Sabrina Vivian, a third-year ecology and environmental science major at the University of Maine, was quoted in the Maine Public Broadcasting Network report titled “UMaine students press again for fossil fuel divestment.” Vivian was one of several students in the University of Maine System group Divest Maine that met with the UMaine Trustees Investment Committee to urge the system to stop investing endowment funds in the coal, oil and natural gas industries. Vivian told the committee “people have great power and can have immense impacts on the environment.” She urged the officials to consider creating a timeline for divesting funds from the top fossil fuel companies that are currently being supported. Vivian is a member of UMaine’s Green Team, a student organization that supports sustainable and environmentally friendly efforts on campus.
WABI (Channel 5) and WVII (Channel 7) interviewed Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the University of Maine School of Biology and Ecology. Shrum is researching the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. Her goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future. Shrum showed the reporters two of her research sites where she is tapping and has set up weather stations. The Weekly also carried a report on Shrum’s research.
NECN spoke with George Jacobson, Maine’s state climatologist and professor emeritus of biology, ecology and climate change at the University of Maine, about environmental and species changes seen in Maine. The report states scientists at UMaine’s Climate Change Institute say weather is different from climate and evidence points to a warming planet. Jacobson said the news “isn’t all good, it isn’t all bad; it’s change.” He added it’s important for researchers to work together to prepare for predicted trends.
The Associated Press, Penobscot Times and Phys.org reported on research being conducted by Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the University of Maine School of Biology and Ecology. Shrum is researching the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. Her goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future. Boston Herald, WLBZ (Channel 2), Boston.com, Portland Press Herald, Daily Journal, SFGate, Journal Tribune, seattlepi.com and The Telegraph carried the AP report.
Understanding more about the relationship between weather and maple sap flow, and how Maine syrup producers will adapt to climate change is the focus of research being conducted by a University of Maine graduate student.
Jenny Shrum, a Ph.D. candidate in the ecology and environmental sciences graduate program in the UMaine School of Biology and Ecology, is attempting to unravel the biophysical relationships between weather and sap flow. The goal is to better understand what drives flow and how expected trends in climate may affect the processes and harvesters in the future.
Shrum plans to collect on-site weather station data and sap flow rates at three test sites and to interview small- and large-scale producers to determine if those who have been managing sugar maple stands for years will be more or less resilient to climate change, and if large-scale producers will be better equipped to adapt. Her research is supported by the National Science Foundation and EPSCoR through UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative and its Effects of Climate Change on Organisms research project.
The physiological process for sap flow is not completely understood, Shrum says. It involves a complex interaction between freezing and thawing of the xylem tissue within the tree, and the molecule sucrose which maple trees use to store carbohydrates between seasons.
“When the tree defrosts, the frozen liquid in the tree becomes fluid and that provides a medium for the sugars that are stored in the trunk to get to the branches,” Shrum says, adding that in order to continue flowing, the ground also has to be defrosted so the tree can pull in water during the next freeze cycle and recharge the positive pressure in the trunk to restart sap flow.
Sugar maple trees grow as far north as New Brunswick and as far south as Georgia, yet maple syrup is only produced commercially in the 13 most northern states because of the colder weather, Shrum says.
In Maine and other northern areas, more than one freeze-thaw event happens during the winter. This lets the process repeat and allows the season to last between six and eight weeks as opposed to a few days, which is likely in southern states such as Georgia and Missouri, where maple trees grow but aren’t commercially tapped. Warm weather or microbial build-up in taps usually ends the season, according to Shrum.
In Maine, the season usually starts sometime between the middle of February and the middle of March, and continues for about six weeks, Shrum says.
“This winter has been really weird; we’ve had really warm weather and really cold weather and as far as sap flow, that might be a good thing,” Shrum says. “But not enough is known.”
One change that has been proven is the start time of the sap season.
“Studies are starting to show that the preferred block of time for tapping is starting earlier if you base it on ideal temperatures,” Shrum says, citing a 2010 Cornell University study by Chris Skinner that found that by 2100, the sap season could start a month earlier than it does now.
For big-time operations, Shrum says an earlier season probably won’t be a problem because they can just tap their lines earlier, but she’s not sure how smaller Maine operations will adapt.
“They might not be able to change their season,” she says. “A lot of the smaller operators have multiple jobs; they make money off maple syrup, but also in other fields such as woodcutting or construction. It just so happens maple syrup is a block of time when they’re not doing anything else, so it makes sense. But if that season changes, it might not fit into their schedule as well.”
Shrum will interview a variety of producers — small- and large-scale operators, people who have been tapping trees for 30 or more years and people who started within the past five years — to learn the reasons for tapping and better understand resilience within these groups.
To record weather and sap flow data, Shrum, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Humboldt State University, will deploy weather stations at maple tree stands in Albion, Dixmont and Orono. She’s also using iButtons to record soil temperatures and time-lapse photography of the buckets to record hourly sap flow rates. She can then relate flow rates to variables the weather stations record, such as temperature, precipitation and sunlight.
Although climate change is likely to affect sap flow, Shrum is confident there will always be maple syrup made in Maine.
“None of the climate change scenarios that have come up result in maple trees not growing in Maine. We’re definitely still going to have freezing events in Maine; it’s not going to get so warm that that’s not going to happen,” she says.
Shrum says maple syrup could become a big commodity in Maine if more of a market was created through government incentive plans, and if the state decided to make it a priority — similar to Vermont.
“Everything is good about maple syrup. There’s very little that’s controversial about it, and the biology is fascinating,” Shrum says.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
The Penobscot Bay Pilot reported on ice core research led by Paul Mayewski, director and distinguished professor of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. Mayewski and his team, who are studying nearly 11,700-year-old ice cores from Greenland, found today’s climate situation in the Arctic is equivalent to, but more localized, than the warming during the Younger Dryas/Holocene shift about 11,700 years ago. Mayewski and Nicole Spaulding, a postdoctoral candidate at the Climate Change Institute, also spoke with WABI (Channel 5) about how the institute is using laser technology to study ice cores. Mayewski said ice cylinders are extremely valuable for researchers to understand how climate has changed.
The Weekly reported on Kurt Rademaker, a University of Maine alumnus and faculty associate in the Department of Anthropology and Climate Change Institute, winning an international prize for his ice age research related to the first human settlement in the high Peruvian Andes. Rademaker won the Tübingen Research Prize in Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology, which is open to recent doctoral recipients around the world in a variety of areas including archaeology, ecology and human evolution. The goal of his research is to better understand the timing, environmental setting and adaptations related to the early settlement.
The Maine Edge reported on research on the sexual selection of birds conducted by Brian Olsen, assistant professor in the University of Maine’s School of Biology and Ecology and Climate Change Institute. Olsen found when looking for a mate, female coastal plain swamp sparrows choose males with large bills. He also found small-billed males are more at risk of being cheated on by their mates.
The Christian Science Monitor cited data from the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute in the article “Global Warming? Public attitudes often at mercy of the weather, study finds.” The article stated when much of North America had unusually cold weather, other areas such as the West Coast of the United States, eastern Asia and northern Europe experienced temperatures 5 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, according to UMaine’s Climate Reanalyzer. The Climate Reanalyzer is a climate analysis and visualization project.
Robert Steneck, a marine scientist at the University of Maine, was quoted in a Huffington Post blog post titled “Shrimp down, lobster up: Is there a connection?” Warming temperatures are leading to a thriving lobster population in the Gulf of Maine while lobster numbers are declining farther south, according to the report. Steneck said the shift is happening because warming waters in the area have aided the lobster boom, but he worries if temperatures get too warm — above 20 C (68 F) — the area could become too stressful for lobster.