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NEWS: Earthworms, Antarctica, Lake Superior, and the Chippewa Language

Marsha Walton
Marsha Walton, a producer for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Science Nation series, was on the UMD campus from July 5-8 to produce four video stories about UMD's science research. Science Nation is an online magazine that highlights the latest advancements in science and technology, and spotlights leaders in research. In addition to the online magazine, the pieces are also featured on PBS television stations, nationwide. One of UMD's four feature programs will be the 100th Science Nation production.

Walton is producing a new series, This American Land, a 1/2 hour television series for PBS stations that airs beginning in August 2011. The series reports from the front lines of America's natural heritage: landscapes, waters, and wildlife. Three of the UMD stories may get used in that series as well.

UMD now has 31 National Science Foundation funded projects and dozens of other research activities at UMD. UMD ranks as the university with the second largest amount of research funding in the state of Minnesota. The stories chosen for the Science Nation features are the Great Lakes Worm Watch, the Large Lakes Observatory, Age and Composition of the East Antarctic Shield, and Documenting the Chippewa Language, Training Indigenous Scholars

Scientist Cindy Hale examines earthworms. She is with Marsha Walton, one of the producers for NSF's Science Nation and videographer Dean Vogtman.
John Goodge is interviewed in his lab.
Jay Austin retrieves the NSF-funded underwater vehicle, the only autonomous vehicle currently operating in the Great Lakes.
Tom Johnson gives some background on the Large Lakes Observatory's projects.

Great Lakes Worm Watch

Earthworms --- nightcrawlers, angle worms --- are an invasive species from Europe – hitchhiking some 250 years ago in plant roots and ship ballasts with immigrants to the New World. The impact of invasive earthworms, especially the destruction of understory plants in forests, is taught in some classrooms and has made the news, but most adults aren't aware of the devastation they can do.

UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) is working to educate people and to save a piece of the Minnesota forest that hasn’t been invaded by these critters. The “Worm Lady,” scientist Cindy Hale, started her research in 2000 and began Minnesota Worm Watch soon after. In 2005 she received two years of NSF funding of $74,982 and expanded the project into Great Lakes Worm Watch. Today, gets millions of hits a year.

To American Indian tribes on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, it’s serious. There are still pockets of sugar maple forest in their region that are earthworm-free, which means the forest understory plants, including sugar maple seedlings, can thrive. Keeping the forest healthy and free of earthworms will mean more trees to tap for syrup and will allow a tribal tradition to continue.

NRRI created a summer internship program to find a way to keep anglers in northern Minnesota from spreading earthworms when they dump their unused bait. The pilot study started by the college students in 2010 continues in summer 2011.

Age and Composition of the East Antarctic Shield

UMD geologist John Goodge traveled to Antarctica in the winter of 2010-2011 to sample material from rock outcrop and glacial deposits. He is working to build a better picture of the continent hidden beneath the polar ice cap of Antarctica. Antarctica originally belonged to a land mass straddling the equator that included Africa, Australia, India and the tip of South America. Because about 98 percent of Antarctica is ice-covered, little of its geology is apparent. Geophysical tools have helped “see through” the ice to the underlying rock with varying magnetic and gravity properties. In this project, Goodge's 11th trip, the team sampled granitic rocks exposed in the mountains and glacial boulders stranded in the ice next to the mountains that have been scraped off of the East Antarctic continent. In the past few months, Goodge and UMD students have used a variety of instruments in the lab to learn what the rock compositions are, how old they are, where within the earth they formed, and the conditions they experienced in terms of pressure and temperature. Because the group sampled over an area greater than 1,500 kilometers long, patterns in the samples are building a better picture of what the Antarctic continent looks like. Antarctica’s polar ice cap and glaciers are critical to understanding ongoing processes of climate change. Knowing more about the substrate for the earth’s largest ice cap and reservoir of fresh water will help to determine the stability and future fate of the ice sheet in the face of ongoing warming.

Large Lakes Observatory

The Large Lakes Observatory (LLO) is an interdisciplinary group of scientists interested in oceanographic research approaches to the mysteries of large lakes. These scientists combine graduate education in limnology and oceanography with a research program on large lakes throughout the world.

The work of LLO scientists Steve Colman, professor of geological sciences and LLO director; Jay Austin, associate professor of physics; Tom Johnson, Regents Professor of geological sciences; and Doug Ricketts, Marine Superintendent and adjunct assistant professor of geological sciences, was featured by NSF. LLO is the only institute in the country dedicated to the study of large lakes throughout the world. More than half of the world’s surface fresh water is contained in just four lakes, including Lake Superior. Yet many parts of the ocean are better known than our large lakes. LLO is constantly discovering new and important things about large lakes, from new microbes and other forms of life to large-scale reactions to climate change. LLO’s work is to better understand the biology, chemistry, physics, and geology of these bodies of water, in order to preserve and protect them.

A key component of LLO’s activities is the operation of the Research Vessel Blue Heron, the only member of the UNOLS (University National Oceanographic Laboratory System) fleet to operate in the Great Lakes. Not only is the R/V Blue Heron the only member of the UNOLS fleet on the Great Lakes, it meets stringent UNOLS standards and is arguably the safest and best-equipped research vessel on the Great Lakes. More than $13 million-worth of research projects have been completed using the ship. LLO has 12 National Science Foundation grants with research that take place in Minnesota. They have nine additional grants on projects around the world.

Among the active NSF research projects on Lake Superior are: The role of Ice in the response of Large Lakes to a Changing Climate, Transient Diagenesis in Organic Poor Sediments: Lake Superior, and How Important is “Old” Carbon in Lake Superior? A Radiocarbon Investigation.

Documenting the Chippewa Language and Training Indigenous Scholars

Documenting Chippewa (Ojibwe) conversation and other non-narrative speech genres is a project being conducted by Mary Hermes, associate professor in UMD's Department of Education. Because there are fewer than 300 speakers of Southeastern Ojibwe, and maybe less, the work is vital. The project is a resource for a growing Ojibwe language revitalization effort.

Lillian Boushey shares stories of growing up speaking the Ojibwe language.

The majority of the work is in transcribing conversations. Transcribing also covers false starts, misspeaks and conversational strategies, which have been largely undocumented and unarticulated in the linguistic world for Ojibwe.

Indigenous scholars are trained in documentation. Simultaneously, the sessions record conversations and create archives to be used in the production of a digital teaching tool. Documentation, training, archives creations and distribution all dovetail and overlap in reciprocal ways in this project.

The project strengthens networks across communities and institutions while training emerging second language speakers in Ojibwe documentary linguistics and involving them in software production. A non-profit production group, Grassroots Indigenous Multimedia, partners with the project to create immediately useable language learning materials from these conversations.

— written by Cheryl Reitan, 7/12/2011

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