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.
Archive for the ‘Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture’ Category
Spencer Meyer, associate scientist for forest stewardship at the Center for Research on Sustainable Forests at the University of Maine, and Rob Lilieholm, an associate professor of forest policy in the School of Forest Resources at UMaine were interviewed for a Portland Press Herald article about how two Maine groups are being paid to manage their forests for carbon dioxide reduction that will offset pollution by industry. Meyer said the arrangements are “offsetting a global process” and are “laying the groundwork for others down the road.” Lilieholm said although the forest carbon offset projects are just beginning in Maine, the state could eventually find them financially attractive. He estimates widespread use of trees-for-carbon-dioxide compensation is probably five to 10 years off.
A 2010 University of Maine study was cited in a Portland Press Herald article about how a growing concern about the water quality of Maine’s lakes has led the state to recommend towns wet roads before a storm with a brine solution to lessen the environmental damage caused by spreading salt and sand. Even though experts say the solution is safer and more effective, many towns and plowing contractors have been resistant to the change, the article states. The UMaine study found Maine spreads about a billion pounds of salt on its roads every year, and much of the salt ends up in water supplies which can harm wildlife.
The Geddes W. Simpson Lecture Series Fund was established in the University of Maine Foundation in 2001 by the family of Geddes Wilson Simpson, a well-respected faculty member who began his 55-year career with the College of Life Sciences and the Maine Agricultural Experiment Station in 1931. Simpson was named chair of the Entomology Department in 1954 and remained in that position until his retirement in 1974. Upon his retirement, he was awarded emeritus status and thereafter worked part time with the Experiment Station as editor.
The Geddes W. Simpson Distinguished Lecture was established to support a lecture series through which speakers of prominence “who have provided significant insight into the area where science and history intersect” are invited to speak on campus. Any field that bridges these two areas of inquiry is welcome, and in the past the series has hosted a broad range of speakers from various academic disciplines. The 2014 lecture will be the 13th in the series.
The Simpson Lecture Series Selection Committee is calling for nominations for the 13th annual Geddes W. Simpson Lecture, which will be held in October 2014. A statement of nomination along with the nominee’s resume should be submitted to: Robert Glover, Department of Political Science, 5754 North Stevens Hall, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469-5754 no later than Monday, Feb. 28 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some past award winners and the titles of their talks:
David C. Smith, Ph.D., Professor of Agricultural History, University of Maine
North American Farmers and United Kingdom Agriculture, 1790–1880 (2002)
Susan H. Brawley, Ph.D., Professor of Plant Biology, University of Maine
The Pursuit of Science and Science Literacy: Claude Bernard to Prozac (2005)
Mary D. Bird, Ed.D., Instructor, Science and Environmental Education, University of Maine
Living Lessons from a Dead Entomologist: The Educational Legacy of Edith Marion Patch (2006)
Robert R. Steneck, Ph.D., Professor of Oceanography, University of Maine
Considering the Future of our Seas Through the Lens of History (2008)
Michelle Murphy, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History and Women and Gender Studies, University of Toronto
Avertable Life, Investable Futures: A Cold War Story of Sex and Economy (2010)
James R. Fleming, Ph.D., Professor of Science, Technology and Society, Colby College,
Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control (2012)
Grace S. Brush, Ph.D., Professor of Geography and Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
A Pharmacological Record of Long-Term Connections Between Land and Water (2013)
University of Maine researchers have designed a handheld device that can quickly detect disease-causing and toxin-producing pathogens, including algal species that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.
The device — a colorimeter — could be instrumental in monitoring coastal water in real-time, thereby preventing human deaths and beach closures, says lead researcher Janice Duy, a recent graduate of UMaine’s Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering. Duy is now conducting postdoctoral research at Fort Detrick in Maryland.
The research team, which includes UMaine professors Rosemary Smith, Scott Collins and Laurie Connell, built a prototype two-wavelength colorimeter using primarily off-the-shelf commercial parts. The water-resistant apparatus produces results comparable to those obtained with an expensive bench-top spectrophotometer that requires technical expertise to operate, says the research team.
The instrument’s ease of use, low cost and portability are significant, say the researchers. The prototype cost researchers about $200 to build; a top-shelf spectrophotometer can cost about $10,000.
A touch screen prompts users at each step of the protocol. Researchers say an Android app is being developed to enable future smartphone integration of the measurement system.
Duy says the device almost instantaneously identifies pathogenic organisms by capturing target RNA with synthetic probe molecules called peptide nucleic acids (PNAs). A cyanine dye is added to visualize the presence of probe-target complexes, which show up as a purple solution; solutions without the target RNA are blue.
The versatile instrument can also be adapted to detect other organisms. The researchers say, in theory, any organism that contains nucleic acids could be detected with the simple colorimetric test. They have verified the system works with RNA from a soil-borne fungus that infects potatoes.
The research team’s teaching and expertise spans several UMaine schools and departments, including Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology, the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering, the Department of Chemistry, the School of Marine Sciences and the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences. The Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided funding for the project.
The instrument is being incorporated into fresh and marine water testing in the Republic of Korea and the researchers say they’ll give several devices to state officials to test and use in the field in Maine.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
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.
A Story Collider podcast of a talk given by Skylar Bayer, a marine biology graduate student at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center, is now online. Bayer was one of four science enthusiasts to share a story as part of The Story Collider event “Charting New Territory” in Cambridge, Mass. Bayer’s talk, “Phoning home from Alvin,” focused on facing her fears to go on a deep-ocean dive aboard the Alvin submersible, and getting more than she expected. The Story Collider is a group that believes everyone has a story about science and is dedicated to letting people share their stories to depict how science is important in all our lives.
Pamela Simpkins, a licensed social worker who is currently enrolled at the University of Maine in the master of social work program, wrote an analysis for the Sun Journal titled “We can make a difference in a child’s life.”
A team of University of Maine scientists studying nearly 11,700-year-old ice cores from Greenland found that history is repeating.
Paul Mayewski, director and distinguished professor of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute, says 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 led the research team that examined Arctic ice formed 11,700 years ago during a rapid climate transition from the Younger Dryas (near-glacial) period to the Holocene era (period of relative warm since then). Ice cores, in essence, are timelines of past climates.
The abrupt shift then included a northward shift in the jet stream, an abrupt decrease in North Atlantic sea ice and more moisture in Greenland. These changes resulted in milder weather, fewer storms and initially more than a doubling of the length of the summer season around Greenland, the team says.
“It is highly unlikely that future change in climate will be linear as evidenced by the past and by the recent, abrupt and massive warming in the Arctic,” Mayewski says. “Understanding and ideally predicting the likelihood, timing and location of future nonlinearities in climate is essential to realistic climate prediction, adaptation and sustainability.”
The ice formed during that one-year onset of the Holocene climate “sheds light on the structure of past abrupt climate changes and provides unparalleled perspective with which to assess the potential for near-term rapid shifts in atmospheric circulation and seasonality,” Mayewski says.
Additional exploration of the ice cores, with respect to the length of seasons, is expected to yield information about precursors for abrupt climate shifts. “Identifying and using the precursors will fill an essential void in climate prediction models by testing for sensitivity in the context of past analogs,” the researchers say.
In the university’s W.M. Keck Laser Ice Facility, the researchers had the first-ever ultra-high-resolution look at ice cores formed during the swift shift from the near-glacial period to the current period of relative warmth. The ice core samples were removed from a depth spanning 1,677.5 meters to 1,678.5 meters, or from 11,643 to 11,675 years ago.
Mayewski has led more than 50 expeditions to the Arctic, Antarctica, Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau, Tierra del Fuego and the Andes. He has shared his research with numerous media venues including “60 Minutes,” “NOVA,” BBC, “Fresh Air” and “The Diane Rehm Show.”
The research team includes Sharon Sneed, Sean Birkel, Andrei Kurbatov and Kirk Maasch, all from UMaine. The researchers’ findings are included in the article, “Holocene warming marked by abrupt onset of longer summers and reduced storm frequency around Greenland,” published in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Quaternary Science.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777