Tag Archives: marine science

Rivero-Calle selected for ocean sensor workshop

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute assistant professor Sara Rivero-Calle was selected to participate in the June 2022 Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) Biogeochemical Sensor Data Workshop. Rivero-Calle was one of only a small number of applicants to be selected to participate. Applicants were chosen based on their experience with the various sensor subtypes and their interest in using sensor data from the existing OOI observatories to address novel science questions. The workshop focused on best practices for accessing and using OOI sensor data and brainstorming its scientific applications.

Participants at the end of a three-day Biogeochemical Sensor Workshop held at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution June 17-19, 2022. Rivero-Calle is front and center in black top and light blue jeans. Photo: Mai Maheigan ©WHOI.

Rivero-Calle was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Ocean Instrumentation grant to install a suite of optical biogeochemical sensors on the Reseach Vessel Savannah. The project is called BiOMe (Biogeochemical Optical Measurements).

“This is a great opportunity,” Rivero-Calle said. “I enjoyed learning from my colleagues and developing ideas for collaborations using our new sensors on the R/V Savannah.”

The workshop was held at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

UGA Skidaway Institute grad student receives advanced training on the French Rivera

By MD Masud-Ul-Alam
Light, physics, sensors, satellites, and the ocean! All these are essential components of the International Ocean-Colour Coordinating Group Summer Lecture Series on Ocean Optics. I am a doctoral student at Sara Rivero-Calle’s Bio-Optics and Satellite Oceanography Lab and was one of the 24 selected participants from 19 countries. This was a training program that provided knowledge on advanced topics on marine optics and remote sensing. It was held at the Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche, which is part of the Institut de la Mer, de Villefranche at Villefranche-sur-Mer from July 18-19.

The course consisted of practical and laboratory sessions, and theory lectures. The lab work included hands-on training on how to collect the highest quality in situ data and how to calibrate different optical sensors (in situ and satellite). The theoretical lectures covered the optical properties of light, interactions with marine particles, inherent optical properties, apparent optical properties and more.

In addition, the intensive lab sessions incorporated trainings on different software and optical instrumentation, such as AC-S and HydroLight, different models for atmospheric corrections and working on a group project using Sentinel-2, and Sentinel-3 datasets.

Overall, this summer course gave me and my fellow students the opportunity to meet experts across the globe and develop networks for future collaborative research work.

Port Lympia in nearby Nice.

I am so glad I was able to participate in this course. This was such a great opportunity to meet the ocean-optics experts across the globe and make new friends to work with. Beside the course, I enjoyed the beauty of Villefranche-sur-Mer and Nice!

Alexander voted president-elect of SAML

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography director Clark Alexander was voted the 2022-23 president-elect of the Southern Association of Marine Laboratories (SAML) and will serve as president for 2023-2024.

SAML is a regional organization within the National Association of Marine Laboratories. It is comprised of 48 marine laboratories and governmental agencies stretching from Virginia to Texas and including Bermuda. Its purpose is to promote cooperation and effectiveness of member institutions in their work on marine and coastal resources, as well as share solutions to issues facing coastal field installations.

Alexander is a coastal and marine geologist who joined the Skidaway Institute as a post-doctoral scientist in 1989, achieved the rank of full professor in 2003 and was appointed director in 2016. 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 64 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 92 papers in scientific journals, and, in the past decade, has received more than $4 million in direct research funding. From 2003-2017, he also served as the director of the Georgia Southern University Applied Coastal Research Laboratory on Skidaway Island.

Alexander has been very active on federal, state and regional advisory boards and has worked closely with the US Army Corps of Engineers, South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, Governors’ South Atlantic Alliance, and 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, which permit all major activities within the state’s marshes and beaches, from 1998 to 2006.

First grad student weekend a success

Graduate students from the University of Georgia’s Department of Marine Science gathered at UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography on the weekend of May 27 for a program aimed at improving graduate student retention, inclusion, well-being and a sense of belonging.

The marine science graduate students are split between the UGA Skidaway Institute and the main campus in Athens. Given the 250-mile distance between Athens and the Georgia coast, these two groups of students typically only interact during online instruction, webinars, meetings or on an occasional research cruise. They rarely gather in-person in a casual setting.

“It was a really great experience,” said UGA Skidaway Institute assistant professor Sara Rivero-Calle. “Because they are split between the two campuses, many of these students had never met in person. They had worked together remotely on assignments and seen each other through the computer screen, but this was the first time they could relax and enjoy each other’s company in real life.”

A group of students enjoying an evening out.

The event included a guest speaker, Virginia Schutte, who led a workshop on science communication and the best ways for students to market themselves. The students also organized a clean-up of some of the trails on Skidaway Island, utilizing bags from UGA Marine Extension’s trawl-to-trash program.

“The UGA marine science students had a wonderful event supported by the UGA Marine Science Department and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography,” said Frank Mcquarrie, president of the marine sciences graduate student association. “Meeting in person was invaluable, and it reminded us that we are stronger together.”

The program was funded by a $5,000 grant from the UGA Graduate School.

Scientists and students participate in Hawaii research cruise

After two years of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, University of Georgia Skidaway Institute scientists participated in the first cruise of their four-year project to study how dust in the atmosphere is deposited in the ocean and how that affects chemical and biological processes there. The team of Daniel Ohnemus and Chris Marsay, along with graduate students Charlotte “Charlie” Kollman and Mariah Ricci, joined the University of Hawaii Research Vessel Kilo Moana on a cruise out of Oahu. They collected samples at the Hawaii Ocean Time-Series Station Aloha – a six-mile wide section of ocean approximately 122 miles from Oahu – where oceanographers from around the world study ocean conditions over long time spans. The cruise was the first of six planned during the four-year project.

Research Vessel Kilo Moana

Ohnemus is one of two chief scientists on the project along with fellow UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Clifton Buck, who did not join this cruise. He called the cruise a success.

“Everything we put in the ocean, we got back, and that’s a good thing in oceanography,” he said. “And also, most importantly, it all worked.”

The overall goal of the project is to look at the rate at which dust is deposited into the ocean and what happens to it once it is in the water column. The chemistry of the ocean can be changed by the introduction and removal of elements, including trace elements which are present in low concentrations. In some cases, these elements are known to be vital to biological processes and ocean food webs.
After waiting for two years for the pandemic to ease, the science team still had additional waiting once they arrived in Hawaii. They were required to quarantine in a hotel for six days before being allowed to board the ship.

“We flew in about a week before we were expected on the ship. We got tested multiple times,” Ohnemus said. “We tested at the airport. We got a PCR test mid-quarantine. And we were tested again before boarding the ship.

“We knew we definitely did not have COVID.”

Mariah Ricci, Charlie Kollman and Dan Ohnemus prepare to deploy an instrument package.

“The hardest part is that we were out there for five days and four nights, and all of our research and sampling took place in the last eight hours of the cruise,” Ohnemus said.

For the students Charlie Kollman and Mariah Ricci the cruise was a new experience. It was Ricci’s first research cruise ever. Ironically, she and Ohnemus both took their first cruise on the RV Kilo Moana, only their cruises were 15 years apart.

Dan Ohnemus and Charlie Kollman deploy a package of sensors.

For Kollman, the best part of the cruise was participating in all the work necessary to conduct the science activity from the planning process all the way through to the end and then seeing the fruits of her labor.

“It was a great experience,” she said. “It is really rewarding to see all the different things we had to do like all the mechanical work.

“I think people often think of science as being constantly high value or in the lab doing really complicated stuff, but a lot of times it’s running to Home Depot four times because you don’t have the correct pipe fitting.”

Ohnemus sings the praises of his collaborators at the University of Hawaii. “They are excellent. It was great to be able sail with them after all this time,” he said. “We first wrote the proposal in 2018, and to actually get to sail together four years later was very rewarding and time well spent.”

Hurricane glider completes marathon mission

By Nadine Slimak and Michael Sullivan

When the Slocum glider known as NG645 was deployed about 80 miles south of New Orleans on Oct. 10, 2021, it became one of the most closely watched ocean-observing instruments in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s because it was a small robot with a big mission – to investigate features of the Loop Current and Loop Current Eddies in the Gulf as part of the Hurricane Glider Project – then navigate on a mission never attempted by an unmanned glider before.

“Our goal with this project was to deploy a glider in the Gulf of Mexico and then navigate it through the spatially variable currents of the Loop Current and into the Gulf Stream all the way around the bend of Florida up to the coast of South Carolina,” said UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Catherine Edwards, one of the glider team leaders and who was responsible for the glider once it rounded the tip of Florida.

The glider path is shown in red from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South Carolina.

The trip was a test to see whether the glider could successfully navigate around Florida and up the East Coast while gaining information about multiple marine systems – all during a single mission. With no propeller or motor, it would have to do so using minimal battery power and only buoyancy to travel.

Slocum gliders, also known as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), are torpedo-shaped underwater robots about six feet long and eight inches in diameter that carry instrument packages to gather data on water temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and other ocean parameters, depending on ocean-observation needs. The gliders use buoyancy to move throughout the water column in a vertical yo-yo pattern, taking in water to move down through the water column and expelling water to return to the surface. The wings on the glider then give it lift that allows it to move forward. When the glider surfaces, it sends data to a satellite, which beams it back to scientists in the lab. Back in the laboratory, glider pilots can update and adjust glider trajectories to ensure they remain on course, or even change their paths.

NG645’s initial mission was to gather information on the Loop Current and Loop Current Eddies, major oceanographic features in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Loop Current is sort of an arm of the western boundary current that eventually becomes the Gulf Stream,” Edwards said. “That’s one of the major features that this project seeks to capture. Just like we’re monitoring the edge of the Gulf Stream with our gliders, these are areas where the models need the most improvement, and where our observations can have the greatest impact.”

The glider is recovered off the coast of South Carolina.

The glider was a part of the Hurricane Glider Project, a series of gliders monitoring the ocean in the Gulf, Caribbean Sea and Atlantic that are programmed to collect information on ocean parameters from areas where tropical storms and hurricanes typically form or strengthen. Gliders gather temperature and salinity readings from throughout the water column, not just at the surface, and send it back to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in near-real time to improve the accuracy of upper ocean models used to create hurricane intensity forecasts. This was the first-time glider operators attempted such an ambitious mission.

“There were so many firsts during this mission,” said Kerri Whilden, a researcher from Texas A&M University, who led the collaboration in the Gulf before handing it off to Edwards as it rounded Key West and navigated up the East Coast. “It would be the first time we started piloting a glider in the Gulf and then sent it through the Gulf Stream around the tip of Florida, then on to South Carolina. It involved coordinating a lot of different organizations to deploy the glider, to pilot it and then to retrieve it at the end of its mission. It was a big team collaboration for sure.”

In addition to UGA Skidaway Institute and Texas A&M, other partners in the project included the Naval Oceanographic Office, the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System, the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association, the Underwater Glider User Group, the University of Southern Mississippi, NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Planning is under way for a repeat mission in 2022.

Cutting edge survey charts Georgia’s artificial reefs

– Beginning in 1970, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources built a series of artificial reefs to provide habitat for marine life. However, until recently, there were gaps in some of the key information about those reefs, such as the precise locations of the materials placed on the bottom and water depth over the materials. Now, researchers at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography are using cutting-edge bathymetric side-scan sonar and high-resolution geographic positioning systems (GPS) to provide coastal managers and fishermen a detailed picture of the location and condition of reef materials.

Georgia’s shelf is relatively shallow and extends approximately 80 miles offshore before dropping into the deep ocean. Most of the shelf bottom consists of shifting sand, which does not provide the kind of conditions to develop and support diverse reef communities.

“Much of the continental shelf is like a vast sandy desert,” UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Clark Alexander said. “So, what we need is more hard substrate, because that is really the most important thing for establishing stable live-bottom communities.”

A battle tank is pushed into the ocean to form part of an artificial reef. Photo credit: Georgia DNR.

Over the past 50 years, the state has placed hard-surface materials in 18 sites, each about 15 square kilometers in size. Eight of the sites are located along the coast approximately 10 miles off shore and another eight approximately 25 miles off shore. There are also two “beach reefs” that are closer to shore and accessible to fishermen with smaller boats. The reefs are made up of a wide range of materials, including old ships, battle tanks, pieces from the original Talmadge Bridge, retired subway cars from New York City, concrete pipes and pilings, and purpose-built, concrete tetrapods.

“The materials that were placed on the bottom in the 1970s and 1980s were sunk in place or deployed from barges using Loran-C, a radio-based navigation system that was significantly less accurate than current GPS, or dropped from Army helicopters, so their precise locations are not always exactly known,” Alexander said. “In addition, we have had a number of hurricanes and winter storms come through or offshore Georgia, and we don’t know whether some of the material has been moved from its original location.”

Alexander proposed a program to survey the reefs and develop a more accurate set of data on their locations and characteristics, which was subsequently funded through the Georgia Coastal Management Program, administered by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division.

Marine life attracted to one of Georgia’s artificial reefs. Photo credit: Georgia DNR.

“Our goals were to document the status of what is on the bottom, and to give more precise locations for the objects we identify,” Alexander said. “We used real-time kinematic GPS, so we know within a few centimeters where things are on the bottom.”

Alexander’s team began field work in 2018 and continued into 2021, using the 28-foot RV Jack Blanton. They spent an average of six days surveying each reef. They started with the beach reefs to work out any kinks in the planned survey approach and then moved on to the reefs 10 miles off shore. Along with high-resolution GPS, the team used an interferometric side-scan sonar that gives the depth and co-registered side-scan sonar imagery that provides images of the seafloor and objects sitting on it.

“Based on an object’s general location, and existing location data, we were able to make some good guesses as to ‘Oh, that must be a certain barge or ship’ and so on,” he said. “And we found a few objects that were not on existing maps and several others that had fragmented into several pieces since being placed.”

Another important parameter the team measured was the amount of clearance between the various structures and the ocean surface.

“You don’t want to have to worry about anything you put down being a hazard to navigation,” Alexander said. “Ten kilometers off shore, you are in about 10 meters of water or so, about 30 feet. So, if one of these sunken vessels was sticking up a significant height above the bottom, that is something you need to know.”

Alexander and DNR are making plans to survey the eight reefs that are about 25 miles off shore. They present a greater challenge than the reefs closer to shore. The longer distance means greater transit time and less time on-station actually conducting the survey. The team would also be constrained by the weather. Conditions must be very good and forecast to remain calm throughout both the transits and survey.

“Because when you are that far offshore, you are at the mercy of sea conditions, which can change quickly” Alexander said.

The data Alexander’s team collected is now being added to the DNR’s marine artificial reef fishing website. These new data products enhance the data available to anglers, and now allows users to zoom in to the individual features, see what they look like, and how they are distributed in relation to other features on the bottom. The data collected by the project can be found on the DNR’s artificial reef website: https://coastalgadnr.org/HERU/offshore

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography: 50 years of marine research and education

The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography was born in 1968, but the story of the institute began several years earlier with a dream of some local and state leaders to give Georgia a foothold in the burgeoning field of oceanography. In 1964, the Georgia General Assembly formed the Georgia Science Technology Commission with an Oceanographic Task Force. Two years later this task force proposed that an oceanographic research laboratory be established on the coast. That same year, the U.S. Environmental Science Services Agency decided to establish an east coast facility. State and local leaders wanted to attract the federal facility to Georgia. To that end, in 1967 the General Assembly created the Ocean Sciences Center of the Atlantic Commission (O.S.C.A).

During this same time period, two property owners on the island offered to donate land to provide a home for the facility. Robert and Dorothy Roebling, and their family had lived on the island since the mid-1930s and operated a cattle breeding facility they called Modena Plantation.

Dorothy and Robert Roebling in 1967

Skidaway Institute’s current main campus is on the former Modena Plantation. Much of the remainder of the island was owned by the Union Camp corporation, which had previously used the property to grow pine trees for wood pulp to supply their paper plant in Garden City. Union Camp donated several hundred acres, which now includes Skidaway Institute’s Priests Landing dock on the Wilmington River. Union Camp also donated the land to accommodate Skidaway Island State Park.

In the end, Georgia did not win the prize for the federal facility. It was eventually established in Miami, Fla., but the idea of an oceanographic research institution on Skidaway Island was carried forward. Skidaway Institute of Oceanography was established as part of O.S.C.A. in 1968. In 1972, Governor Jimmy Carter dissolved O.S.C.A. Skidaway Institute was then assigned to the Board of Regents as an autonomous unit of the University System of Georgia (USG.)

Skidaway Institute officially opened on July 1, 1968. The former dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering, Thomas Jackson, was the first director. He hired Herb Windom as the first faculty scientist. Windom had just completed his Ph.D. at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego. Soon others followed, including Howard Yen, who was finishing up a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech, and Jim Andrews, who was completing his doctoral work in animal nutrition from UGA.

Lee Knight, Thomas Jackson and Jim Andrews walk near the under-construction Roebling Laboratory and Administrative Building.

The early support staff was very small. Jackson brought Lee Knight with him from Georgia Tech to be assistant director. Richard Buchner handled the business office, and Bonnie Zeigler was hired as a bookkeeper and secretary.

In those first days, Skidaway Institute relied heavily on the infrastructure inherited from the Roeblings, including a sophisticated firefighting system, farm buildings and dwellings, and a machine shop with equipment still in use 50 years later.

The Roebling House today

Initially, the director and all other staff had offices in the Roeblings’ two-story schoolhouse/gymnasium now called the Roebling House.

Work began fairly quickly on the first modern office and laboratory building, later named the Dorothy R. Roebling Laboratory Building. That building was completed in 1970.

In late 1969, Skidaway Institute received a new director who would play a dominant role in shaping the course of the institute over the next 23 years. David Menzel had wide-ranging experience as a marine scientist and took the reins of Skidaway Institute after a six-year tenure at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He brought an instant visibility to Skidaway Institute with his research reputation in oceanography, and his national and international connections. Soon after his arrival at Skidaway, he started hiring several young scientists from various oceanographic graduate schools. Whether a biologist, chemist or physicist, scientists were expected to approach questions in a multidisciplinary fashion and in cooperation with others, so they looked at an issue across all the disciplines. His aim was to establish an oceanographic research group capable of addressing interdisciplinary research topics, particularly those focused on coastal oceanographic processes. Through Menzel’s efforts, the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography became one of the true pioneers of interdisciplinary coastal oceanography.

Because of his stature and connections, and the quality of the faculty he hired, Menzel was able to integrate the faculty into national and international research programs, workshops and meetings. This allowed them to network and make connections with colleagues, which often led to research collaborations that lasted decades.

Skidaway Institute research has covered the world, including sites as distant as Antarctica.

During the 1970s, much of Skidaway Institute’s research was focused on understanding biogeochemical processes and their relationship to circulation on the continental shelf, a true interdisciplinary endeavor. This has remained an underlying theme of Skidaway Institute’s research to the present day. Early research benefited from large block grants from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), later the Department of Energy (DOE). The AEC/DOE was interested in knowing the potential impacts of all things related to energy production and exploration.

Skidaway Institute scientists deploy a sediment trap.

The National Science Foundation declared the International Decade of the Ocean from 1971 to 1980. Skidaway Institute and Menzel took the lead in one major international project, the Controlled Ecosystem Pollution Experiment (CEPEX), the results of which spun off a second program — Vertical Transport and Exchange (VERTEX). These two projects provided funds that supported Skidaway Institute scientists for several years. CEPEX studied the responses of pelagic marine food chains to low and chronic levels of various contaminants. It originated with concerns about the potential impact of fossil fuel exploration and energy production, along with nuclear power production, on the marine environment. VERTEX’s goal was to determine just how much carbon in the form of phytoplankton detritus sank to the sea floor over a given period of time, aimed at a better understanding of the global carbon cycle.

In 1993, Menzel retired. Skidaway Institute’s first faculty scientist, Herb Windom, moved up to the director’s office. He began a campaign to significantly upgrade Skidaway Institute’s research fleet. The former fishing trawler, the Research Vessel Blue Fin, had limited capability and was aging. Eventually, the institute ordered the construction of the 92-foot, 300-ton R/V Savannah, which was built in Maine and arrived at Skidaway Institute in September 2001.

R/V Blue Fin

The R/V Savannah is part of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) fleet and has been utilized by Skidaway Institute scientists as well as scientists from other institutions to conduct marine research in regions as far-flung as Chesapeake Bay, the western Gulf of Mexico and the coast of South America.

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Tricia Windom christens the R/V Savannah.

R/V Savannah at the fuel dock on the Skidaway Institute campus.

In 2001 Windom retired, and Rick Jahnke was appointed acting director until Jim Sanders, who years earlier had been a graduate student at Skidaway, took over the leadership of the institute. During Sanders’s first several years as director, the institute was challenged by funding issues as the recession of 2002-3 and the “great recession” that began in 2008 cut into the institute’s state and federal funding. The reduction in funding resulted in a reduction of support staff and the elimination of Skidaway Institute’s engineering department.

During this time, however, the institute also saw an expansion of its facilities and evolution within its faculty. The long-awaited Marine and Coastal Science Research and Instructional Center, a modern laboratory research structure, was funded through a $5 million appropriation by the Georgia General Assembly in 2006 and was completed in 2009.

Marine and Coastal Science Research and Instructional Center

It provided much needed office and laboratory space. In 2008, the General Assembly approved a $1.2 million capital appropriation to replace the institute’s aging wooden main dock with a modern concrete pier and floating docks, and to renovate two other  docks. Finally, in 2015, the state approved a $3 million appropriation to extensively renovate the Institute’s iconic, circular cattle barn (a legacy of the Roebling era) into a modern space designed to provide meeting areas, teaching spaces and exhibits for the interested public—in essence, a new “front door” for Skidaway Institute.

The 2000s also saw a transition of the Skidaway Institute faculty. In addition to Windom, a number of faculty scientists who had long been the core of the institute’s research retired, including Dick Lee, Gustav Paffenhöfer, Stuart Wakeham, Rick Jahnke and Jack Blanton. (Windom, Lee and Paffenhöfer continue to be active at the institute in an emeritus status.) These retirements, along with the death of Peter Verity, created space for an influx of new and younger researchers. During Sanders’ tenure as director, 10 new members joined the Skidaway Institute faculty. Five of those new hires were women.

In 2012, after nearly 40 years as an autonomous unit of the USG, Chancellor Hank Huckaby directed that Skidaway Institute be merged into the University of Georgia. That merger became official on July 1, 2013. The director of Skidaway Institute now reports to the university’s provost’s office. Currently the faculty are all part of the Department of Marine Sciences. The merger created a fresh set of challenges, from combining accounting systems to differences in culture and mission. The educational component of Skidaway Institute’s mission grew with the acquisition. Skidaway faculty have UGA graduate students working in their labs each year, and planning is underway to provide other unique learning experiences for graduate and undergraduate students.

In 2015, Sanders announced he would be stepping down as director in 2016. Long-time faculty member Clark Alexander was appointed interim director, and in 2017, that appointment was made permanent.

Since 1968, Skidaway Institute and its scientists have shown leadership outside of academic settings as well, providing valuable guidance to state and regional planners, resource managers and industrial stakeholders. Skidaway Institute scientists have served on national, regional, state and local advisory boards for organizations such as the EPA, National Science Foundation, NOAA-Sea Grant, NOAA-National Marine Sanctuaries, Governors South Atlantic Alliance, Georgia Coastal Management Program and the Chatham County Planning Commission.

After 50 years, nearly all the faces have changed. The technology is vastly different. The challenges are different too. Yet the mission of Skidaway Institute remains the same, to create and communicate a deeper understanding of our world through leading-edge research in the marine and environmental sciences and by training tomorrow’s scientists.

Former UGA Skidaway Institute director Jim Sanders retires

Former UGA Skidaway Institute executive director Jim Sanders retired last summer. Sanders led the institution from 2001 until 2016, when he stepped back from his executive directorship, but remained active in a faculty post. During his 15 years as director or executive director, Sanders guided Skidaway Institute through two recessions and the 2013 merger with the University of Georgia.

Sanders earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Duke University and followed it up with a master’s degree and doctorate in marine sciences from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. His first exposure to Skidaway Institute came as a graduate student with Herb Windom in the 1970s.

Prior to his arrival in Savannah in 2001, Sanders was on the faculty and served as director of the Academy of Natural Sciences’ Estuarine Research Center in Maryland. He then was chairman of the Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

Sanders is known for his interests within the area of nutrient and trace element biogeochemistry, especially how trace elements are transported through coastal zones, transformed by chemical and biological reactions during transport, and how they influence growth and species composition of autotrophic organisms.

Sanders has been very active as a consultant to federal and state science agencies, and industrial groups in the U.S. and Europe. He is a member of numerous scientific societies, was president of the National Association of Marine Laboratories, and was a trustee and officer of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. He is the author of over 75 scientific publications.

Shortly after taking the helm at Skidaway Institute, the nation was hit with an economic downturn sparked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and maintaining adequate funding for research and operations was a challenge.

“The most effective way to deal with it was to hire innovative and interdisciplinary faculty members who would come up with important research questions and then find funding to pursue those avenues,” Sanders said.

Looking back, Sanders said he has always been amazed at the extent to which Skidaway Institute fosters an interactive, collegial work experience.

“I have been at a number of other institutions, large and small, many with a similar focus on oceanography, but I have never felt the interconnections that Skidaway has offered, both to me and other staff, over the past 42 years,” Sanders said.

As Sanders looks back over his time at Skidaway, he is most proud for what he, the faculty and staff have done together.

“In the end, I measure my success through my colleagues and our interactions,” he said. “Really, my career has not been defined by the grants written, or the publications, or even the research that I have performed, but that I was in a position to help others achieve their goals, and perhaps even reach a bit higher in some cases.”

Sanders remains at the institute as a professor emeritus.

Glider partners come to the rescue during Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma presented an interesting problem to UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Catherine Edwards and other glider operators in the Southeast. They had several autonomous underwater vehicles or “gliders” deployed off the east coast as the hurricane approached, including Skidaway Institute’s glider, “Modena.” Edwards and the others were confident the gliders themselves would be safe in the water, but the computer servers that control them would not.

Catherine Edwards works on “Modena.”

The gliders are equipped with satellite phones. Periodically, they call their home server, download data and receive instructions for their next operation. It was expected that Skidaway Institute would lose power for at least several days (as did happen). However, Skidaway’s backup server partner at the University of South Florida’s marine science facility in St. Petersburg, Fla. was also directly in the storm’s projected path.

“In the week before she hit, Irma sort of blew up our hurricane emergency plans,” Edwards said.

Several other options, including Teledyne Webb’s back-up servers and Rutgers University were not feasible for technical reasons. Glider operators at Texas A&M University came to the rescue. Catherine was able to instruct “Modena” to switch its calls over the Texas A&M server. No data was lost and “Modena” continued its mission.

According to Edwards, two big lessons emerged from the experience.

“First, most of us rely on nearby or regional partners for emergency and backup support, but disasters are regional by nature, and the same Nor’easter or hurricane can take you down along with your backup,” she said. “Second, there aren’t a lot of glider centers that can absorb several gliders on a day’s notice, and there are some compatibility and operations issues involved, so it is best to identify our potential partners and build out these steps into our emergency plans well in advance.”