Tag Archives: university of georgia

Grad student Kun Ma receives Georgia Sea Grant funding

Kun Ma SquareUGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography graduate student Kun Ma has received $25,000 in research funding as part of the Georgia Sea Grant Research Traineeship Program. Ma will use the funds to support her work studying microplastic pollution in Georgia’s marine ecosystem. The project is titled “Determining photodegradation rates and products of textile-derived plastic microfibers in aqueous environments.”

Because the study of microplastics in a marine environment is still very new, there are many basic questions about microplastic distribution, environmental effects, and the sources and sinks of the microplastics. Ma’s focus with this research program is to examine one loss pathway, the degradation of microplastics and microfibers by sunlight in estuarine and marine environments. There are at least 50 trillion microplastic particles in the global ocean and up to one trillion microplastics in Georgia’s waterways alone.

“Knowledge of microplastic degradation pathways is essential to water management of coastal ecosystems, and many types of larger plastics can be degraded by exposure to light,” Ma said. “However, there are no published studies on the rate or degradation products of plastic microfibers in aquatic environments. My study will serve as an initiative to fill this knowledge gap.”

Sea Grant Research Trainees undertake research projects that advance the goals and objectives in Georgia Sea Grant’s strategic plan. Ma’s project will address two goals, maintaining a healthy coastal ecosystem and promoting environmental literacy.

The research will form part of Ma’s thesis research. The results will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and will be presented at regional and national conferences. In addition, an educational poster summarizing results of the project will be showcased at public special events reaching diverse audiences, such as Skidaway Marine Science Day, Savannah Earth Day Festival and the World Oceans Day Celebration.

Ma is a Ph.D. student in the UGA Department of Marine Sciences. Her faculty advisor at Skidaway Institute is Jay Brandes. Her professional mentor on the project will be UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant educator Dodie Sanders. The funding is for one year, beginning August 1.

UGA Aquarium’s Genell Gibson receives award for service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barn renovation progressing

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

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

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

The ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for October 22.

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

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

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

UGA Skidaway Institute gliders improve hurricane predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Benthic chambers and the R/V Savannah

By Debbie Jahnke

Editor’s Note: Rick and Debbie Jahnke were long time fixtures at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Rick was a faculty scientist and, for a short time, interim director. Debbie was his research coordinator. They retired in 2008 and now reside in Port Townsend, Wash.

Wandering through the latest Skidaway Campus Notes (Fall 2017), I encountered “R/V Savannah Demonstrates a Broad Geographic Range in 2017,” and there was a photo of an autonomous vehicle being recovered by the R/V Savannah in the Gulf of Mexico. That particular autonomous vehicle appears to be one of a family that started life as a BECI (Benthic Experimental Chamber Instrument), first built at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and then trucked across country in 1987 when the Jahnkes moved to Savannah and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. (Back then, we weren’t “the Jahnkes” yet. That didn’t happen until 1999.)

Two more BECIs of this type were built at Skidaway Institute but Lee Knight (emeritus Assistant Director/Engineer) had them constructed with hexagonal structural horizontals rather than the circular original. Skidaway Institute’s machine shop didn’t have the equipment to make the round bend. One of the BECIs was lost at sea on the Ceara Rise, an underwater feature off the east coast of Brazil in 1994.

When we departed Skidaway for our “left coast” retirement in 2008, Martial Taillefert (Georgia Tech) was kind enough to adopt the old BECIs and various other benthic instruments and all their paraphernalia. It’s a pleasure to see what appears to be a BECI or a close relative in active use. There’s an additional float on her frame now, which must mean there is also more of a scientific payload to buoy.

It is a bonus to note that the BECI is going to sea on the R/V Savannah, as Rick had been closely involved in the design of the vessel and was acting director of Skidaway Institute when Trish Windom christened our brand-new, almost-finished ship in the Bath, Maine shipyard. Rick served briefly as acting director between Herb Windom’s retirement and the arrival of Jim Sanders as new director.

The completed R/V Savannah arrived from the shipyard in Maine just after midnight on September 12, 2001. Rick and I were waiting on the Skidaway Institute dock with Lee Knight when our ship appeared out of the dark downriver, heading for her new home. The World Trade Towers had just fallen, and chaos was in force. The crew hadn’t had radio contact, so we didn’t even know if they were okay. Skidaway Institute had a muted commissioning celebration for our new ship.

Now, Skidaway Institute has gained a new director who originally arrived as a post-doc quite a few years ago, and now has quite a bit of gray in his beard (Congratulations, Clark!). We’ve been retired more than nine years, but the BECI and her benthic companions are still hard at work. We wish the BECIs, the R/V Savannah and all their human collaborators past, present and future, a happy and successful 2018.

NSF grant funds Diaz’s research

Julia Diaz

UGA Skidaway Institute researcher Julia Diaz is the lead scientist on a $852,906 three-year grant from the National Science Foundation titled “Collaborative Research: Assessing the role of compound specific phosphorus hydrolase transformations in the marine phosphorus cycle.” Diaz and her colleague, Solange Duhamel from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, will study how phytoplankton cope with shortages of phosphorus in the ocean, and if phytoplankton in phosphorus-rich environments also exhibit some of the same strategies. Skidaway Institute’s share of the grant is $296,831 and the funding began on Sept. 1, 2017.