From the Director
Integrated, Interdisciplinary, Sustainable
Harlan Spence
Harlan Spence

THE WORDS in the headline could be thought of as the “three R’s” for the future of science and, ultimately, humanity. If science is to effectively tackle some of today’s more pressing issues, for example, climate change and the adaptation and mitigation measures it will require, we must begin conducting our work in an integrated, interdisciplinary, and sustainable way.

Of course, the focus of EOS from its very beginnings has been interdisciplinary research, and with some recent developments we are on the threshold of a new and invigorated era of big, broad, sustainability science – with backing from national agencies.

The Complex Systems Research Center was recently awarded the lion’s share of a $1.5-million grant from the National Science Foundation to lead a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional project that will assess the impacts of climate- and human-driven changes in hydrology on agricultural production and land use in Central, South, East, and Southeast Asia.

Funded under NSF's Water Sustainability and Climate program, the project will be one of the first to integrate economic modeling, as mandated by NSF under its new vision for geosciences that emphasizes “understanding and forecasting the behavior of a complex and evolving Earth system, and reducing vulnerability and sustaining life.”

The challenge of so complex and interdisciplinary a study is daunting but, notes the project’s principal investigator, CSRC’s Steve Frolking, “disciplinary analysis is not enough to address issues of this scope."

The project fits the very definition of sustainability, which is broadly focused on the interaction of ecosystems, social institutions, and communities in all of their overlapping complexity across the full range of spatial and temporal scales.

Another exciting potential EOS project involves collaboration between space physicists, atmospheric chemists, and ice core scientists to probe the possible imprint of impulsive solar energetic particle events on our atmosphere and polar ice caps. The project, which was recently proposed to NSF under its new “Frontiers of Earth System Dynamics" program, would explore the implications those events may have on understanding the past history of the complex, coupled, Sun-Earth system. The proposed project confronts several controversial debates about the coupled system, crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries, and could help usher in greater collaborative research between otherwise disparate communities of scientists.

There are other examples of both funded and proposed EOS projects that are crossing over into the territory of integrated, multidisciplinary, sustainability science.

One of the most exciting developments on the horizon involves the university community as a whole in this new paradigm. The UNH Sustainability Research Collaboratory, which will soon be officially launched, will provide an intellectual and institutional framework around which researchers from across many fields and disciplines will work collaboratively to address the grand challenges of sustainability.

The emerging collaboratory is the result of months of discussions involving more than forty UNH faculty from earth sciences, natural resources, engineering, social sciences, and humanities. This new and novel research center “without walls” will align with multiple goals in the UNH strategic plan, including its deep commitment to interdisciplinarity, engaged scholarship, and its vital contribution to the UNH Sustainability Academy.

Scientists from EOS have played a critical, central role in crafting the particulars of the new collaboratory that at its heart will encourage researchers to learn more about each other’s expertise and research, and collectively learn and develop knowledge around key sustainability challenges.

Literally, the walls to integrated, interdisciplinary, scientific research are coming down, and all of us at UNH are in the vanguard of this critical new step into a more sustainable future.
– Harlan Spence

Welcome to
Spheres Online

the University of New Hampshire Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space electronic newsletter.

Subscribe to Spheres Online

Spheres Archives

Fall 2010
In this Issue of Spheres

Of Crops, Climate, Canals
and the Cryosphere

IBEX Mission Changes its SOCs

The Sustainable Scientist

Waxing Moon Exploration

The Age of Aquarius

News and Notes
Faculty, Staff and Student News
From the Director

Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS)

Director: Harlan Spence
Assoc. Dir.: David S. Bartlett
Editor: David Sims
Designer: Kristi Donahue
Circulation: Laurie Pinciak

Morse Hall, 8 College Road,
Durham, NH 03824

Fall 2010

News and Notes
Faculty, Staff, and Student News

Scott Ollinger
Scott Ollinger

EOS director Harlan Spence reports that CSRC associate professor Scott Ollinger now serves as an EOS associate director with the prime responsibility of coordinating Earth systems science planning within EOS. Ollinger also serves as co-chair of the recently formed T-Hall committee developing an Earth systems science school concept. His dual and complementary leadership roles strengthen the relationship between EOS and the broader university community in response to implementing the “UNH in 2020” vision.

Eberhard Möbius was elected a Fellow of the AGU and will receive the honor at the 2010 Fall AGU Meeting in San Francisco. The designation is conferred upon not more than one-tenth of a percent of all AGU members in any given year.

SSC’s Ben Chandran reports that UNH was selected as a partner institution in the FIELDS Experiment to be flown on NASA's Solar Probe Plus spacecraft. Solar Probe Plus is a mission to visit the Sun with a planned launch date in 2018. The spacecraft will make multiple passes of the Sun at distances as close as 9.5 solar radii. The FIELDS Experiment is led by Stuart Bale at UC Berkeley and will measure electric and magnetic fields in the near-Sun solar wind, providing key clues to help solve the longstanding puzzle of the origin of the solar wind. Chandran and Marty Lee will provide science support and data analysis for the FIELDS team.

Ruth Varner and Michael Palace of CSRC were recently funded by the U.S. Geological Survey to develop a prototype instrument to detect ebullition or bubbling events of methane in wetland and lake ecosystems. This novel method utilizes hydrophones (underwater microphones) to monitor and extract this information cheaply and efficiently over long temporal scales. Coupling these audio methods with the analysis of gas samples will help to determine the pathway by which methane is formed through microbial processes or methanogenesis.

Amanda Plagge
Amanda Plagge Photo by Meg Graustein, U.Conn.

Research conducted by OPAL Ph.D. student Amanda Plagge helped place her as a student co-investigator on NASA's Ocean Vector Wind Science Team. Plagge is teamed with her advisor and project lead, Douglas Vandemark of OPAL, and with James Edson of the University of Connecticut in a new four-year study designed to improve the measurement of ocean winds gathered daily over the globe using satellite radar scatterometers.

Wil Wollheim of the Water Systems Analysis Group reports that the NSF-funded Plum Island Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) project for which he serves as UNH lead scientist was renewed this past summer. The study has been ongoing since 1999 and is probing various aspects of how suburbanization in coastal Massachusetts (Ipswich and Parker river watersheds) is altering the loading of nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon to the Plum Island Estuary.

Scott Ollinger reports that his paper “Sources of variability in canopy reflectance and the convergent properties of plants” will soon appear in New Phytologist. The paper is an invited Tansley Review (after the ecologist Alfred Tansley) that offers new perspectives on plant spectral properties and remote sensing of vegetation. Ollinger also notes that Research and Discover fellow Haley Wicklein, whom he advised, successfully defended her M.S. thesis titled "Variation in foliar nitrogen and albedo in response to nitrogen fertilization and elevated CO2."

In mid-November, OPAL research scientist Tim Moore traveled to the European Space Agency in Hamburg, Germany to integrate software he has developed into the main software processing system for satellite ocean color data on the MEdium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) aboard the Envisat polar-orbiting satellite. Moore's algorithm will become part of the instrument's software package, which classifies satellite data into different optical water types.

Erik Hobbie of CSRC reports that he, Scott Ollinger, Mary Martin, Lucie Lepine, Andy Ouimette, Matt Vadeboncoeur, and Franklin Sullivan attended the Northeastern Ecosystem Regional Cooperative annual meeting in Saratoga Springs November 8-10. Vadeboncoeur gave a talk on “Large variation in stand-scale sustainability of forest biomass harvesting in central New Hampshire,” Ouimette and Hobbie presented posters on “High spatial resolution of foliar and soil chemical data at Bartlett Experimental Forest” and “Radiocarbon reveals organic nitrogen uptake by ectomycorrhizal fungi,” respectively, and Sullivan presented a poster entitled “In search of factors driving the relationship between canopy nitrogen and shortwave surface albedo.” Ollinger serves on the cooperative's steering committee. NERC focuses on studying the health of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada.

ocean ecosystems

Karen Alexander of OPAL presented the online Historical ATLAS of Marine Ecosystems to marine educators at the Oceans Literacy Summit, held at UNH on November 12th. Sponsored by the New England Oceans Sciences Education Collaborative, the summit brought educators from primary and secondary schools, universities, nonprofit and government organizations to discuss how to improve public knowledge about marine issues. Stefan Claesson, formerly of OPAL, and Mike Routhier of the GIS Lab developed the Historical ATLAS of Marine Ecosystems at UNH with funding from the History of Marine Animal Populations (HMAP) program, part of the Census of Marine Life.

On December 16, Jamie Cournane, a post-doctoral research fellow in OPAL, will present her work on the identification of river herring hotspots in the Atlantic herring fishery as part of the UNH Cooperative Extension Fisheries Roundtable "What's next for the Gulf of Maine river herring?" The roundtable will be held at the Portsmouth Public Library.

CCRC’s Robert Swarthout, a Ph.D. student in the Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science program, received an EPA Science to Achieve Results (STAR) three-year Graduate Fellowship on Global Change. Swarthout is conducting research with CCRC’s Barkley Sive and investigating the effects of elevated carbon dioxide and temperature on biogenic volatile organic compound emissions. His research will investigate how changes in biogenic emissions to the atmosphere will affect hydroxyl radical reactivity and tropospheric ozone chemistry.

Toni Galvin (SSC), Ruth Varner, and Space Grant fellow Liz Burakowski were panelists at the Women in Science and Technology conference held at FIRST Place in Manchester on November 5. The daylong conference, entitled “Engineering Your Future,” was designed to inspire and motivate young women toward science, engineering, and technology careers. The NH Space Grant Consortium was a sponsor of the conference, which is now in its tenth year.

Physics graduate student Richard Woolf successfully defended his Ph.D. and has submitted his doctoral thesis for publication. Woolf’s research involved the calibration and analysis of data obtained with an imaging neutron telescope developed at UNH for space missions. The instrument was later tailored for homeland security applications to make measurements of neutrons emitted by uranium and other radioactive materials

oil spill
Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Courtesy of NASA.
OPAL Ph.D. student and NH Space Grant fellow Mimi Szeto was the EOS student representative at the NH Tech Fest held in October. Szeto presented information to middle school students and their families about NASA satellite technologies as applied to ocean remote sensing, in particular the Gulf of Mexico oil spill (see image at left). SSC’s Mark Popecki, and EOS education program coordinator Karen Burnett-Kurie also had booths at the event.

by David Sims, Science Writer, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space.