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Public Health and Safety

Marcella Sorg, University of Maine research associate professor, is collaborating with the Office of Chief Medical Examiner to examine information about people involved in deaths resulting from shootings, stabbings, beatings and hangings in order to develop an understanding of circumstances that may have led to the violence.

Sorg and retired state of Maine chief medical examiner Margaret Greenwald will spearhead the project that probes the relationship between domestic abuse, homicide and suicide so that intervention efforts can be tailored to save lives.

They will lead Maine and Vermont’s participation in the federal CDC’s surveillance system that studies circumstances associated with violent deaths. Twenty-nine other states also are participating. Greenwald and Sorg are particularly interested in looking at domestic violence and its effect on suicides that are not part of a murder/suicide incident.

Maine and Vermont have higher-than-average rates of violent deaths, specifically firearm and poisoning suicides, Sorg says.

Although Maine and Vermont officials have goals to reduce violence and injury, they lack surveillance systems that can gather and aggregate high-quality circumstantial and incident-based information and disseminate it to agencies and organizations that might implement appropriate prevention strategies to reduce the rate of death and injury, she says.

An additional technical problem, says Sorg, is rooted in Maine and Vermont’s low-density, rural population distribution and the resulting suppression of some vital records totals, even at the state level, due to small numbers.

A nearly $1 million five-year grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will fund the analyses. Sorg and Greenwald will dig into the “who, what, when, where and how” of violent deaths — homicides, suicides and undetermined — in the Pine Tree and Green Mountain states.

Beginning in 2015, Sorg and Greenwald will send data to the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) to link details from medical examiners files and law enforcement reports of those who perished in violent manners.

They’ll review evidence about victims and perpetrators, including age, income, education, method of death, relationship between offenders and victims and whether depression, financial stressors, job loss and alcohol and other drugs were present.

“We’ll collect data on the circumstances surrounding the entire event,” Sorg says. “We’ll be looking for characteristics of all the people involved, including the perpetrator, even if the perpetrator doesn’t die. Our surveillance will focus not on the individual but on the whole incident.”

Such information is powerful, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said when announcing the grant.

“Knowing the circumstances of violent deaths will help identify the very best prevention efforts,” she said.

The CDC, says Sorg, views violent death as a public health problem. And this project at the interface of public health and public safety provides a promising opportunity for intervention and prevention, she says.

That opportunity will be welcome in Maine, where 12 of the 25 homicides in 2013 were categorized as domestic homicides and 11 of the 25 homicides in 2012 were characterized as such.

Of 21 cases reviewed of homicides that occurred between 2009 and 2013, 17 of the 27 victims were female and 20 of the 21 perpetrators were male, according to “The 10th Report of the Maine Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel — Building Bridges Towards Safety and Accountability,” released in April 2014.

Victims ranged in age from 6 weeks to 76 years old and perpetrators ranged in age from 17 to 85 years old.

Of the 21 perpetrators, 14 exhibited suicidal behavior prior to committing or attempting to commit homicide. And, of the 14 who had exhibited suicidal behavior before the crime, seven did kill themselves after attempting to commit or committing the homicide, according to the same report.

Sorg and Greenwald also teamed up in 2001 to compile data on the relationship between substance abuse and drug-related mortality in Maine. Then-Attorney General Steven Rowe described their resulting report as “the foundation upon which to build future drug abuse policy” in Maine.

For decades, Sorg, a research associate professor with the Department of Anthropology, Climate Change Institute and the Margaret Chase Smith Center for Public Policy, has shared her expertise in Maine and around the world.

In 2012, she led a nine-member international forensic team to search for remains of former Grenada Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, who was executed in a coup in October 1983. She directed the two-week dig in an attempt to locate the body of the slain leader, at the request of the Grenada Conference of Churches. The team uncovered bones in an unmarked grave at a public hillside cemetery on the Caribbean island, but they were not Bishop’s.

This fall, Sorg, the forensic anthropologist for the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Delaware and Rhode Island, has worked with anthropology students to examine skeletal remains unearthed adjacent to the Cornish Town Hall in Cornish, Maine. Authorities have indicated the building was built on a cemetery; records indicate one grave there was dug in 1810.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Spruce Budworm Outbreak Preparation Focus of UMaine Conference

To help forest managers prepare for the next spruce budworm outbreak, the University of Maine’s Cooperative Forestry Research Unit (CFRU) is hosting a Spruce Budworm Workshop on Thursday, Oct. 30 at the Wells Conference Center.

Nearly 150 foresters from more than 25 CFRU member organizations will attend the conference to hear about the latest research on the insect.

The spruce budworm is the most damaging forest insect in North America. Returning to northern Maine every 30 to 60 years in a natural cycle, the budworm kills balsam fir and spruce trees. During the last outbreak in the 1970s through ’80s, the insect killed 20–25 million cords of spruce-fir wood across northern Maine, costing the state’s forest-based economy hundreds of millions of dollars. It also changed the course of forest management for the next 40 years.

The next outbreak is approaching. More than 10 million acres of spruce-fir forest have been severely defoliated by spruce budworm caterpillars in Quebec. Affected forests are within a few miles of Maine’s northern border.

Sen. Tom Saviello, representing Maine Senate District 18, will open the meeting. Saviello received his Ph.D. in forest resources from UMaine in 1978 and spent his early career working in Maine’s forest during the last spruce budworm outbreak.

Thirteen forestry experts from across Canada and the United States will describe what is known about spruce budworm populations, forest risks, management responses, and options for controlling the insect and protecting the spruce-fir forest.

UMaine’s CFRU has been collaborating with the Maine Forest Service and Maine Forest Products Council in leading a joint statewide spruce budworm task force. The group has spent the past year preparing a risk assessment and preparation plan for Maine’s forest landowners and forest products industry. A draft report is complete and includes more than 70 recommendations to help forestry professionals respond to the coming outbreak. The task force will release a draft of the report in mid-November to solicit public review and comment on the plan.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Marine Scientist Explores Ecosystem Balancing Act on Caribbean Coral Reefs

University of Maine marine scientist Bob Steneck participated in a study that indicates overfishing and climate change have collided to create a new dynamic on Caribbean coral reefs.

The study, led by University of Exeter geographer Chris Perry, was published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

It highlights the delicate balance between bioerosion caused by feeding and excavating of bioeroders — sea urchins, sponges and parrotfish — with the natural production of carbonate that occurs on coral reefs.

On healthy coral reefs, bioerosion rates can be high, but more carbonate is typically produced than is lost to biological erosion, say the researchers.

But due to warming seas and ocean acidification, Steneck says rates of carbonate production have slowed on many Caribbean coral reefs and coral cover has declined dramatically since the early 1980s.

Still, he says, marked shifts to states of net coral reef erosion have not widely occurred because bioerosion rates experienced by corals have plummeted in recent years due to disease and overfishing of bioeroders that rasp away limestone.

The dynamics are opposite in Maine, Steneck says, because shell-crushing crabs (green, Jonah and rock crabs) have increased in recent decades.

“Marine ecosystems continue to surprise us both here in Maine and in the Caribbean because the cast of characters and the climate both keep changing,” he says.

The study, says Perry, shows the future health and growth potential of coral reefs is, in part, dependent on rates of coral carbonate production and the species that live in and on them and act to erode carbonate.

If historical levels of bioerosion were applied to today’s Caribbean reefs, researchers say there would be widespread destruction, threatening many of the benefits that reefs provide to society.

“If bioeroding species increase in number, and erosion rates increase relative to carbonate production, then this could spell trouble for many Caribbean coral reefs,” Perry says.

That trouble, says Steneck, would include if “bioeroded reefs lose their breakwater function to protect shorelines and they lose their habitat value for reef fish on which many people depend.”

Management efforts are directed at protecting one group of bioeroders — parrotfish. Although parrotfish erode reef substrate, researchers say an increase in the number of parrotfish will benefit reefs because the advantages they provide by removing fleshy macroalgal cover and promoting coral recruitment outweigh negative effects of substrate erosion.

“In essence, we need to work towards restoring the natural balance of ecological and geomorphic processes on coral reefs,” Perry says. “From a bioerosion perspective that may seem counterintuitive, but these species also play a critical role in maintaining reef health.”

In addition to the University of Exeter in England and the University of Maine, the University of Auckland in New Zealand, Memorial University in Canada, James Cook University in Australia and the University of Queensland in Australia took part in the collaborative study. A Leverhulme Trust International Research Network Grant funded the research.

To read the research paper titled “Changing dynamics of Caribbean reef carbonate budgets: emergence of reef bioeroders as critical controls on present and future reef growth potential” in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/281/1796/20142018.full.

To read the release published by University of Exeter, where Perry is a professor in physical geography and director of research for geography: exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_416424_en.html.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Shining a Light

Oceanographers, water-quality experts and satellite remote-sensing scientists from around the world will shine light on developments in ocean optics and their application to environmental issues at a conference Oct. 25–31 in Portland, Maine.

Mary Jane Perry, interim director of the University of Maine Darling Marine Center in Walpole, is co-chair of the conference, Ocean Optics XXII, being held at Holiday Inn by the Bay.

“The conference gives optical ocean scientists from all over the world an opportunity to meet every two years to share ideas and exchange techniques,” says Perry. “Such communication among professionals and students is key to advancing science and developing new ways to use optics to solve ocean problems.”

Conference co-chair Steven Ackleson, oceanographer at the United States Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C., agrees.

“Optical observations of oceans on Earth are imperative,” he says. Many core environmental issues related to climate change — the carbon budget, harmful algal blooms, environmental-based management and human health and recreation — “require knowledge of how light interacts with the marine environment, the ability to monitor conditions in near real time and the capability to predict future conditions.”

Attendees from 38 countries can attend eight plenary sessions, including one led by Don Perovich of Thayer School of Engineering in Hanover, New Hampshire, who will discuss “Sunlight and Sea Ice in a Changing Arctic.”

There also will be nearly 50 shorter discussions and more than 200 posters presented on a variety of topics involving ocean optics.

UMaine researchers and graduate students are well represented. Perry, UMaine marine scientist Ivona Cetinic, and UMaine graduate Wayne Slade are reporting on their work this past summer in the Gulf of Maine that combined ship, aircraft and satellite measurements to monitor phytoplankton species. They also will report on another summer field project that used robots to study the distribution of phytoplankton under the ice in the Arctic Ocean.

UMaine professors Emmanuel Boss and Fei Chai, and graduate students Nathan Briggs and Alison Chase are also among the conference presenters.

In addition to the scientific presentations, author Robert McKenna will give a talk titled “Smuggling at Sea During Prohibition: The Real McCoy, the Bootleg Queen, Rum Row and the Origin of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

To view the complete agenda, visit, tos.org/oceanopticsconference/welcome.html.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Extreme Living

In the southern Peruvian Andes, an archaeological team led by researchers at the University of Maine has documented the highest altitude ice age human occupation anywhere in the world — nearly 4,500 meters above sea level (masl).

Their discoveries date high-altitude human habitation nearly a millennium earlier than previously documented.

Despite cold temperatures, high solar radiation and low oxygen conditions at that altitude, hunter-gatherers colonized the remote, treeless landscapes about 12,000 years ago during the terminal Pleistocene — within 2,000 years after humans arrived in South America.

“Study of human adaptation to extreme environments is important in understanding our cultural and genetic capacity for survival,” according to the research team, led by Kurt Rademaker, a University of Maine visiting assistant professor in anthropology, writing in the journal Science.

The Pucuncho archaeological site, 4,355 masl, included 260 formal tools, such as projectile points, nondiagnostic bifaces and unifacial scrapers up to 12,800 years old. Cuncaicha rockshelter, featuring two alcoves at 4,480 masl, contains a “robust, well-preserved and well-dated occupation sequence” up to 12,400 years old. The rockshelter, with views of wetland and grassland habitats, features sooted ceilings and rock art, and was likely a base camp.

Most of the lithic tools at Cuncaicha were made from locally available obsidian, andesite and jasper, and are indicative of hunting and butchering consistent with limited subsistence options on the plateau, according to the researchers. In addition to plant remains, bones at the site indicate hunting of vicuña and guanaco camelids and the taruca deer.

Pucuncho Basin was a high-altitude oasis for specialized hunting, particularly of vicuña, and later, herding of domesticated alpacas and llamas. While the Pucuncho Basin could have sustained year-round residence, wet-season storms and the dangers of hypothermia, as well as the need to maintain extended social networks and collection of edible plants, may have encouraged regular descents, according to the research team.

In addition, the lithic tools and debitage included nonlocal, fine-grained rocks — some stream-polished. That would have required the plateau residents to visit high-energy rivers in the lower elevations.

It is unclear whether the high-altitude human settlement required genetic or environmental adaptations. But with evidence of high-altitude human habitation almost 900 years earlier than previously documented, the implication is that there may have been more moderate late-glacial Andean environments and greater physiological capabilities for Pleistocene humans.

“The Pucuncho Basin sites suggest that Pleistocene humans lived successfully at extreme high altitude, initiating organismal selection, developmental functional adaptations and lasting biogeographic expansion in the Andes,” write the researchers. “As new studies identify potential genetic signatures of high-altitude adaptation in modern Andean populations, comparative genomic, physiologic and archaeological research will be needed to understand when and how these adaptations evolved.”

In addition to Rademaker, who received his Ph.D. from UMaine in 2012 and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tübingen, the research team members are: Gregory Hodgins, University of Arizona; Katherine Moore, University of Pennsylvania; Sonia Zarrillo, University of Calgary; Christopher Miller, University of Tübingen; Peter Leach, University of Connecticut; David Reid, University of Illinois-Chicago; Willy Yépez Álvarez, Peru; and Gordon Bromley and Daniel Sandweiss, University of Maine.

The team’s research was supported by the Dan and Betty Churchill Exploration Fund at the University of Maine, the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program, and the National Science Foundation.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Dr. Jeffrey Hecker Appointed to Fill Ongoing Position as Provost

University of Maine President Susan Hunter has appointed Dr. Jeffrey Hecker to fill the position of Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost on an ongoing basis.

Last August, Hecker was appointed to the position for a two-year term.

The ongoing appointment culminates an internal search conducted over the past several weeks to evaluate candidate materials and provide opportunities for the UMaine community to participate in this search. Following a daylong interview Sept. 26 and after evaluating feedback from members of the UMaine community, the search committee recommended Dr. Hecker’s appointment to President Hunter.

“Dr. Hecker is an outstanding candidate, and is poised to lead UMaine in a capable and thoughtful manner,” said President Hunter. “Dr. Hecker has had demonstrated success in working to achieve UMaine’s tripartite mission not only as Provost during the past academic year, but as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and as a faculty member in the Department of Psychology. He has an outstanding record of achievement in his academic discipline, as well as in all administrative positions he has held.

“Dr. Hecker is highly regarded by this community and by all of UMaine’s constituencies. He will continue to work diligently and lead UMaine in fulfilling its student centered-mission as well as ensure that UMaine remains a top-100 research university. I am delighted to continue working with him in his capacity as Provost,” President Hunter said.

Hecker received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from UMaine in 1986 after earning the B.S. degree (Phi Beta Kappa) in liberal arts and sciences (psychology) from the University of Illinois. He joined the UMaine faculty in 1986 as director of the Psychological Services Center, the training clinic for UMaine’s doctoral program in clinical psychology.

Dr. Hecker is a clinical researcher whose work focuses on understanding and treating anxiety, and more recently on risk assessment for people who have committed sexual offenses, including adolescents. He is the author of two books and scores of journal articles and presentations. A licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Hecker has extensive experience in providing research and clinical consultation to the Maine Department of Corrections, Division of Juvenile Services; and as a mental health consultant for the Penobscot Job Corps Center and Penquis CAP Head Start, both in Bangor.

He advanced through the academic ranks to professor of psychology, chairing the Department of Psychology from 2002–07. In 2007, he was named interim dean and, a year later, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Hecker has been honored during his distinguished service to the university, community and profession, with recognition including the 2006 University of Maine College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Outstanding Faculty Award for service and outreach, and the 1994 Maine Psychological Association Award for Outstanding Academic Contributions to Psychology.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Reception Announcing Sandy and Bobby Ives Fund Oct. 19

A new fund has been established at the University of Maine Foundation in honor of the late founder of the Maine Folklife Center Edward “Sandy” Ives and his wife Bobby.

The Sandy and Bobby Ives Fund will be used to provide financial assistance to full-time UMaine students engaging in ethnography, folklore or oral history fieldwork in Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. The UMaine Humanities Center director will oversee the awards to students.

A reception announcing the fund will be held 11 a.m.–noon Sunday, Oct. 19 at Buchanan Alumni House; the reception also will honor Bobby Ives.

The fund was established in 2014 with a gift from David Taylor and LeeEllen Friedland in recognition of Ives’ mentorship and friendship throughout Taylor’s academic experience at UMaine.

Ives was a popular UMaine English and anthropology professor from 1955–99, an internationally known folklorist and founder of the Maine Folklife Center. He was married to Bobby Ives for 57 years before his death in 2009.

Two undergraduate students who are studying folklore — Hilary Warner-Evans and Taylor Cunningham — will speak during the reception.

Warner-Evans of West Bath, Maine, is an undergraduate Honors student in anthropology and one of the first UMaine students to take the new folklore minor. Since 2012, she has volunteered at the Maine Folklife Center, where she has contributed to the center’s community outreach efforts by conducting research for its Maine Song and Story Sampler on Fogler Library’s Digital Commons.

Warner-Evans will present her fieldwork on songs written about the North Pond Hermit at the National Collegiate Honors Council conference in Denver this November. She also presented her folkloric research on Geoffrey Chaucer’s, “The Franklin’s Tale,” at Plymouth State University’s Medieval and Renaissance Forum last spring.

Taylor Cunningham of Massachusetts is an English major and Honors student with a minor in folklore studies. She is the coordinator of a new interdisciplinary humanities series of lectures on linguistics and culture, and has been working on the Maine Hermit Project for two years.

The Maine Hermit Project is a collaborative interdisciplinary humanities lab venture involving a team of undergraduate researchers working with Sarah Harlan-Haughey, an assistant professor in UMaine’s Honors College and  Department of English.

Cunningham has presented her work on greening the humanities in Honors at the National Collegiate Honors Council conference in New Orleans.

Both students are conducting research on songs and ballads written about the North Pond Hermit, as well as conducting interviews, for a book on the topic. The book — co-written by members of the Maine Hermit Project lab using the Maine Folklife Center archives, Fogler Library’s Special Collections and new fieldwork — will explore different facets of Maine’s interest in and valorization of hermits and outlaws, according to Harlan-Haughey.

A buffet will be offered at the reception. For more information or to request a disability accommodation, contact Joan Peters, 581.1154; joan.peters@umit.maine.edu.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Emera Astronomy Center Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony to be held Oct. 17 During Homecoming Weekend

The University of Maine’s Emera Astronomy Center will be dedicated in a ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 17, as part of UMaine’s Homecoming weekend.

The Emera Astronomy Center is the new home of the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium and Observatory. It features a planetarium dome 33 feet in diameter equipped with a state-of-the-art projection system. Both the dome and the observatory’s 20-inch digital telescope are the largest in the state.

Architects and engineers from WBRC teamed with planetarium specialists from Kasian, a global architecture firm based in Canada, on the design of the facility; Nickerson & O’Day, a Maine-based construction firm, completed the construction.

Expected to take part in the dedication ceremony are Jeffery Mills, president and CEO of the University of Maine Foundation; UMaine President Susan Hunter; Alan Davenport, Emera Astronomy Center director; Bill Chomik, planetarium designer at Kasian; Karl Ward, president of Nickerson & O’Day; Rob Bennett, executive vice president and COO of Emera, Inc.; and representatives from WBRC also will be in attendance.

Following a ribbon cutting, tours of the facility will be given. The planetarium also will have an open house from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, and a public star party will be held at the observatory that evening from 6 to 10 p.m., weather permitting.

The Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium and Observatory hosts thousands of children annually. The planetarium will continue to offer a changing line-up of family star shows or private showings for parties and school field trips. The center’s first public star show is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 17. A full schedule is online.

The $5.2 million Emera Astronomy Center was made possible by a $3.2 million donation from an anonymous donor, who first proposed the astronomy facility to enhance the viewing of the night sky, and a $1 million gift came from Emera Inc., the parent company of Emera Maine.

According to President Hunter, the Emera Astronomy Center is the culmination of the visions of the anonymous donors to enhance the viewing of the night sky and Emera, a leader in the energy field, to make the dream of building the state’s largest and most energy-efficient planetarium and automated telescope a reality.

The Emera Astronomy Center includes innovative exterior lighting designed to help preserve the dark-sky critical to enhanced stargazing. It is heated and cooled with geothermal heat pumps — the first building at UMaine to benefit from this energy-efficient electric technology.

As part of UMaine’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the center will enhance the university’s role in outreach to K–12 students and promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. STEM education research has been designated as one of UMaine’s Signature Programs. The planetarium and observatory will complement the many other efforts at UMaine to attract students to scientific disciplines by inspiring children — and all those who are children at heart — about the science of astronomy.

“The new Emera Astronomy Center’s programs will extend UMaine’s already deep commitment to education in STEM fields. The center’s planetarium and observatory complement each other to excite students’ imagination and advance their knowledge,” says Emily Haddad, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The center has already sparked interest from Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), a student organization focused on the exploration and development of space.

More information about the Emera Astronomy Center is online. To RSVP to the dedication ceremony or to request a disability accommodation, contact Sarah Penley, 207.581.1159.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Savage Challenge

A $1 million donation to the University of Maine by alumnus Tom Savage and his wife, Sally, of Key Largo, Florida, will launch the Savage Challenge, a five-year endowment drive for the men’s ice hockey program.

The donation will be used to match up to $1 million in gifts from UMaine hockey alumni and former coaches to the endowment fund. The Savage Challenge is part of a larger fundraising effort to build a significant endowment for the University of Maine men’s ice hockey program. The endowment will provide direct operational support for the men’s ice hockey team, and the goal of the Savage Challenge is to motivate former Black Bear men’s ice hockey student-athletes and coaches to become directly involved with the program’s future.

“Like thousands of other Mainers, Maine hockey holds a special place in my heart,” says Tom Savage. “I will never forget how proud we were when we drove over the bridge in Kittery and saw the ‘1993 National Champions’ sign over 20 years ago, and I still get excited when Alfond Arena is shaking after a big Maine goal. For many of us, this program provides a great sense of pride, knowing that Maine can compete for championships on a national stage.

“When Sally and I discussed making this gift, we agreed it was a meaningful and worthy endeavor. Our goal is to help the University of Maine provide the best experience possible for the student-athletes, help our coaches put a product on the ice that Mainers can be proud of and put the Maine Black Bears in the best position possible to compete for championships. We are excited to play a role in ensuring that Maine hockey is financially strong for years to come, and hope others will join us in this effort,” says Tom Savage.

Men’s ice hockey is a signature athletic program for the University of Maine and the state, says UMaine President Susan Hunter, in announcing the $1 million gift at a media conference Oct. 14. The gift by Tom and Sally Savage will help ensure that the program will continue to be a national point of pride.

“(The) gift will serve to build a network of support for our men’s ice hockey program by strengthening the bond between our former student-athletes and our future,” Hunter says.

Tom Savage earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Maine in 1968. The avid UMaine athletics fan is a retired attorney who practiced law in Bangor for more than 20 years. He is a member of Phi Gamma Delta and a former member of the University of Maine Foundation board of directors.

Sally Savage, who grew up in Belfast, is an artist and author. The couple are members of the University of Maine Stillwater Society and are the 2007 recipients of the Stillwater Presidential Award. The Savages live in Florida and maintain a summer home in Searsport.

“The generosity and vision of Tom and Sally Savage will have a permanent positive impact on the men’s ice hockey program at the University of Maine,” says UMaine Athletics Director Karlton Creech.

“Endowments are a powerful part of a sustainable Division I athletics model, and the Savage Challenge represents a tremendous leap forward in preserving the nationally competitive profile of our men’s ice hockey program. Tom and Sally are great friends of the university, and I am humbled by their generous gift that will be a difference maker for our student-athletes and coaches.”

The vision of Tom and Sally Savage to maintain the competitive excellence of Maine men’s ice hockey forever is both inspiring and transformational, says UMaine men’s ice hockey coach Dennis “Red” Gendron.

“Their generosity inspires all at Maine men’s ice hockey to do what is required of us to return this program to a position of national prominence, to do it consistently and to bring a national championship back to Maine,” he says.

“It is transformational because it represents a giant step forward to ensure the financial viability of Maine men’s ice hockey and Maine athletics into perpetuity. Because of Tom and Sally’s endowment gift and the countless other gifts that they will inspire from others, we will be able to recruit, outfit and support our team in a manner consistent with the best college hockey programs in the nation.”

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Briggs Headed to France to Explore Marine Snow in the Twilight Zone

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


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