UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Sara Rivero-Calle and graduate student Mallie Hunt travelled to Quy Nhon, Vietnam, in October to participate in the 25th International Ocean Optics Meeting (https://oceanopticsconference.org). Rivero-Calle focuses much of her work on studying the ocean with satellites.
“It is one of the most specific and relevant meetings for me because it is international,” Rivero-Calle said. “It brought together scientists from all over the world who work on ocean optics and aquatic satellite remote sensing. It also included program managers from NASA and other space agencies, and companies that sell the instruments that I use.”
Rivero-Calle has been attending this semi-annual meeting since she was in graduate school. The meeting was almost a reunion for her with mentors, colleagues and friends she has made in the field, but more important was the trip’s professional purpose.
“It was a big deal for me to attend and let my colleagues know that I have established an ocean optics lab at Skidaway Institute,” she said. “I gave a talk presenting all the projects in my lab, and it was very well received.”
The conference was not all work and no play. Quy Nhon is a beach town, and both the hotel and conference center were near the ocean.
“The hotel had ocean views, and the conference center was at another location by the beach,” she said. “Lunches were a fully catered Vietnamese splurge of goodness, buffet-style. I ate so many different delicious foods!
“After lunch most of us went swimming in the ocean before the afternoon session. Can’t beat that.”
For Hunt, the trip to the conference was an experience she says she will never forget. “I was able to meet with other researchers in the same field and receive valuable feedback during my poster presentation that will help me in my future work,” she said. “I am so glad I had the opportunity to see a new country and to present the work I have completed over the past year.”
A team led by UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Sara Rivero-Calle has received “pre-seed” funding to develop proposals to use satellite remote sensing tools to study the Earth’s water resources.
In 2020, the UGA Office of Research, in partnership with the Office of the Provost, launched its Teaming for Interdisciplinary Research Pre-Seed Program to encourage UGA faculty to form teams and collaborate around critical areas of research expertise or emerging research topics. The goal is to stimulate the formation of large-scale research teams and position UGA researchers to be more competitive in attracting resources for collaborative research, including internal UGA seed grants and, ultimately, external grant support.
“Water is a key resource on planet Earth,” Rivero-Calle said. “It shapes our food, society, economy, lifestyle, landscape and where we live.
“In fact, 90% of humans live less than 10 kilometers away from a body of water. Therefore, it is imperative to safeguard and understand this precious resource.”
“The purpose of this group is to bring together an interdisciplinary team of UGA experts in remote sensing technology and water resources to develop proposals targeting these topics,” Rivero-Calle said.
The motivation behind forming the team is the upcoming call for proposals for NASA PACE Satellite Validation Teams. The project is a NASA satellite scheduled for launch in 2024, and PACE stands for Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (https://pace.gsfc.nasa.gov/).
NASA is expected to request proposals for validation teams in early 2023. These teams will collect ground-truthing field data that NASA will compare with what the PACE satellite reports. The field data is also important for developing new algorithms (including some to address regional problems, such as South Atlantic Bight) in the future. PACE will provide information on ocean biology, chemistry and water quality, but also about the composition of the atmosphere above it.
“The hyperspectral capabilities of the ocean color sensor have potential to distinguish between groups or even species of plankton,” Rivero-Calle said. “I am very excited about this advanced capability of PACE.”
In addition to Rivero-Calle, the multi-disciplinary team includes Skidaway Institute Director Clark Alexander, a geologist; Skidaway researcher Clifton Buck, a marine chemist; Adam Milewski from the Department of Geology; Bill Miller from the Department of Marine Sciences; Deepak Mishra from the Department of Geography; Lakshmish Ramaswamy from the Department of Computer Science; and Rosanna Rivero from the College of Environment and Design.
That group includes experts in remote sensing, oceanography, big data, machine learning, coastal and inland waters hazards, coastal ecosystems, hydrology, aerosols and computer science.
UGA researchers are well-positioned to work on satellite validation. Rivero-Calle’s lab is currently working on satellite validation of the ocean color SeaHawk CubeSat mission. Skidaway Institute also operates the Research Vessel Savannah, which is equipped with a state-of-the-art optical system that was designed by Rivero-Calle precisely for satellite data validation in a continuous, way whenever the ship is at sea.
After more than nine years of researching black gill in Georgia shrimp, scientists at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography are hopeful their work may help the state’s shrimpers deal with the condition, which many shrimpers blame for reduced harvests. They want to develop a forecasting tool that would allow shrimpers to predict what kind of season they may have and prepare accordingly.
Black gill is a condition found in shrimp in the southeastern United States. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources first officially reported black gill in its survey data in 1996, however Georgia shrimpers anecdotally have reported its presence at least since the 1980s. Early on, no one knew the cause of black gill or its effect on shrimp, and the number of infected shrimp has varied widely from year to year—as has the number of shrimp for harvest.
The presence of black gill is seasonal. It visually disappears during the winter. It begins appearing as the water warms in the early summer and peaks in September and October, which is also the height of the commercial shrimping season. That seasonal variability also gave UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Marc Frischer a clue as to why black gill only started appearing in the last three decades. He found a link between warmer winters and a higher incidence of black gill in the shrimping season later that year.
“What happened is that our climate is changing, especially with warmer winters,” Frischer said. “And that’s what is driving this occurrence of the symptomatic black gill.
“The ciliate that causes it has probably been here forever. We don’t think it is an invasive species. We recognize it now as an impact of climate change.”
The link to winter temperatures gave Frischer insight into a way to help the Georgia shrimpers. Since a cure for black gill is not likely, the next best answer might be a forecast tool. Frischer hopes that by providing shrimpers with some idea of what they can expect out of their efforts, it might avoid the devastating consequences the shrimp industry experienced in 2013.
“I think what we really need is a good, accurate forecasting tool that can say how good the year is going to be,” he said. “I think that would be helpful to the industry so they can calibrate their efforts to what their catches might be, and right now, we don’t really have that.”
Frischer was asked to get involved in the black gill project after the Georgia shrimp industry hit a crisis in 2013. Local shrimpers thought they were poised for a great season, as a shortfall of Asian imports drove prices to record levels. When the Georgia shrimpers deployed their nets, however, they discovered there were hardly any shrimp to be caught.
“There was a lot less shrimp on the market, and the prices were triple what they’d been the years before,” Frischer said. “So, the shrimpers put a lot of effort into preparing for the season, and then they didn’t catch enough shrimp to pay for their fuel cost. A lot of shrimpers when bankrupt that year.”
Frischer and his team quickly uncovered the cause: the parasite black gill, a tiny, previously undescribed, single-cell ciliate growing on the shrimps’ gills (the blackening of the gills actually is a defense mechanism shrimp use to protect against the parasite). Subsequent research confirmed the condition affects shrimp in several ways, including reducing their endurance and making them more susceptible to predators. It also probably increased mortality rates, although determining the contribution of black gill to direct mortality rates has been difficult to quantify.
“We’ve learned a lot about the parasite’s life history, what it does and why it causes black gill,” Frischer said. “We think that’s because it feeds off of living gill tissue on the shrimp. That causes the shrimp to respond to turn on its immune system, which is what results in the symptoms of black gill.”
Although the parasite is harmful to shrimp, Frischer stressed that it is not harmful to humans. “If you’ve eaten local shrimp anytime since the 1990s, you’ve eaten shrimp with black gill. I’ve never heard of any health issues for people associated with eating shrimp affected by black gill, and they still taste delicious.”
In December, Frischer hosted the sixth “black gill cruise” on board the Research Vessel Savannah, bringing together a wide-ranging group of stakeholders including, scientists, shrimpers, managers, policy makers, educators and the press to compare notes and establish connections.
“The point of this year’s cruise was to look back and see where we’ve come and chart a path forward, what we’ve learned and what we still have to learn,” he said. “We discussed challenges currently facing the fishery, and what are perhaps new opportunities. “It’s not wiping out shrimping. But it’s not helping either. And so, the shrimpers are being compelled to learn to live with it.”
The University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, Girls Who Code and The Creative Coast presented a one-of-a-kind experience for middle school girls in Chatham County to learn about marine science and computer coding at UGA Skidaway Institute on Monday, July 11. The Girls Code Games Summer Camp taught campers to design and program a playable game related to marine science, all under the guidance of female scientists and programmers.
The program was created by UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Catherine Edwards and Savannah Arts Academy (SAA) senior and Girls Who Code co-founder Sage Batchelor. It included girls from 20 different public schools between the 5th-8th grades. Edwards and her team introduced the girls to underwater robots, including what they do, how they are programmed, what type of data they produce and how that data is used by scientists.
The camp continued the remainder of the week at Georgia Southern University, where Batchelor and a group of female counselors (seniors and recent graduates of SAA) taught campers to design and build a computer game using the information they learned about underwater robots.
Sponsors for the program include the City of Savannah, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, Georgia Southern Business Innovation Group and Elevate Savannah.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.”
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.
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 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 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.
The fall semester 2022 marks a major milestone in the growth of the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute’s education mission beyond its historical role as a research laboratory. The Semester@Skidaway domestic field study program is a significant part of the UGA Department of Marine Sciences new undergraduate ocean sciences major. A small cohort of ocean sciences majors are spending the entire fall semester in residence at UGA Skidaway Institute taking classes and learning how to conduct marine research.
The Semester@Skidaway serves, essentially, as a capstone type experience for students before they graduate,” said Semester@Skidaway program director Clifton Buck. “The students have the opportunity to take a number of courses that are taught here, but also they have the chance to take courses that are much more immersive and hands on.”
The research-based activities include field surveys, collecting samples from the environment, returning them back to the laboratory and analyzing them for chemical, biological and physical parameters.
“They make a scientific journey from actually being out in the field and then into the laboratory, to analyze the data and think about it critically” Buck said.
The students take five three-credit courses that cover a wide range of marine science topics including data analysis techniques and marine science field methods. They also study the unique South Atlantic Bight system located off our coast under the instruction of associate professor Catherine Edwards. A highlight of the semester will be a cruise aboard the Research Vessel Savannah. Professor Jay Brandes teaches a course that focuses on the planning and preparation needed for a successful research cruise.
“They’ll go on a two-day cruise just offshore and collect samples, apply some of the things they’ve learned in the laboratory class and bring those samples back and work with them,” Buck said. “And so again, they will take it from the planning stage through the execution, through the sample analysis and data interpretation.”
The fall 2022 group consists of just a handful of students. As the ocean sciences major grows, Buck expects later cohorts to include about 24 students.
“The Semester @ Skidaway program brings highly motivated ocean science majors to the Skidaway campus to experience hands-on and research-based instruction,” UGA Skidaway Institute Director Clark Alexander said. “This influx of young, enthusiastic students enhances the programs at Skidaway by their presence, and we are excited to be teaching tomorrow’s scientists and informed citizens.”