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UMaine Today Magazine


Solar Power

Solar Radiation
The ice core data show that when solar radiation increases, more calcium is deposited. Additional calcium may reflect an increase in wind strength in mid- latitude regions around Antarctica, especially over the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Image courtesty of the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO),
a project of international
cooperation between ESA and NASA

Links Related to this Story

A team led by University of Maine scientists has reported finding a potential link between changes in solar activity and the Earth's climate.

In a paper for the Annals of Glaciology, Paul Mayewski, director of UMaine's Climate Change Institute, and 11 colleagues from China, Australia and Maine describe evidence from ice cores pointing to an association between the waxing and waning of zonal wind strength around Antarctica and a chemical signal of changes in the sun's output.

At the heart of the paper, "Solar Forcing of the Polar Atmosphere," are calcium, nitrate and sodium data from ice cores collected in four Antarctic locations, and comparisons of that information to South Pole ice core isotope data for beryllium-10, an indicator of solar activity. The authors also point to data from Greenland and the Canadian Yukon that suggest similar relationships between solar activity and the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere.

Their focus is on years since 1400 when the Earth entered a roughly 500-year period known as the Little Ice Age.

The researchers' goal is to understand what drives the Earth's climate system without taking increases in greenhouse gases into account, says Mayewski. "There are good reasons to be concerned about greenhouse gases, but we should be looking at the climate system with our eyes open," he adds. Understanding how the system operates in the absence of human impacts is important for responding to climate changes that might occur in the future.

Mayewski founded the International Transantarctic Scientific Expedition (ITASE) and is the co-author of The Ice Chronicles: The Quest to Understand Global Climate Change, published in 2002 with Frank White. The United States' ITASE office is located at UMaine.

Antarctic locations used in the paper include Siple Dome, a 2,000-foot-high ice- covered mound, located between two ice streams that flow out of the Transantarctic Mountains into the Ross ice shelf, and the site of a U.S. research station.

Since at least the 1840s when sunspot cycles were discovered, scientists have proposed that solar variability could affect the climate, but direct evidence of that relationship and understanding of a mechanism have been lacking.

The ice core data show, the authors write, that when solar radiation increases, more calcium is deposited at Siple Dome and at one of the ITASE field sites. The additional calcium may reflect an increase in wind strength in mid-latitude regions around Antarctica, they add, especially over the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Calcium in West Antarctic ice cores is thought to derive mainly from dust in Australia, Africa and South America, and from sea salt in the southern ocean.

That finding, they note, is consistent with other research suggesting that the sun may affect the strength of those mid-latitude winds through changes in stratospheric ozone over Antarctica.

Tuning in

In April, dozens of Penobscot Nation children will become songwriters in a cultural project designed to help them learn more about their heritage, language, history and Native identity.

Leading them will be California singer-songwriter Dave Nachmanoff, who will spend a week working with the children and other members of Maine's Penobscot community, including tribal elders. They will share cultural stories, and put their thoughts into lyrics that will be recorded and also performed at the end of the workshop.

Nachmanoff's visit to the island community is funded by a Maine Community Foundation grant to the Penobscot Nation Boys and Girls Club, in collaboration with UMaine's Wabanaki Center and University of Maine Project Opportunity.

It will be Nachmanoff's second visit to Indian Island. Last summer, he conducted a songwriting workshop with Bangor-area Jewish children and spent an afternoon with Penobscot children. The product of that session was a song, "It's Just for Fun," about Penobscot canoe racing.

A group of boys on the island came up with the words and Nachmanoff, a soft-rock and folk artist, com- posed the music, recorded the song and sent the youngsters a CD.

Distilling the truth

Washing fresh fruits and vegetables with distilled water appears to be as effective in protecting food safety as using some commercial products designed for that purpose, according to a new University of Maine Cooperative Extension fact sheet.

Eating fresh produce provides important health benefits, but raw foods not properly cleaned can carry risks of food-borne illness. As a result, a market has developed for new commercial wash treatments designed to reduce those risks.

To test the effectiveness of these products, UMaine researchers in Extension and food science compared the results of washing with three products, according to package directions, and with distilled water that is free of microorganisms. Each product was used on lowbush blueberries.

Distilled water, which is filtered and purified to remove contaminants, was as effective as Fitฎ Fruit & Vegetable Wash (Procter & Gamble) in reducing microbial levels and pesticide residues, as compared to unwashed samples. Two ozone systems, Ozone Water Purified XT-301 (Air-Zone Inc.) and JO-4 Multi-Functional Food Sterilizer (Indoor Purification Systems), removed microbes from blueberries, but distilled water was more effective than either one.

Cooperative Extension recommends soaking fruits and vegetables in distilled water for one to two minutes. Some fragile produce should not be soaked, but sprayed with distilled water in a colander. Thick-skinned produce should be scrubbed.

The fact sheet also recommends washing hands before preparing food, and cleaning counter tops and utensils after peeling produce or preparing each food item. Produce from stores and home gardens should be similarly treated.

Parenting relations

Recommendations to help older relatives care for grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other children in their extended families have been developed by the Relatives as Parents Project, coordinated by the University of Maine's Center on Aging in cooperation with a consortium of child and aging advocacy agencies.

Presented in a policy white paper, the recommendations culminate three years of research into factors that make it difficult for grandparents and other relatives to become recognized guardians of children who are unable to live with their parents. They include calls for financial reimbursements and aid; educational and professional resources, including reimbursable family counseling sessions and daycare; subsidized healthcare for children in their custody; and support from mental health and child welfare services.

Many of the proposals have less to do with money and more to do with providing moral and professional support for relatives as parents, according to the white paper's principal author Sandra Butler, interim director and associate professor in the UMaine School of Social Work.

The changes are preemptive measures that could help keep more children in extended family settings and out of foster care.

Insight Lite: Craving crustaceans

People have lots of reasons for longing for lobster. At the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, Director Bob Bayer and Assistant Director Cathy Billings know most of them. The institute facilitates research and educational outreach focused on protecting, conserving and enhancing lobsters and lobstering as an industry and as a way of life.

Among the favorite lobster lines lodged with the institute:

Lobster is low in fat and has less cholesterol than beef or white meat chicken. Only 80 calories per 85-gram serving.

Eating lobster supports the Maine economy and jobs. More than 7,000 licensed commercial lobstermen live in Maine; the fishery contributes an estimated $500 million annually to the Maine economy.

Lobster is considered both a gourmet delicacy and a real down-home food. You can dress it up — lobster thermidor with champagne at a five-star restaurant — or serve it informally — a lobster bake with beer on the beach.

According to Ed Blackmore, a seasoned lobsterman from Stonington, Maine, his grandfather always told him, "If the good Lord ever made anything that tastes better than lobster, he kept if for himself."

Nano mechanics

Affordable, high-speed DNA sequencing could pave the way for medical treatments tailored to an individual's genetic make-up. In addition, scientists could expand gene sequence databases to plants, animals and microorganisms.

Three University of Maine scientists are now fabricating a nanopore with tiny electrodes and built-in circuits that will be used in such DNA sequencing experiments. Biochemist Scott Collins, and bioengineers Rosemary Smith and David Kotecki will attempt to measure differences in the electron tunneling of individual nucleotides in DNA molecules.

Such measurements are important because each nucleotide can be identified by the way it affects an electric current. Electron tunneling is a process that allows an electric current to pass through a material that is normally resistant.

Their research is funded by a two-year, $850,000 grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

Anthropology Affecting Public Policy

University of Maine anthropology and marine sciences professor James Acheson has been named the 2004 winner of the prestigious American Anthropological Association's Solon T. Kimball Award for Public and Applied Anthropology.

Acheson, a cultural anthropologist, author and professor at UMaine since 1968, is an internationally recognized authority on economic anthropology and the social science aspects of fisheries management.

The award, given only every other year since 1978, recognizes outstanding achievement in applied anthropology and research that has had an impact on public policy.

Acheson has studied the system of self-governance in the Maine lobster industry, and has chronicled the circumstances under which lobster fishermen developed informal rules and lobbied for formal laws to conserve the lobster stock. In his research, he has used "rational choice theory" to show under what conditions groups of people will and will not develop rules to conserve the resources on which their livelihood depends.

Where Mountain Ranges Collide

The St. Elias Mountain Range of southeastern Alaska and western British Columbia is an ideal place to study the interaction of atmospheric and tectonic processes at work in mountain building, glaciation and erosion. It is the highest coastal mountain range on Earth and may exhibit the highest glacial erosion rates as well.

With a more than $298,000, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation — part of a $4.5 million project — Peter Koons of the University of Maine Department of Earth Sciences is helping to develop a comprehensive model to explain the evolution of the Gulf of Alaska, onshore and off. Questions focus on the origins of mountain building activity and the interaction of crustal processes and redistribution of mass by glacial and stream transport. The results will have implications for understanding global mountain building processes at continental margins and the influence of those processes on climate.

Other participating institutions include: University of Alaska, University of Texas, University of New Orleans, University of Washington, Lehigh University, Virginia Technical University, Purdue University and Indiana University.


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