UMaine Arctic initiative announces inaugural Seed Grant awardees

The UMaine Arctic initiative is pleased to announce winners of a new competitive seed grant program, created to facilitate research collaborations across Arctic research disciplines. The purpose of the UMaine Arctic initiative is to bring together people across the UMaine and UMM campuses with an interest in the high latitudes and, additionally, develop and strengthen partnerships with other institutions and individuals in the region.

The UMaine Arctic seed grant program will foster collaborative, innovative, pilot studies. The goal of this support is to elevate future external proposals to a highly competitive level. Earlier this year, faculty and professional research staff/scientists were invited to submit proposals that address an Arctic challenge, concern, or question. The maximum funding for each project is $25,000.

Brief summaries of the four projects selected in this initial funding round are as follows:

Building a US-Canadian Research Network to Evaluate and Adapt to Arctic Influences on the Rapidly Changing Northwest Atlantic Lobster Fishery

UMaine’s Lobster Institute is partnering with the University of New Brunswick, Columbia University, and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to take the lead in hosting workshops to bring together scientists and stakeholders from the US and Canada. Rick Wahle leads this project. The goal is to build on existing international partnerships with industry and policymakers to create a roadmap for collaborative, convergent research elucidating Arctic impacts on our shared fishing grounds. The primary focus of this effort will be to lay the groundwork to develop a fuller collaborative plan supported by extramural sources.

A Pilot Study of Household Water Insecurity and Human Health in the Arctic

Arctic indigenous peoples disproportionately experience household water insecurity. To enable comparisons across settings and time, this team proposes the first experiential measure of household water insecurity in the Arctic, with supplementary data on biophysical characteristics and human dimensions, including health. Angela Daley is heading up this project. The seed grant will be used to obtain proof of concept in Nunavut, Canada to support broader applications in Alaska, Greenland and additional regions of Arctic Canada. During the pilot study, the team will work with Arctic partners to ensure their perspectives and needs are represented, and to build collaborations that are driven by Indigenous knowledge and values. In addition to the direct societal impact of this work, this study will provide research learning experiences for students and strengthen UMaine’s human dimensions research presence in the Arctic.

Participatory Approach to Foster Food and Water Security in a Changing Climate

Adding to a separate but related field of inquiry, Jasmine Saros heads up this project, which uses participatory research to address issues of indigenous food & water security in the Arctic. Specifically, for this seed project, the team will partner with agricultural communities in Southwest Greenland to integrate their knowledge and identify their key questions and concerns surrounding freshwater resource issues in a changing climate. This work complements the National Science Foundation-sponsored Systems Approaches to Understanding and Navigating the New Arctic (SAUNNA) NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) project, and will also involve travel to Southwest Greenland in June 2022. Researchers will conduct key informant interviews and participatory mapping exercises with community members to foster collaboration, co-learning, and understanding of the local issues. They will also survey and map the current extent and condition of freshwater resources in this area, and their locations in relation to the built environment. This project focuses on employing convergent approaches to sustain subsistence practices and preserve the cultural landscape while protecting ecosystem health and services.

Data infrastructure and research prioritization for coast Arctic systems: shipping and environmental DNA

This project is motivated by the stark fact that climate change is affecting coupled natural-human systems in the Arctic both directly via warmer temperatures and reduced sea ice, and indirectly via increased human activities like shipping, mining, fishing, and construction. Understanding these various effects and how they interact with each other is crucial for the sustainable development of this sensitive region. However, gaining such understanding is challenging because most traditional monitoring and research methods are impractical in the Arctic. Erin Grey leads a team that will advance two promising alternative monitoring methods for the Arctic, remote sensing of maritime activity and environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys, facilitate dialogue between two non-Arctic residing researchers (Erin Grey and Greg Fiske) and one Arctic resident researcher (Alex Whiting) about how shipping impacts the Alaskan communities and how they might use eDNA surveys, and prioritize future research questions. This project involves researchers from a range of disciplines (genetics, data science, natural resource management) from two institutions (the University of Maine and Woodwell Climate Center) and one tribal government (Native Village of Kotzebue) and will provide training for two University of Maine undergraduates in eDNA and geospatial analysis.