Net Lab) on campus, could lead to increased safety on ISS and in other space activities.

This is the first hardware from UMaine in recent history that is expected to function in space for a long period of time, according to the researchers.

On Friday, Dec. 9, the payload is expected to be launched by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) in Tanegashima, Japan onboard an HTV6 rocket that resupplies ISS. The launch is scheduled for 10:26 p.m. Japan Standard Time (JST), according to the JAXA website. JST is 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

To celebrate the event, members of the UMaine community are welcome to attend a free launch party at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Emera Astronomy Center on campus. The event will likely include presentations by the UMaine researchers involved in the project as well as footage of the launch provided by NASA TV.

UMaine researchers worked with NASA to prepare three of the wireless leak detector boxes for flight. Electrical engineering graduate students Casey Clark and Lonnie Labonte tested the payload and performed safety tests of the prototype at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

ISS astronauts will install the three identical boxes that will collect data for two intervals of about 30 hours. While the hardware is in space, the UMaine team will be on standby until data collection is completed. NASA will send the information directly to UMaine from the ISS beginning in late January or early February. Joel Castro, an electrical engineering Ph.D. student from Old Town, Maine, will process and analyze the data.

The project was one of five in the nation to receive funding from NASA–EPSCoR for research and technology development onboard ISS. Ali Abedi, a UMaine professor of electrical and computer engineering, was awarded the three-year, $100,000 NASA grant through the Maine Space Grant Consortium in 2014. Collaborators on the project include Vincent Caccese, a UMaine mechanical engineering professor, and George Nelson, director of the ISS Technology Demonstration Office at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

Leaks causing air and heat loss are a major safety concern for astronauts, according to Abedi. It is important to save the air when it comes to space missions — find the leak and fix it before it’s too late.

The project involves the development of a flight-ready wireless sensor system that can quickly detect and localize leaks based on ultrasonic sensor array signals. The device has six sensors that detect the frequency generated by the air as it escapes into space and triangulate the location of the leak using a series of algorithms. The device then saves the data on SD cards that are sent back to Earth.

The device is fast, accurate and capable of detecting multiple leaks and localizing them with a lightweight and low-cost system, according to Abedi, who directs the WiSe-Net Lab.

Similar systems on the market require astronauts to walk around with a device, scanning walls to detect holes. The UMaine prototype offers a “set-it-and-forget-it” solution, says Clark of Old Town, Maine, who graduated in May 2016 and now works as a ground segment engineer at SpaceX in Hawthorne, California.

“This is the first step in a very progressive movement to monitor structural parameters of spacecraft and the ISS,” says Labonte of Rumford, Maine, who graduates in December and will begin working for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland in January.

The prototype, developed by Clark and Labonte, includes components that were both created with a 3-D printer and bought off the shelf. Their work followed that of Castro and postdoctoral fellow Hossein Roufarshbaf, who developed a leak localization algorithm in a previous NASA-EPSCoR project.

Kenneth Bundy, of Minot, Maine, has been working with Abedi on a parallel grant to classify leaks by studying pattern recognition. Bundy, who has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and is pursuing a master’s in mathematics, analyzed leak scenarios with a variety of materials and pressure. His work aims to help the system determine the size of a leak, as well as what layer of material inside the ISS the leak is coming from, according to Abedi.

Once the hardware returns to Earth on a re-entry vehicle — most likely sometime next year — the team will observe how well the devices survived the launch, deployment and return, with the intention of proposing a new design for the next generation, the researchers say.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

From UMaine News.

Cassie Vaillancourt: Alumna works at Sappi North America in Skowhegan

Cassie Vaillancourt ’12 (MBA) is using her business degree in the forest products industry.

Vaillancourt, who earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Maine in 2010, works as an operations planner in the supply chain department at Sappi North America in Skowhegan.

“I am responsible for planning production of the mill’s three world-class paper machines and the outside converters, managing inventory levels, and working with the inside sales team to accommodate customer orders,” says Vaillancourt, a Fort Kent, Maine, native who now lives in Winslow, Maine.

After earning her MBA, Vaillancourt began working as an operations forester for Seven Islands Land Co. in Ashland, Maine. While there, she transitioned into the role of business analyst and quality assurance coordinator at the company’s manufacturing division.

In December 2015, she was hired at Sappi.

“The career change has allowed me to use more of the skills I acquired from earning my MBA while still enabling me to remain in the forest products industry,” she says.

Vaillancourt likes knowing that the decisions she makes have an effect on the performance of the paper mill and the company.

“I feel fortunate to work for a global company that is considered a leader in the industry and I believe there will be several opportunities for advancement within the company,” she says.

After attending UMaine as an undergraduate, Vaillancourt didn’t want to go anywhere else to earn a graduate degree.

“I loved forestry but knew I didn’t want to be a field forester forever,” says Vaillancourt, who became a licensed Maine forester in February 2015. “I realized that earning an MBA would allow me to become more versatile in the forest products industry and be seen as a valuable asset to any company.”

The MBA program enabled Vaillancourt to study real-world business problems, learn to think critically, perform a detailed analysis, and formulate a realistic solution — skills that have been useful in her current job and are critical for any business leader, she says.

“The MBA program offers world-renowned professors who are always available to answer questions, small class sizes, a well-rounded offering of courses, and the opportunity to become involved in the school and in the community,” she says. “At MBS I wasn’t just a number.”

Vaillancourt cites an international field experience course to Germany as one of her greatest experiences at MBS.

“We worked with German students on a business project, lived with them for a few days, and had lots of time to explore the country. It was such a great experience to interact with students from another culture and experience Germany firsthand,” she recalls.

From UMaine News.

Astumian named AAAS Fellow

University of Maine Professor of Physics R. Dean Astumian has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). His selection brings the number of full-time UMaine faculty members named AAAS Fellows to 10.

Annually, AAAS, the world’s largest scientific society, recognizes researchers who advance scientifically or socially distinguished science. Astumian was cited for significant contributions to the field of biological and synthetic molecular motors; particularly, for clarifying the role of microscopic reversibility in governing molecular machines.

His award-winning research focuses on biophysics, condensed matter physics, and chemically driven molecular machines. His work was cited in the scientific background for this year’s chemistry Nobel prize on synthetic molecular machines.

Astumian joined UMaine’s Department of Physics and Astronomy in 2001. A fellow of the American Physical Society, Astumian’s honors include the Galvani Prize of the Bioelectrochemical Society, the Humboldt Prize in 2009 and the Feynman Prize in 2011.

He is one of this year’s 391 new AAAS Fellows who will be honored at the association’s annual meeting Feb. 18 in Boston.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

From UMaine News.

CCI glaciologist: Meltwater can influence ocean circulation, climate

A University of Maine glaciologist discovered icebergs likely contribute more meltwater to Greenland’s fjords than glaciers do, which can slow the melting rate of glaciers and potentially influence ocean circulation and climate.

Greenland, the world’s largest island, is almost entirely covered by a permanent ice sheet that has been shrinking due to warming temperatures in the region.

UMaine research assistant professor Ellyn Enderlin found more than half of all meltwater entering Greenland’s glacial fjords — narrow inlets where glaciers meet the sea — comes from dense packs of icebergs that break free of glaciers.

Enderlin, lead author of the study published in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Geophysical Research Letters, says ocean circulation patterns could be disrupted as the less dense freshwater meets denser saltwater in the fjords.

“We should now be able to better measure the freshwater fluxes that are coming off of Greenland. That could be really important when we’re thinking about how Greenland melts, how that influences ocean circulation and climate,” says Enderlin. “The results of this study should lead to more accurate modeling of ocean circulation change and a more complete understanding of interactions between the atmosphere, glaciers and oceans.”

Ocean circulation is a major driver of heat movement from the tropics to the poles, and disruptions to it could cause chaotic and unpredictable changes to weather and climate, says Enderlin, who is affiliated with the UMaine Climate Change Institute and the School of Earth and Climate Sciences.

“To the average person, glacier and iceberg melting may seem like something that’s not terribly important because most people have never even seen a glacier and they have only been told that glacier melting is causing sea level to rise by some tiny amount per year,” she says.

“However, it’s important that people realize that not only the amount of meltwater that enters the ocean is important, but also where that water enters the ocean. If we look at records of climate going back thousands of years, we see there are times when glaciers in Greenland and Canada pumped out tremendous volumes of ice into the North Atlantic.

“These armadas of icebergs caused huge changes in the weather patterns in North America and Europe. To understand whether the modern increase in glacier and iceberg melting will detrimentally influence our climate, we need to know where the meltwater enters the ocean and how that influences ocean circulation.”

Jason Amundson, a University of Alaska Southeast geophysicist not involved with the study, says the cold freshwater from melting icebergs can create a buffer, insulating glaciers from warmer saltwater and slowing their melting rate. And he says Enderlin’s research may help scientists better understand what happens at the ice-ocean interface where glaciers meet the water.

“The reason that’s interesting is that there’s been quite a few studies in the past 20 years that have shown that the stability of … glaciers depends on what happens at the ice-ocean interface,” he says.

The Greenland Ice Sheet annually releases more than 240 cubic miles (1,000 cubic kilometers) of meltwater. Previous research found half of the meltwater came from icebergs and half came from glaciers, but the amount that icebergs melted in fjords before they reached the ocean had been a mystery.

Until now.

Enderlin and her colleagues used satellite images of two Greenland fjords to calculate the total volume of icebergs within them. They tracked the icebergs over days, weeks and months to calculate how much volume they lost through melting before they reached the ocean. The team found between 10 to 50 percent of iceberg melting occurs in the fjords, rather than in the open ocean as assumed by other scientific studies.

Enderlin determined the dense packs of icebergs melted at a peak rate of about 260,000 gallons per second, (1,000 cubic meters per second), the equivalent of filling an Olympic-sized swimming pool every 2.5 seconds.

From October through April, little to no melting occurs on the surface of the glaciers — only the part of the glacier that is underwater melts. During these months, submarine melting of the glacier and icebergs probably occurs at similar rates. Although the icebergs are tiny in size compared to the glaciers, their melt is the dominant source of fresh water to fjords in winter, and accounts for up to half of the fresh water in fjords in summer, because their large surface area allows them to melt more quickly, says Enderlin.

“If you took an ice cube and put it in your drink, one solid ice cube would melt pretty slowly, but if you took it out, hit it with a hammer and put it back in, it would melt a lot faster,” she says.

The team also used satellite images to estimate the iceberg distribution in the two fjords, which they used to calculate the icebergs’ total underwater surface area.

“What I see now is that iceberg melting is huge, and so if you don’t take that into account you’re going to come up with some crazy high estimates for glacier melting that might not be representative,” says Enderlin, who grew up adjacent to the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania.

“I spent a lot of time playing outside as a kid. I was always really interested in nature and weather, and I have a lot of great memories of playing in the snow with my brother and sister,” she says. “As I got older I realized that I would really like to study the Earth and the natural environment for my career and I decided to pursue my bachelor’s degree in environmental science at Lehigh University.

Before attending college, Enderlin hadn’t ventured outside the U.S. But the summer after her first year at Lehigh, she was invited to go to Peru with her undergraduate adviser to map glacial landforms.

“It was during that trip when I realized that I really wanted to focus on understanding the links between climate and glacier change,” she says.

Enderlin calls Greenland a spectacular place and says it’s similar to Maine in that some people rely on the environment for their livelihood.

“The climate is much more harsh than in Maine, however, with temperatures only reaching the 50s in the summer and well below minus 30 in the winter in many places,” she says.

Because the ground is often snow-covered from September until May, vegetation primarily consists of bushes and hearty low-lying plants. And Enderlin says animals — musk-oxen, reindeer, Arctic hares and polar bears — are hearty, too.

“Overall it’s a really peaceful place. When it’s calm — and it can be very windy for much of the year — you can hear the noise of blocks of ice falling from the glaciers and icebergs into the fjords,” she says.

Enderlin intends to expand her studies on iceberg meltwater flux to other areas, including Antarctica. It’s work she started with Gordon Hamilton, co-author of the study and former UMaine glaciologist who died in October while conducting research in Antarctica.

“I would say that really this was sort of our joint brainchild,” Enderlin says. “I bounced lots of ideas off of him…He was really instrumental to [the research] and it was sad that he couldn’t finally see it get published.”

Enderlin met Hamilton when she was a Ph.D. student in Earth Sciences at The Ohio State University and attended a workshop on a research boat in Svalbard, Norway.

“While at the workshop, I had lots of opportunities to informally chat with Gordon Hamilton about the work I had been doing for my Ph.D. and his research here at UMaine,” she says.

“Gordon was such a fun-loving person and did such fascinating work that I mustered up the courage to ask him if he would like me to come to UMaine to work as his postdoc after I finished my degree. Gordon was enthusiastic, as always, and secured funding for me to begin work with him the following summer.”

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

From UMaine News.

At Writing Center, tutors and students help each other toward clarity, inspiration

She got the assignment a week ago, an essay asking her to outline the strategies she’d use to teach in a multicultural classroom. At first, the words came. Paragraphs even. But then, just as quickly, nothing. A blank screen.

“I had a little bit and I just didn’t really know where to go from there,” says Amy Bowman, a second-year elementary education major at the University of Maine.

Writing had become more difficult for Bowman over the past few years, ever since she graduated from high school in Central Florida and began doing college-level work.

“I just always have problems getting the words down on paper and making it sound the way I want it to, so other readers can really understand the point I’m trying to get across,” Bowman says.

After struggling with the assignment for a few more days, Bowman went to see her adviser, who suggested getting some extra help. So on a Thursday afternoon, Bowman headed to the University of Maine Writing Center on the fourth floor of Neville Hall, where she met writing tutor Peter Lowe, a graduate student in English literature at UMaine.

“She brought a few drafts in,” says Lowe. “It looks like she was working off multiple false starts of an essay, which is very common. It’s how I compose as well. Very rarely do I sit down to write something and the first draft is the final.”

The tutoring session began as most do at the Writing Center, with Bowman and Lowe taking a close look at the question at the center of her assignment. In peer-to-peer writing tutoring, deconstructing the question is an essential step toward finding the right structure for an essay or paper. With a structure in place, they then look at the texts Bowman will need to draw from as she writes, her source material. As the tutoring draws to a close, Bowman feels more confident about her assignment than she did when the session began.

“I actually never really thought about going to any kind of additional help or additional tutors,” says Bowman. “When my adviser suggested it, I said I’ll take this step and try something new. I got some new ideas, different ways to approach going about my writing.”

UMaine students have been getting this kind of help with essays and other writing assignments since 1979, when Professor of English Harvey Kail founded the Writing Center. Kail mentored thousands of students along the way, including Paige Mitchell, a UMaine alum, current Ph.D. candidate and former tutor at the center, who took over as director in 2014.

Mitchell’s move into the top job, when Kail retired, left her with big shoes to fill. During his tenure, Kail launched The Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project, an ongoing study of techniques and practices that continues to inform those working in the field. He also attended national conferences regularly, evangelizing about the work going on in his small writing shop in Neville Hall and cementing a reputation as a leader in the field of peer-to-peer tutoring.

“Harvey’s blunt, so I trusted his honesty fully,” says Mitchell of her time working as a tutor under Kail. “I’ve worked with him since my undergrad career. When my work wasn’t effective, he told me. When I hadn’t yet proved my efficiency as a tutor, he didn’t let me think I had. When I did well, he let me know that, too. I admire him for his candid support, his seriousness and his ability to enjoy the moment.”

Between 500–600 students a year seek tutoring at the Writing Center. Nearly half are undergraduates, in their first year at the university. The center also helps a small number graduate students each semester. Tutoring sessions can last anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes and typically take place in the late morning or in the early afternoon or evening.

Under Mitchell’s leadership, the center is finding new ways to use technology to expand its original, peer-to-peer tutoring mission. Until recently, much of the center’s focus was still on working with text, as it appears on the written page.

“Now we have laptops and iPads, where we’ll work more with Google Docs, so we can collaboratively move and shift things right there,” says Mitchell. “We have a smart Apple TV, so we’ll put big presentations up there. We can put websites up there and work on them collaboratively with a student like that. We went from really limited technology, and limited ways of using it, to definitely a more multi-modal integration of technology.”

It’s commonplace now for students to show up at the center for help with a web-based project that contains text, photos, audio and video.

“The current research says if a student has a multimodal component to a document and a writing (component), typically they’ll select just one to get assistance with and they’ll go to the multimodal,” says Mitchell.

Mitchell has also sought to expand and update the list of regular workshops offered by tutors. A recent partnership with the University of Maine Career Center led to sessions on resume writing and creating and maintaining LinkedIn accounts. Mitchell worked with the LGBTQ Services to put on Safe Zone workshops to help students become more sensitive to LGBTQ issues in their written work. And a partnership with the Golden Key Honors Society led to a workshop where high school students explored the art of writing college acceptance letters.

The Writing Center has always offered workshops. But Mitchell’s experience as the center’s English as a Second Language tutor, prior to taking over as director, convinced her that writing workshops ought to play an even bigger role in the center’s future.

“There were so many students, I just devised workshops for them,” says Mitchell. “I found it effective to be able to reach a broader range of students, rather than one-on-one.”

Still, one-on-one tutoring remains at the center of the Writing Center’s overall mission.

“One of the things I like most about the job,” says Mitchell, “is the tutors. I’m really fortunate to work with bright and ambitious students.”

The center’s tutors come from many different academic disciplines, including English literature, engineering, philosophy, psychology, secondary education and environmental science. To become tutors, they all take a seminar course, taught by Mitchell, that teaches them how to work, one-on-one, with struggling writers.

“They experience working with diverse individuals from diverse disciplines, cultures, and ages,” says Mitchell. “This experience, and the tutor training they undergo, heightens their reflective critical awareness of their own writing styles, and expands their point of view, in that there is more than one right way to write.”

Lowe, who is focusing on fiction and screenwriting in his graduate work at UMaine, says he runs into the same kinds of problems his students are often facing, when they show up at the Writing Center for extra help.

“I’ll work with a student in the morning and then come home at night and be struggling (in my own writing) with what to say or where to go next,” says Lowe. “And I will draw on the experience we had that morning.”

Ultimately, says Mitchell, tutoring is a collaborative process.

“The students who visit the Writing Center are just as important and influential in the collaborative tutoring process as the tutors,” Mitchell says. “The Writing Center is grateful for what we learn and gain from working with the students we serve.”

Contact: Jay Field, 207.581.3721; 207.338.8068

From UMaine News

Steneck contributes to global study touting local management of kelp forests

A half-century of global ocean research indicates local management is key to sustaining kelp forest health.

Kelp  — large brown seaweed or alga  — provides food or habitat for a number of species, including fish, sea urchins and lobster, says Bob Steneck, a University of Maine oceanographer and one of 37 scientists who took part in the international project.

Lead author Kira Krumhansl, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, says understanding regional environments is central to maintaining the dense underwater forests.

“Each region is unique. In fact, each forest is unique,” says Krumhansl. “Managing stressors on local scales has a key role to play in maintaining the health of kelp ecosystems in the face of increasing global pressures.”

The research, published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” is the largest study of kelp forests ever produced.

Scientists found that while kelp in 38 percent of the analyzed regions showed clear declines, there were regions where kelp has increased (27 percent) and others where no net change was observed (35 percent).

The range of trajectories observed across regions far exceeded a small rate of decline at the global scale (1.8 percent decline per year), according to the study.

Thus, while global factors associated with climate change affect kelp forests, regional effects vary depending on the kelp species, local environmental conditions and other stressors, including the combination of fishing and climate change.

In the Gulf of Maine, kelp forests are dynamic, says Steneck, a professor of marine biology, oceanography and marine policy based at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine.

In late 1980s, after harvesting of kelp-eating sea urchins ratcheted up in the Gulf of Maine, kelp forests began to flourish.

In 2013, Steneck published research on this ecosystem “flip,” or chain reaction involving sea urchins, kelp and Jonah crabs.

Kelp forests, he says, are important to lobsters along the rocky Maine coast.

“They [lobsters] typically don’t like hanging out on a bare ledge that’s like a parking lot with nowhere to hide,” he says. “Kelp is a great habitat for lobster, so keeping track of kelp abundance is important. Fortunately, the coast of Maine is holding its own.”

Kelp also is a commercial crop being cultivated at sites along the Maine coast. Steneck says kelp forests help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean so it can locally reduce ocean acidification.

Marine ecologist Andrew Rassweiler at Florida State University says kelp has a unique capacity to recover quickly from disturbances.

“A whole forest of giant kelp can disappear in a season, and it is tempting to overreact to such dramatic change,” he says.

“This study presents important context for such changes; kelp can recover just as fast, and all these rapid local dynamics have added up to relative stability at the global scale over recent decades.”

Researchers analyzed a half-century of data contributed by academics, government agencies, volunteers and underwater scientists monitoring 1,138 ecosystem sites in 34 regions around the planet.

Despite amassing a comprehensive database of kelp abundances, data are still lacking from many regions worldwide.

The lack of data hinders understanding of how kelp forests around the planet have changed and of their future trajectory, says co-author Jarrett Byrnes, professor of biology-marine ecology at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

While Byrnes expected the study to yield all bad news, he says kelp emerged as a rock star of resilience.

“In many places, it’s managed to hold its own against environmental change. It’s quite exciting,” he says.

“What is worrying, though, is that in one-third of the regions of the world we studied, even kelps have not been able to withstand the pressures of a changing world. Their loss may be a sign that we have finally tipped over the edge of a precipice.”

But, for the time being, Steneck says kelp forests along the coast of Maine are doing well and even increasing in places.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Norway spruce tested at UMaine OK’d for construction-grade lumber

Norway spruce, a wood species extensively tested at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, has been approved for use as construction-grade dimensional lumber.

Based on the testing at UMaine, on Oct. 20, 2016, the American Lumber Standards Committee (ALSC) approved the inclusion of Norway spruce in the Spruce-Pine-Fir South grouping of wood species for home construction and industrial applications.

Introducing Norway spruce into the market marks a nearly once-in-a-lifetime occasion, says Jeff Easterling, president of the Northeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association (NELMA).

“This is a momentous occasion for the building industry,” he says. “The addition of a new species hasn’t happened in almost a century, and it’s been a very exciting year as we’ve worked to shepherd it through testing and bring it into the mainstream.”

Landowners, loggers, lumber mills, retailers and builders all are expected to benefit from being able to utilize lumber from some of the millions of Norway spruce trees, many of which the Civilian Conservation Corps planted in the United States during the Great Depression.

From Oct. 15, 2015 to Feb. 2, 2016, a team of staff and students at the UMaine Composites Center, led by Russell Edgar, wood composites manager, and Jon Hill, wood composites technician, tested 1,320 pieces of lumber milled from Norway spruce grown in Maine, Vermont, four regions of New York and Wisconsin.

The team then derived allowable design values (including bending, tension, shear and compression) for the species and wrote the final report that NELMA submitted to ALSC.

“It is exciting to be involved in this type of research, which has immediate and direct economic impacts for the state and region. This is exactly why our center exists,” says Edgar.

Stephen Shaler, associate director of the UMaine Composites Center and director of the School of Forest Resources, says UMaine students, staff and faculty benefited immensely from the strong collaboration with NELMA and the forest products industry for this research.

“It has inspired students to pursue careers in the field and we look forward to a continued partnership with NELMA and the forest industry,” he says. The financial support of the USDA-NIFA (United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture) was instrumental.”

Habib Dagher, director of the UMaine Composites Center, says he’s extremely pleased that the research and testing conducted on Norway spruce at the Composites Center will help invigorate the lumber industry in Maine.

“This type of transformative partnership with industry has led to more than 500 research and development programs with companies across Maine, the U.S. and the world,” he says.

For complete information on the impact of Norway spruce on the building products and design industry, as well as additional details on history, grading and the mill perspective, visit nelma.org/norwayspruce.

More information about testing conducted at UMaine is available online.

Contact: Josh Plourde, 207.951.5650

From UMaine News.