andrea nurse and crew core sample

Andrea Nurse and crew taking core sample. (Courtesy of Andrea Nurse)

By Keisha Scott

Andrea Nurse, an adjunct lecturer 1 at University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) and a paleoecologist specializing in palynology, said that she spent her 2011 summer researching “forest succession on offshore islands in the Gulf of Maine” and “collecting sediment cores along a transect of islands that sit northeast to southwest across the Gulf of Maine.”

Her current research will hopefully lead to the identification of “local climate shifts driven by the southward extent of the cold Labrador Current and how changes in sea surface temperature affect vegetation and seabird colonies on the islands.”

Another aspect of the project that she hopes to achieve is to “identify changes in island vegetation relating to human habitation and changes in land use on the offshore islands,” said Nurse.

Nurse said in an email interview that this project is a “collaborative effort that includes” five organizations: the College of the Atlantic which is looking at soil chemistry; the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Reserve which is looking at habitat management for nesting seabirds; Maine’s Natural History Observatory which is focusing on island ecology and botany; the National Park Service which is working on habitat preservation and public access; and the UMaine Climate Change Institute which is focusing on climate change and human resources.

For her current project she wants to “analyze the portion of each core that was deposited over the past 6,500 years. Analyzing 100 cm of core material costs over $30,000”. The National Science Foundation funds the majority of big projects and “they only have money to fund 5-10% of the research proposals submitted. If you have a long-term monitoring project, you need seven years of data before you can even apply for further funding”, said Nurse.

According to Nurse, money is the biggest obstacle she has had to overcome in doing her research. “Most researchers struggle with funding their research projects,” Nurse said.

It was difficult for Nurse to understand why teaching professors didn’t get more research done, that is, until she started teaching. “Perhaps I don’t multitask well, but with me it is usually one or the other,” she said.

“UMF is great about consolidating my lecture and lab schedule into two days a week,” said Nurse, but that she spends “another two days getting ready for class and lab,” leaving her with only “one day plus the weekends to work on other projects.” That doesn’t seem like a lot, but it doesn’t bother Nurse because she only teaches four months at a time and hopes to fill her time with some type of research the remainder of the year.

Nurse said that “for each glorious day of collecting sediment cores in the field translates to one year of work in the laboratory,” and “paleoecology is a lot like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Putting the pieces together may become tedious, but watching the big picture emerge is a real rush”.

Nurse loves to do in-field work. “Traveling out to the islands this summer was like being a tourist traveling with wonderfully knowledgeable tour guides.” She hopes that she will someday have the opportunity to do field work in Greenland.

Starting next week Nurse will begin work on yet another project. This time Nurse said she will be analyzing “pollen samples for a project run by researchers at the University of Minnesota.” Though this project adds to her list of obligations and projects, Nurse still said that she is “looking forward to the work.”