Untreated and sustained hypertension has an adverse effect on brain structure and function, and is a risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia. Blood pressure (BP) variability from measurement-to-measurement has been associated with lower cognitive functioning and is considered a stronger predictor of mental performance than averaged BP.
However, recent studies suggest that BP measurements on a single health care office visit are insufficient to detect relations between variability in BP and cognitive performance, as compared to significantly more expensive ambulatory blood pressure assessments in the home.
In a new study published in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association, a team of University of Maine investigators report that BP assessments during an office visit using an optimal measurement procedure are sufficient to find relations between blood pressure variability and cognitive performance and function. The UMaine researchers also report that the relation between higher BP variability and cognitive performance is seen only for hypertensive individuals whose blood pressure cannot be reduced to normal levels (140/90 mmHg), despite aggressive treatment and sustained treatment.
Using the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Data (MSLS) set, the UMaine study employed 972 community-dwelling women and men who are free from stroke, dementia and kidney disease requiring dialysis (mean age 62 years, range 23-98 years). In cross-sectional analyses, the researchers found variability in BP and averaged BP from 15 BP measurements at a single study visit were related to cognitive function, including measures of overall performance, fluid ability and abstract reasoning ability.
They also found variability in BP was a stronger predictor of cognitive ability than averaged BP, with statistical control for demographic variables, including age, cardiovascular risk factors, and cardiovascular disease.
There were four important new findings in the UMaine study:
The findings are clinically important because scheduling demands in health care settings and research studies often result in only one or two BP measurements being taken in the sitting position. Including measurements of recumbent and standing BP can increase the information gained about variability in BP, according to the UMaine researchers.
Office visit BP readings can be used as an important preliminary diagnostic tool in terms of future brain injury and cognitive decline at very low cost, compared to more expensive ambulatory BP methods, say the researchers. Further, these findings indicate that the target of concern for relations between variability and cognition are important in treatment-resistant hypertension, where BP is not reduced to acceptable levels.
Research literature suggests that averaged BP values do not capture the beat-to-beat high and low values in BP, which may be more destructive to the brain than high steady-state average pressure on the arterial wall.
The Maine-Syracuse Study, initiated in 1975, was the first longitudinal study specifically devoted to the study of hypertension and cognitive performance and has been supported by the National Institute on Aging and the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute of NIH for many years. UMaine’s MSLS investigators include Georgina Crichton, who also is affiliated with the National Physiology Research Centre, University of South Australia. Crichton, the lead author of the journal article, had research support from the National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia.
Other members of the UMaine research team: Merrill Elias and Michael Robbins, faculty members in the Department of Psychology and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Maine; Gregory Dore, a former UMaine student now at the National Institute of Aging in Baltimore; and Rachel Torres, an undergraduate research assistant in psychology.
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 581.3745
It’s an oft-repeated phrase that the early bird gets the worm.
And, according to a collaborative study between the University of Maine and University of Nevada, Reno, it’s also true that a greater sage-grouse that lays her eggs earliest, lays the most eggs.
During a 10-year study of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in Eureka County, Nevada, UMaine wildlife biologist Erik Blomberg found the single most-important determining factor of clutch size (number of eggs a hen lays in one nest) was the date the clutch was started.
Clutches laid earlier in the season had, on average, more eggs than those laid later in the season. The earliest clutches contained, on average, twice as many eggs as those laid later in the season.
The span of time during which greater sage-grouse laid eggs varied as much as 67 days in one nesting season, which typically occurs during April and May. The average clutch contained seven or eight eggs.
Similar seasonal patterns have been demonstrated in a number of other avian species.
The results are important, Blomberg says, as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering greater sage-grouse — a large ground-nesting species that resides in western North America where sagebrush dominates the landscape — as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The “sagebrush sea” where they breed is an imperiled ecosystem due to residential development, oil and gas drilling, wind farms, invasive plant species and other human uses of land, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
“An important finding from this work is that clutch size in greater sage-grouse is influenced by the same evolutionary factors that we see throughout the avian world,” says Blomberg.
“This means that general principles of conservation known to benefit populations of other species (improvements to habitat quality that increase the availability of food resources to pre-breeding females) are likely to also be a good fit to the life histories of sage-grouse.”
Blomberg and his colleagues found that females laid more eggs during wetter years and at high-elevation sites, which also suggest that a degree of large-scale resource availability affects the numbers of a clutch.
Females that entered breeding season in better than average condition also laid more eggs. This was particularly true for second clutches laid after the females’ first nesting attempts had failed, which Blomberg says also indicates that food availability affects how many eggs a female sage-grouse will lay in a single clutch.
Studies conducted in northern latitudes consistently reported larger clutches for sage-grouse than those done at southern latitudes, according to the researchers. This pattern has been demonstrated repeatedly with bird species around the world, he says.
The research team located 400 sage-grouse nests using radio-telemetry, and flushed the females to record the number of eggs in each nest and to measure the size of the eggs.
The study, titled “Individual and environmental effects on egg allocations of female Greater Sage-Grouse,” was published in The Auk; Ornithological Advances. The study team included Daniel Gibson, Michael T. Atamian and James S. Sedinger, all affiliated with the University of Nevada, Reno.
Contact: Beth Staples, 581.3777
Nicholas Giudice knows what it’s like to be vision-impaired, and he’s using his personal experiences and research background to develop an affordable tool to help others in the blind and low-vision community in school, on the job and with independent travel.
Improving access to and the comprehension of visual material such as charts and maps is the focus of a National Science Foundation-sponsored project led by Giudice, an associate professor in the University of Maine’s School of Computing and Information Science. The research aims to develop and evaluate an intuitive, low-cost tool to aid the interpretation of graphic data for those who can’t rely on vision to do so.
The ability to effectively use and accurately understand graphs, figures and other visual representations of numeric data is critical for success in the classroom and at work, Giudice says. Spatial learning and navigating in and outside the home also frequently depend on the use of maps and other graphical aids, which can be challenging for blind people to use, he says.
The World Health Organization estimates vision impairment affects as many as 285 million people worldwide, with numbers expected to rise due to the aging population. About 11 percent of blind or low-vision people have a bachelor’s degree and 75 percent are unemployed, according to Giudice. He says providing blind people with a way to process graphics will boost their employability, as well as confidence, independence and overall quality of life.
The tool has the potential to reduce the information gap between blind people and their sighted peers, Giudice says, giving an example of a teacher displaying a diagram to a class. Instead of relying on descriptions from the teacher, a student who can’t see could pull up the same image on a handheld device and use touch and audio to comprehend what the other students see.
“Many jobs deal with graphics and interpreting them,” Giudice says. “If this tool is developed, deployed and broadly implemented, it would make blind people more confident. Employers would see it’s no big deal if someone can’t see a graphic as long as they can understand and interpret it, and can act upon it.”
Gaining access to these forms of information is often difficult and expensive, Giudice says, citing as an example a printer worth thousands of dollars that creates tactile graphics but can only be used for one purpose.
By developing software that works on commercial, multifunctional and portable hardware such as smartphones and tablets, the tool Giudice and his team create would be readily available and comparably inexpensive.
Screen-reading software that uses text-to-speech is helpful for written material but lacks the ability to convey graphic elements, Giudice says. His proposed tool would present graphics on the touchscreen of a device equipped with a vibration motor.
The tool would allow users to experience touch combined with vibration, or vibrotactile feedback, when they touch a graphic element perceived as points, lines or regions, similar to feeling traditional hard-copy graphics. Sound would be used to enhance the vibrotactile information, creating a vibro-audio approach to materials traditionally processed strictly by vision.
Giudice would like to eventually pair the tool with a real-time map that automatically updates using GPS when the user moves, helping the 70 percent of people with little to no vision who don’t navigate independently outside their home.
Giudice’s research in spatial informatics and cognitive neuroscience is guided by his own experiences of living with vision impairment. The core of his research is multimodal spatial cognition — how we learn about, think about and act in space using different senses. Through personal experiences and research, Giudice has found many spatial tasks done with vision can be completed equally well using other senses.
“If you touch a desk as opposed to seeing it, your brain processes the desk edges and recognizes it as a desk. It doesn’t care how it got the information,” says Giudice, who also directs the Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction (VEMI) Laboratory, which houses the university’s first, and Maine’s only, virtual reality research facility.
Giudice has a preference for working with the sense of touch because it’s more closely related to vision than the other senses and shares a lot of the same properties, he says.
The new project, “Non-visual access to graphical information using a vibro-audio display,” recently received $177,568 from the National Science Foundation — the first installment of a three-year $500,000 grant.
The research team is at the early stage of the project, developing a tool that best works with how people process tactile information; discovering an intuitive approach is the team’s first task.
“We know this can work, but to make sure it can be used commercially, we need to understand about cognitive factors, how well it can work compared to hard-copy or traditional tactile approaches,” Giudice says.
Initial data has shown learning similar to that achieved using printed lines is possible using a vibro-audio approach for graphs and shapes, Giudice says, but the process needs to be optimized.
“Early research has worked amazingly well, there’s a lot of potential here. But there’s still a lot we don’t know,” Giudice says, such as determining the best alignment, vibration and resolution.
Preliminary work on map panning and zooming has also been done, he says, adding his team plans to develop software to manipulate on-screen movement; a common practice, especially for reading maps, that’s difficult without sight.
In the future, Giudice would like the tool to be available as an app, or multiple apps, that could be used to supplement existing apps, such as Google Maps.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
While evolution often evokes thoughts about ancient origins of life, University of Maine researcher Michael Kinnison says applied evolutionary biology is about improving the future — including pressing matters of day-to-day life and issues of international policy.
A paper by lead authors from the University of Copenhagen and the University of California, Davis, as well as Kinnison, highlights ways in which food security, human health and biodiversity can benefit in the short- and long-term by using principles of evolutionary biology.
The paper published online Sept. 11 at Science Express indicates when evolution is overlooked the prevailing approaches to treat human disease, reduce agricultural pests and manage at-risk wildlife can be detrimental to achieving sustainable solutions and exacerbate the very problems they’re trying to prevent.
“Applying evolutionary biology has tremendous potential because it takes into account how unwanted pests or pathogens may adapt rapidly to our interventions and how highly valued species, including humans …, are often very slow to adapt to changing environments through evolution,” says Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, a lead author from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen.
“Not considering such aspects may result in outcomes opposite of those desired, making the pests more resistant to our actions, humans more exposed to diseases, and vulnerable species less able to cope with new conditions.”
Prior research by Kinnison, professor of evolutionary applications, heightened awareness that evolution is a surprisingly dynamic process, often fastest on the shortest time frames — even in one or two generations — and is extensively shaped by human activities. Much of his research considers human evolutionary effects on fish and wildlife populations.
Prime examples affecting humans include pathogens and pests that quickly evolve resistance to antibiotics and pesticides.
“Uncontrolled evolution is often outpacing our best technology,” he says.
For instance, Kinnison and his collaborators note there are more than 11,000 documented cases of pesticide resistance in about 1,000 species of insects and weeds, and that plant pathogens jeopardize agricultural economies and food supplies worldwide.
And, the World Health Organization has warned that microbial resistance to antimicrobial drugs threatens achievements of modern medicine.
“But there is more to this than doom and gloom,” Kinnison says. “A major emphasis of our article is that there are some amazingly creative solutions being applied to manage evolutionary challenges and that these approaches can often be shared and adapted to meet new challenges.”
For example, farmers in the U.S. and Australia set aside pest-friendly refuges, or havens, to delay the evolution of insect resistance to costly chemical controls and genetically engineered crops that support the most production.
Researchers say these refuges have effectively suppressed resistance in the pink bollworm, an invasive pest of cotton.
The paper’s authors suggest refuge strategies may be adapted to broader applications, including preserving the economic value of fisheries and improving outcomes in cancer treatment.
Applied evolution is showing up in some surprising places. The U.S. Atlantic Salmon Recovery Program, and similar programs that use artificial breeding efforts to supplement dwindling wild populations, historically focused on avoiding losses of genetic variation.
These programs now also prioritize a need to avoid inadvertent adaptation of fish to captivity.
Research indicates salmon and other fish adapt rapidly to living in captivity and become dependent on humans, which Kinnison says negatively impacts their ability to survive in the wild.
Fisheries scientists thus seek to limit the number of generations that endangered salmon are bred in captivity and seek opportunities to incorporate new genetic contributions from wild fish.
To show the broad application of evolution to global challenges, the authors promote a simple framework for evolutionary management strategies based on adaptive “match” or “mismatch.”
Researchers say this framework reveals approaches that might otherwise be missed as evolutionary and is applicable to both fast- and slow-evolving species.
Scott P. Carroll, biologist at the University of California Davis and director of the Institute for Contemporary Evolution, says sharing ideas and strategies is particularly important to prevent the spread of new infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance genes between natural, agricultural and human health systems.
The authors emphasize coordinating applied evolutionary principles across these traditionally isolated sectors and, in some cases, at international scales, will be necessary.
They highlight as an example the dual use of antibiotics in human health and food production. Livestock around the planet are given antimicrobial drugs to increase meat production. The astronomical number of livestock greatly increases the opportunity for evolution of resistant pathogens that might harm humans where animal and human antibiotics overlap in mechanism.
Those resistant pathogens can spread through global trade and, in some cases, exchange resistance genes with other strains, say the researchers.
Use of antibiotics in agricultural animals has been implicated in the origins of resistant Escherichia coli found in people afflicted with a potentially fatal whole-body inflammation.
“It’s sobering to think that farming practices in one part of the world might give rise to pathogens affecting human populations elsewhere,” Kinnison says.
“We need international policies that help mitigate such challenges.”
Jørgensen agrees that policy and coordination are critical.
“By using regulatory and redistribution tools, local communities and governments play a crucial role in ensuring that everybody gains from the benefits of using evolutionary biology to realize the long-term goals of sustainable development such as increasing food security, protecting biodiversity and improving human health and well-being,” he says.
Jørgensen will present the research team’s perspective during the Oct. 22-24 Sustainability Science Congress in Copenhagen. The study is online.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
What’s it like to weather a perfect storm?
Engineers at the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center and Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) soon will find out.
They’ll have the capability to create one.
Earlier this summer, UMaine broke ground for an $8 million facility that will house W² — the world’s first wind and wave lab to feature a rotating open-jet wind tunnel above a 100-foot-long by 30-foot-wide by 15-foot-deep wave basin.
Waves and wind can be created from different directions converging at a point and creating a perfect storm. The W² facility is an expansion of the UMaine Composites Center, which will increase in size from 83,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet.
“Our current 83,000-square-foot laboratory is used to design, fabricate and test large structures under simulated static, fatigue, earthquake, wind and vehicular loads, and has been doing so for clients around the world for nearly 18 years,” says Habib Dagher, professor of civil/structural engineering, Bath Iron Works Professor of Structural Engineering and founding director of the UMaine Composites Center.
“With the W² facility, we are adding more capabilities to test advanced structures under combined aero- and hydrodynamics loadings.”
UMaine and its partners — including students, MMA engineer Rich Kimball and industrial colleagues — will be able to assume the role of Mother Nature in the wind-wave generating lab.
A wave maker at one end of the basin will be capable of creating waves of varying frequency and as high as 2 feet. The rotating open-wind jet tunnel will produce wind that howls as fast as 22 mph and that can be manipulated to change direction. Scientists also will be able to move the basin’s concrete floor up and down to model a variety of ocean depths.
Picture scenes from The Perfect Storm and The Truman Show.
But rather than stage movie scenes, W² will allow researchers to physically replicate a myriad of realistic, to-scale ocean conditions — in the Gulf of Maine, Gulf of California, Gulf of Mexico, Canada’s eastern seaboard, the North Sea and the Persian Gulf.
“This is a huge opportunity. It’s a landmark,” says Dagher.
Offshore wind turbines, tidal energy devices, seafaring vessels and oil and gas rigs will be able to be tested under a variety of wind and wave conditions. By directly observing structures’ performances, researchers can expect to improve the structures’ respective designs.
“Wind squall, where winds change direction and intensity rapidly, is an important design condition for many ship-shaped structures producing oil and gas in various parts of the world. We can simulate such an environment in W²,” says Krish Thiagarajan, Correll Presidential Chair in Energy and professor of mechanical engineering at UMaine.
And, a beach at one end of the wave basin will enable coastal engineers to study erosion, seawalls, breakwaters, and the impact of sea-level rise on communities. The facility, says Dagher, could also be geared for aquaculture structures research.
For Dagher, Thiagarajan and fellow engineers in the UMaine Composites Center, including Andrew Goupee and Qinping Zou, W² will be an integral addition to the adjacent University of Maine Offshore Wind Laboratory.
There, UMaine scientists are developing commercial technologies to harness power from deepwater offshore wind. In May 2013, UMaine and its partners launched VolturnUs 1:8, the nation’s first grid-connected offshore wind turbine.
The 65-foot-tall semisubmersible floating turbine has a foundation of hollow concrete tubes, catenary mooring lines and a composite materials tower. During its approximate yearlong mooring off the coast of Castine, it collected valuable data to advance its design and performance. VolturnUS 1:8 is a scale prototype for a 6-megawatt floating wind turbine with blades the length of a Boeing 747′s wingspan.
W², says Dagher, will further enable UMaine scientists to research how offshore wind can be cost-effectively harnessed. Studies indicate offshore wind energy capacity within 50 miles of the United States is four times the nation’s current total generation capacity.
Company leaders from a variety of fields surveyed around the country have expressed interest in advancing their respective technologies at the laboratory, says Dagher.
They’ll have to be patient, though.
UMaine is scheduled for the first project when the world-class physical modeling environment is complete in May 2015 — testing a vertical-axis floating wind turbine.
W² was designed and is being built in conjunction with partners Sandia National Laboratories, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and MMA.
Cianbro Corp. is constructing the facility and Tom Perkins of Dirigo Architectural Engineering LLC in Turner is project manager.
The $8 million investment to design, construct and equip the W² facility was secured from outside the university, including successful grant proposals from the National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation program and the Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.
“It was a dream that we have been working hard to design and finance for six years, and now it’s being built; I cannot wait to see industry and students using it,” Dagher says.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
The Southern Ocean that encircles Antarctica lends a considerable hand in keeping Earth’s temperature hospitable by soaking up half of the human-made carbon in the atmosphere and a majority of the planet’s excess heat.
Yet, the inner workings — and global importance — of this ocean that accounts for 30 percent of the world’s ocean area remain relatively unknown to scientists, as dangerous seas have hindered observations.
Princeton University and 10 partner institutions seek to make the Southern Ocean better known scientifically and publicly through a $21 million program that will create a biogeochemical and physical portrait of the ocean using hundreds of robotic floats deployed around Antarctica.
In addition, NASA awarded $600,000 to the University of Maine, in collaboration with Rutgers University and scientists from the above project, for a complementary project that equips the floats with bio-optical sensors that gather data about biological processes in the water column.
UMaine oceanographer Emmanuel Boss, an expert in marine optics and in the use of optical sensors to study ocean biogeochemistry, is leading the companion project.
The Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling program, or SOCCOM, is a six-year initiative headquartered at Princeton and funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs, with additional support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA.
“SOCCOM will enable top scientists from institutions around the country to work together on Southern Ocean research in ways that would not otherwise be possible,” says SOCCOM director Jorge Sarmiento, Princeton’s George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering and director of the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.
“The scarcity of observations in the Southern Ocean and inadequacy of earlier models, combined with its importance to the Earth’s carbon and climate systems, mean there is tremendous potential for groundbreaking research in this region,” Sarmiento says.
About 200 floats outfitted with biogeochemical sensors that provide near-continuous information related to the ocean’s carbon, nutrient (nitrate, in particular) and oxygen content, both at and deep beneath the surface, are central to the study.
The floats are augmented biogeochemical versions of the nearly 4,000 Argo floats deployed worldwide to measure ocean salinity and temperature. SOCCOM marks the first large-scale deployment of these biogeochemical floats.
“These floats are revolutionary and this major new observational initiative will give us unprecedented year-round coverage of biogeochemistry in the Southern Ocean,” Sarmiento says.
The floats will increase the monthly data currently coming out of the Southern Ocean by 10 to 30 times, Sarmiento says.
The data will be used to improve recently developed high-resolution earth-system models, which will advance understanding of the Southern Ocean and allow for projections of Earth’s climate and biogeochemical trajectory.
Boss says the additional optical sensors measure backscattering of light, which provides information about particles — including bacteria and phytoplankton in the water — and measure chlorophyll fluorescence — a pigment unique to phytoplankton.
The information will help NASA verify data that its satellites glean daily, extend the product to depth, and help improve currently used algorithms.
In keeping with SOCCOM’s knowledge sharing, or “broader impacts,” component, all the information collected will be freely available to the public, researchers and industry.
SOCCOM will provide direct observations to further understand the importance of the Southern Ocean as suggested by models and ocean studies. Aside from carbon and heat uptake, models have indicated the Southern Ocean delivers nutrients to lower-latitude surface waters that are critical to ocean ecosystems around the world.
In addition, the impacts of ocean acidification as levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increase are projected to be most severe in the Southern Ocean.
Boss says the Southern Ocean — the second smallest of the planet’s five primary oceans — has a disproportionate role in climate regulation. Carbon stored deep in the ocean comes to the surface here and some is released into the atmosphere — however, given the increase in atmospheric CO2 in past decades, much less is released than would be expected.
He says there is still much to learn about this ocean’s significant role in climate regulation.
“It’s a hard area to study,” Boss says of the ocean that encircles Antarctica. “Because there are no barriers, the current is extremely strong. It has some of the roughest seas in the world.”
Other than administering the project, Sarmiento and other Princeton researchers will co-lead the modeling and broader impacts components, as well as coordinated data management. Researchers from NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory housed on Princeton’s Forrestal Campus will carry out high-resolution earth-system simulations in support of the modeling effort, which is led by the University of Arizona and includes collaborators from the University of Miami.
The floats will be constructed at the University of Washington with sensors from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; NOAA’s Climate Program Office will provide half of the basic Argo floats. Float deployment, observation analysis and data assimilation will be led by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego. Climate Central, a nonprofit science and journalism organization based in Princeton, will oversee the broader-impacts component. Researchers from Oregon State University and NOAA will develop the floats’ carbon algorithms.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Editor’s note: This is an edited version of the original story.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud welcomed top officials from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to Castine on Sept. 5 to celebrate a successful year of the VolturnUS floating wind turbine deployed off Castine.
“This anniversary is another great day for our state, the university and its many partners, and for the advancement of clean, renewable energy for our nation,” said Collins. “This is a remarkable achievement and confirms my belief that the most innovative and dedicated wind energy researchers in the world are working right here in Maine.”
Michaud said the VolturnUS wind turbine is an incredible project and a great example of the type of forward-thinking ideas that can strengthen our economy in the years to come and define Maine as a leader in innovative technologies.
“The UMaine team has done incredible work to get not just VolturnUS up and running, but many other promising initiatives as well. I look forward to continuing to partner with them on advancing these projects that will strengthen Maine’s economy,” he said.
The federal officials were joined by representatives from the University of Maine, Maine Maritime Academy and Cianbro, who discussed highlights of the yearlong deployment off the coast of Castine. VolturnUS, a one-eighth scale model of a 6 MW floating wind turbine with more than 50 sensors on board, has been successfully operating and collecting data related to design capabilities for more than a year, including throughout the Maine winter.
Among the data highlights:
In addition, as part of the event, DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson signed a $3.97 million cooperative research agreement with UMaine, of which is $3 million in DOE funding and $970,000 in cost share, to continue the design and engineering work of the full-scale VolturnUS floating hull.
The other members of the Congressional Delegation also sent congratulations on the VolturnUS project.
“I am pleased to offer my congratulations to the University of Maine as it welcomes this important award and celebrates more than a year of continued success by VolturnUS. This pioneering project represents the next generation of wind technology, and it has the potential to revolutionize how we think about and how we utilize our energy resources. Today’s investment by the Department of Energy is another milestone in its progress and is a renewed recognition of the excellent work done by so many across Maine who will continue to strive to secure a more sustainable and environmentally friendly energy future through VolturnUS,” said Sen. Angus King.
“This project is an example of two of Maine’s most valuable resources at work: offshore wind that can become a new source of clean energy and the ingenuity and technical skill that can harness that wind. Maine is uniquely positioned to be a leader in offshore wind technology and this successful demonstration project is proof of that,” said Rep. Chellie Pingree.
“We appreciate the continued support of the Department of Energy in the University of Maine’s ongoing efforts in deepwater offshore wind technology research and development,” said UMaine President Susan Hunter. “It’s through partnerships like this in the federal, state, education and industry sectors that the University of Maine most efficiently and effectively addresses the needs of the state.”
The VolturnUS floating turbine is a patent-pending technology developed at the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Laboratory by UMaine and Cianbro personnel. In June 2013, it became the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine deployed in the Americas, and the first floating turbine in the world designed using a concrete hull and a composites material tower to reduce costs and create local jobs. The turbine is a 1:8 geometric scale test program to prepare for the construction of a larger 6 MW floating turbine. The project brought together more than 30 organizations as part of the DeepCwind Consortium, led by UMaine and funded through a competitive DOE grant and industry contributions.
“The success of the VolturnUS 1:8 test project deployed off Castine is a critical milestone on our path to allow us to economically harness the enormous wind power far offshore the U.S.” said Habib Dagher, director of UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center. “The VolturnUS concrete floating hull technology has the potential to harness over 50 percent of the U.S. 4,000 GW offshore wind resource. With 156 GW of offshore wind capacity off the Maine coast, and 4,000 GW off the U.S. coast, we have an opportunity to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, stabilize energy prices over the long run, help protect the environment, stimulate local economic activity and create a new industry.”
Contact: Joshua Plourde, 207.581.2117
An award-winning scholar specializing in feminism, politics and global affairs will talk about the role of women in war at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 16, in Minsky Recital Hall at the University of Maine.
Clark University political scientist Cynthia Enloe will discuss “Where are Women in Violent Conflicts? Finding out will Make us Smarter!” She plans to address situations in Syria, Ukraine, Gaza and Israel during the free, public lecture.
“I think it’s important to learn where the women are in war and where the men are in war,” she says. “They are quite different experiences.”
In 2011 in Syria, women were active in open pro-democracy protests against the Assad regime, Enloe says. Today, she says, women are absent from media coverage in Syria except in photographs of displaced people.
Enloe also will talk with students, staff and community members during a meet-and-greet reception 2–3:30 p.m. Sept. 16, in the FFA Room in Memorial Union.
Her interest in global affairs was cultivated by reading the New York Herald Tribune and The New York Times delivered to her parents’ doorstep in Long Island, New York.
“I think that really had an effect on me — both in the sense of keeping up with what is going on in the world and wanting to become part of the world,” Enloe says.
She has done both. Her career has included Fulbrights in Malaysia and Guyana; guest professorships in Japan, Britain and Canada; and lectures in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Germany, Korea and Turkey. She also has authored more than a dozen books.
Enloe says she was drawn to books about foreign policy when she worked at a publishing company in New York after earning an undergraduate degree at Connecticut College for Women. At the University of California, Berkeley, where she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees, Enloe says a seminar on Southeast Asia further piqued her interest.
“I was off and running,” she says.
Stefano Tijerina, Libra Professor of International Relations at UMaine, invited Enloe to share her expertise with UMaine and the surrounding community.
He credits her with opening his eyes and mind to comparative politics and to issues of social justice during his undergraduate classes at Clark, where Enloe has three times received the Outstanding Teacher Award.
Tijerina, who grew up in Colombia and Texas, says Enloe promotes examining topics from a variety of angles and perspectives — including culture, race, gender and class — to gain deeper appreciation and understanding.
Enloe’s honors include the International Studies Association’s Susan Strange Award, the Susan B. Northcutt Award and the Peace and Justice Studies Association’s Howard Zinn Lifetime Achievement Award.
Lecture sponsors are the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program; School of Policy and International Affairs; and UMaine’s History and Political Science departments.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Saturday, Sept. 6 is World Shorebirds’ Day — a time to celebrate “fantastic migrants.” For biologists Rebecca Holberton and Lindsay Tudor, nearly every day is World Shorebirds’ Day.
They’re in the midst of a two-year study of one of those fantastic migrants — the semipalmated sandpipers (Calidris pusilla). Named for the short webs between their toes, the small sandpipers scurry synchronously on black stilt-like legs, “cherking” and searching for food on the shore.
This year, like last, Holberton, a professor at the University of Maine, and Tudor, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIF&W), are conducting health assessments and placing “nano tags” — or very small VHF radio transmitters — on sandpipers.
By monitoring the semipalmated sandpipers’ movements, the scientists learn more about the birds’ stay on the Maine coast during their migration from the Arctic to South America.
In 2013, the first year of the study, Holberton, Tudor and UMaine graduate student Sean Rune learned that during the sandpipers’ stopover in Down East, Maine, they moved between feeding sites along upper Pleasant River, upper Harrington River and Flat Bay during low tide and roosted on offshore ledges at high tide.
Hatching-year birds ate and rested an average of 17.5 days in Maine and adults stayed an average of 12.4 days. Adult semipalmated sandpipers weighed, on average, 5 grams more than hatching-year birds on their first migration.
The young sandpipers, on their first migration and new to this area, may have needed more time to gain enough weight for the energy reserves they needed to fly nonstop to their wintering grounds, Holberton says.
Tudor says it’s easy to be a fan of the little balls of fluff that nearly double their body weight to a hefty 1.4 ounces while resting and refueling during their two- to three-week time in Maine.
When the peeps have packed on sufficient weight, they soar 10,000 to 15,000 feet above the Maine coastline to head out over the ocean and catch a good tail wind. If all goes well, they’ll arrive in South America two to four days later.
One of the species’ many talents — in addition to making their way back to their exact same wintering site each season — is the ability to break down lipids in their fat-filled fuel tank under the skin to power their nonstop 3,000-mile journey over the Atlantic Ocean.
Sandpipers don’t put down in the ocean as they can’t tolerate the cold water, says Tudor, which makes their stay on the Maine coast critical to a successful final leg of their uninterrupted migratory flight to South America.
“When in Maine, they’re our (the public) responsibility, our birds,” Tudor says.” We want to know if the habitat (in Maine) is meeting the birds’ needs.”
Studies indicate that since the 1970s the number of these feathered vertebrates has plummeted 80 percent in North America, Tudor says.
The population decline isn’t exclusive to semipalmated sandpipers. Globally, one in eight, or more than 1,300 bird species, are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International as reported in National Geographic.
This project increases the researchers’ knowledge about reasons for the nosedive in numbers of semipalmated sandpipers and points to which of its life stages are most perilous.
Semipalmated sandpipers face a variety of challenges, Holberton and Tudor say, including climate change in the Arctic where they breed, loss of coastal habitat along their migration route, and being the target of hunters on the coast of South America where they winter.
The 5-to-6-inch-tall birds are opportunists that feed on intertidal invertebrates at the interface of land and sea. Thus, they’re an indicator species for the health of mudflats as well as sentinels for the natural world in general, Holberton says.
“The Gulf of Maine ecosystem is really facing challenges,” Holberton says. “We share resources and if birds are in trouble then so are we. This is another piece of the puzzle.”
The research, funded by Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, Eastern Maine Conservation Initiative, Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, utilizes 50 automated VHF telemetry receiver towers that range from the Bay of Fundy to Cape Cod.
The nano tags and towers enable the scientists to track the birds when they arrive in Maine and when they leave. Data is fed into a repository coordinated by Phil Taylor at Acadia University.
Tudor and Holberton are pleased the semipalmated sandpipers’ project has expanded; this summer, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is conducting similar research at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells. Comparing the data from Down East with data from southern Maine will be interesting and insightful, says Tudor.
The MDIF&W reviews permits for shoreland development and makes recommendations for conservation management plans for high-value habitats. Tudor says it’s important to know if the initiatives are working and whether birds’ needs are being met.
Using binoculars to watch migrating sandpipers and other shorebirds is a great way to celebrate World Shorebirds’ Day, say the scientists; it’s important for people, and dogs, to give them space so they can eat and rest for their upcoming journey.
Tudor and Holberton encourage bird enthusiasts to participate in bird counts and to contact their local Audubon Society for suggestions on ways to assist birds. Holberton invites bird watchers to like the Gulf of Maine Birdwatch page on Facebook.
Contact: Beth Staples: 207.581.3777
Old-timers sharing childhood stories about growing up in Maine sometimes recount hiking 10 miles uphill in 3 feet of snow to get to school — and home.
Turns out those tales, of Maine winters anyway, might not be all that exaggerated.
In the winter of 1904–05, horses pulled huge saws to cut channels in foot-thick ice on Penobscot Bay so maritime traders could deliver goods. And in the winter of 1918, people walked, skated and rode in horse-drawn sleighs across the frozen bay to Islesboro, according to the Belfast Historical Society and Museum.
That same winter, Albert Gray and his companions drove a vehicle across the frozen-solid brine. According to a Bangor Daily News report, the group made several trips in a Ford Model T between Belfast and Harborside, just south of Castine.
Historical records indicate upper Penobscot Bay commonly froze during the winter in the 1800s and early 1900s, says Sean Birkel, research assistant professor with the University of Maine Climate Change Institute (CCI). “Not every year; maybe once or twice a decade.”
February 1934 was the last time it occurred.
Today’s climate is different, he says.
For instance, summer — when the mean daily temperature is above freezing — is about 20 days longer now than it was on average in the late 1800s.
“The lakes really do freeze up later, and ice out is earlier than it used to be,” says Birkel, adding that computer models predict that over the next 40 years, the average temperature in Maine could rise 3–4 degrees Fahrenheit, with most of the warming taking place in winter.
And the number of extreme weather events — like the record-breaking 6.44 inches of rain that flooded Portland on Aug. 13 — has spiked in the last 10 years. Birkel says a 50 to 100 percent increase in rainfall events with more than 2 inches per day has been recorded at weather stations across the state.
The rise of extreme events, including heat and cold waves, is likely tied to the steep decline of Arctic sea ice since about 2000, Birkel says. Studies show rapid warming over the Arctic is changing circulation patterns across the Northern Hemisphere.
In particular, jet stream winds are slowing, which increases the likelihood of blocking events that hold a weather pattern — including heat and cold waves — in place for several days, he says. When blocked patterns finally dissipate, they tend to do so with powerful storm fronts.
Computer models generally predict that in the future, extreme weather events will be the norm, he says.
Birkel and other CCI researchers have developed online tools to assist local community planners prepare for climate changes. The tools — Climate Reanalyzer, 10Green and CLAS Layers — will be explained at the CLAS (Climate Change Adaptation and Sustainability) Conference on Thursday, Oct. 23 at UMaine.
The tools provide users access to station data, climate and weather models, and pollution and health indices, he says.
Paul Mayewski, director of UMaine’s CCI, says the CLAS software explains past, present and future changes in climate at the community level and introduces a “planning system that invokes plausible scenarios at the community level where local knowledge can be applied to produce local solutions.”
For instance, city leaders considering opening a cooling center for residents can review projections for future frequency of heat waves. Medical care workers can assess the potential for increase in Lyme tick disease. And community planners preparing to replace storm water drains can examine predicted precipitation in coming decades.
Esperanza Stancioff, climate change educator with UMaine Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant, says coastal residents and communities need strategies to address sea-level rise and coastal flooding which will result, in part, to melting glaciers and polar ice caps.
UMaine Extension and Maine Sea Grant are among those working with coastal community leaders to help minimize potential hazards to fisheries, aquaculture, working waterfronts and tourism by implementing resilient coastal development strategies and practices, Stancioff says.
Ivan Fernandez, Distinguished Maine Professor in the School of Forest Resources and CCI, says understanding how Maine’s climate is changing is critical for informed risk assessment and cost-effective adaptation.
Warming of the Gulf of Maine impacts the risk of lobster disease as well as market uncertainty, Fernandez says. He points to summer 2012 when warming ocean water resulted in a glut of lobsters and a subsequent bust in prices. In agriculture, rising temperatures can result in an increase of insects and disease, Fernandez says, as well as crop damage and soil erosion due to intense precipitation events.
Opportunities also could result from the changing climate, says Fernandez, including longer growing seasons and emerging shipping lanes in the Arctic Sea due to the receding of the polar ice sheet.
It’s important for businesses to prepare for such changes, says conference presenter John F. Mahon, the John M. Murphy Chair of International Business Policy and Strategy and Professor of Management at UMaine.
“Business has to be engaged with government and other organizations at the local and national level,” says Mahon.
“One of the more useful tools for doing this is the use of plausible scenario planning (PSP). In PSP, we try to envision several plausible futures with equal likelihood of happening and develop a set of ‘warnings’ or ‘indicators’ that tell us which one of the several futures we have identified is unfolding so that we can adapt to it in the most efficient, economical and effective manner.”
On a global scale, Mayewski says climate change is a security issue, as it “impacts human and ecosystem health, the economy; intensifies geopolitical stress; and increases the likelihood of storms, floods, droughts, wildfires and other extreme events.”
In 2012, for instance, 11 weather and climate disasters worldwide killed more than 300 people and caused more than $110 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center. The disasters included Hurricane Sandy and the largest drought since the 1930s — which also worsened wildfires that burned more than 9 million acres.
The CLAS framework soon will be expanded to encompass national and international planning capability, says Mayewski, who was featured in Years of Living Dangerously, a nine-part documentary about climate change that Aug. 16 won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.
The CLAS conference, slated from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 23 at Wells Conference Center, costs $45; registration is required by Oct. 13 at online.
Contact: Beth Staples: 207.581.3777