Tag Archives: skidaway institute

Grad students receive degrees, awards

UGA Skidaway Institute graduate student Kun Ma was awarded her doctoral degree in marine sciences at UGA’s December Commencement ceremony. UGA Skidaway Institute Professor Jay Brandes was Ma’s advisor.

Kun Ma

Ma joined Brandes’ lab in 2017 and focused her research on the photochemical degradation of carbon in the surface ocean.

Two UGA Skidaway Institute-based graduate students were awarded prizes by the Department of Marine Sciences. Doctoral student Ben Lowin from Assistant Professor Sara Rivero-Calle’s lab received the Graduate Student Service and Outreach Award.

Kyle Aaron received the Graduate Student Teaching Award for his work as a teaching assistant in the Semester@Skidaway program. Both awards included a $250 prize. Aaron also graduated with his master’s degree in December.

Ben Lowin (left) and Kyle Aaron (right)

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist and grad student attend int’l conference in Vietnam

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.”

Mallie Hunt (left) and Sara Rivero-Calle in Vietnam

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.”

An outdoor poster session at the conference

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.”

UGA Skidaway Institute scientists receive pre-seed funding

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 project, “Satellite Remote Sensing Applications for Global Water Resources,” pulls together expertise from many related research areas, including water quality, sea levels, hurricanes, harmful algal blooms, underground water, freshwater, primary production, sea ice, watersheds, farmlands and coastal hazards.

“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.

The pre-seed funding grant totals $3,750.

Skidaway scientist proposes forecasting tool for shrimp black gill

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.

Shrimp caught and sorted during the December cruise.

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.”

RV Savannah crew deploy a trawl net.

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.

Cruise participants sort the catch.

“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.”

Skidaway researchers utilize gliders to aid North Atlantic right whales

Scientists at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and the University of South Carolina are using underwater robots and artificial intelligence to help save endangered North Atlantic right whales. The project is led by Skidaway researcher Catherine Edwards and U.S.C. researcher Erin Meyer-Gutbrod.

A North Atlantic right whale mother with calf. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

Scientists believe there are only approximately 340 North Atlantic right whales remaining in the species. The whales are injured and killed from entanglements with fishing gear, lobster pots and other ocean longlines, as well as from being hit by ships.

“One main hazard to them along their migration path is shipping vessel strikes that injure and kill a number of right whales each year,” Edwards said. “Unfortunately, they’re not reproducing fast enough to counteract the harmful effects humans are having on the population. So, each year they decline and decline.”

The whales spend the warm months in areas around the Gulf of Maine, Scotian Shelf and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, before migrating in the winter to their calving grounds off Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to give birth. During this migration, they are susceptible to ship strikes, especially near busy ports like Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia. Larger vessels are supposed to slow to 10 knots during the migration season to allow them to spot and avoid the whales, however recent studies have shown that many vessels don’t comply with this speed limit.

The researchers’ primary goal is to identify and locate migrating whales and alert ships to their proximity. Edwards, Meyer-Gutbrod and their team are using autonomous underwater vehicles, or “gliders,” fitted with hydrophones to listen to the whales’ vocalizations.

A newly launched glide still tethered to the boat.

Gliders are torpedo-shaped crafts that can be packed with sensors and sent on underwater missions to collect oceanographic data. Equipped with satellite phones, the gliders surface periodically to transmit recorded data to base stations on land. Since they move through the water by adjusting their buoyancy instead of using a traditional motor and propeller, they require very little power and can remain at sea for days or weeks at a time. They are also very quiet, making them a good tool for this type of mission. The team has deployed one glider south of Savannah to detect the whales on their northward trek in the spring and will deploy another north of Charleston during the fall south-bound migration.

“Passive acoustic monitoring is a really valuable tool for monitoring baleen whales, such as right whales, because it is often less expensive than visual observations, and data can be collected 24/7 and in bad weather,” Meyer-Gutbrod said. “Gliders have been used with increasing frequency over the past decade to record baleen whale vocalizations and send alerts back in near real-time, however they really haven’t been tested or used in the waters off the southeast U.S. until now.”

The gliders will be complemented by three stationary hydrophone moorings which will also listen for whale vocalizations. The researchers will be able to compare what is heard by each of the instruments.

“I would like to compare the glider-collected acoustic data with archival acoustic data collected with bottom-mounted hydrophones to assess the glider’s detection capabilities in this environment,” Meyer-Gutbrod said.

Picking up whale vocalizations is only part of the solution. Researchers will use a low-frequency detection and classification system developed at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to identify the species of baleen whale that made the sounds.
“If a glider hears a sound, it matches it against a library of known whale calls for right whales and other species, and there’s an automated detection that tells the glider, ‘Hey, we just saw something,’” Edwards said.

Meyer-Gutbrod and her students then review and verify that the call is a likely detection based on a small subset of data sent each time that the glider comes to the surface.

The gliders will be positioned to pick up the whale vocalizations and send alerts about every two hours before the whales enter high-traffic areas near the ports of Charleston and Savannah. The detections will be communicated to ship captains by the management and conservation apps Whale Alert (www.whalealert.org) and Whale Map (https://whalemap.org). The researchers hope information on verified whale detections will give the ships the incentive to take protective action, like slowing down to less than 10 knots.

Beyond looking for whales, scientists hope to answer many other research questions about this technique.

“How shallow do the gliders need to get to actually hear the whales? How much background noise do we hear from other things in the environment? Or from human activities? And how much does noise from the glider itself interfere with our ability to hear whale calls?” Edwards said. “And also, how close to you have to be to actually hear them?”

The researchers also want to study recent changes in whale migration patterns. A decline in the food supplies during the summer months has triggered a shift in the North Atlantic right whale’s foraging grounds from the Gulf of Maine northward to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. While surveys have documented this shift, scientists have not yet assessed its impact on winter migration patterns.

The project is funded by a $196,847 grant from the Broad Reach Fund.

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.

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.