The Gulf of Maine Research Institute is getting its largest grant ever from NASA to update and expand its climate change education program for Maine schoolchildren. The $6.5 million grant, announced Tuesday, will be used for the institute’s learning laboratory program – called LabVenture! – and shared with national science education partners.

Each year 10,000 fifth- and sixth-graders visit GMRI’s Sam L. Cohen Center in Portland to learn about the Gulf of Maine. The entire trip is free and allows the children to take on the roles of scientists and fishermen, learning how species such as lobster and cod interconnect and how human activities affect them. The role of weather in the broader issue of climate change is a key education point.

They also focus on the effects of warming waters on the ecosystem – data show that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s bodies of saltwater.

Leigh Peake, GMRI’s chief education officer, was ebullient as she described what the grant would mean for the institute, which aims to improve ecoystem management through research and education.

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