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UMaine Today Magazine


Categorizing winter storms

Winter Sign

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Predicting the impact of a winter storm in the eastern and central United States can be treacherous. How quickly it strengthens, where it goes and how fast it travels can mean the difference between shoveling a few inches of snow and being stuck in the driveway.

Greg Zielinski, Maine state climatologist and an associate research professor in the University of Maine Institute for Quaternary and Climate Studies, has developed a way to help weather forecasters and the public understand the likely effects of winter storms. He has categorized their severity on a scale of 1–5, with 5 being most intense. Zielinski applies the classification to two types of storms: nor'easters that often intensify in the mid-Atlantic region and move up the coast into New England; and intense storms sometimes called the Witches of November that originate east of the Rocky Mountains and move through the Great Lakes region or up the Ohio River Valley.

"We have classification schemes for tornadoes and hurricanes," says Zielinski. "Why not for winter storms? With my classifications, the potential impact of a storm can then be passed on to public service officials so they can make plans for precipitation amounts, particularly snow, snowfall rates, wind speeds, drifting potential and overall impact on schools, businesses, travelers and coastal communities."

Zielinski's approach uses two features of a storm. He calculates characteristics of air pressure, which reflects storm strength, and forward speed, because even moderately intense storms can have a large impact if they move slowly. For example, a 1969 storm that stalled above Cape Cod for two days dumped more than 8 feet of snow on top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Conversely, the cumulative impact of strong storms may lessen if they move through an area quickly. That was the case in New England with the March 1993 "Storm of the Century."

Zielinski is using his scale in a historical investigation of New England's climate. He has classified more than 70 storms of the past, including the Great Arctic Outbreak of 1899, the Blizzard of 1888 and other storms that are part of U.S. weather lore.

A December 2000 storm was the most intense found in his study.

Zielinski hopes to compare storms and look for patterns in the more than 100 years of scientific weather records.

Solving procurement problems

Rapid turnover in computers and other high-tech equipment gives retailers a headache. What is hot one day can be out of date the next. Keeping track of product updates and availability, not to mention price changes, can have technology sellers reaching for the aspirin.

Now comes a cure in the form of software developed by University of Maine students working with Doug Marchio, manager of the Computer Connection, UMaine's campus computer store. Known as the Buyers and Sales Assistant, or BSA, the new system has proven so successful that universities nationwide are using it to manage their technology purchasing.

"The computer industry is the hardest industry for sourcing products," says Marchio. "For example, prices for memory sometimes change multiple times a day. It's a monster, and we've developed a monster tamer."

Through a contract with the Campus Computer Resellers Alliance, a higher education non-profit organization of more than 600 colleges and universities, Marchio has seen a "lite" version of BSA solve technology procurement problems for some of the country's largest universities, including Stanford, the University of Illinois and the University of Southern California.

Other large universities are establishing separate contracts for full BSA versions.

The approach was developed by Benjamin Scott, a 2000 UMaine computer science graduate, in conjunction with Marchio. It starts by importing computer supplier databases on a nightly basis (up-to-the-minute or real-time are optional). The system retrieves, sorts and filters data to produce its own searchable database. That information is then placed on a Web site and tailored to specific groups of users.

Suppliers benefit, says Marchio, by having product information and vendor advantages in the BSA database. Campus retailers save customers time and money by finding the best available deals on everything from high-end PCs to printer ink cartridges. End-user consumers will soon be able to shop for themselves at an eStore Web page that uses the BSA database.

Scott, who developed the original computer code for BSA as a student, continues to work on the system from his home in Portland, Maine, with support from UMaine's Department of Industrial Cooperation. Scott says he would like to see the system applied to purchasing in other industries.

Sensors in schools

Students at Bangor High School are studying some of the hottest topics in engineering as a result of a new program initiated by the University of Maine College of Engineering with support from a $1.65 million National Science Foundation grant.

In the program called GK-12: Sensors, 10 graduate and five undergraduate students are working with the high school students in their classrooms for a minimum of 10 hours a week. Their focus is on sensor technologies, which have applications in fields from public health and pollution control to national defense.

In addition, high school teachers spend time in UMaine laboratories learning about sensor technologies and developing new curricula with the help of faculty members from UMaine's multiple engineering disciplines: electrical and computer, spatial information science, mechanical, biological and chemical, and civil and environmental. The faculty are affiliated with cutting-edge research facilities at UMaine, including the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology (LASST), and the Advanced Engineered Wood Composites Center.

John Vetelino, a professor in the UMaine Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and LASST, created the project with Steve Godsoe, chair of the Bangor High School Department of Mathematics.

Other community partners include the Maine Discovery Museum and the Maine Challenger Project. Technology-based companies from throughout the state also participate by offering tours for students and sending personnel to the high school to make career presentations.

Gardening by calendar

Need advice on planting vegetables, selecting roses or protecting the garden from deer? The illustrated 2003 North County Garden Calendar from Cooperative Extension offers tips on these and other topics for every day of the year.

Published by Extension offices at the University of Maine, University of Vermont and University of New Hampshire, the calendar also provides information about how to find Extension publications on gardening topics by phone or via the Internet.

The calendars are available from Extension offices in each of the three states.

Fish River finds

An archaeological research team from the University of Maine has identified four new sites in the Fish River drainage of northern Maine that could shed light on how people in that region lived during the Archaic and Ceramic periods (7000 B.C.–A.D. 1500).

Adrian Burke, an assistant professor of anthropology and Quaternary studies, four UMaine students and a student from Acadia University in Nova Scotia conducted an archaeological survey of the area last summer.

The scientists found stone tools and by-products of their manufacture, demonstrating that there were far-reaching trade networks among people in what is now northern Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick.

"This part of the state has been virtually unexplored archaeologically, so this research is beginning to fill in the gaps about that time period. Our initial findings indicate that this region was not on the periphery of communication and trade; rather, it was connected to a much larger regional network," Burke says.

Next summer, Burke will return to the area with more students to set up a field school to excavate one or more of the sites.

The Fish River drainage is located in the upper St. John Valley, where large lakes empty via the Fish River into the St. John River at Fort Kent, Maine. The region remains part of the territory of the Maliseet and Micmac Indian Nations of Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick.

In the field for up to 10 hours a day for a month, the researchers covered about 200 square miles by canoe, motor boat and foot. They identified the search areas using topographic maps and aerial photographs, and by looking at the patterns of site distribution in neighboring regions.

Awareness and action to fight osteoporosis

One of three federal grants to develop a National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Action Plan has been awarded to the University of Maine Center on Aging, in conjunction with the Maine Center for Osteoporosis Research and Education in Bangor, Maine.

The other recipients of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grants are the National Osteoporosis Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the Foundation for Osteoporosis Research and Education, located in Oakland, Calif.

In Maine, Lenard Kaye of the UMaine School of Social Work and Dr. Clifford Rosen, director of the Maine Center for Osteoporosis Research and Education, are co-principal investigators on the one-year, $138,000 grant.

Osteoporosis affects approximately 10 million people in the United States, mostly women. In 2001, the National Institutes of Health estimated the costs related to the disease, manifested by the loss of bone mass, at $47 million per day. Kaye and Rosen will lead an effort to develop a strategy and plan that will raise knowledge about osteoporosis and its prevention.

"By bringing together the best minds on aging and osteoporosis, and talking with diverse groups of older women throughout the United States, this project is intent on not just educating the public about the risk of osteoporosis, but actually bringing about reductions in risk-taking behavior," Kaye says. "If successful, such a campaign will ultimately reduce the frequency of diagnoses of osteoporosis in the older female population.

"Central to our efforts will be our ‘whole person' philosophy of osteoporosis education that emphasizes the importance of open communication between women and their healthcare providers, personal empowerment and responsibility, and education that targets underserved older women in those regions of the nation where health information is most scarce," he says.

Alumni abroad advising Maine

The potential to build relationships among people with connections to Maine, no matter where they are in the world, is the focus of Maine International Networking Service, or MINS.

In a global marketplace, state businesses and government agencies are increasingly looking to foreign markets for economic opportunities. Whether searching for new customers, business partners or trade relationships, they need to know where to go and whom to contact.

Developed with two years of support from UMaine's Department of Industrial Cooperation, MINS is linking businesses and government leaders with Maine college and university alumni who now live in countries from Canada and Mexico to Europe, Africa and Asia. The system has already connected Maine companies with correspondents in 14 countries.

In its first year, the MINS database contains 330 alumni of UMaine, Maine Maritime Academy, Husson College and Bowdoin College.

Former U.S. diplomat Bob Sargent of Downeast International Consultants in Sargentville, Maine, manages MINS.

The network will be most useful in the early stages of project development, says Richard Coyle, director of the Maine International Trade Center in Augusta, Maine. "Normally it's a roll of the dice when you contact business or government officials in other countries," he says. "MINS gives us an advantage" — contacts who have ties to Maine.

Writing in Français

For Susan Pinette, the way something is said says something about a culture. Pinette, the director of Franco American Studies at the University of Maine, is conducting research about the way early modern French writers who traveled in North America and those who remained in France depicted French Canada.

In her research, Pinette is focusing on how early modern French writers used literary techniques such as dialogue and autobiography. Her goal is to analyze how they contributed to a distinctly French perspective on ethnography and science.

By investigating the role of North American French language and culture within a broader historical, cultural and literary context, Pinette's research is helping to establish the significance of North American Francophone communities within academic French studies.

A high-tech music box

The state's largest library will use the latest technology to bring an interactive multimedia digital music library to teachers and students with the help of a $344,000 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

The University of Maine's Fogler Library, in partnership with the Bagaduce Music Lending Library and the Bangor Public Library, will create "The Maine Music Box." In this two-year project, the libraries will design a digital library of musical scores with associated sound renditions, cover art and lyrics. With this instructional tool, users will be able to view, play and print scores, and manipulate music by changing the key or instrument.

Throughout the country, educators are grappling with ways to meet state-mandated education standards. The Maine Music Box will help teachers and students achieve Maine Learning Results with online strategies tailored to specific requirements for all levels in the visual and performing arts, and social studies.

"This project provides a model for libraries that are endeavoring to find new ways to share their resources and redefine the use of their collections and services in this digital era," says Elaine Albright, dean of Cultural Affairs and Libraries at UMaine. "The project will demonstrate how collections can be enriched with the tools of information technologies, and connected to local communities to support and advance the broad education mission of libraries."

Fogler Library staff will collaborate with outreach coordinators from the Maine Center for the Arts. Together, they will direct and implement the project to support access to the partner library music collections and to deliver the instructional tool for educators.
Fogler Library's IMLS grant proposal was one of 12 funded out of 35 applications nationwide.

IMLS is a federal grant-making agency located in Washington, D.C., that fosters leadership, innovation and a lifetime of learning by supporting museums and libraries.


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