Tag Archives: science

Girls Code Games Summer Camp at UGA Skidaway Institute

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.

Research technician Karen Dreger displays the workings of an underwater glider to the Girls Code Games Summer Campers.

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.

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.”

Semester@Skidaway brings undergrads to UGA Skidaway Institute

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.

Assistant professor Sara Rivero-Calle teaches one of the undergraduate courses with students at Skidaway Institute and in Athens, as seen in the monitor.

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.

Semester@Skidaway students (l-r) Taylor English, Dillon Doomstorm, Ava Meier and Sarah Belcher

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.”

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

UGA Skidaway Institute’s Edwards granted tenure

The University of Georgia has granted tenure to UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography / Department of Marine Sciences scientist Catherine Edwards. Edwards was also promoted from assistant professor to associate professor, effective Aug. 1.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEdwards is a physical oceanographer, with broad interdisciplinary interests in marine sciences and engineering. She earned a B.S. in physics with highest honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and worked as an ocean modeler at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory before earning her Ph.D. in physical oceanography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She joined Skidaway Institute in 2010.

Edwards’ research focuses on answering fundamental questions in coastal oceanography and fisheries sciences with autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). Using AUVs, also called gliders, she and her team are developing novel ways to optimize their use with engineering principles and real-time data streams from models and observations.

While at UGA Skidaway Institute, Edwards has been awarded more than $2 million dollars on 12 projects totaling more than $12 million from NOAA/Navy sources, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative and four different programs within the National Science Foundation. As the founder of a regional glider observatory, she serves as the lead scientist in a new project that places gliders in the paths of hurricanes to better predict their intensity at landfall. Edwards is a co-primary investigator in a large $5 million observational program studying exchange between the coastal and deep ocean at Cape Hatteras. In an effort funded by NSF’s Smart and Autonomous Systems program, Edwards is also working with researchers from Georgia Tech and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary to utilize gliders and acoustic tagging to track fish migrations.

Scientific serendipity: Researchers make surprising finding on ocean’s ‘thin layers’

Sometimes scientists start out researching one subject, but along the way, they come across something else even more interesting. This is what happened to University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Adam Greer in the summer of 2016 when Greer was a post-doctoral associate at the University of Southern Mississippi. That fortuitous event resulted in a paper recently published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography with Greer as the lead author.

Adam Greer 1 650pGreer and his fellow researchers were on a cruise in the northern Gulf of Mexico to study the effects of river input on biological processes. They came across a natural phenomenon called a thin layer. These are oceanographic features found all over the world where biomass collects into a narrow portion of the water column–less than five meters thick vertically–and can extend for several kilometers horizontally. They tend to occur in stratified shelf systems.

“Surprisingly, there are few published studies on thin layers in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which is heavily influenced by rivers and highly stratified during the summer,” Greer said. “Thin layers are important because they are trophic hot spots, where life tends to congregate, and predators and prey interact.”

However, Greer said, thin layers are very difficult to analyze because they occur within a restricted portion of the water column, and most conventional ocean sampling equipment will not detect their influence on different organisms.

Greer and his colleagues were better equipped than most to study the thin layer. Rather than laying out a grid and taking a series of water samples, they were equipped with an In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS). This imaging system was towed behind their research vessel and undulated through the water column, producing a live feed of plankton images and oceanographic data. By studying the video, they were able to map the distributions of many different types of organisms in great detail. The thin layer was composed of large chains of phytoplankton called diatoms and gelatinous zooplankton called doliolids.

Thin Layer 2

A crewman launches the ISIIS.

“Although we expected many different organisms to aggregate within the layer, this was not the case,” Greer said. “The only organisms that were concentrated within the layer were gelatinous organisms called doliolids. Other organisms that we expected to see, such as copepods, chaetognaths and shrimp, tended to congregate near the surface just south of the thin layer.”

The researchers determined that the area south of the thin layer was influenced by a surface convergence – two water masses colliding and pushing water downward at a slow rate. They believe that many organisms with active swimming ability, such as shrimps and copepods, could stay within the surface convergence, while more passive swimmers, such as doliolids would follow the trajectory of the thin layer and diatoms.

Thin Layer 1

An image from the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System passing through the thin layer. The long, slender filaments are chains of diatoms. The larger, oval plankton are doliolids

Greer and his colleagues discovered several other characteristics of the thin layer they had not anticipated. There was a higher concentration of live phytoplankton than expected. As a result, the thin layer also had a high concentration of dissolved oxygen due to the photosynthetic activity. The zooplankton were also aggregated into distinct microhabitats with different oceanographic properties — such as temperature, salinity and light. The microhabitats also contained different types and abundances of food.

“For a lot of these organisms, if you took the average abundance of food it wouldn’t be enough to survive,” Greer said. “So whatever mechanisms there are to create higher abundances of food, they are potentially really important for a number of different organisms.”

The other members of the research team were Adam Boyette, Valerie Cruz, Kemal Cambazoglu, Luciano Chiaverano and Jerry Wiggert, all from the University of Southern Mississippi; Brian Dzwonkowski and Steven Dykstra, from the University of South Alabama; and Christian Briseño‐Avena and Bob Cowen, from Oregon State University.
The paper can be viewed HERE.

Marine scientists map fish habitats

by Alan Flurry

Beyond the barrier islands of coastal Georgia, the continental shelf extends gradually eastward for almost 80 miles to the Gulf Stream. This broad, sandy shelf largely does not provide the firm foundation needed for the development of reef communities to support recreational and commercial fish species including grouper, snapper, black sea bass and amberjack.

“Natural and artificial reef habitats are important to Georgia fisheries because they provide hard, permanent structure on the Georgia shelf, which is dominantly a vast underwater desert of shifting sands,” said Clark Alexander, professor and director of the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. “The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has invested significantly over the past several years in developing the capacity to map these areas to enhance the management of these reef communities.“

To increase the availability of high-quality hard bottom areas off Georgia, the DNR began an artificial reef-building program in 1971 to deploy materials at various locations across the continental shelf, from 2 to 30 miles offshore. Reef materials include concrete slabs and culverts from road, bridge and building demolition, subway cars, ships, barges, and U.S. Army tanks. Because some of these reefs are far offshore and DNR resources are limited, the status of some of that material has not been examined for decades.

Ossabaw sound 650p sq

A bathymetric survey of Ossabaw Sound.

For the past five years, Alexander has been leading an effort to improve understanding of marine, coastal and estuarine habitats and functions using high-resolution sonar to map state water bottoms, with funding from the DNR Coastal Incentive Grant program. Alexander’s team has amassed critical depth and habitat information for five of Georgia’s sounds (Wassaw, Ossabaw, St. Catherine’s, Doboy and Sapelo), revealing deeply scoured areas where underwater cliffs have formed to create hard substrate where complex ecosystems and biological communities have developed.

“These inshore, hardbottom habitats should enhance biodiversity in the areas near these structures and enhance ecosystems supporting both commercial and recreational species across the continental shelf,” Alexander said.

Alexander is currently leading a new, three-year project mapping important fish habitats in state waters — the newly discovered estuarine habitats, and artificial reef structures within 10 nautical miles of shore – those areas most accessible to recreational anglers, boaters and divers. In addition, his research group is mapping previously unmapped portions of the sounds and tidal rivers deeper than 15 meters to discover the extent of these newly identified estuarine hardbottom habitats.

Skidaway Institute researchers will work with DNR to update the online “Boater’s Guide to Artificial Reefs” with accurate locations and imagery of deployed materials for these reefs. These new, more accurate artificial reef surveys will also document recent changes in the locations and integrity of placed materials and verify the low-tide water depths over all features in the artificial reefs to enhance navigational safety.