University of Maine News
Studying the movement of carbon dioxide into the deep ocean to improve climate projections and understanding of deep-sea ecosystems will be the focus of a two-year research project by a University of Maine marine scientist.
Feb. 1, Nathan Briggs begins a two-year postdoctoral fellowship research project in France that’s funded, in part, by a $194,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). He will collaborate with Hervé Claustre, a senior scientist at Laboratoire d’Oceanographie de Villefranche (LOV) on the Mediterranean Sea.
Climate change may alter patterns of carbon movement in the mesopelagic ocean layer (depths ranging from about 300 feet to 3,000 feet), Briggs says. And the change in patterns could result in climate feedbacks (magnification or lessening of the change) and/or threaten deep ecosystems.
The mesopelagic layer, sometimes called the twilight zone because the light that penetrates to this depth is so faint, plays an important role in the long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide, he says.
Carbon dioxide that reaches the bottom of this zone remains trapped in the ocean for hundreds to thousands of years.
Briggs’ research will focus on “marine snow” — clumps of organic matter that form in the surface ocean and drift through the twilight zone like falling snowflakes, taking carbon with them.
The 10-day or so journey through the twilight zone is a dangerous one for a marine snow particles, Briggs says. They are a major food source for giant squid and other creatures, — some of which are bioluminescent — in the twilight zone, which is too dark to produce its own food.
The amount of marine snow that makes it through and the amount of carbon dioxide trapped in the deep ocean depend on the sinking speed of marine snow, as well as its “palatability,” and the population of consumers waiting for a meal to sink from above, he says.
Briggs became interested in marine snow during a 2008 research cruise south of Iceland led by his UMaine graduate adviser, Mary Jane Perry.
Researchers deployed low-power underwater robots to explore the twilight zone. The robots carried particle sensors designed to detect concentrations of microscopic plankton.
The researchers observed a large bloom of microscopic algae at the surface and suddenly the particle sensors in the twilight zone appeared to go haywire, periodically jumping to abnormally high readings, then immediately returning to normal, Briggs says.
While some scientists initially thought the instruments were malfunctioning, Briggs says Perry suspected the abnormal readings were caused by marine snow particles, which are hundreds of times larger than the microscopic particles that the sensors were designed to measure.
Perry tasked Briggs with further investigation. In 2010, he was awarded a fellowship from NASA and later he received a UMaine doctoral research fellowship to develop and test methods for using underwater robots to measure marine snow.
The work paid off. With Perry and other collaborators at UMaine and the University of Washington, Briggs demonstrated the high particle readings in 2008 were indeed caused by marine snow. And he used the readings to estimate how much carbon the marine snow carried to the deep ocean.
In his new position, Briggs will use the techniques he developed at UMaine to track marine snow on a much larger scale.
Briggs, whom the NSF refers to as a promising scientist, will conduct the two-year research project with Claustre, who operates a fleet of more than 50 underwater robots deployed across the North Atlantic Ocean (one is 800 miles off the Maine coast), the Mediterranean Sea and the Southern Ocean that circles Antarctica.
Briggs says the robots are producing the richest dataset in the world for scaling up his robotic analysis of marine snow, and he’s thrilled to be joining Claustre’s team.
The feeling is mutual. Claustre says Briggs, “will bring valuable experience in analyzing large, bio-optical datasets acquired by autonomous platforms, including the specific, innovative methods he has developed…” to the French team.
Information gleaned from Briggs’ research will inform future sampling strategies. As the robotic fleets of Claustre and others expand to form a permanent, global network, this research will be the start of a global, on-site record of marine snow in the underexplored twilight zone.
The research project, titled “Tracking mesopelagic carbon flux and particle size on a multi-ocean scale using a fleet of bio-optical profiling floats,” was submitted to the Ocean Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowship program.
Funding from the Office of International and Integrative Activities also supports the award.
Contact: Beth Staples: 207.581.3777
When planning a trip, travelers often consider their destinations’ peak tourist seasons and weather.
Rhian Waller schedules her voyages around whale migration, glacial melting and ocean clarity.
This spring, the associate research professor in the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences will be chief scientist on an expedition to explore, map and survey underwater habitats and ecosystems of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve (GBNP) in Alaska.
Waller has been awarded $897,504 for the collaborative project with the U.S. National Park Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), University of Connecticut (UConn), University of Hawaii and Rutgers University.
Waller, a Fellow in the international Explorers Club that encourages scientific discovery while exploring land, sea and space, will examine deep ecosystems in some of the as-of-yet-unexplored remote fjords facing the outer Gulf of Alaska within the GBNP park boundaries.
The park’s unique fjord region has complex geological formations that provide a diverse array of marine habitats, says Waller. And what the divers and ROV learn will inform the National Park Service’s marine resource management decisions.
Cold-water corals are ecosystem engineers — they form important habitats and create sanctuaries to support diverse wildlife, she says. Cold-water corals were discovered in the park at scuba-diving depths just a few years ago, but Waller says the biology at the bottom of the deep fjords is virtually unknown.
GBNP’s fjords have been protected since 1925 when the park was created. In 1999, Congress mandated commercial fisheries closures, thereby creating a network of protected areas within the 3.3 million-acre park.
“What is exciting about this research is the potential to find ‘unharmed’ cold-water corals. Almost everywhere we go we see some human influence on the cold-water coral ecosystems we discover, yet here the communities have had 90 years of protection,” Waller says.
“The other exciting part is the applicability to the National Park Service, and its mission of educating the public about the world around us. I’m really looking forward to this large collaboration.”
The researchers will utilize a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and will scuba dive to collect data and samples.
Waller has pressed the limits of diving during more than 40 expeditions around the planet. In a submersible, she once plunged to a depth of 3,600 meters for corals on the New England Seamount chain in 2005.
She frequently scuba dives in temperatures of 35 degrees Fahrenheit and below in the name of science. The celebrated ice water diver was featured in National Geographic Magazine in 2013 as a 21st-century risk taker in the “New Age of Exploration.” So diving in Alaska in March shouldn’t be a problem.
This past summer, she took part in an illuminating 15-day, 21-dive deep-sea coral cruise in the Gulf of Maine aboard the 76-foot research vessel Connecticut.
The $413,562 research project was a collaboration between UMaine, UConn and NOAA. Researchers used the ROV Kraken 2 to explore the Jordan Basin, Schoodic Ridges, northern Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and western Wilkinson Basin.
In the Schoodic Ridges region, scientists were thrilled and amazed to see 40-foot-tall, dense hanging gardens of Primnoa coral at a depth of 656 feet.
“The coral gardens were spectacular,” Waller says. “We knew corals were in these areas from a cruise last year, but to see them in such high densities, covering 30-foot-high walls, was an unexpected and thrilling find.”
During the dive, the researchers collected 134 samples of corals as well as sponges, fishes and other marine life for analysis.
The Schoodic Ridges coral ecosystem, Waller says, likely attracts pollock and herring, which then attract larger prey fish.
For about a century, Waller says fishermen have captured corals along with fish in their gear in the Gulf of Maine. This research, she says, illustrates how much more there is to learn about the ecosystem, which can lead to better conservation and management of its natural resources.
For two years, Waller and UMaine graduate student Steven Auscavitch have worked in the Gulf of Maine as part of a larger deep-sea coral research program funded by NOAA’s Deep-Sea Coral Research and Technology Program.
Contact: Beth Staples: 207.581.3777
Jonathan Torsch of Old Town struggled in high school while coping with his mother’s cancer diagnosis and grandfather’s death. Falling behind in school cost him acceptance into college, so he turned his focus toward work. When he was laid off from his retail job five years later, he decided to go back to school and enrolled at Eastern Maine Community College (EMCC) where he earned an associate degree in electrical and automation technology, graduated with a 4.0 GPA and was named the 2013 EMCC Student of the Year.
To continue to challenge himself, Torsch transferred to UMaine to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology, which he expects to earn in the spring of 2015 — again with a 4.0 GPA.
He also is OSHA certified, a licensed Journeyman-in-Training Electrician and is studying to earn his Maine Engineer-in-Training License.
Why did you decide to study engineering?
Honestly, ending up in engineering as a field of study was a happy accident. Growing up, my family didn’t have a lot. My father — working as a mechanic — and my mother — working in retail optometry — both earned sub-standard wages. Providing for my older sister and I was tough.
High school was particularly where things became turbulent for me. At home, my mother was diagnosed with cancer (of which she is currently in remission) and my grandfather, whom I was very close with, passed away. At school, I was no longer challenged by my classes, and despite doing well on exams, I failed to attend classes and do homework, and barely passed my senior year. I applied to UMaine and was initially rejected.
From there, I enveloped myself with work, picking up several jobs in retail stores, working up to 70 hours a week. Most notably, I earned the position of assistant manager at the Blockbuster in Bangor and worked there for four years. When they began their downward spiral, the first round of cuts was to — perhaps serendipitously — terminate every assistant manager in the company.
I knew that if I took another retail position, I would be succumbing to the same fate as my parents, and I didn’t want that for my family — both present and future. I decided that it was time to go back to school. I was unsure of exactly where I would excel, but I enrolled in the electrical and automation technology program at EMCC, with the intention of learning a trade that I would have at my disposal the rest of my life; providing job security and higher earnings for my family.
It worked out perfectly, as the program at EMCC is far more geared toward engineering than electrician work, as I had initially thought it to be. I absolutely fell in love with engineering, and could not see myself doing anything else now. Problem solving, logic, organization, teamwork and strong math skills are exactly what engineering can instill, and with those, I have found success not only academically but in many other areas in life.
Upon graduating from EMCC, I knew that I had to continue to push forward and challenge myself in the electrical engineering technology program at UMaine.
What did it mean to be named the 2013 EMCC Student of the Year?
I’m not someone who gets particularly wrapped up in pomp and circumstance. To me, the award served more as validation for the efforts I had put in and the transformation I had gone through. I had proven that I was worth more than what I had thought prior, and that if I combined my aptitude, attitude and some good old-fashioned hard work, I could achieve anything I wanted to.
How did EMCC prepare you for UMaine?
The hands-on, rigorous and enveloping electrical and automation technology program is an amazing experience. I was challenged on a daily basis, as we received a focus on the hands-on application of ideas from the classroom while also delving deep into the theory behind it all.
I attended with several like-minded, nontraditional students who all were there solely to better themselves and their future while learning as much as they possibly could from the courses and each other.
I was provided with not only a strong academic experience, but also an invaluable professional and interpersonal development. Lab work taught us how to work as a team, facility visits gave us insight into the real careers that exist in the world, and honest advisers and professors not only taught us what they had learned about the subjects themselves, but also valuable professional and life lessons.
Why did you decide to come to UMaine to pursue a higher degree?
The time I spent at EMCC was the most fulfilled and the most challenged I had ever felt. I was absolutely addicted to engineering and academia. I wanted to attend UMaine to pursue a higher degree to learn as much as I could about all of the aspects of the electrical, power and automation engineering world.
It also served as another challenge for myself. After seeing what I could achieve at EMCC, I had to know what was possible for me at UMaine. I haven’t been disappointed yet.
Tell us about your internship with TRC Companies, Inc.:
I have been working as an intern/designer with TRC Companies, Inc. in Augusta since summer 2012. TRC is one of the foremost engineering firms with a presence in Maine, and while there I have learned an incredible amount.
I have worked specifically with the automation and communications group. With them, I have done drafting in AutoCAD, designed communication profiles, programmed substation relays and devices, and was the lead on building a piece of software from the ground up that is now used daily to automate internal processes, saving the group large chunks of meticulously spent time.
Have you worked closely with a professor or mentor who has made your UMaine experience better?
I have been incredibly fortunate in my academic career to be provided the best mentors someone could ask for.
At EMCC, Rick Reardon was an incredible influence on me. I owe an incredible amount of where my future is headed to him. He was my adviser, professor and the head of the electrical and automation technology program, and his commitment to every student really helped me grow academically, professionally and personally. He stands out as someone I admire and aspire to be like because of his consistently positive attitude, his excitement for education and the material both in and out of the classroom, and his investment to the betterment of others.
In making the transition to UMaine, I was fortunate to have Jude Pearse as my adviser, professor and supervisor for my teacher’s assistant and lab technician work. Her commitment to the students is something that followed nicely with Rick’s style, and it made my transfer much more smooth and welcoming than I could have hoped for.
She stands out as someone I admire and aspire to be like because of her commitment to being a human first — recognizing that whether student or professor, younger or older, employee or employer, we’re all just people with the same main goals in life, and we can approach professional goals together while maintaining a fun and engaging social environment.
What are your plans for after graduation?
First and foremost — work. I hope to obtain a career in my field after graduation. I’d love to work in the automation and/or power engineering fields, as those are the areas of study that have most intrigued me, as well as the ones in which I have had the most success. Meanwhile, I plan to attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute in pursuit of a master’s degree in power systems engineering, and eventually work toward earning my professional engineering license in Maine.
Recent University of Maine graduate Emma Wilson spent most of her senior year working as an intern for a small Orono business as part of the Blackstone Accelerates Growth Innovate for Maine Fellows Program offered through UMaine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation.
Wilson, of Greenville, Maine, says she applied for the internship program because she knew it helped local startups and taught students about innovation.
She was placed with Zeomatrix, a business focused on bringing its patented zeolite technology in odor-absorbing paper products to market. As an intern, she was in charge of handling the launch of the Zeo Litter Bag — a bag lined with the company’s zeolite technology that absorbs the odor of used cat litter and cat waste. The bag is also biodegradable and better for landfills, she says.
Since graduating in May with a double in major in management and marketing, and a concentration in international business, Wilson continued to work as an intern for Zeomatrix through the Innovate for Maine program, and was recently promoted to business manager at the company. Her responsibilities include management, product development and marketing.
For the marketing campaign, Wilson completed SWOT analyses (a technique used to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of a company), sales forecasts, usability tests and market research; designed and launched the product’s website; and shot a crowdfunding video.
She recently led the launch of a Kickstarter campaign to help the company raise $10,000 for its pilot run of Zeo Litter Bags.
Wilson says the internship taught her the importance of teamwork and colleague support. It was fun to come together for “create sessions,” where everyone collaborated and came up with ideas — no matter how crazy — for projects, she says.
Innovate for Maine internships are one facet of Blackstone Accelerates Growth (BxG), an outreach effort to create and sustain jobs and economic development in Maine by supporting entrepreneurship and innovation.
Wilson also participated in the latest Big Gig pitch-off and networking event that was held in Orono. The Big Gig is a network for innovators and entrepreneurs in the Orono, Old Town and Bangor areas that was started by a partnership between the University of Maine, Old Town, Orono and Husson University and is supported by BxG.
Event participants were preselected to deliver a three-minute elevator pitch about their business idea to a panel of judges and attendees. Wilson pitched the Zeo Litter Bag and was named the event’s winner.
“Because of the event, I learned to effectively communicate just how great and important our product is in a very short amount of time,” Wilson said, adding she decided to pitch at Big Gig to raise money for the company and to spread the word to people in the community about the Kickstarter campaign.
The Portland Press Herald, WLBZ (Channel 2) and WMTW (Channel 8) covered a ceremony held at the University of Maine’s Regional Learning Center at Tidewater Farm in Falmouth to award Howard Reiche Jr. with a master’s degree he started in 1950. After graduating from Bowdoin College, Reiche enrolled at UMaine to pursue a master’s degree in zoology and study microbial genetics. He completed the two semesters of coursework, passed his final exams and was set to finish his thesis when he learned he was supposed to have taken organic chemistry at Bowdoin before enrolling in the master’s program at UMaine. “At the time, I was 21, married, with no money and the draft hanging over my head,” the 85-year-old Falmouth resident said. “Spending another year at UMaine to take one undergraduate course was out of the question. But it’s been on my bucket list all this time.” Carol Kim, UMaine vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School, handed Reiche his framed diploma in front of his family during the event. “I’m expecting an application for a Ph.D. degree now,” she told him.
Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine, was quoted in the Governing magazine article, “How the 2014 governors races could impact Medicaid expansion.” Fried spoke about the possible effects in Maine’s gubernatorial race. “There’s no doubt [that] if Gov. LePage lost, Medicaid expansion would be supported by the next governor and it would very likely pass,” she said.
OnEarth spoke with Robert Steneck, a marine scientist at the University of Maine, for an article about invasive green crabs that are harming Maine’s softshell clam industry. “We’re seeing both biodiversity and ecosystem services degraded by the green crab. This is a big event, there’s no question about it,” Steneck said, adding researchers don’t know if Maine will have softshell clams in another decade. He said the most important factor in limiting the green crab is water temperature, and recent trends are not in the softshell clam’s favor. “Unless the green crab population collapses, I think the softshell-clam fishery will be gone,” he said.
Mark Hutchinson, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension educator and professor, demonstrated how to build a home compost pile on the latest installment of the “Backyard Gardener” series on WVII (Channel 7). Hutchinson said composting can dramatically improve soil’s fertility, meaning better root systems and healthier plants for the next gardening season.
Maine Bound’s rock climbing gym at the University of Maine was mentioned in a Bangor Daily News article about an Orrington family who pursues the sport together. The family’s two children have been regulars at Maine Bound since before they could walk, their parents said. Andrew Krause, trip logistics manager at Maine Bound, said the majority of young rock climbers who start in the gym are around 8 or 9 years old. In order to climb without an adult, climbers must be at least 16 years old and pass a skills test, he said. “In the gym setting, there’s no danger at all. It’s more of a maturity thing,” he said. “Climbing requires a lot of mental focus and finding out what you’ll do on the wall, so there’s a lot of mental maturity that you need.”
The Penobscot Bay Pilot reported students from six coastal and island high schools gathered on Hurricane Island in Penobscot Bay for the second year of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program and its collaborative, yearlong project addressing the question, “How can the impact of the green crab population be controlled in a way that conserves the marine ecosystem and encourages new industry?” Before beginning fieldwork, students worked with researchers including Noah Oppenheim, a graduate student in the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences, according to the article. Oppenheim helped teach the students different sampling techniques that could be used in assessing green crab abundance in the intertidal zone, the article states.
Maine AgrAbility is sponsoring a demonstration of equine-assisted therapy for veterans 1–3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24 at Thistle Ridge Equestrian Centre, 1289 Village Road, Smithfield.
Charmaine Bouford, certified rehabilitation counselor for SpiritHorse Therapeutic Center (SHTC) and a registered therapeutic riding instructor, is the presenter. The demonstration, which is for veterans, service providers who work with veterans, people interested in learning more about equine therapy and the general public, is free for veterans. A $20 fee for nonveterans supports programs at SHTC.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension partners with the National AgrAbility Project to work with farmers, farm workers and farm family members with a chronic health condition or disability. For more information, or to request a disability accommodation, contact Lani Carlson, 207.944.1533, 800.287.1471 (in Maine).
The Eastern Maine Orchid Society (EMOS) will meet at the University of Maine’s Roger Clapp Greenhouses at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 18. During their meeting, society member Janelle Delicata will demonstrate how to build an orchid terrarium. The completed terrarium will be auctioned with proceeds going to the EMOS scholarship that is awarded to a UMaine horticulture student. The meeting will also feature the society’s annual plant swap. The meeting and swap are free and open to the public. For more information, call Delicata at 944.8822.
Carol Kim, a University of Maine microbiologist and vice president for research and graduate school dean, spoke with WVII (Channel 7) about a research team led by UMaine scientists that has shown two strains of human influenza A virus (IAV) can infect live zebrafish embryos, and that treatment with an anti-influenza compound reduces mortality. It is the first study establishing the zebrafish as a model for investigating IAV infection. “What we can do is we can infect the zebrafish with a virus that say is tagged with a green fluorescent protein or red fluorescent protein and we can actually watch as the infected fish, what tissue it infects and then what are the immune cells doing,” Kim said. She added the study also was a great educational experience for students.
John Rebar, executive director of the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension, was quoted in reports by the Maine Public Broadcasting Network and WVII (Channel 7) about representatives from the state’s agriculture, dairy and veterinary industries urging Maine voters to support Question 2 on the November ballot. The bond would give $8 million to UMaine Extension to build a new animal and plant disease and insect control laboratory. Rebar said the lab currently is spread across two locations that were built in the 1940s and 1970s. The lab is not bio-secure, meaning it can’t be used to test pests that may have infectious diseases. Rebar also spoke of the economic impacts a new lab would have on the state, such as being able to improve the health of Maine’s moose population.
The Weekly previewed the University of Maine Museum of Art’s four new fall exhibitions. The exhibits — “Out of Nowhere: John Gallagher Paintings, 1996-2014;” “The Little Fools: Roz Leibowitz;” “Staring at the Sun with a Penny in my Pocket: Matt Phillips;” and “Tales from the Turnpike: Suzanne Laura Kammin” — opened Oct. 3 and run through Jan. 3 at the Bangor museum.
Aram Calhoun, a professor of wetland ecology at the University of Maine, was quoted in an Associated Press article about research being done by Bowdoin College biologist Nathaniel Wheelwright, who said he found evidence of a mass die-off of wood frog tadpoles. Wheelwright documented the die-off of about 200,000 tadpoles in a pond in his backyard, igniting new interest among scientists in ranavirus, a disease that can cause swift mass deaths of amphibians, according to the article. The disease causes amphibians, especially larvae, to swell and hemorrhage, the article states. Calhoun said long-term data about ranavirus die-offs are needed to determine if the deaths in Wheelwright’s pond are alarming. “What I don’t think is we should be extrapolating what happened in his pool to all pools in New England and say that’s a trend, because we really don’t know that,” she said. The Sacramento Bee and Brattleboro Reformer carried the AP report.
The Maine Public Broadcasting Network spoke with Ryan Neal, program director of the Maine Development Foundation, about the fourth quarterly report analyzing critical economic indicators in Maine released by the foundation and the University of Maine. The latest report, “Strategic Land Conservation in Maine,” looks at the multiple benefits of conserved land, such as recreational opportunities and protection of habitats and working landscapes, and the distribution of conserved acreage in an attempt to understand the impacts of conserved lands, set priorities and ensure a high return on investment. Michelle Johnson of the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, who recently received her doctorate in ecology and environmental sciences from UMaine, wrote the report.
Mainebiz published an article on Dan Kerluke, a former associate head coach for the University of Maine hockey team, and the startup he co-founded to create a hockey goaltending analytics app. Kerluke started Double Blue Sports Analytics with David Alexander, who was a UMaine goalie coach, and Tim Westbaker, a computer programmer and UMaine alumnus. The company’s 360 Save Review System has earned praise from one NHL.com writer and professional goalies for the Tampa Bay Lightning and St. Louis Blues, according to the article. The company is a tenant of the Target Technology Incubator, an Orono facility that was developed by UMaine and the Bangor Target Area Development Corporation to provide an environment for business development and commercialization activities for innovation-based startups.
The University of Maine was mentioned in a SeacoastOnline article about a Kittery business owner who hopes to open Maine’s first sake brewery. Dan Ford, owner of Blue Current Brewery, launched a Kickstarter campaign to help launch his company. Ford said he designed his own fermentation and storage tanks, and the rice steamer he uses was created to his specifications by UMaine engineering students.
Staff from the University of Maine’s Highmoor Farm in Monmouth will be on the Orono campus from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 9, selling apples and pumpkins. The sale will be located by the Cyrus Pavilion Theatre between Winslow Hall and Fogler Library, weather permitting. A rain date is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16. For more information, including pricing information, visit the Highmoor Farm website or contact Greg Koller, Highmoor Farm superintendent, at 207.933.2100 or email@example.com.