Category Archives: research

UGA Skidaway Institute develops cutting-edge microbial imaging laboratory

A team of researchers from the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography has received a $226,557 grant from the National Science Foundation to acquire state-of-the-art imaging equipment to investigate microorganisms from the tiniest viruses to larger zooplankton. The equipment will be housed in UGA Skidaway Institute’s new Laboratory for Imaging Microbial Ecology, or LIME.

Researcher Elizabeth Harvey leads the research team that also includes UGA Skidaway Institute scientists Julia Diaz, Marc Frischer, James Nelson and James Sanders.

UGA Skidaway Institute researchers Tina Walters, Marc Frischer and Karrie Bulski practice running zooplankton samples on the FlowCam, a new instrument that is part of LIME

UGA Skidaway Institute researchers Tina Walters, Marc Frischer and Karrie Bulski practice running zooplankton samples on the FlowCam, a new instrument that is part of LIME

The equipment will improve Skidaway Institute’s capability to conduct field and laboratory experiments by automating many viewing methods.

“Anyone who uses a microscope will tell you that it is both tedious and time consuming,” Harvey said. “This equipment will allow us to enumerate and analyze microbes and other planktonic organisms much faster, and will allow us to do more large-scale projects than we could in the past.”

Microscopic phytoplankton photogaphed in the LIME.

Microscopic phytoplankton photogaphed in the LIME.

Much of the equipment will also have imaging capability so researchers will be able to do more detailed measurements on the size and shape of the tiny organisms and how that might relate to the health of an ecosystem.

Marine microbes are an essential component of all marine ecosystems and they play central roles in mediating biogeochemical cycling and food web structure.

“They are the things that drive all other processes in the ocean,” Harvey said. “They play a really important role in the way nutrients, oxygen and carbon are cycled through the ocean. We care a lot about those processes because they impact our climate, fisheries and the ocean’s overall health.”

The benefits of LIME will be shared beyond Skidaway Institute’s science team. Harvey envisions it as a regional center for microbial imaging, available to any other researchers who need the capability.

“Anyone is welcome to come here and get trained to use them,” she said. “They just need to contact me and we can make arrangements.”

Some of the equipment is already in place, while other pieces have not been delivered. Harvey anticipates all the equipment being functional by mid-2017.

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UGA Skidaway Institute associate professor cited for top research articles

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography associate professor Aron Stubbins is one of just a handful of researchers cited in the journal Limnology and Oceanography for authoring two of the journal’s top scientific papers over the past 60 years.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Limnology and Oceanography is an official publication of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography and is considered a premier scientific journal. In its recently published 60th anniversary issue, the journal collected and republished the 10 most cited research papers for each of the last six decades. Stubbins authored or co-authored two of those papers, one in 2008 and the other in 2010.

“It came as quite a surprise to see two articles show up on the list,” Stubbins said. “I was at a conference and wasn’t really checking my email when one of my colleagues let me know.”

The journal used the number of times a paper was cited in future studies as the yardstick to determine which papers should be included on the list. It is one commonly used method for measuring the impact of a scientist’s work.

“The list isn’t really about popularity,” Stubbins said. “It’s about usefulness. That people have found some of my work useful over the years is rewarding.”

The 2008 paper was titled “Absorption spectral slopes and slope ratios as indicators of molecular weight, source, and photobleaching of chromophoric dissolved organic matter.” The lead author was John Helms. Stubbins was a co-author along with four other scientists. The research team developed a new method for extracting new information from a relatively common and simple test of the color of dissolved organic matter.

Stubbins was the lead author, along with nine co-authors, of the second paper, “Illuminated darkness: Molecular signatures of Congo River dissolved organic matter and its photochemical alteration as revealed by ultrahigh precision mass spectrometry.” The study examined organic carbon carried to the ocean by the Congo River — after the Amazon, the second largest river in the world in terms of carbon and water flow. The research team studied how sunlight degrades organic material, including which compounds are degraded, which are not and what new compounds are created when sunlight shines on river water.

“His inclusion in this seminal volume is quite an honor for Dr. Stubbins,” UGA Skidaway Institute Interim Director Clark Alexander said. “This recognition validates what we have always known, that he is conducting groundbreaking and meaningful research that is recognized around the world.”

All 60 papers can be found at http://aslopubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/.

 

Fall black gill cruise rolls out new smartphone app for better data collection

The University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography entered the fourth year of its black gill research program with a daylong cruise on board the Research Vessel Savannah and the introduction of a new smartphone app that will allow shrimpers to help scientists collect data on the problem.

Led by UGA scientists Marc Frischer, Richard Lee, Kyle Johnsen and Jeb Byers, the black gill study is being conducted in partnership with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and is funded by Georgia Sea Grant.

Black gill is a condition Georgia shrimpers first noticed in the mid-1990s. Many shrimpers have blamed black gill for poor shrimp harvests in recent years, but until Frischer began his study, almost nothing was known about the condition. Now the researchers know black gill is caused by a parasite—a single-cell animal called a ciliate—although the exact type of ciliate is still a mystery.

The October cruise had three goals. The first was simply to collect data and live shrimp for additional experiments.

“We were able to collect enough live shrimp in good shape to set up our next experiment,” Frischer said. “We are planning on running another direct mortality study to investigate the relationship between temperature and black gill mortality. This time, instead of comparing ambient temperature to cooler temperatures as we did last spring and summer, we will investigate the effects of warming.”

Researchers Marc Frischer (UGA Skidaway Institute), Brian Fluech and Lisa Gentit (both UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant) examine shrimp for signs of black gill.

Researchers Marc Frischer (UGA Skidaway Institute), Brian Fluech and Lisa Gentit (both UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant) examine shrimp for signs of black gill.

If his hypothesis is correct, Frischer believes researchers would expect that raising fall water temperatures to warmer summer levels in a laboratory setting will induce black gill associated mortality in the shrimp caught in the fall.

Those studies will be compared to those that are being conducted in South Carolina in a slightly different manner. Frischer expects the results should be similar.

“However, as it goes with research, we are expecting surprises,” Frischer continued. “We also collected a good set of samples that will contribute to our understanding of the distribution and impact of black gill.”

A second goal was to introduce and begin field testing a new smartphone application developed by Johnsen. The app is intended to be a tool that will allow shrimp boat captains and recreational shrimpers to assist the researchers by filling some of the holes in the data by documenting the extent of black gill throughout the shrimp season. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources conducts surveys of the shrimp population up and down the coast throughout the year. However, those surveys do not provide the researchers with the rich data set they need to really get an accurate assessment of the black gill problem.

A screenshot of the smartphone app for tracking black gill.

A screenshot of the smartphone app for tracking black gill.

“Instead of having just one boat surveying the prevalence of black gill, imagine if we had a dozen, or 50 or a hundred boats all working with us,” Frischer said. “That’s the idea behind this app.”

The fishermen will use the app to document their trawls and report their data to a central database. Using GPS and the camera on their smartphone, they will record the location and images of the shrimp catch, allowing the researchers to see what the shrimpers see. If repeated by many shrimpers throughout the shrimping season, the information would give scientists a much more detailed picture of the prevalence and distribution of black gill.

“The app is complete and available on the app store, but we are still in the testing stages,” Johnsen said. “We want to make sure that it will be robust and as easy to use on a ship as possible before widely deploying it.”

Recruiting, training and coordinating the shrimpers will be the responsibility of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“I think it should be entirely possible to at least have a small group of captains comfortable and ready to start using it when the 2017 season begins,” Frischer said.

Johnsen is excited about the app for what it can provide to the shrimping and research community, but also the implications it has for using apps to involve communities in general.

“There is still work to be done to improve the usability of these systems,” he said. “But I’m confident that we are going to see an increasing number of these ‘citizen science’ applications going forward.”

The final aim of the cruise was to bring together diverse stakeholders, including fishery managers, shrimpers and scientists, to spend the day together and share ideas.

“This was a good venue for promoting cross-talk among the stakeholder groups,” Frischer said. “I had many good conversations and appreciated the opportunity to provide a few more research updates.”

Frischer says he thinks the communication and cooperation among the various stakeholder groups has improved dramatically since the beginning of the study. He recalled that when the study began in 2013, tensions were high. Shrimpers were angry and demanded that something be done to address the problem of black gill. Meanwhile, fishery managers were unclear if black gill was even causing a problem and frustrated that no one could provide them any reliable scientific advice. The research community had not been engaged and given the resources to pursue valid investigations.

“In 2016, we still have black gill. The fishery is still in trouble, but it does feel like we are at least understanding a bit more about the issue,” Frischer said. “Most importantly, it is clear that all of us are now working together.

“My feeling is that the opportunity for us to spend a day like that together helps promote understanding, communication and trust among the shrimpers, managers and researchers.”

UGA Skidaway Institute receives $79,000 gift to support marine research

Savannah residents Michelle and Barry Vine presented a gift of $79,000 to the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography to support the institute’s cutting-edge oceanographic research. In recognition of the gift, UGA Skidaway Institute plans to name an observation laboratory in honor of Michelle Vine’s father, Albert Dewitt Smith Jr. The Vines’ gift is the largest monetary donation ever given to UGA Skidaway Institute.

“We are pleased to support the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography in its continuous effort to conduct research and protect our coastal environment,” said Michelle Vine. “Every day we enjoy the benefits of living on the coast, and as a community, we should never forget how important Skidaway Institute is to us.”

Michelle Vine presents a check to Skidaway Institute interim executive director Clark Alexander in front of the Roebling cattle barn.

Michelle Vine presents a check to Skidaway Institute interim executive director Clark Alexander in front of the Roebling cattle barn.

Vine’s father, Al Smith, was a World War II Marine Corps veteran, and, like his daughter, a UGA graduate.  He worked in industrial relations for General Motors in Doraville, Lockheed in Marietta and Union Camp Corp. in Atlanta and Savannah. For the last 12 years before his death in 1998, he owned Complete Security Systems.

The Albert Dewitt Smith Jr. Observational Laboratory will be located in the soon-to-be-created Center for Hydrology and Marine Processes. Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly approved a $3 million appropriation to renovate and repurpose a circa-1947 concrete cattle show barn for laboratory and meeting spaces and as a home for the center. Innovative for its time, the cattle barn was constructed by the Roebling family. The Roeblings established the Modena Plantation in the mid-1930s, and raised black angus cattle and Hampshire hogs before they donated their land to the state in 1967 to create Skidaway Institute.

“We are very grateful to the Vines for their generous gift,” said UGA Skidaway Institute Interim Director Clark Alexander. “This will help support our education and research activities, both here on the coast and around the world.”

“The UGA Skidaway Institute is a division of the University of Georgia, but it also relies heavily on local support,” Vine said. “Please join us by donating online at http://www.skio.uga.edu, and becoming a member of ASI, the Associates of Skidaway Institute.”

Sanders steps down as Skidaway Institute head

UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography Executive Director Jim Sanders will step down from his post effective July 1 and will remain on the faculty as a full professor. Skidaway Institute Professor Clark Alexander has been appointed interim executive director until a permanent executive director is named.

Jim Sanders

Dr. Jim Sanders

Before joining Skidaway Institute in 2001, Sanders already had an extensive career as a research scientist and administrator. He received his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Duke University and his doctorate in marine sciences from the University of North Carolina. Prior to his arrival in Savannah, Sanders was on the faculty and served as director of the Academy of Natural Sciences’ Estuarine Research Center in Maryland, and then was chairman of the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

Sanders led the development of plans that secured funding to improve existing research and campus infrastructure, including new housing, research instrumentation, a new electrical grid, new marine docking facilities, a new research laboratory, and still to come in the next year, renovation of the Roebling’s cattle show barn.

Skidaway Institute was an autonomous unit of the University System of Georgia when Sanders was first appointed. In 2012-13, he worked with University of Georgia administration to develop plans for the merger of Skidaway Institute within UGA, and then with the Board of Regents to implement those plans. Sanders has served as UGA Skidaway Institute’s executive director since the 2013 merger, helping to smooth the transition.

Sanders has represented Skidaway Institute to the national and international science community, serving as president of the National Association of Marine Laboratories; as a board member and treasurer of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership; and as a member of the Science Advisory Board for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Clark Alexander

Clark Alexander

Alexander is a marine geologist who joined the Skidaway Institute as a post-doctoral scientist in 1989 and rose to the rank of full professor in 2003. He earned bachelor’s degrees in oceanography and geology from Humboldt State University in California. He went on to earn his master’s and doctoral degrees in marine geology from North Carolina State University.

As a researcher, Alexander has participated in 63 field programs from New Zealand to Siberia and has been the chief scientist on 29 oceanographic cruises with a total of more than two years at sea.  He has published 82 papers in scientific journals, and, in the past decade, has received more than $5 million in direct research funding. In addition, he is the director of the Georgia Southern University Applied Coastal Research Laboratory on Skidaway Island.

Alexander has been very active on state and regional advisory boards and works closely with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to identify and address pressing coastal management needs. He served on the Georgia Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee and the Georgia Shore Protection Committee from 1998 to 2006. A few of the committees he currently serves on include the Technical Advisory Committee to the Chatham County Resource Protection Committee, the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve Advisory Committee and the Habitat Protection and Ecosystem-Based Management Advisory Panel to the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council.

Alexander and his wife, Debbie, have been married for 30 years and have two grown daughters.

Letter from Jim Sanders

Dear Friends,

This is an exciting time for the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and a critical moment in time for our ocean and its resources. Our faculty, staff and students are conducting world-class research, and we are making headway in understanding the processes that define the ocean and coastal ecosystems. Even after many years as the Institute’s director, I remain awestruck by the ingenuity and dedication of Skidaway’s scientists. Below, I highlight some of our recent efforts:

  • The National Science Foundation has just awarded Drs. Dana Savidge, Catherine Edwards and their colleagues funding to study the processes that drive water exchange (and the particles and organisms associated with the water) in the vicinity of Cape Hatteras.
  • Two new scientists have joined the Skidaway faculty: Drs. Elizabeth Harvey and Julia Diaz. Drs. Harvey and Diaz are examining how planktonic organisms interact with one another and how they influence their surroundings.
  • Dr. Aron Stubbins has been examining how changing climate, leading to loss of ice from glaciers and from permafrost, is altering carbon transport and utilization in Arctic ecosystems; while Dr. Cliff Buck and his colleague, Dr. Chris Marsay, are studying the flux of trace metals into and through that same region.
  • Many Skidaway scientists are focusing on processes and consequences of sea level rise, particularly its impacts on barrier islands and marshes, and how changes in salinity associated with increased inflow of ocean water into coastal rivers and creeks influences nutrient and carbon flows in coastal ecosystems.
  • Finally, in the coming year, state funds will help to repurpose the Institute’s iconic cattle show barn from the Roebling era into the Center for Coastal Hydrology and Marine Processes (CHAMP), with a focus on research and education directed toward understanding influences on coastal systems and the wise stewardship of coastal resources.

These examples underscore the importance of our work, and they are just a small part of the quiet, yet meticulous way we pursue our mission to advance understanding of coastal and marine environments.

That mission, in turn, is part of Skidaway’s larger vision — to continue as an international leader in interdisciplinary ocean research, developing and promoting collaborations in science, education, policy and public service. We work with scientists from around the nation and around the globe, and with students and scientists from elsewhere who are drawn to Skidaway to conduct their research. The international science community is well aware of Skidaway Institute’s research and its scientists. Our reputation has been built over nearly 50 years by quiet, yet fundamental, research and education.

Our success and reputation hasn’t happened alone, however; indeed, our efforts have been aided by the support of many. It has been your contributions to the Associates of Skidaway Institute that have allowed me to invest in valuable research and education pilot projects, and to support students, staff and faculty in their efforts. With your help, we have been able to reach out to the community to help with issues facing coastal resources; to support undergraduate and graduate students who wish to study here at the Institute; and to provide promising young faculty members with additional resources to answer urgent research questions. Please consider sending a contribution to support our future efforts — today!

I am very proud to have been a small part of Skidaway’s history, first as a graduate student in the 1970s, and more recently as its director. I am stepping down as executive director of Skidaway at the end of June, and assuming my faculty position. I do so with mixed feelings, because Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and its faculty, staff and students have been so important to me. However, it is time for new leadership, with new ideas, to drive Skidaway Institute of Oceanography to greater heights. That will ensure that we continue to attain our mission and vision; that we remain known for world-class science; and that we succeed in our efforts to create a more knowledgeable citizenry capable of promoting sound utilization of natural coastal and marine resources while capitalizing on coastal economic opportunities. Dodie and I will continue to support the Institute through the Associates, and I hope that you will continue to do so, as well. Your regular contributions are a critical component necessary for our success.

Thank you for everything that you have done to help me over the past 15 years.

Jim

Editor’s Note: The  Associates of Skidaway Institute is a branch of the University of Georgia Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. Most donations are tax-deductible. Donations to ASI are reserved for use by UGA Skidaway Institute. Donations can be made online by credit card. Click this link for additional information, membership levels and a link to a donation page: http://www.skio.uga.edu/?p=aboutus/asi.

Donations can also be made by check to:

Associates of Skidaway Institute

10 Ocean Science Circle

Savannah, GA 31411

 

Teachers join UGA Skidaway Institute research cruises

JoCasta Green became a teacher after she was told as a child she couldn’t be a scientist because she was a girl. In May, the pre-K teacher from Decatur, Georgia, achieved a small piece of her childhood dream by joining a research cruise on board the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’s Research Vessel Savannah. Green was one of two teachers on the overnight cruise, some of the first to participate in a cooperative program between UGA Skidaway Institute and Georgia Southern University’s Institute for Interdisciplinary STEM Education (i2STEM).

“Because I am an elementary teacher, I was afraid that maybe I shouldn’t have applied,” Green said. “However, once I got here and everyone was so interested and wanted to share, I really did learn a lot.”

Green (left) learns to set the spring-loaded bottle plugs on a conductivity-temperature-depth sensor array with the help of Natalia Lopez Figueroa from Hampton University.

JoCasta Green (right) learns how to prepare a conductivity-temperature-depth sensor array for deployment with the help of Natalia Lopez Figueroa from Hampton University.

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Marc Frischer led the cruise with the aim to hunt, collect and study doliolids — a small gelatinous organism of great significance to the ecology and productivity of continental shelf environments around the world. Green and middle school teacher Vicki Albritton of Savannah were the only teachers on board and were able to actively participate in the research activities.

“I think giving any teacher the opportunity come to out to sea is an amazing experience,” Frischer said. “I think it’s transformative, but to have them integrated into the research, we haven’t really done that before.”

Marc Frischer chats with JoCasta Green during the cruise.

Marc Frischer chats with JoCasta Green during the cruise.

Green and Albritton participated in the deck activities. They helped launch the CTD (conductivity-temperature-depth) sensor packages mounted on heavy metal frames and deployed plankton nets that concentrated a wide variety of tiny marine creatures into a small container. The two teachers then worked with the science team in the darkened wet lab to sort through gallons of water and to isolate the doliolids they were seeking.

“I was hoping to see science in action, and I did that all day long,” Albritton said. “I got to participate and learn what was going on and take many pictures, and now I have a wealth of information to take back to the classroom.”

Albritton says an experience like the cruise raises teachers’ credibility in the classroom, because the students see the teachers going out to learn more themselves. “If I want them to be perpetual learners, then I need to demonstrate that same trait,” she said.

Although Green admitted she was nervous about the cruise initially, she credited the scientists with making her comfortable. “They were great teachers,” she said. “I understood what we were doing and why we were doing it.”

Albritton echoed Green’s thoughts and cited the graciousness of everyone she encountered on the cruise. “There wasn’t condescension or an implication that we didn’t know anything,” she said. “There was genuine respect for all of us as professionals in our fields. That was really wonderful.”

A research cruise on the 92-foot R/V Savannah will never be confused with a luxury vacation cruise. Green and Albritton agreed the food was good, but the working spaces were tight and the bunks and cabins even more so.

Green and Albritton were the second group of teachers to join an R/V Savannah research cruise through the partnership with Georgia Southern’s i2STEM program. The goal of the i2STEM program is to improve the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at all levels from kindergarten through college throughout coastal Georgia.

Vicki Albritton (left) and JoCasta Green

Vicki Albritton (left) and JoCasta Green

The partnership between UGA Skidaway Institute and i2STEM is expected to grow. Five additional doliolid cruises are scheduled this year with space available for as many as four teachers on each cruise. UGA Skidaway Institute will also offer two half-day cruises this month as part of i2STEM’s summer professional development workshop for teachers.

According to Frischer, the ultimate goal of scientific research is to generate and communicate information. “Teachers are some of our most important communicators,” he said. “They communicate to the next generation, so I think it is really special to be able to bring teachers right to where the research is happening. It gives them a total perspective, not only on what we are doing, but how research works and to communicate that to their students.”

Both Green and Albritton said they would encourage their fellow teachers to take advantage of opportunities like this. “You would be crazy not to, in terms of learning and what you can bring back to the kids in your classroom,” Albritton said. “It’s an experience you will never forget.”