NASA EPSCoR Research Projects

Currently Funded NASA EPSCoR Research Projects

“Earth System Data Solutions for Detecting and Adapting to Climate Change in the Gulf of Maine.” Andrew Pershing, Chief Science Officer, Gulf of Maine Research Institute. A core element of NASA’s mission is to help the nation meet the challenges of climate change. A key step in advancing this goal is the application of NASA’s high-quality Earth system data to inform decision making for climate change adaptation.Because of the accelerated rate of change documented in marine systems, climate change and climate variability pose a direct challenge to the management and sustainability of marine natural resources. Our project will create high-resolution dynamic models of the distribution of commercially and ecologically important marine species based on Earth system data. These products will provide a foundation for hindcasts, real-time estimates, and seasonal forecasts to support climate adaptation in fisheries throughout New England, including specific forecasts for Maine’s $1B lobster industry. Our project will also establish a team of ecologists, ecosystem modelers, and data scientists focused on ecological forecasting and will develop strong ties to NASA scientists and NASA data products.

Animal distributions change in space and time in response to conditions in their environment. A central goal of our project is to develop models that can capture these changes in near real-time and take advantage of the wealth of animal observations collected outside of standardized scientific surveys. We plan to use the MaxEnt modeling framework to build models that use NASA data products to estimate the distribution of an important group of small pelagic fish and squid in the Gulf of Maine that serve as sentinels of a changing climate.We will then test algorithms to assimilate new observations into the models.These algorithms will improve the accuracy of the models and are especially important as our climate moves rapidly beyond historical conditions.We will also develop seasonal forecasts for conditions in the lobster fishery.These forecasts will provide valuable information for the industry and managers and will build a foundation for expanded forecasting work in the future.

Building models and delivering operational forecasts requires access to a wide variety of Earth system data products. We will work closely with our NASA partner, Edward Armstrong at JPL, to test the consolidated web services layer recently implemented by JPL to serve oceanographic data. Data access through these services will be implemented throughout the project, from the development and testing of models through to the operational forecasts.

Our project will advance ecological forecasting and deliver forecast information that will be critical for supporting climate change adaptation in natural resource management. The types of forecasts we will be developing will enable resource managers and industry participants to make proactive decisions as they strive to sustain businesses, industries, and economies in the context of climate change. Lessons learned from the immediate applications of this work to fisheries in the Gulf of Maine will have broad national relevance as resource-based industries increasingly confront the challenges of operating in changing and no-analog conditions. The infrastructure developed through this project—including information technology, the algorithmic framework, and scientific capacity of early career scientists—will provide a strong foundation for future work and will establish this team as regional and national leaders in marine ecological forecasting.

“Learning how to breathe: what can we learn about antiquity, iron oxidation, and respiration on oxygen from modern Fe-oxidizing bacteria.” David Emerson, Senior Research Scientist, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences.  This project has three primary goals that are aimed at better understanding a group of microbes of interest to NASA from an exobiology standpoint, and developing single cell genomics techniques as a tool of use to NASA researchers working on extremophilic bacteria, as well as the larger scientific community. The work is of direct relevance to several goals laid out in the 2008 NASA Roadmap for Astrobiology. Dr. Emerson is developing the infrastructure for establishing a bioinformatics pipeline at the single cell genome center (SCGC) that has recently been established at Bigelow.

“Behavior and Optimization of Hypersonic Inflatable Atmospheric Decelerator Devices for Spacecraft Re-Entry.” William Davids, John C. Bridge Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Maine.  This project seeks to advance our basic understanding of the load-deformation behavior of Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerators (HIADs). A HIAD is a nose-cone-mounted inflatable structure consisting of multiple, concentric nitrogen-filled tori that is designed to decelerate and protect spacecraft during atmospheric re-entry. Compared with conventional rigid aeroshell devices for human and robotic atmospheric re-entry, HIADs offer considerable mass and volume fraction reduction, a lower ballistic coefficient, and can be more readily deployed in thin atmospheres.

Previously Funded NASA EPSCoR Research Projects

“Toxicity of Metals and Lunar Dust in Biological Systems.” John Wise, Applied Medical Sciences, University of Southern Maine. The goal of the project was to develop a system for characterizing the potential cytotoxic, genotoxic and carcinogenic hazard of space dusts so that permissible exposure limits and engineering controls can be better determined to protect against them. To achieve this goal the USM researchers successfully tested the central hypothesis that lunar dust is toxic to human cells. As the result of this project Dr. Wise has enhanced the research competitiveness of his laboratory and developed an ongoing partnership with NASA.

“Real-Time Wireless Shape Monitoring of Deployable Space Structures.” Ali Abedi, Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Maine.  The research team focused on developing a real-time wireless shape monitoring system for inflatable space structures. New techniques for wireless distance and strain estimation and methods for modeling deployable structures were the main outcomes of this project. This project led to the establishment of UMaine’s Lunar Habitat, Wireless Sensing Laboratory (the first of its kind) to study inflatable space structures for extended manned missions on the moon and other planets. Recently, in January 2013, NASA Johnson Space Center and JACOBS Technology Company awarded another contract to UMaine to study usage of wireless sensors for monitoring International Space Station (ISS) Solar Arrays. This is an evidence of success in previous EPSCoR project and was not possible without EPSCoR support.