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UMD Researcher Develops Innovative Water Treatment System to Clean and Sustain the Port of Baltimore

January 22, 2018
Contacts: 

Samantha Watters, 301-405-2434

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- The University of Maryland, in partnership with the Maryland Department of Transportation Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is piloting an innovative sustainable technology to help reduce pollution,  improve the water and air quality, and create renewable energy in and around the Port of Baltimore.

Photo of Port of BaltimoreStephanie Lansing, Ph.D., associate professor in UMD’s Department of Environmental Science and Technology, is leading the pilot project, working alongside UMD faculty members Patrick Kangas, Ph.D., and Peter May, Ph.D. Kangas and May built a treatment system that uses algae as a filtration system to remove excess nutrients from the water. The project will not only combat this issue, but Lansing is using the algae produced from the treatment process as a sustainable energy source.

“What I love about this project is that we are taking traditional agricultural practices and water quality work and applying it to an urban setting in a unique way that hasn’t really been done before,” said Lansing. “We are cleaning up the Bay, improving water and air quality, reducing pollution, and creating renewable energy using innovative green technologies for the Port all at once.”

Growing algae as a filtration system is fast and efficient. Water from the Patapsco River, which is next to the Port, is fed into a runway that is 200 feet long and 6 feet wide. The runway is used to grow algae that pulls out the nitrates and phosphates from the water for its natural growth processes. The water that is cycled back into the river is then cleared of nutrient runoff that can cause imbalances and issues in the Bay. Instead, what is returned is oxygen rich, clean water, improving water and air quality around the Port.

Algae grows quickly and is harvested by the Port once a week and fed into a series of three digesters that are housed in small greenhouse-like structures that break down the algae. This process produces methane-enriched biogas. The biogas can be used as a supplement to power a fuel cell that produces electricity.

“We are harvesting very high quality methane gas from the algae so far to power our fuel cell. From manure, we are used to seeing 55% or 60% methane, but we are seeing 75% methane or higher from the algae, making it very efficient,” explained Dr. Lansing. “Because the algae grows so quickly and is easy to harvest, it makes a great consistent source of biogas when fed into the digesters.”

Currently, the fuel cell is only being used to power flood lights around the digesters. The goal is that the water pump can be powered by the biogas as well, making this a completely sustainable and closed system for this small-scale pilot project.

“If we can show that this is economically feasible and determine how much space we need to clean how much water and produce how much electricity, we can hopefully scale this up from a pilot project and create something viable that we can use to improve the sustainability and environmental footprint of the Port,” said Barbara McMahon of the Port Administration. “Our partnership with MARAD and the University of Maryland has been a huge help and very rewarding. We are excited to see what the future holds.”

 

Federal Government Shutdown FAQs

January 20, 2018

The University of Maryland is committed to keeping its community updated on the federal government shutdown and its potential impacts on our community. Below are some frequently asked questions. The university will update this information as federal agencies continue to release more guidance to the public.

Click here for guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget. Specific agency contingency plans can also be found here.  

Information updated 1/20/18

1. What is the impact on federally-funded research projects?

No new grants or contracts are usually awarded during a shutdown. Researchers can likely submit proposals, but they will not be reviewed until the government is operational again.

Work may continue on most federally-funded projects that have already been awarded. Routine administrative and support services provided by federal agencies to grant and contract recipients likely will not be available. Awarded projects may be disrupted during a shutdown if they are housed in a federal facility, if the project includes federal personnel, and/or if an award includes restrictive terms and conditions that require administrative action to approve a drawdown of funds.

Federal agency staff likely will not be available to approve no-cost extension requests, grant transfers, re-budgeting approvals or other actions requiring agency approval.

For details, refer to Section II of the Office of Management and Budget’s “Planning for Agency Operations during a Potential Lapse in Appropriations” or the specific agency's contingency plan


2. What is the impact on federal financial aid?

The shutdown is expected to have minimal impact on federal financial aid.

The processing of Federal Direct Student Loans and Pell Grants is expected to continue on their normal schedules.

Graduate student stipends awarded as part of federal grants to the university are expected to get paid during the shutdown.


3. What is the impact on veterans’ education benefits and services?

Education benefits will continue to be processed and paid. 

Support services for veteran students, such as their hotline to ask questions on benefits and their career counseling services, may not be operational.


4. What is the impact on immigration services?

Because these activities are funded by fees, most of these services are expected to remain operational during a shutdown.  

For additional information, view the Department of Homeland Security’s plan


5. What is the impact on international students at UMD? 

If you have questions or concerns about how the shutdown affects you as an international student, please contact UMD’s International Student & Scholar Services office at 301-314-7740. 


6. What is the impact on students who are interning with federal agencies? How will this affect internship credits earned? 

Students who have an internship with a federal agency should contact their supervisor to determine how they are affected by the shutdown. 

Students should also contact their internship coordinator at UMD to determine any effects on credits being earned. 


7. Will the Metro still run? 

The metro’s service and schedule are not affected by the shutdown. 

 

Spinning Comet Slows Down During Close Approach to Earth

January 19, 2018
Contacts: 

Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- University of Maryland astronomers have captured an unprecedented slowdown in the rotation of a comet. Observations made in May 2017 by NASA's Swift spacecraft, now renamed the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory after the mission’s late principal investigator, reveal that comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresák was spinning more than twice as slowly as it was in March, when it was observed by the Discovery Channel Telescope at Lowell Observatory near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Comet 41P/Tuttle-Giacobini-Kresak gliding beneath the galaxy NGC 3198The abrupt slowdown of the comet, commonly referred to as 41P, is the most dramatic change in a comet's rotation ever seen. Published in the journal Nature on January 11, 2018, the researchers presented their findings at a press conference on January 10, 2018, at the 231st American Astronomical Society (AAS) Meeting in Washington, D.C.

"The previous record for a comet spindown went to 103P/Hartley 2, which slowed its rotation from 17 to 19 hours over 90 days," said Dennis Bodewits, an associate research scientist in the UMD Department of Astronomy and lead author of the study. "By contrast, 41P spun down by more than 10 times as much in just 60 days, so both the extent and the rate of this change is something we've never seen before."

Comet 41P orbits the sun every 5.4 years, traveling only about as far out as the planet Jupiter. Estimated to be less than a mile across, 41P is among the smallest of the “Jupiter family” comets, named as such because Jupiter’s gravitational influence controls their orbits. The small size of 41P helps explain how jets on the comet’s surface were able to produce such a dramatic spindown.

With a small and relatively inactive nucleus—the solid ball of dust and ice at the center of the comet—41P had proven difficult for astronomers to study in detail. That all changed in early 2017, when the comet passed within 13.2 million miles of Earth—the closest since its discovery.

As a comet nears the sun, increased heating causes its surface ice to change directly to a gas, producing jets that launch dust particles and icy grains into space. This material forms an extended atmosphere, called a coma.

Water in the coma quickly breaks up into hydrogen atoms and hydroxyl molecules when exposed to ultraviolet sunlight. Because Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) is sensitive to UV light emitted by hydroxyl, it is ideally suited for measuring how comet jet activity evolves throughout the comet’s orbit.

Ground-based observations established the comet's initial rotational period at about 20 hours in early March 2017 and detected its slowdown later the same month. The comet came closest to Earth on April 1, making its closest approach to the sun eight days later.

Swift's UVOT imaged the comet May 7-9, 2017, revealing light variations associated with material recently ejected into the coma. These slow changes indicated that 41P's rotation period—or the time it takes for the comet to complete one full rotation on its axis—had more than doubled, from 20 hours to between 46 and 60 hours.

UVOT-based estimates of 41P's water production, coupled with the body's small size, suggest that more than half of the comet’s surface area hosted sunlight-activated jets. In contrast, most active comets typically support jets over about 3 percent of their surface area.

"We suspect that the jets from the active areas are oriented in a favorable way to produce the torques that slowed 41P's spin," said Tony Farnham, a principal research scientist in astronomy at UMD and a co-author of the Nature paper. "If the torques continued acting after the May observations, 41P's rotation period could have slowed to 100 hours or more by now."

Such a slow spin could make the comet's rotation unstable, allowing it to begin tumbling with no fixed rotational axis. This would produce a dramatic change in the comet’s seasonal heating. Bodewits and his colleagues note that 41P probably spun much faster in the past—possibly fast enough to induce landslides or partial fragmentation that would expose fresh ice. Strong outbursts of activity in 1973 and 2001 may be related to 41P's rotational changes, the researchers suggested.

A second team of astronomers from UMD, Lowell Observatory and the University of Sheffield independently confirmed the slowdown with a separate set of observations using the Discovery Channel, Hall and Robotic Telescopes operated by Lowell. The results suggest that the comet has an elongated shape and low density, with jets located near the end of its body. These jets provide the torque needed to slow the comet’s rotation.

“If future observations can accurately measure the dimensions of the nucleus, then the observed rotation period change would set limits on the comet’s density and internal strength,” said Matthew Knight, an assistant research scientist in the UMD Department of Astronomy. “SuchPhoto of comet observations detailed knowledge of a comet is usually only obtained by a dedicated spacecraft mission like the recently completed Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.”

The Rosetta mission, which entered orbit around comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko in 2014, documented a less extreme relationship between a comet's shape, activity and spin. The comet's spin sped up by two minutes as it approached the sun, and then slowed by 20 minutes as it moved farther away. As with 41P, scientists think these changes were produced by the interplay between the comet's shape and the location and activity of its jets.

Comets are believed to be remnants from the formation of the solar system, having changed little during the past 4.5 billion years. First discovered by Horace Tuttle in 1858, 41P was lost for years until it was rediscovered by Michel Giacobini in 1907. Lost again and rediscovered a third time in 1951 by Lubor Kresák, the comet now carries the names of all three independent discoverers.

This release was adapted from text provided by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Lowell Observatory. 

This research published in the Nature research paper was supported by NASA’s Swift Guest Investigator Program (Award No. 1316125) and the National Science Foundation (Award No. AST-1005313). The research presented at the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in October 2017 was supported by NASA’s Planetary Astronomy Program and the Marcus Cometary Research Fund. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

 

 

University of Maryland Named a 2018 Best Value College

January 18, 2018
Contacts: 

Jennifer Burroughs, 301-405-4621

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The University of Maryland has been deemed a best value college by both Kiplinger’s Personal Finance in the 2018 Best College Value ranking and The Princeton Review in their latest book “Colleges That Pay Your Back: 200 Schools That Give You the Best Bang for Your Tuition Buck”. 

In both mentions, the University of Maryland is recognized for its offering of comprehensive aid programs for students who demonstrate financial need and the full offering of merit-based scholarships available to incoming students. The Banneker/Key, President's and Maryland Transfer scholarship programs are featured as keys to “what make a Maryland degree an exceptional value” by Princeton Review editors. 

In addition, UMD is highlighted for its academic support and honors programs, diversity of student body and proximity to tier-one research and internship opportunities in the nation's Capital. 

The Princeton Review accumulates data from over 650 colleges, reviewing more than 40 data factors to determine the return on investment (ROI)  ratings and selection of the universities listed in the annual book. The University of Maryland boasts a ROI rating of 88 in its eighth consecutive appearance on the list. 

Kiplinger’s Personal Finance gathers self-reported figures from over 1,200 colleges and universities, scoring them by academic quality, cost and financial aid options. UMD is ranked No. 10 for in-state students and No. 16 for out-of-state students among public universities. 

Click to view the University of Maryland profiles by The Princeton Review and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

Unity Mural Created by UMD and BSU on Display at Maryland State House

January 18, 2018
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md.-- A Unity Mural, created collaboratively by the University of Maryland and Bowie State University, will be displayed at the Maryland House of Delegates, in the Maryland State House in Annapolis. The Maryland House of Delegates is one of many temporary locations across Prince George's County that will display the artwork until it finds a permanent home at each institution.

To visually illustrate peace, justice and unity, students and faculty from UMD and BSU contributed their artistic talents to design and paint a unity mural at UMD's NextNOW Fest in September 2017. The collaboration presented an opportunity for students to spark a dialogue and call to action for both university communities. 

The Unity Mural consists of four brightly colored canvas panels, featuring symbols such as the sun and sky, hands, vines and doves interspersed with powerful words and text. Two panels will be installed at each university to help foster community building and healing through art and creative expression.

 

 Photo of Unity Mural

NAE President C.D. Mote, Jr., a Regents’ Professor and Past-President of UMD Is Named a Fellow in the National Academy of Inventors

January 12, 2018
Contacts: 

Lee Tune, 301-405-4679 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – C.D. (Dan) Mote, Jr., President of the National Academy of Engineering and a Regents’ Professor, and former president of the University of Maryland has been named a Fellow in the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). 

Headshot of CD (Dan) Mote Jr.The National Academy of Inventors recognizes  “academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.” 

Colleagues say that throughout his career, Dr. Mote has indeed made tangible, positive impacts on the quality of people’s lives, and advanced economic development and the welfare of society through his work as a researcher, inventor, educator and mentor, and as a leader who has  advanced higher education, research and innovation, and the profession of engineering.

“The mission of the National Academy of Inventors is enhancing the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encouraging the disclosure of intellectual property, educating and mentoring innovative students, and informing the public about how invention and innovation benefit society. I enthusiastically share these goals and am honored to be named an NAI Fellow,” said Mote.

Mote’s other recognitions include the NAE Founders Award, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Medal, and the Humboldt Prize of the Federal Republic of Germany. He is an honorary fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, honorary member of the American Society for Engineering Education, and fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Academy of Mechanics, Acoustical Society of America, and American As­sociation for the Advancement of Science. He holds four honorary doctorates and three honor­ary professorships. The NAE elected him to membership in 1988 and to the positions of Councillor (2002–2008), Treasurer (2009–2013), and President for a six–year term beginning July 1, 2013. Mote was elected to the Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2015 and as an honorary academician of the Academia Sinica, Taiwan in 2016. 

“Dan's many patents and innovations have earned this great honor," said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. "The entire campus community sends its congratulations, good wishes, and thanks for his many contributions to the University." 

As president of the NAE Mote is committed to ensuring highly competitive talent in the US engineering workforce, facilitating public understanding of engineering, demonstrating how engineering creates a better quality of life and engaging the academy in global engineering issues in support of national interests.  A highlight of global engineering engagement is the promotion of the NAE’s fourteen Grand Challenges for Engineering from 2008 whose solutions are needed to achieve the global vision “Continuation of life on the planet, making our world more sustainable, safe, healthy and joyful.”

As President of the University of Maryland, College Park, from 1998 to 2010, Mote’s goal for the university was to elevate its self-expectation of achievement and its national and global positions through proactive initiatives. During his tenure the number of Academy members on the fac­ulty tripled, three Nobel laureates were recognized, and an accredited school of public health and a new department of bioengineering were created. He also founded a 130-acre research park next to the campus, faculty research funds increased by 150 percent, partnerships with surrounding federal agencies and with international organizations expanded greatly, and the number of students studying abroad tripled. Mote created “Maryland Day” an annual UMD open house day that attracts over 100,000 visitors, founded a charitable foundation for the campus whose board of trustees launched and led a successful $1 billion capital campaign, and took to lunch every student that wanted to go. 

"Dan is a model of engineering excellence, through his advancement of our field and his contributions to the greater good," said University of Maryland A. James Clark School of Engineering Dean Darryll J. Pines. "We are proud of his deep connection to our school." 

A native Californian, Mote earned his BS, MS, and PhD degrees at the University of California, Berkeley in mechanical engineering between 1959 and 1963.After a postdoctoral year in England and three years as an assistant professor at the Carnegie Institute of Technol­ogy in Pittsburgh, he returned to Berkeley to join the faculty in mechanical engineering for the next 31 years. He and his students investigated the dynamics, stability, and control of high-speed rotating and translating continua (e.g., disks, webs, tapes, and cables) as well as biomechanical problems associated with snow skiing. He coined the area called “dynamics of axially moving materials” encompassing these systems. Fifty-eight PhD students earned their degrees under his mentorship.

He held an endowed chair in mechanical systems at Berkeley and chaired the Mechanical En­gineering Department from 1987 to 1991, when the National Research Council (NRC) ranked its graduate program effectiveness highest nationally. Because of his success at raising funds for mechanical engineering, in 1991 he was appointed vice chancellor expressly to create and lead a $1 billion capital campaign, which raised $1.4 billion.

University of Maryland Receives $5M National Science Foundation Grant to Support Next Generation of Cyber Leaders

January 11, 2018
Contacts: 

Alana Coyle, UMD, 301-405-0235
Bobbie Mixon Jr., NSF, 703-292-8485 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland has been awarded a grant totaling $5 million over five years from the National Science Foundation’s CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) program to address today’s workforce demand by funding scholarships for students in UMD’s Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES) program.

The first undergraduate honors program in cybersecurity in the United States, ACES was started with support from the Northrop Grumman Foundation to educate the next generation of cyber leaders and prepare them for the workforce. Recognizing the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to cybersecurity education, faculty from five schools and colleges across campus joined forces to submit the SFS proposal, including the A. James Clark School of Engineering, College of Computer, Mathematical & Natural Sciences, School of Public Policy, Robert H. Smith School of Business, and the Office of Undergraduate Studies. 

“We are grateful that the National Science Foundation has chosen to support our ACES program, strengthening our ties to both the public and private sectors,” said UMD Senior Vice President and Provost Mary Ann Rankin. “This grant is a testament to the impact we can have when schools and colleges from across campus come together to address today’s greatest workforce needs.” 

SFS supports programs that address cybersecurity education and workforce development, and focus on recruiting and training the next generation of information technology professionals, industry control system security professionals and security managers. 

UMD is among four new universities to be included in the SFS program. “Each school provided evidence of a strong academic program in cybersecurity including designation as a Center of Excellence by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security,” said Victor Piotrowski, CyberCorps SFS lead program director in NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate. “They also bring unique additions to the CyberCorps SFS portfolio of 70 schools.”

Through its unique, multidisciplinary approach, ACES educates students to become cybersecurity leaders through experiential learning, group projects, research, internships, and a broad focus on the emerging discipline. The ACES curriculum consists of two linked academic programs over the course of four years. The ACES Living-Learning Program for freshmen and sophomores leads to an Honors College Citation in Cybersecurity. Juniors and seniors may then enroll in the ACES minor to supplement their bachelor's degree. Each year approximately 75 students enter the living-learning program and approximately 50 students enter the minor. 

“We are extremely proud of this well-earned recognition of UMD College Park’s strong cybersecurity program,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. “Maryland is the cyber capital of the nation and is home to unique resources, including top federal agencies, cutting-edge research institutions, and over 1,200 innovative private sector cybersecurity companies. The integral role Northrop Grumman played in supporting UMD’s pioneering ACES program demonstrates the value of public-private partnerships in leveraging cyber resources. These talented students will be well-equipped to address the rapidly emerging and evolving cybersecurity challenges facing our nation.”

ACES students combine the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom with real world, flexible and hands-on experiences. Partnerships across the private and public sectors play a vital role in the success and impact of the ACES program and in the professional development of ACES scholars. The program’s key partners, like Northrop Grumman and the National Security Agency, help co-develop new courses to ensure that the competencies needed by industry are addressed, participate in guest lectures for ACES students, provide real world problems that student teams will address, and contribute advisors and mentors for capstone projects.

“As a founding corporate partner of the University of Maryland ACES program, Northrop Grumman and the Northrop Grumman Foundation look forward to the program’s continued success helping to develop tomorrow’s cyber leadership,” said Sonal Deshpande, vice president, Northrop Grumman and Executive Sponsor for University of Maryland, College Park. “We are happy to see the NSF join this partnership and build on the program’s success by establishing opportunities for students to gain critical experience with federal agencies.”

Deborah Frincke, NSA Research Director, congratulated the University of Maryland on their new grant for the Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students. “Students who participate in the ACES program, teamed with NSA’s cybersecurity research program, are already helping make cyberspace safer and more secure through their dedication and enthusiasm.”

Aligned with the university’s mission as a public university to serve our state and nation, after graduation, scholarship recipients through the SFS program will work for a federal, state, local, or tribal government organization in a position related to cybersecurity for a period equal to the length of the scholarship. 

“Maryland is at the epicenter of cyber technology innovation. These funds will help our state continue that trend of excellence and ensure that the University of Maryland is able to keep training a technologically savvy workforce with the skills to meet our national security challenges,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin. “I’ll fight to ensure that every student, in every corner of Maryland, receives the resources they need to thrive and pursue well-paying jobs.”

“Now more than ever we need to adequately prepare our students for the jobs of the future. Fortunately for Marylanders, UMD is leading this charge,” said U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen. “This funding will prepare Maryland’s best and brightest to compete for opportunities in the cyber sector and will help grow our state’s cyber workforce. I’m proud to see this well-deserved recognition of UMD’s ACES program, and I will continue to support efforts to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education and create good paying jobs across our state.”

For more information about the SFS for ACES grant, visit https://go.umd.edu/x84

To learn more about ACES, visit http://aces.umd.edu/

 

North American Waterways are Becoming Saltier and More Alkaline

January 10, 2018
Contacts: 

 Matthew Wright, 301-405-9267

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Across North America, streams and rivers are becoming saltier, thanks to road deicers, fertilizers and other salty compounds that humans indirectly release into waterways. At the same time, freshwater supplies are also becoming more alkaline.

Salty, alkaline freshwater can create big problems for drinking water supplies, urban infrastructure and natural ecosystems. For example, when Flint, Michigan, switched its primary water source to the Flint River in 2014, the river’s high salt load caused lead to leach from water pipes, creating the city’s well-documented water crisis.

A new study led by University of Maryland researchers is the first to assess long-term changes in freshwater salinity and pH at the continental scale. Drawn from data recorded at 232 U.S. Geological Survey monitoring sites across the country over the past 50 years, the analysis shows significant increases in both salinization and alkalinization. The study results also suggest a close link between the two properties, with different salt compounds combining to do more damage than any one salt on its own.

The analysis, which has implications for freshwater management and salt regulation strategies in the United States, Canada and beyond, was published in the January 8, 2018 Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The multi-institutional study also included researchers from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, the University of Connecticut, the University of Virginia and Chatham University.

Photo of map that shows changes in salt content in fresh water in rivers and streams across the US over the past century

Map shows changes in the salt content of fresh water in rivers and streams across the United States in the past half century. Warmer colors indicate increasing salinity while cooler colors indicate decreasing salinty. The black dots represent the 232 U.S. Geological Survey monitoring sites that provided the data for the study. Photo credit: Ryan Utz/Chatham University.

“We created the name ‘Freshwater Salinization Syndrome’ because we realized it’s a suite of effects on water quality, with many different salt ions linked together. We didn’t know that before,” said Sujay Kaushal, a professor of geology at UMD and lead author of the study. “Many people assume that when you apply salt to the landscape it just gets washed away and disappears. But salt accumulates in soils and groundwater and takes decades to get flushed out.”

The researchers documented sharp chemical changes in many of the country’s major rivers, including the Mississippi, Hudson, Potomac, Neuse, Canadian and Chattahoochee Rivers. Many of these rivers supply drinking water for nearby cities and towns, including some of the most densely populated urban centers along the Eastern Seaboard.

According to Kaushal, most freshwater salinization research has focused on sodium chloride, better known as table salt, which is also the dominant chemical in road deicers. But in terms of chemistry, salt has a much broader definition, encompassing any combination of positively and negatively charged ions that dissociate in water. Some of the most common positive ions found in salts—including sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium—can have damaging effects on freshwater at higher concentrations.

“These ‘cocktails’ of salts can be more toxic than just one salt, as some ions can displace and release other ions from soils and rocks, compounding the problem,” said Kaushal, who also has an appointment in UMD’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center. “Ecotoxicologists are now beginning to understand this.”

The current study is the first to simultaneously account for multiple salt ions in freshwater across the United States and southern Canada. The results suggest that salt ions, damaging in their own right, are driving up the pH of freshwater as well, making it more alkaline. Over the time period covered by the study, the researchers concluded that 37 percent of the drainage area of the contiguous United States experienced a significant increase in salinity. Alkalinization, which is influenced by a number of different factors in addition to salinity, increased by 90 percent.

“Our study is the first to document a link between increased salinization and alkalinization at the continental scale. Until now, we didn’t fully appreciate the role that different salts play in altering the pH of streams and rivers of our country,” said study co-author Gene Likens, president emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a distinguished research professor at the University of Connecticut. “Salt content and pH are fundamental aspects of water chemistry, so these are major changes to the properties of freshwater.”

Graphic of the many different human activities can increase salt pollution in drinking water

The root causes of increased salt in waterways vary from region to region, Kaushal said. In the snowy Mid-Atlantic and New England, road salt applied to maintain roadways in winter is a primary culprit. In the heavily agricultural Midwest, fertilizers—particularly those with high potassium content—also make major contributions. In other regions, mining waste and weathering of concrete, rocks and soils releases salts into adjacent waterways.

“We found that the pH of some rivers started increasing in the 1950s and ’60s—decades before the implementation of acid rain regulations,” said Michael Pace, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and a co-author of the study. “We also observed increased salt concentrations in the Southeast, where they don’t apply road salts. These surprising trends presented a puzzle that our team worked together to solve.”

Many different humans activities can increase salt pollution in drinking water. Photo credit: Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

In the water-starved desert Southwest, where salt concentrations have historically been very high, Kaushal and his colleagues documented an overall decrease in salinity over time. The researchers attribute this decrease to a variety of factors, including changes in land and water use, coupled with an effort on the part of Western state and local governments to reduce salt inputs and improve water resource management strategies. For example, in 1973, the seven Western states included in the Colorado River Basin created the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Forum to support salinity control efforts.

Kaushal noted that many strategies for managing salt pollution already exist. Evidence suggests that brines can be more efficient than granulated salt for deicing roads, yielding the same effect with less overall salt input. Pre-salting before a major snow event can also improve results. Kaushal also said that many Mid-Atlantic and northeastern cities and states have outdated and inefficient salt-spreading equipment that is long overdue for an upgrade.

“Also, not all salts are created equally in terms of their ability to melt ice at certain temperatures,” Kaushal added. “Choosing the right salt compounds for the right conditions can help melt snow and ice more efficiently with less salt input, which would go a long way toward solving the problem.”

Kaushal and his colleagues note similar issues with the application of fertilizers in agricultural settings. In many cases, applying the right amount of fertilizer at the right time of the season can help reduce the overall output of salts into nearby streams and rivers. The researchers also note that more careful urban development strategies—primarily building further from waterways and designing more effective stormwater drainage systems—can help reduce the amount of salt washed away from weathered concrete.

“As a society, we’re addressing the water quality issues of sewage, wastewater and nutrient loading,” said Tom Torgersen, director of the National Science Foundation’s Water Sustainability and Climate program, which funded the research. “But our impact on water quality remains significant as a result of our increasing population, the size of our built infrastructure and other factors. Management of water quality impacts remains a challenge.”

The researchers also note the need to monitor and replace aging water pipes throughout the country that have been impacted by corrosion and scaling, or the buildup of mineral deposits and microbial films. Such pipes are particularly vulnerable to saltier, more alkaline water, which can exacerbate the release of toxic metals and other contaminants.

“The trends we are seeing in the data all suggest that we need to consider the issue of salt pollution and begin to take it seriously,” Kaushal said. “The Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate salts as primary contaminants in drinking water at the federal level, and there is inconsistency in managing salt pollution at the local level. These factors are something communities need to address to provide safe water now and for future generations.”

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award Nos. EAR-1521224, DEB-1027188, DEB-1119739 and CBET-105850), the U.S. Geological Survey, the Hudson River Foundation, the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.

 

As U.S. Maternal Deaths Rise, UMD Research Underscores Impact of Flawed Data

January 9, 2018
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin, 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md.—New research from the University of Maryland Population Research Center (MPRC), published in Birth, investigates the rapidly increasing rate of maternal mortality—the death of a woman during or soon after pregnancy—in Texas in recent years. Researchers discovered an 87 percent increase in maternal deaths in Texas when comparing data from 2011-2015 with 2006-2010, but say some of the spike is attributable to overreporting and a flawed data collection system.

Marian MacDorman, a research professor at the MPRC and the study’s lead author, said the situation in Texas represents parallel public health emergencies: (1) a sharp increase in the maternal mortality rate in recent years; and (2) a lack of reliable data to better characterize and further understand the increase.

“Both the increasing maternal mortality rates in Texas and the substantial data problems identified in our study constitute an urgent call for action,” MacDorman said. “While the dramatic increase in maternal deaths in Texas is most concerning, this is a problem that needs to be addressed nationwide.”

According to MacDorman's latest study, "The problems in reporting of pregnancy status are compounded by United States coding rules that code every death with the pregnancy or postpartum checkbox checked to maternal causes, regardless of what is written in the cause-of-death."

MacDorman and colleagues previously published research in April of 2016 showing the U.S. maternal death rate increased 27% overall between 2000 and 2014, while rates declined internationally. 

Researchers analyzed data collected in states that include a pregnancy question on the U.S. standard death certificate filled out by physicians, medical examiners and coroners. In a commentary accompanying the Birth article, MacDorman and colleagues urge for a “systemic evaluation” of current reporting methods for maternal deaths, and the implementation of validation studies, data quality checks and enhanced education and training at state and national levels.

“Without accurate data to measure the magnitude of the problem and to identify at-risk populations, the efficacy of maternal mortality prevention efforts are severely compromised,” MacDorman said. “Simply put, if accurate maternal mortality data is not available, prevention efforts are scattered and unfocused and more women die.”

Maternal mortality has long been seen as a primary indicator of the quality of health care both in the United States and internationally. In 1990, the United Nations named maternal mortality reduction as a Millennium Development Goal, leading to an unprecedented effort to reduce maternal mortality worldwide. Maternal mortality decreased by 44% worldwide from 1990 to 2015, including a 48% decline among developed regions. However, the U.S. maternal mortality rate has shown consistent increases, in contrast to international trends.

MacDorman’s co-authors include Marie Thoma from the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland, as well as Eugene Declercq from the School of Public Health at Boston University.

The University of Maryland, College Park will open late at 10 am, Tuesday, January 9, 2018, due to inclement weather.

January 9, 2018

The University of Maryland, College Park will open late at 10 am, Tuesday, January 9, 2018, due to inclement weather.

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