Marathon makes donation to Associates of Skidaway Institute

The organizers of the Skidaway Island Marathon, Endurance Race Services, donated $1,000 to the Associates of Skidaway Institute. Held on March 23 this year, the marathon supports a number of area non-profit groups. This is the fifth year the marathon has been held on the Skidaway campus. The donation will be used to support Skidaway Institute’s summer intern program.

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UGA Skidaway Institute external affairs manager Michael Sullivan (center) receives the check from title sponsor Optim Healthcare director of marketing Meg Pace and Endurance Race Services’ Dan Pavlin.

 

UGA Skidaway Institute researcher offers career insight to future scientists

Digital StillCameraUGA Skidaway Institute of Oeanography scientist Marc Frischer was recently featured in a magazine and online article discussing his work and offering guidance to young people interested in science.

This article was produced by Futurum, a magazine and online platform aimed at inspiring young people to follow a career in the sciences, research and technology.

The article can be accessed HERE, and includes a link to an activity sheet for students and teachers. For more information, teaching resources, and course and career guides, see http://www.futurumcareers.com.

UGA Aquarium’s Genell Gibson receives award for service

PSO_Gibson_Genell-240x300The administrative assistant and manager of the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, Genell Gibson, received a Staff Award for Excellence on April 1 at the university’s 28th annual Public Service and Outreach Meeting and Awards Luncheon. Gibson was one of eight faculty and staff members recognized for outstanding service to the state and UGA.

Gibson has been a staple at the aquarium since 1994. She greets incoming visitors, manages fees and admission, maintains the education resource center and directs incoming calls and requests.

Gibson excels at all of her listed duties, but it is her other contributions that set her apart. During her 24 years as a member of Marine Extension and Sea Grant, she has transformed the role beyond its regular office-based duties by serving as a teacher, historian and friend to everyone who visits and works at the facility.

Born and raised in the local community of Pin Point, Gibson picked blue crab for a living as a young adult, a skill she now shares with visitors in the Saturday Explorations at the Aquarium programs.

Gibson also discusses her unique Gullah/Geechee heritage, providing people with a special perspective on the life, work and history of the Georgia coast.

Gibson serves as the face of the UGA Aquarium, where she is often the first person to interact with the more than 20,000 visitors each year. She acts as the intermediary between staff and visitors, exemplifying Marine Extension’s “each one, teach one” principle. Her role is critical to understanding how visitors view the facility and how to improve their experience.

“Genell Gibson is the heart and soul of the Marine Education Center and Aquarium,” said Mark Risse, director of Marine Extension and Sea Grant. “She teaches us daily what is means to be thoughtful, helpful and courteous humans. She reminds us all how fortunate we are to work and live on Georgia’s coast.

“Genell is our historian,” Risse also said. “She is our link to the human history of Skidaway Island during the Roebling era, our link to the long-retired workers who hail from her community of Pin Point, our link to oyster and crabbing culture, our link to the fine folk who love this coastal area and choose to live and work here.”

Van Stan receives award for research excellence

VanStan_1252-200x300The acting director of the Applied Coastal Research Laboratory, John Van Stan, is the recipient of Georgia Southern University’s Award for Excellence in Research/Creative Scholarly Activity for 2019-2020.

“This is a very prestigious award and one that is well deserved on John’s part,” said James Reichard, chair of Georgia Southern’s Geology and Geography Department where Van Stan is an associate professor. “He has established a truly outstanding research record, and one that I’m quite confident is among the very best in the university.”

The Award for Excellence in Research/Creative Scholarly Activity seeks to recognize faculty who excel in their research efforts in addition to fulfilling regular full-time teaching responsibilities.

Barn renovation progressing

The renovation of the Roebling cattle barn at UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography is progressing with the expectation the project will be substantially completed by August 22.

Work began in late 2018 to transform the show barn a into usable laboratory and classroom space. The renovation got the green light in 2016 when the Georgia General Assembly appropriated $3 million to fund the project.

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The building will house two state-of-the-art classrooms and a one large teaching lab, all capable of distance learning. There will be two faculty offices, a reception area, two student group offices and generous open collaboration space.

The ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for October 22.

The concrete and steel beam structure was built in 1947, when the Skidaway campus was known as Modena Plantation, and Robert and Dorothy Roebling raised black angus cattle there. In 1968, the Roeblings donated their land to the state of Georgia, a move that spurred the establishment of Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. The Roeblings constructed the barn after World War II. It was the site of the plantation’s annual cattle auctions. Roebling’s daughter, Ellin Cochran Roebling, was married there in 1950.

Since then, the barn has served a variety of purposes. In recent years, it was used primarily for storage. Because it was not heated or air conditioned, it was not suitable for classrooms or laboratories. The renovations will allow UGA Skidaway Institute to repurpose the 14,000-square-foot facility to include research laboratories, a teaching laboratory and lecture space for students and community groups.

The renovation was designed by Cogdell & Mendrala Architects. New South Construction is the general contractor.

Gray’s Reef new marine ops coordinator

NOAA Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary welcomes a new marine operations coordinator.

Clayton Louden is the sanctuary’s vessel captain and marine operations coordinator. Captain Louden will oversee vessel operations for the site, while captaining the sanctuary’s two small boats — R/V Sam Gray and R/V Joe Ferguson. Louden will be responsible for boat maintenance, vessel safety procedures, and utilizing all NOAA regulations and policies to ensure efficient and dependable boat handling.

Louden underwent United States Coast Guard training at Alaska’s Institute of Technology Maritime Center. He earned numerous licenses, including his U.S.C.G. Master 100-Ton Near Coastal License. He brings more than six years’ experience on multiple types of vessels, sailing waters from Seattle to Prudhoe Bay and many locations in between. Louden also participated in a 30-day offshore expedition from Key West to Maine and back as a delivery crew member and deckhand on the 86’ schooner Appledore.

UGA Skidaway Institute gliders improve hurricane predictions

The models hurricane forecasters use to predict the paths of storms have become much more accurate in recent years, but not so much the models’ ability to accurately predict a storm’s intensity. Now, underwater gliders, operated by researchers at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, are part of a national effort to use marine robots to improve the accuracy of storm forecast models.

UGA Skidaway Institute research technician Ben Hefner launches a glider into the ocean. Photo courtesy MADLAWMEDIA

Two storms from the 2018 hurricane season provide examples of how quickly storm intensity can change. Hurricane Florence was predicted to be a Category 5 storm, but she weakened significantly before making landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 storm on September 14. On the other hand, a month later, Hurricane Michael grew from a Category 1 to a Category 5 storm in just two days and hit the Florida panhandle on October 10.

Hurricanes feed off of heat from warm ocean waters like that found in the Caribbean, and in the Gulf Stream and shallow waters off the southeast United States, known as the South Atlantic Bight. This can be a tremendous source of energy for developing storms. Heat is transferred between the ocean and atmosphere at the ocean’s surface, but it is important to understand the amount of subsurface heat as well.

“Places where warm waters near the surface lie over cooler water near bottom, winds and other factors can mix up the water, cooling the surface and limiting the heat available to the atmosphere,” UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Catherine Edwards said. “Satellite data provides a nice picture of where the surface ocean is warm, but the subsurface temperature field remains hidden.”

UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Catherine Edwards examines the tail assembly of a glider.

This is where autonomous underwater vehicles, also known as gliders, can collect valuable information. Gliders are torpedo-shaped crafts that can be packed with sensors and sent on underwater missions to collect oceanographic data. The gliders measure temperature and salinity, among other parameters, as they profile up and down in the water. Equipped with satellite phones, the gliders surface periodically to transmit their recorded data during missions that can last from weeks to months.

“This regular communication with the surface allows us to adapt the mission on the fly, and also process and share the data only minutes to hours after it has been measured,” Edwards said. “By using a network of data contributed by glider operators around the world, the U. S. Navy and other ocean modelers can incorporate these data into their predictions, injecting subsurface heat content information into the hurricane models from below.”

The 2018 hurricane season provided Edwards and her colleagues a fortuitous opportunity to demonstrate the value of glider data. Edwards deployed two gliders in advance of Hurricane Florence. One was launched off the North Carolina coast and the other further south, near the South Carolina-Georgia state line. The gliders discovered the models’ ocean temperature forecasts were significantly off target. Edwards points to charts comparing the predictions from ocean models run in the U.S. and Europe with the actual temperatures two days before Florence made landfall.

On the south side of the storm path, the models predicted that the ocean had a warm, slightly fresh layer overtopping cooler, saltier water below, but the glider revealed that the water column was well-mixed and, overall, warmer and fresher than predicted. On the north side of the storm, the models predicted warm, well-mixed water, but the glider detected a sharp temperature change below the surface, with a much cooler layer near-bottom. However, the most surprising part was just how stratified the water was.

“There is almost a 14-degree Celsius (approximately 25 degrees Fahrenheit) error that the glider corrects in the model,” she said. “The model and data agree near-surface, but the models that don’t use the glider data all miss the colder, saltier layer below. The model that incorporated glider data that day is the only one that captures that vertical pattern.”

Not only can gliders provide a unique view of the ocean, they fly on their own, reporting data regularly, before, during and after a hurricane, making them a powerful tool for understanding the effects of storms.

“The glider data is being used in real time,” Edwards said. “These real time observations can improve our hurricane forecasts right now, not just in a paper to be published a year from now.”

Edwards and collaborator Chad Lembke, at the University of South Florida, had a third glider deployed in August before Florence as part of a glider observatory she runs for the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA). While it was recovered about a little over a week before Florence made landfall, the glider helped define the edge of the Gulf Stream, which is an essential ocean feature that is very hard for models to get right.

“So it’s possible that the data from that glider already improved any tropical storm predictions that use ocean models and take that glider data into account, because the Gulf Stream is so important in our region,” Edwards said.

Edwards works with colleagues from other institutions through SECOORA. Together they are making plans for the 2019 hurricane season. Funded by a $220,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they plan to pre-position a number of gliders in strategic locations to be ready for deployment in advance of incoming storms.

“Gliders are like the weather balloons of the ocean,” Edwards said. “Imagine how powerful a regular network of these kinds of glider observations could be for understanding the ocean and weather, and how they interact.”