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UMaine Today Magazine


Insights

The end of the big chill

Glacial retreat
Photo courtesy of George Denton
 

Links Related to this Story
 

A new study of glacial retreat shows that much of the world emerged from the last ice age simultaneously, according to two leading climate change scientists at Columbia University and the University of Maine. The exceptions were areas of the North Atlantic, which remained in a deep freeze 2,500 years longer.

The end of the recurring, 100,000-year glacial cycles is one of the most prominent and readily identifiable features in records of the Earth's recent climate history. Yet one of the most puzzling questions has been why different parts of the world, most notably Greenland, appear to have warmed at different times and at different rates after the end of the last ice age.  

The new study, reported recently in the journal Science, suggests that most of the Earth did, in fact, begin warming at the same time, roughly 17,500 years ago. In addition, scientists suggest that ice core records from Greenland, which show that average temperatures there did not warm appreciably until about 15,000 years ago, may have remained in a hypercold state largely as a result of events triggered by warming elsewhere. 

The research, led by Joerg Schaefer from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, a member of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and George Denton of UMaine's Climate Change Institute, relied on a method known as cosmogonic or surface-exposure dating, which enabled the scientists to determine how long rock surfaces have been exposed since the glaciers retreated.

As cosmic rays penetrating the Earth's atmosphere strike the scoured rock, they form an isotope of the element beryllium at a known rate. By measuring the minute amounts of beryllium in rock samples from glacial moraines in California and New Zealand, and comparing these data to previously published results from Wyoming, Oregon, Montana Argentina, Australia and Switzerland, the scientists were able to narrow down when glaciers around the world began to retreat. Additional studies from tropical South America and southern Tibet also produced similar results.


Tiny Trouble

Marine scientist Peter Jumars wants to learn how centimeter-long opossum shrimp carry out their daily, round-trip migrations from the shelter of the ocean floor to open water.

So does the U.S. Department of Defense.

Jumars, a University of Maine professor of marine sciences and oceanography at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine, has a grant from the military's Defense University Research Instrumentation Program to continue his groundbreaking work in the utilization of sonar technology to establish reliable techniques for monitoring the movements of opossum shrimp.

Jumars' research has revealed some exciting data about the biology and ecological importance of the fast-moving shrimp, which are a major source of food for small cod and other fish. The research is important for national defense purposes because the movements of large numbers of opossum shrimp and other small organisms can interfere with the military's use of sonar for detecting and identifying underwater mines.

"I basically study what the people who identify undersea mines call noise. Their noise has become my signal," said Jumars.

"Office of Naval Research Program officers have been impressed by how dense the swarms of migrating shrimp can be. This is definitely not a small problem when it comes to using acoustics for local area search, and the shrimp are certainly something cod care about."    


Tagging cancer cells

Extremely small tumors are notoriously difficult to detect, and pose a potentially lethal threat to cancer patients, even after surgery. But by using an amazingly tiny technology being perfected by University of Maine researchers, doctors may soon be able to pinpoint even the most minuscule cancerous cells while the patient is still on the operating table.

UMaine Chemical and Biological Engineering Assistant Professor Michael Mason is developing an improved screening technique in which nanometer-size metal particles are used to "tag" cancer cells, allowing surgeons to identify cancerous tissue more quickly and efficiently. Metallic nanoparticles are guided by attached biomolecules that are attracted to specific molecules on the surface of cancer cells. The technique is sensitive enough to reveal even a single cancer cell.

Michael Mason and his team will provide the foundation for cellular and tissue trials that will be conducted later this year by Dr. Peter Allen at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, which funded the UMaine research.


Wild at heart

Maine's wild blueberries continue to prove that they are more than just a splash of tasty color in muffins and pancakes. Research conducted at the University of Maine suggests that a serving of wild blueberries can go a long way toward a healthier heart.

Research conducted by UMaine Professor of Clinical Nutrition Dorothy Klimis-Zacas and her team postdoctoral fellow Anastasia Kalea and graduate student Kate Clark shows that compounds found in wild blueberries may reduce the chances of cardiovascular disease by altering the composition and structure of arterial components, which may prevent LDL cholesterol from binding to blood vessels. By decreasing the vulnerability of the arterial wall to stress and inflammation, antioxidants in wild blueberries may help to create a less favorable environment for fatty buildup that can cause reduced blood flow and heart attacks.

The study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, is the latest of several research projects by Klimis-Zacas that examine the effects of colorful, antioxidant-rich foods like wild blueberries on human health. Her previous work has shown that Maine's favorite berry, when eaten regularly, also may play a role in helping arteries relax and in reducing hypertension.


In physical education, A is for aerobic

Physical education in grades 48 can increase youngsters' aerobic capacities, no matter their age, sex or level of participation in sports, according to preliminary findings of a study conducted by University of Maine researchers.

Aerobic capacity has been linked to reduced incidence of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

The  study found that students achieved high levels of aerobic performance with two physical education classes a week. Their increased performance continued even in the winter months.

"Increased performance continued right through the terrible Maine winter, when kids are supposed to be much less active," says UMaine Professor of Education and Special Education Stephen Butterfield. "In fact, our follow-up data show a leveling off during the summer, with improvement a couple months after (students) return to school in the fall."

The study by Butterfield and his UMaine College of Education and Human Development colleagues Robert Lehnhard and Craig Mason was done in collaboration with physical education teacher Robert McCormick at Blue Hill Consolidated School in Maine.

During a nine-month school year, the aerobic performance of more than 100 students in grades 48 was tested five times using a portion of the Fitnessgram, a series of activities to assess fitness in children. The researchers administered the Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run (PACER) Test to measure the children's aerobic capacity. 

"It is possible that regularly testing children on the PACER teaches effective pacing strategies, thereby substantially improving performance on this key fitness component," the researchers wrote in their paper, presented earlier this year at the national convention of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.


Maine's biggest creepy crawlers

Most insects we know are minuscule. Theirs is a small world, after all. Yet, there are giants among them. We asked University of Maine entomologist Stephen Woods, who oversees the more than 100,000-specimen UMaine Insect Collection, to list six found in Maine.

Giant waterbugs More than 2 inches long, oval in shape, with a piercing beak that can inflict a painful bite if handled carelessly. These predators of insects and small fish in ponds are attracted to lights at night.

Giant silkworm moths Beautiful, heavy-bodied moths, with 4- to 5-inch wingspans. One type, the luna moth, is pale green. The moths are attracted to lights at night.

Dobsonflies Males are about

3 inches long with mandibular tusks that are quite scary, but harmless. The immatures, called hellgrammites, are aquatic, preying on other insects in streams.

Horntails Stout-bodied sawflies, 11.5 inches long with colorful abdomens. Larvae are wood borers in live trees.

Dragonflies Many are 3 inches long with wingspans in the 4- to 5-inch range. Some are brightly colored and all are predators of flying insects.

Praying mantids Up to 3 inches long, voracious predators of other insects. Mostly greenish. The only insects that can look over their shoulders.


Sea scallop scrutiny

Better understanding of the relationships between different scallop populations along the Maine coast could help fine-tune management strategies, according to two University of Maine marine scientists.

Associate professor Paul Rawson and Ph.D. student Erin Owen are studying the ecology and genetics of sea scallop populations in the context of various environmental factors. Their research is funded by a two-year NOAA grant.

 In particular, Rawson and Owen will determine whether the Cobscook Bay sea scallop population is a separate stock from the population found in Penobscot Bay.

Scalloping is an economically important fishery in the state, but the harvest has been steadily declining in recent years. Scallop landings in Maine dropped in value from more than $15 million in 1981 to less than $1 million in 2004.


Windows on Maine

Schoolchildren across the state can explore Maine history and environmental science using Windows on Maine, an interactive Web site featuring an ever-increasing collection of multimedia resources video, images, documents, sound files, maps and simulations.

Windows on Maine is a tool for experiencing and creating new media digital image, sound and video. It is intended to help teachers and students learn and become fluent in new forms of communication and expression 21st-century literacy, according to project director Marilyn Lutz of the University of Maine. UMaine partnered in the project with the Maine Public Broadcasting Network and the Maine State Museum.

Users can access two MPBN series "HOME: the Story of Maine" and "QUEST: Investigating Our World." Windows on Maine also offers primary resources from distinguished Maine cultural collections that enrich the broad themes: forestry and lumbering, fishing and fishermen, hunting and fur trading, shipping and ship building, and Native American studies.

Collaborators in the project include members of the Digital Maine Learning Group Maine State Archives, Northeast Historic Film, the Maine Historical Society, and the Maine Folklife Center.


Academ-e

Maine's first early college distance education program begins this fall with the introduction of Academ-e, 14 University of Maine courses open to high school seniors via online, videoconferencing and in-person teaching.

Among the scheduled courses are Calculus, Introduction to Geology, General Psychology, Survey of Dramatic Literature and Fundamentals of Music.

Most of the 560 Academ-e students are from public high schools. Also eligible are students who are home schooled, in adult education diploma or GED programs, or from independent high schools.

School principals, teachers and guidance counselors nominate qualified students, according to a formula based on school enrollment (five slots for the largest schools; three slots for small schools). UMaine Academ-e scholarships cover half the tuition for each course currently $552 for three credits by an in-state student, $736 for four.

Grants from the National Governors Association and Bank of America partially pay the tuition balance.

 

UMaine Today Magazine
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