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September 9, 2019

Gulf of Maine Research Institute launches climate center in Portland

GMRI building exterior on Commercial St. in Portland. File photo courtesy / Gulf of Maine Research Institute The Gulf of Maine Research Institute is headquartered on Portland's waterfront.

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute will launch an interdisciplinary center for climate studies, focused on solutions to the local, regional and global challenges of ocean warming. 

The virtual center, based at the organization’s existing Commercial Street lab in Portland, is expected to leverage the institute’s mix of science, education and community expertise to provide forward-looking leadership, according to a news release Monday.

“We’ve spent the last decade identifying warming trends and associated challenges in our bioregion,” CEO/President Don Perkins said in the release. “We’ll spend the next decade identifying solutions to some of these challenges and helping coastal communities adapt to a warmer future. Furthermore, we know the solutions we develop locally will be relevant to other communities around the world as they grapple with similar challenges.”

In addition to regional trends, the new climate center builds on the institute’s recent global research, which reflects the need for communities to make forward-looking decisions in the face of warming trends.

“For generations, people have made decisions based on their past experiences,” Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Andrew Pershing said in the release. “Rapid warming means the past is unreliable for predicting the future, requiring a paradigm shift in how we make decisions.”

Over the course of the last decade, scientists from the institute have found that over the last 30 years, the Gulf of Maine warmed at a rate of 0.11°F per year, faster than 99% of the global ocean, and more than three times the global average. 

International climate symposium

Major climate projects are already underway at the institute. In the last year, it raised and deployed more than $2 million in federal and national foundation funding on projects that contribute to the resiliency of communities throughout the Gulf of Maine. 

Examples include:

•    Convening international experts: The institute is co-hosting the Gulf of Maine 2050 International Symposium Nov. 4-8 at Westin Harborview in Portland, to bring ocean leaders from across New England and Maritime Canada together to synthesize environmental, economic, social and institutional perspectives on coastal climate resilience. 

•    Helping fishermen adapt: Research scientist Kathy Mills is leading collaborative projects exploring how fish abundance and distribution will change in a warming ocean. Her team is translating that data into port-specific economic vulnerability assessments throughout the Northeast and is working with communities to identify climate-resilient fishing strategies for the future.

•   Driving climate-ready fisheries management: Research scientist Lisa Kerr is leading an interdisciplinary, multi-organization team to explore how fisheries management strategies will perform in a changing climate. Her team will host interactive workshops for both fishermen and fisheries managers in Portland and other fishing communities. The group is expected contribute to the development and testing of strategies for climate-informed fisheries management.

•    Preparing communities for sea-level rise: Science education program manager Gayle Bowness is leading interactive programs to raise awareness and draw new audiences in conversations about sea-level rise and local planning for impacts associated with coastal flooding, teaming with municipal leaders to assemble resources, tools and data visualizations.

•    Educating the next generation of ocean stewards: Chief education officer Leigh Peake and her team have revamped their long-running LabVenture program, which now serves a climate-focused science experience to thousands of Maine middle-schoolers each year and will soon expand to engage adult learners.

Climate-ready management

In the coming months and years, the institute says additional funding and expanded partnerships will magnify the impact of the new climate center in areas such as fisheries management, aquaculture business planning and seafood supply chain issues. 

This graphic depicts the large marine ecosystems examined by the Gulf of Marine Research Institute to identify the frequency of warming ocean temperatures.

“We have a unique mix of oceanographers, ecologists, economists, and data scientists who specialize in predicting and contextualizing changes in the marine environment,” said Perkins. “But, unlike most research labs, our scientific perspective is balanced by decades of experience delivering high-impact education programs and convening diverse groups of marine stakeholders to solve complex problems. This integrated approach prepares us to tackle the challenge of supporting real-world climate decisions as part of this new center.”

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