Road to Solutions — Climate & Energy
Shifting Seasonality: Consequences of the changing autumn season for Maine’s ecologically and recreationally valuable mountain ponds (WRRI 104b 2023)
Mountain ponds are sentinels of regional and global environmental change and are recreational hotspots that contribute to Maine’s tourism economy; however, the strength of climate change in mountain regions and its impact on the water quality and recreational value of these ponds remains unclear. Past climate trends indicate notable climate shifts in the region surrounding Maine’s mountains, occurring during times of year that are influential to lake ecology.
Community-based sustainable energy initiatives have been growing across the United States as local governments add climate and energy committees and sustainability coordinators to their staff and operations. However, there are disparities between underserved communities and others. The proposed work seeks to understand how socioeconomic, cultural, behavioral, institutional, and systems factors drive individual, governmental, and community decisions regarding sustainable energy adoption in underserved communities.
Tracking the Effects of Forest Disturbances and Climate Change on Headwater Streams in Northern Maine (WRRI 104b 2021)
Many northern Maine areas with a history of large-scale forest harvest operations are now experiencing rapid changes in climate conditions. Researchers from the University of Maine System are partnering with diverse stakeholders to develop watershed management tools to support science-based decision-making based that accounts for multiple objectives.
Energy justice seeks to make sustainable energy solutions such as energy efficiency more accessible to traditionally underrepresented groups. Community energy involves a group of people coming together to solve an energy issue. This project addresses the solutions-side of energy justice with a pilot project on collectively building insulating window inserts, which can reduce heat loss, save energy and money, and protect the environment, in an Indigenous community.
Wabanaki Voices and Heritage Spaces: Advancing Indigenous Community Engagement in Shell Mound Research, Documentation, and Management in Maine
Archaeological shell mounds along Maine’s coast represent important Indigenous heritage spaces that preserve a record of past lifeways and environments. With support from a partnership development grant from the Mitchell Center, a team led by UMaine faculty members Bonnie Newsom and Alice Kelley and graduate student Natalie Dana-Lolar are working with tribal representatives, the Abbe Museum, Schoodic Institute and Acadia National Park to increase Wabanaki stakeholder engagement in shell heap research, education and management.
Strengthening Engagement with the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians for Watershed Restoration and Environmental Justice
This project seeks to strengthen engagement between researchers and students at the University of Maine and staff of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (HBMI) Natural Resources Department (NRD), both in the near and long term. Through supporting creation of a story map, the project aims to raise awareness about the NRD’s water quality, conservation, and climate change work throughout the Meduxnekeag and larger Wolastoq/St. John watersheds. A commitment to justice-oriented and decolonizing approaches to the production of knowledge, aligned with UMaine’s larger research values as they relate to work that intersects with Wabanaki Tribal Nations, is foundational to this work.
Using paleolimnology and eDNA to assess links between warmer winters and summer blue-green algae in Maine’s lakes (WRRI 104g)
Blooms of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, are a growing problem in freshwater bodies across the United States, where they produce toxins that can cause illness in humans and other animals as well as environmental harm.
The ecological factors that promote the development of these harmful algal blooms (known as cyanoHABs) are poorly understood, and considerable uncertainty remains about how climate interacts with other drivers in determining the prevalence of cyanoHABs.
In collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, project researchers are evaluating methods designed to strengthen processes for evaluating and enhancing the success of climate adaptation programs and projects.
Harnessing Spatiotemporal Data Science to Predict Responses of Biodiversity and Rural Communities under Climate Change
In response to a changing climate, populations of plants and animals move to more hospitable locations. Predicting where species will end up, and how New England farmers and rural communities need to plan for such changes, is the focus of a new interdisciplinary research initiative led by the University of Maine. The project’s goal is to better understand how plant and animal species — including forest plants, wildlife, diseases transmitted from animals to people, and agricultural crops — will respond to a changing climate in the next century.
The benefits of collaborative river basin planning efforts are increasingly recognized. Informed decision-making in these basins requires access to comprehensive data and information (“water data”) about key issues. However, the water data that are needed are often found in disparate sources, or are not publicly available, posing barriers to effective water management.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiated a project to investigate and document the value of improving the discovery, sharing, and use of water data for diverse stakeholder groups. Coordinated dam management practices within and across these basins could lead to opportunities for greater power production and fewer environmental impacts than if dams are managed independently.
Vacationland. Take one look at Maine’s license plate and you see the widespread importance of tourism to the state. Maine’s natural resources attract visitors from all over the world but are also vulnerable to climate change, which is likely to impact visitors as well as communities dependent on tourism. This project seeks to move beyond traditional power structures and collaborate with community partners to co-develop locally relevant, useful climate change solutions. The result of this collaboration will be a participatory framework to build climate-planning capacity within tourism-dependent communities.
The Maine lobster fishery is among the most valuable commercial fisheries in the United States and supports thousands of jobs in coastal communities across the state. Yet it also faces serious challenges related to climate change, trade and marine mammal entanglement. Although there are multiple monitoring programs that are used to track the status of the lobster resource in Maine, no equivalent system exists to understand the status of the lobster industry. The intent of this research is to develop “sentinel” indicators of resilience for the lobster industry that can be used to detect early signs of vulnerability.
The research and engagement of Collaborating Toward Climate Solutions (CTCS) is designed to support on-the-ground problem-solving for the complex challenges that communities face with climate change. The research team is working closely with community partners to co-develop strategies and extension/assistance services to foster adaptation and resilience. This includes learning about community priorities and challenges and identifying potential service-provider partners, best practices, and the potential for networks that enable towns to connect with peer communities.
Through this project, the Mitchell Center is assisting the Maine Climate Council to understand and improve the extent to which the draft strategies being considered as part of the council’s Climate Action Plan ensure that the benefits of climate protection efforts are distributed equitably. The team is also addressing inequities in how the burdens created by climate change and the policies designed to alleviate it may affect people and communities.
With large-scale river restoration projects becoming more prevalent, new opportunities such as the Penobscot River Restoration Project (PRRP) have emerged to investigate key questions about socio-economic impacts. Comprehensive stakeholder engagement and collaboration between a variety of interests were critical to the success of the PRRP and other similar dam removals. The research team is working with key stakeholders to identify and evaluate impacts of river restoration, continuing to learn about the socio-economic impacts and benefits of dam removals and the importance of building community engagement and education around river restoration.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension members and the State Climatologist are working on a new project with farmers in Maine. The goal is to listen to farmer needs around weather information and farm management decision support tools, and discuss future capabilities in light of Maine’s changing climate.
Farming practices that promote “soil health” can make farms more productive, profitable, and resilient to climate change impacts. Additionally, some soil health building practices—for example, cover cropping, reducing tillage, and biochar application—can contribute to greenhouse gas mitigation. There is growing interest in state and regional policies to incentivize soil health building practices, but to inform these policy efforts, a baseline assessment is needed.
Maine’s communities and economy are critically dependent on the safety of its road network, which is in turn dependent on tens of thousands of culverts that allow water to flow under roads. Unfortunately, many of these culverts are at risk of failure, either due to their degrading condition or because they are undersized for the increasingly large floods and bank erosion caused by climate change and urban development.
Growing concern over global climate change and energy security has accelerated the development of new renewable energy sources. In the search for alternatives to fossil fuels, marine hydrokinetic (MHK) energy has emerged as a viable option. However, while energy from marine tides, currents, and waves may all hold immense potential for electrical energy generation, the developing industry is faced with significant challenges…
Future of Dams (New England Sustainability Consortium)
Hydropower is a major source of renewable energy in New England with more than 50 dams scheduled for relicensing in the next decade. However, dams can have adverse effects on coastal ecosystems and economies…
Affordable, reliable access to energy is essential to human welfare, economic development, and wealth. The way we generate, distribute and use energy has lasting impacts in all aspects of economy and society because nearly everything we make and do requires energy. A fossil fuel-based energy system is unsustainable because fossil fuels are finite, contribute to global warming, contaminate the environment, and pose energy security issues…
This project evaluates the barriers to and opportunities of climate change communication in order to improve engagement with resource users. What level of knowledge do natural resource users have about current and potential climate change impacts on natural resources? What type of climate change information alters the monetary contribution users are willing to make towards climate work in Maine? Do residents who perceive climate change as a more significant threat to recreation activities contribute towards activities or programs that lessen climate impact?
Thanks to remotely-sensed and ground-based climate observations society now has an extremely detailed understanding of the geography and magnitude of recent climate change. The detail and relative geographic evenness of this knowledge is in stark contrast to that of the spatial distribution of biodiversity and its changes over time…
Renewable Energy from the Tides
Maine is one of the most promising places in the world for tidal power. This SSI research team is helping ensure that tidal power is developed in ways that promote economic development and protect marine ecosystems as part of the Maine Tidal Power Initiative…
Helping Communities Weather the Storms
Increasingly intense and frequent storms are striking Maine and New England, causing millions of dollars in damage and threatening fragile ecosystems. This SSI research team will help Maine communities better understand and prepare for the potential local impacts of climate change…
Effects of Climate Change on Organisms
Global warming is expected to have a profound effect on Maine’s climate in the coming decades, potentially affecting human health and triggering significant changes and geographic shifts in the state’s agriculture, forests, and wildlife. Could a warmer future spell the end of pines in the Pine Tree State, along with such iconic and important species as maple trees and moose?
Biomass Energy Production in Northern Maine
Agriculture in northern Maine has declined by about 50 percent since the 1940s, leaving thousands of acres of former potato fields and other crop lands idle. Public and private entities are now looking to this land as a source of economic development for growing crops for energy, food, or animal feed…
Virtual Reality Interactions
Using Immersive Virtual Reality to Understand the Impacts of Wind Energy Siting
Many sustainability solutions are designed or enhanced by developing and siting new technologies (e.g., reducing greenhouse gases by generating power using wind energy). Yet the impact of these newly sited technologies on the quality of life of local residents and on tourism can be incredibly difficult to envision…