New NSF-funded program will train future leaders in the face of rapidly changing oceans
With Earth’s oceans facing rapid climate and ecological change, University of Maine faculty will use a $3 million award from the National Science Foundation to create a new training program for graduate students that will support the next generation of marine science and conservation professionals.
Over the next five years, Joshua Stoll, an associate professor of marine policy, and his colleagues will design and implement a new traineeship program for master’s and doctoral students focused on ecosystem science amid rapid ocean change. Their work will support members of coastal communities throughout the Gulf of Maine region, particularly those dependent on fishing and other natural resources, to adapt to climate change.
This new graduate education opportunity, which is funded through NSF’s Research Traineeship (NRT) program, will support at least 45 master’s and doctoral students, including 23 NSF-funded trainees, in the fields of marine ecology, oceanography, genomics, computational and social sciences. The training will incorporate an emerging discipline called ecosystem-based management.
Ecosystem-based management is place-based management of human interactions with marine species and ecosystems that contributes to the resilience and sustainability of the whole system. Practitioners use a variety of expertise — including biophysical and social sciences, and indigenous and local knowledge — to help solve societal problems and inform responses to environmental challenges, such as rapid ocean change.
Throughout the five-year grant, these students and faculty will generate new data, tools and information about the effects of a rapidly changing ocean on local ecosystems and the people who rely on them in collaboration with many community and government partners. Their work can empower local, state, tribal and federal resource managers to take further action toward protecting coastal ecosystems and their communities.
“Our training program will prepare graduate students to be confident and effective leaders who are poised to support communities in Maine and beyond prepare for and adapt to climate change impacts,” Stoll says.
Other UMaine faculty participating in the NSF-funded initiative are Christine Beitl, associate professor of anthropology; Kristina Cammen, associate professor of marine mammal science; Sudarshan Chawathe, associate professor of computer science; Chaofan Chen; assistant professor of computer science; Tora Johnson, professor of GIS and environmental studies at the University of Maine at Machias; Heather Leslie, professor of marine sciences; Darren Ranco, professor and chair of Native American Programs; and Anthony Sutton, assistant professor of Native American Programs and University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
The team will also work with multiple organizations to conduct collaborative research and establish field experiences for students. These partners include the Governor’s Office for Policy Innovation and the Future, Department of Natural Resources for the Penobscot Nation, Sipayik Environmental Department, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Nature Conservancy in Maine and Northeast Fisheries Science Center.
This NRT is the fourth awarded by NSF to a UMaine faculty-led initiative since 2018; the first three are the One Health and the Environment initiative, Enhancing Conservation Science and Practice and Systems Approaches to Understanding and Navigating the New Arctic. All of these traineeships were created to develop new curricula and experiences that equip future leaders to solve current and emerging problems while generating research in support of Maine people.
The latest initiative also launches the same year the UMaine Graduate School celebrates 100 years of advanced training and workforce development in the state and beyond. Formed in 1923, the Graduate School has a long history of supporting a highly successful and diverse group of graduate students such as Stoll, who earned his Ph.D. from UMaine in 2016.