UGA Skidaway Institute scientists map Wassaw Sound

December 18, 2014

A research team from the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography has completed the first high-resolution, bathymetric (bottom-depth) survey of Wassaw Sound in Chatham County.

Led by Skidaway Institute scientist Clark Alexander, the team produced a detailed picture of the bottom of Wassaw Sound, the Wilmington River and other connected waterways. The yearlong project was developed in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

This shows a wide view of the Wassaw Sound survey map. Shallow areas are shown in orange and yellow, deeper areas in green and blue.

This shows a wide view of the Wassaw Sound survey map. Shallow areas are shown in orange and yellow, deeper areas in green and blue.

The survey provides detailed information about the depth and character of the sound’s bottom. This information will be useful to boaters, but boating safety was not the primary aim of the project. The primary objective was to map bottom habitats for fisheries managers. DNR conducts fish surveys in Georgia sounds, but, according to Alexander, they have limited knowledge of what the bottom is like. “One of the products we developed is an extrapolated bottom character map,” Alexander said. “This describes what the bottom grain size is like throughout the sound. Is it coarse, or shelly or muddy? This is very important in terms of what kind of habitat there is for marine life.”

A second goal was to provide detailed bathymetric data to incorporate into computer models that predict storm surge flooding caused by hurricanes and other major storms. Agencies like the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration use mathematical models to predict anticipated storm inundation and flooding for specific coastal areas. A key factor in an accurate modeling exercise is the bathymetry of the coastal waters.

“You need to know how the water will pile up, how it will be diverted and how it will be affected by the bottom morphology,” Alexander said. “Since we have a gently dipping coastal plain, storm inundation can reach far inland. It is important to get it as right as we can so the models will provide us with a better estimate of where storm inundation and flooding will occur.”

Funded by an $80,000 Coastal Incentive Grant from DNR, Alexander and his research team, consisting of Mike Robinson and Claudia Venherm, used a cutting-edge interferometric side-scan sonar system to collect bathymetry data. The sonar transmitter/receiver was attached to a pole and lowered into the water from Skidaway Institute’s 28-foot Research Vessel Jack Blanton. Unlike a conventional fishfinder, which uses a single pinger to measure depth under a boat, the Edgetech 4600 sonar array uses fan-shaped sonar beams to both determine water depth and bottom reflectivity, which identifies sediment type, rocky outcroppings and bedforms, in a swath across the boat’s direction of travel.

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography research coordinator Claudia Venherm logs survey activity on board the R/V Jack Blanton

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography research coordinator Claudia Venherm logs survey activity on board the R/V Jack Blanton

The actual process of surveying the sound involved long hours of slowly driving the boat back and forth on long parallel tracks. On each leg, the sonar produced a long, narrow strip indicating the depth and character of the sound bottom. Using high-resolution Global Positioning System data that pinpointed the boat’s exact location, the system assembled the digital strips of data into a complete picture of the survey area.

All the other sounds on the Georgia coast were mapped in 1933, but for some reason data from that time period for Wassaw Sound was unavailable. When the team began this project, they believed they were conducting the first survey of the sound. However, just as the researchers were finishing the project, NOAA released data from a 1994 single-beam survey that had been conducted in advance of the 1996 Olympic yachting races that were held in and near Wassaw Sound.

“This worked out very well for our project, because we are able to compare the differences between the two surveys conducted 20 years apart,” Alexander said. “We see areas that have accumulated sediment by more than 2 meters, and we also see areas that have eroded more than 2 meters since 1994. Channels have shifted and bars have grown or been destroyed.”

Because of advances in technology, the current survey is significantly richer in detail than the one conducted in 1994. “We can zoom down to a square 25 centimeters (less than a foot) on a side and know the bottom depth,” Alexander said.

The survey produced a number of findings that were surprising. The intersection of Turner Creek and the Wilmington River is a deep, busy waterway. Although most of the area is deep, the survey revealed several pinnacles sticking up 20 feet off the bottom. “They are round and somewhat flat, almost like underwater mesas,” Alexander said.

The researchers determined that the deepest place mapped in the study area was a very steep-sided hole, 23 meters deep, in the Half Moon River where it is joined by a smaller tidal creek. They also found several sunken barges and other vessels.

The survey data set is available to the public on the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal at http://gchp.skio.usg.edu/. Alexander warns that while boaters should find the survey interesting, the information is intended for habitat research and storm surge modeling, not for navigation. “Because the bottom of Wassaw Sound is always shifting and changing, as our survey showed, don’t rely on the data for safe navigation,” he cautioned.

Alexander has already received a grant for an additional survey, this time of Ossabaw Sound, the next sound south of Wassaw Sound. He expects work to begin on that survey in early 2015.

The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography is a research unit of the University of Georgia located on Skidaway Island near Savannah. The mission of the institute is to provide the state of Georgia with a nationally and internationally recognized center of excellence in marine science through research and education.

Skidaway Institute scientist shares Gulf oil spill research grant

December 17, 2014

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Catherine Edwards is part of a research team that has received an $18.8 million grant to continue studies of natural oil seeps and track the impacts of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

Known as ECOGIG-2 or “Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf,” the project is a collaborative, multi-institutional effort involving biological, chemical, geological and chemical oceanographers led by the University of Georgia’s Samantha Joye. The research team has worked in the Gulf since the weeks following the 2010 Macondo well blowout.

The three-year, $18.8 million ECOGIG-2 program was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, or GoMRI.

“Our goal is to better understand the processes that have affected the oil spill since 2010,” Edwards said. “How the droplets were dispersed? Where the oil went? How it was taken up by small microbes and also the effects on animals further up the food chain?”

Skidaway Institute scientist Catherine Edwards adjusts a glider’s buoyancy with graduate students Sungjin Cho and Dongsik Chan.

Skidaway Institute scientist Catherine Edwards adjusts a glider’s buoyancy with graduate students Sungjin Cho and Dongsik Chan.

Edwards’ role in the project is to use autonomous underwater vehicles, also called “gliders,” to collect data on conditions around the spill site. Equipped with sensors to measure characteristics such as depth, water temperature, salinity and density, the gliders can cruise the submarine environment for weeks at a time, collecting data and transmitting it back to a ship or a shore station.

“We want to understand the ocean currents—how they change over time and how they change in depth,” Edwards said. “Surface measurements give us a two-dimensional picture of the ocean. Glider data in the vertical provides more valuable information for more fully understanding ocean currents and how they arise.”

The gliders will operate both in conjunction with shipboard instruments and also independently. One advantage of using the gliders is they can operate during storms and rough weather, when it may not be possible to use ships. Edwards said shipboard work doesn’t always give a full picture of ocean dynamics simply by the fact that they can only go out when the weather is reasonably clear.

When working in conjunction with research ships, the gliders can provide additional observations, significantly improving the quality of the data set. The gliders also report dissolved oxygen concentrations and optical measurements of chlorophyll and organic matter, and may also be used as a test vehicle for new instruments in development.

Edwards will use “GENIoS,” a new software package, to help navigate the gliders. GENIoS uses high-resolution forecast models of wind and ocean currents, along with information from the glider itself, to calculate the optimal path for the gliders. This will improve the quality of the scientific data collected.

GENIoS is a collaboration among Edwards, Fumin Zhang from the Georgia Institute of Technology and their two Georgia Tech Ph.D. students, Dongsik Chang and Sungjin Cho. GENIos has been tested for more than 210 glider-days on the continental shelf off Georgia and South Carolina. This experiment will be its first test in the Gulf of Mexico.

Edwards also hopes to use this project to test the gliders as platforms for new, experimental sensors developed by other members of the ECOGIG-2 team.

Others involved in ECOGIG-2 include UGA marine sciences faculty Christof Meile, Renato Castelao and Catherine Edwards as well as Annalisa Bracco and Joe Montoya of Georgia Tech.

For additional information, contact Catherine Edwards at (912) 598-2471 or catherine.edwards@skio.uga.edu.

Scientists use underwater robots to excite students about science

December 4, 2014

Educators and scientists from the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and the UGA Marine Extension Service have developed a novel education program based on ocean robots to spark an interest in science and mathematics in middle and high school students. The team invented a board game that lets students explore different strategies for navigating autonomous underwater vehicles, called AUVs or gliders, through the ocean.

The program, “Choose Your Own Adventure,” capitalizes on Skidaway Institute’s expertise with AUVs and MAREX’s extensive history of marine education. Skidaway Institute scientist and UGA faculty member Catherine Edwards and MAREX faculty members Mary Sweeney-Reeves and Mare Timmons are directing the one-year project, which demonstrates the decision-making process in “driving” gliders.

Gliders are untethered, torpedo-shaped vehicles that are launched into the ocean to collect data as they move through the water. They glide up and down by adjusting their buoyancy and pitch. Gliders can remain on a mission for weeks at a time, equipped with sensors and recorders to collect observations of temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and other biological and physical conditions, even under the roughest weather. Every four to six hours over their mission, they surface and connect to servers on land to report their position and vehicle and mission information. They also can send data back to shore or receive new instructions from pilots anywhere in the world. Skidaway Institute’s glider, nicknamed “Modena,” has been used in several recent projects, including “Gliderpalooza,” a simultaneous, cooperative launch of dozens of AUVs from different institutions in 2013 and again in 2014.

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Skidaway Institute scientist Catherine Edwards and MAREX faculty member Mare Timmons (far right) cheer on a small child who tried her hand at the “Choose Your Own Adventure” game at Skidaway Marine Science Day on Oct. 25.

“Gliders are education-friendly, but the existing outreach activities are stale,” Edwards said. “We are developing the next generation of AUV outreach programs by combining cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research with educational activities and strong STEM components.”

The AUV activity/game is a part of an outreach program targeting mostly middle school students and it highlights the problem of working with the strong tides that are characteristic of the Georgia coast. A big issue in operating gliders is developing a guidance and navigation system that will function well in strong currents. The fast-moving Gulf Stream, located roughly 100 miles off the Georgia beaches, also introduces navigation problems.

“Although the AUVs have Global Positioning Systems and can be programmed to travel a set course, tidal and Gulf Stream currents can exceed the glider’s forward speed, which can take the instrument off course and keep us from collecting data where we need it,” Edwards said. “By estimating forecasts of these currents in advance, our software system can predict the best possible route for the glider to take, which helps collect the best possible data.”

On the education side, the predictability of tides makes the proposed program highly intuitive and education-friendly. The activity/game incorporates student role-playing as an AUV maneuvers through a playing field of vector currents on a game board. The student decides how many of his or her moves to spend fighting the current and how many to spend moving toward the finish line. Successful arrival at the destination depends on how the individual pilot responds to currents en route.

Activities depend on grade level, so middle school students have different objectives than those in high school. However, all the activities address the direction and speed the AUV travels to a destination. The AUV direction and speed will depend on the sea state, such as strong currents, storms or high winds.

Teachers April Meeks and Ben Wells from Oglethorpe Academy have offered their classes as a test-bed for the game. The two have worked closely with the team to integrate classroom concepts into the game and guide discussions about strategy based on the math. Since the activities are multidisciplinary, the teachers’ expertise in building a math curriculum has been valuable as the team integrates concepts of marine science, math and engineering into classroom activities. Rolling giant dice is a fun activity that attracts the students—everyone wants to roll the dice. So far, the feedback has been very positive.

“The students really seem to love it,” Sweeney-Reeves said. “More importantly, they are making the connection between the game and science, and learning.

“It took a period of time for some students to understand the concept but after starting the second round, they had the game/activity figured out. The excitement peaked at Oglethorpe Middle School when Mr. Wells played against the students and we really saw the competition heat up.”

Edwards added, “We knew we had a hit when we saw students jump up in celebration when the currents were favorable and pout when they were blown off course.”

The team demonstrated the game at the campus’s annual open house, Skidaway Marine Science Day, in late October, with a life-sized version of the board game with giant dice. Over 120 students played the game, racing against each other as they explored different strategies to win in three- to five-person heats. Sweeney-Reeves and Timmons also rolled out the game for educators at the Georgia Association of Marine Educators annual conference on Tybee Island earlier this month.

“The conference attendees were excited to use the giant dice to roll and hedge their bets on where they could navigate to the finish line,” Timmons said. “This is much like how the AUV is programmed to reach its sampling assignment in the ocean.”

Timmons said the teachers at the conference laughed as they saw the big game board spread out on the sidewalk. “Towards the end as teachers were close to the finish line they shouted, ‘right!’, mentally trying to encourage the roll of the die to their advantage.”

Timmons and Sweeney-Reeves think the game has real-life applications and hope the students can use the concepts they learn in the classroom for swimming in our own local waters. The next step is to expand the classroom demonstrations to Coastal Middle School in Chatham County and Richmond Hill Middle School.

The activities allow students to develop analytical skills in a program that will be compliant with Next Generation Science Standards for the 21st Century in the common core state curriculum.

“We hope this one-year program will serve as a springboard for future funding and continued joint outreach by Skidaway Institute and Marine Extension,” Edwards said. “We’d love to develop computer games and apps for tablets and mobile phones that let students fly gliders through even more realistic scenarios based on the measurements we collect in real time.”

The program is being funded through a joint grant from Skidaway Institute, UGA Office of Public Service and Outreach, and the UGA President’s Venture Fund. The UGA President’s Venture Fund is intended to assist with significant funding challenges or opportunities. The fund also supports small programs and projects in amounts typically ranging from $500 to $5,000.

The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography is a research unit of the University of Georgia located on Skidaway Island. Its mission is to provide a nationally and internationally recognized center of excellence in marine science through research and education. The UGA Marine Extension Service is a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach.

For additional information, contact Catherine Edwards at 912-598-2471 or catherine.edwards@skio.uga.edu; Mary Sweeney-Reeves at 912-598-2350 or msweeney@uga.edu; or Maryellen Timmons at 912-598-2353 or mare@uga.edu.

Evening @ Skidaway features underwater robots

November 10, 2014

Exploring the ocean with underwater robots will be the focus of an Evening @ Skidaway at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography on Thursday, November 13. The program will held in the McGowan Library at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, beginning with a reception at 6:30 p.m. to be followed by the lecture program at 7:15 p.m.

Catherine Edwards (center) demonstrates an underwater robot (AUV) to Mary Sweeney-Reeves (left) and Mare Timmons, both from the UGA Marine Extension Service.

Catherine Edwards (center) demonstrates an underwater robot (AUV) to Mary Sweeney-Reeves (left) and Mare Timmons, both from the UGA Marine Extension Service.

UGA Skidaway Institute professor Catherine Edwards will discuss her adventures and misadventures in the exciting field of underwater robots. Shaped like a six-foot long torpedo with stubby plastic wings, these autonomous underwater vehicles, or gliders, can be packed with sensors and are set lose to cruise the submarine environment for weeks on end. They produce amazing results, and sometimes face unusual and unexpected perils.

An “Evening @ Skidaway” is sponsored by the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and the Associates of Skidaway Institute.

The program is open to the public, and admission is free.

For additional information, call (912) 598-2325.

26 Hours on the Marsh — November edition

November 6, 2014

Associate Professor Aron Stubbins led a 26 hour sampling program on the marsh. The team, including Thais Bittar, Robert Spencer, Zachary Tait, Megan Thompson, Alison Buchan, and Drew Steen, spent the day and night monitoring a day in the life of the microbes, gases and organic carbon molecules that form the biogeochemical milieu of the marsh. This work is part of two National Science Foundation projects involving professors and students from Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, University of Tennessee – Knoxville, and Florida State University.

Cutting edge techniques are being employed to watch the marsh creek in real time over 18 months. The sampling event shown in the time lapse video is the fall rendition of four seasonal sampling events that are recording the daily life of the creek. Manual sampling is required so that we can collect live bacteria and gas (such as carbon dioxide) samples that need to be processed by hand, immediately upon collection. The bacteria collected are being genetically characterized, so we know who was in the creek at different times of day (DNA). Then we will also determine which genes were active (RNA). This tells us what the bacteria present in the marsh were doing throughout the day.

We also record the changes in dissolved organic carbon throughout the day. Dissolved organic carbon is a major part of the global carbon cycle and so understanding its cycling is important with respect to understanding how natural carbon cycling responds to and plays a role in climate change. For the microbes in the creek, the dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is food. So by looking at which bacteria are there (DNA), what they are doing (RNA), and what types of food is present (DOC), we hope to gain a more complete understanding of the miniature world within every drop of creek water. The daily routines of these tiny bacteria and dissolved organic molecules shape the marsh ecosystem and play important roles in determining the current and future climate of our planet.

Nice article on black gill research

October 24, 2014

We had a nice article on the front page of the Savannah Morning News this week. The article dealt with our recent black gill research cruise.

Skidaway Island history examined in ‘Bridges and Bulls’ program

October 20, 2014

For some Skidaway Islanders, the history of our island goes back only to the early 1970s, when the first modern bridge was built across Skidaway Narrows and development began in The Landings. Yet Skidaway Island has been home for human residents since pre-colonial times. In the middle decades of the 20th century, visitors from all over the world were attracted to the annual cattle auctions at the Roebling family’s Modena Plantation at the north end of the island.

Landings resident and University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography professor Bill Savidge will examine the island’s history and lead a walking tour of the Roebling’s cattle plantation (now Skidaway Institute) in a reprisal of his popular program on Saturday, October 25, at 1:00 p.m. in the Marine and Coastal Science Research and Instructional Center the Skidaway Institute campus. The program, entitled “Bridges and Bulls: A History of Skidaway Island,” is part of the annual Skidaway Marine Science Day open house event.

Bill Savidge leads walking tour in 2012.

Bill Savidge leads walking tour in 2012.

“There is really a fascinating story here that pre-dates the island’s modern development,” Savidge said. “It includes the Guale Indians and the Franciscan monks, after whom Priest’s Landing is named.”
For example, few island residents may be aware of the direct tie between Skidaway Island and the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.

The first Roebling to emigrate to the United States was John Augustus Roebling in the 1830s. An engineer, Roebling was one of the original developers of “wire rope” or twisted wire cable that made possible the construction of large suspension bridges. Roebling designed and began construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in the 1870s and 80s. The manufacture of twisted wire cable became the source of the family fortune.

“Three generations later, Roebling’s great-grandson, Robert Roebling, purchased the northern part of Skidaway Island,” Savidge said. “He moved here with his wife, Dorothy, and their children and set up Modena Plantation as a breeding facility for angus cattle. In 1967 he donated his land to the state to become the home of Skidaway Institute.”

Savidge’s talk and tour is one of a wide range of activities that will be presented at Skidaway Marine Science Day, a campus-wide open house with activities geared for all ages from young children to adults. These will include programs, tours, displays and hands-on activities, primarily related to marine science and the coastal environment. The event is open to the public and admission is free.

Along with UGA Skidaway Institute, the event will be presented by the campus’s marine research and education organizations, including the University of Georgia (UGA) Marine Education Center and Aquarium, the UGA Shellfish Research Laboratory and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.
The UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography will offer a variety of activities for adults and children, including tours of the Research Vessel Savannah and smaller research vessels; science displays and talks on current research programs; and hands-on science activities.

The UGA Marine Extension Service Aquarium will be open to visitors with no admission fee. One highlight will be the public debut of “Rider,” a juvenile loggerhead sea turtle who will go on public display for the first time. In addition, the aquarium education staff will offer visitors a full afternoon of activities including a reptile experience, touch tanks and behind-the-scene tours of the aquarium.

The UGA Shellfish Laboratory will provide visitors with displays and information on marine life on the Georgia Coast. Children will be given the opportunity to help protect the marine environment by bagging oyster shells used for oyster reef restoration projects.

The staff of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary will bring in remotely-operated-vehicles (ROVs) that are used in underwater exploration. Visitors will have the opportunity to operate some simple, hand-made ROVs in a swimming pool and pick up objects from the bottom. Gray’s Reed has also invited participating teams from the annual student ROV competition. The high school and middle school teams will demonstrate the ROVs they designed and operated in this year’s contest.

Also on display will be exhibits from environmental and education groups, such as The Dolphin Project, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and the Savannah Wildlife Refuge.

For the second year in a row, Skidaway Marine Science Day will be targeted as a “landfill free” event. Last year the event attracted nearly 2,000 visitors, but generated only nine pounds of unrecyclable trash. The event organizers will use recycling and composting bins to collect and recycle materials in an attempt to reduce the stream of trash ultimately headed to a landfill.

All activities at Skidaway Marine Science Day are free. For additional information, call 912-598-2325, or go to http://www.skio.uga.edu.

Skidaway Marine Science Day, October 25, features new sea turtle display

September 4, 2014

A young loggerhead sea turtle will make its public debut at the University of Georgia Aquarium on Saturday, Oct. 25, as part of Skidaway Marine Science Day. The campus-wide open house will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on the campus of the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography on the north end of Skidaway Island.

Rider, the loggerhead sea turtle

Rider, the loggerhead sea turtle

The juvenile sea turtle, named Rider, was hatched on August 29, 2013 on Wassaw Island. Rider was a straggler, meaning he did not successfully get out of his nest when he was hatched. He was brought to the aquarium by the Caretta Research Project after being approved by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The staff at the aquarium has been caring for Rider for the past year, allowing him to grow large enough for public display. Rider will replace another sea turtle, named Ossabaw, who has lived at the aquarium for the past three years. Ossabaw outgrew its tank and will be released Sept. 8.

Rider’s debut is just one feature of a lengthy program of activities, displays and tours making the annual event a popular family event that attracts thousands of visitors each year.

The UGA Aquarium, operated by the UGA Marine Extension Service, will be open to visitors with no admission fee. In addition to Rider’s debut, the Aquarium will unveil a new gray whale exhibit and an expanded touch-tank activity. The aquarium education staff will also offer visitors a full afternoon of activities including science talks, a reptile show, touch tanks and behind-the-scene tours of the aquarium.

The UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’s Research Vessel Savannah is another popular attraction. The 92-foot ocean-going research vessel will be open for tours and will exhibit science displays, including a display on the developing field of underwater robots. Elsewhere on campus, Skidaway Institute will present a variety of marine science exhibits and hands-on science activities.

The UGA Shellfish Laboratory will provide visitors with displays and information on marine life on the Georgia Coast. Children will have an opportunity to help protect the marine environment by bagging oyster shells used for oyster reef restoration projects.

The staff of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary will show visitors how to operate a remotely-operated-vehicle in a swimming pool and pick up objects from the bottom. The Gray’s Reef activity will include some of the participating student-teams from the annual MATE ROV competition. The high school and middle school teams will demonstrate the ROVs they designed and operated in this year’s MATE contest.

Along with the campus organizations, Skidaway Marine Science Day will also include displays, demonstrations and activities from a wide range of science, environmental and education groups, such as The Dolphin Project, the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and The Nature Conservancy.

All activities at Skidaway Marine Science Day are free. For additional information, call 912-598-2325, or see http://www.skio.uga.edu.

UGA Skidaway Institute to study offshore sand resources to increase coastal resiliency

August 11, 2014

Severe beach erosion can be a significant problem for coastal communities affected by hurricanes and tropical storms like Hurricane Sandy. To assist Georgia communities in future recovery efforts, the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography entered into a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to evaluate existing data on Georgia’s offshore sand resources and identify where more data are needed. This consolidated information will increase knowledge of Georgia’s offshore sand resources and contribute to long-term coastal resilience planning.

“Georgia’s sand resources are arguably the least well-known of those along the East Coast, and this project will provide critical data and insights to enhance coastal resilience,” said UGA Skidaway Institute professor Clark Alexander. “The work is being coordinated closely with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the state geologist to assure that our findings are disseminated rapidly and broadly.”

Beach communities like Tybee Island  can be affected by hurricanes and tropical storms.

Beach communities like Tybee Island can be affected by hurricanes and tropical storms.

Under the $200,000 agreement, UGA Skidaway Institute will gather, evaluate and analyze existing geological, geophysical and benthic habitat data off Georgia’s coast and identify gaps in the information. Based on the data gaps, project scientists will suggest areas for future geologic studies to confirm previously identified sand resources and locate new ones.

“A reliable inventory of offshore sand resources will help the Department of Natural Resources be effective at representing the state’s interest in discussions with BOEM and other federal agencies. We appreciate the initiative of Dr. Alexander and the UGA Skidaway Institute and look forward to the results of this project,” explained Spud Woodward, director of the Georgia DNR Coastal Resources Division.

The current project will be limited in scope – primarily evaluating and consolidating existing data regarding Georgia’s offshore resources.

“Since the 1960s, there have been quite a number of small studies, but the information is scattered,” Alexander said. “This project contributes significantly toward the goal of more fully understanding available sand resources by synthesizing existing information into a single, digital resource.”

Much of the older information is only available in printed form, and needs to be converted to a digital format to be useful in the software that managers and scientists use for viewing and analyzing data. The goal of the project is to have all the compiled information readily accessible to coastal managers and municipal planners.

“This agreement demonstrates BOEM’s commitment to work with Georgia to help coastal communities recover from the effects of Hurricane Sandy and enhance resilience efforts for the future,” said BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank. “We are committed to continuing to work in a collaborative manner to help local communities withstand damage from future storms.”

This agreement is one in a series of partnerships with 14 coastal Atlantic states, using part of the $13.6 million allocated to BOEM through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013. The combined agreements support research that will help to identify sand and gravel resources appropriate for coastal protection and restoration along the entire Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.

UGA Skidaway Institute researchers complete ‘26 Hours on the Marsh’

July 30, 2014

Pitching a tent in the woods and fighting off mosquitos may not sound like logistics of a typical oceanography experiment, but that is how researchers at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography completed an intensive, round-the-clock sampling regimen this month. The project, dubbed “26 Hours on the Marsh” was designed to investigate how salt marshes function and interact with their surrounding environment—specifically how bacteria consume and process carbon in the marsh.

The team set up a sampling station and an outdoor laboratory on a bluff overlooking the Groves Creek salt marsh on the UGA Skidaway Institute campus. The scientists collected and processed water samples from the salt marsh every two hours, beginning at 11 a.m. on July 16 and running through 1 p.m. July 17. By conducting the tests for a continuous 26 hours, the team can compare the samples collected during the day with those collected at night, as well as through two full tidal cycles.

The UGA Skidaway Institute team processes water samples at their outdoor laboratory. (l-r) Megan Thompson, John DeRosa (UGA Intern), Zachary Tait and Dylan Munn (UGA Intern.)

The UGA Skidaway Institute team processes water samples at their outdoor laboratory. (l-r) Megan Thompson, John DeRosa (UGA Intern), Zachary Tait and Dylan Munn (UGA Intern.)

“We wanted to be able to compare not only what is happening to the carbon throughout the tidal cycle, but also what the microbes are doing at high and low tides and also during the day and night,” said Zachary Tait, a UGA Skidaway Institute research technician. “So we had to have two high tides and two low tides and a day and night for each. That works out to about 26 hours.”

The research team ran more than 30 different tests on each sample. The samples will provide data to several ongoing research projects. A research team from the University of Tennessee also participated in the sampling program. Their primary focus was to identify the bacterial population using DNA and RNA analysis.

This sampling project is one of many the researchers conduct during the year. They use an automatic sampling system for most of the other activities. The automatic system collects a liter of water every two hours, and holds it to be collected and processed at the end of the 26-hour cycle. The team could not use the auto sampler this time for several reasons; the scientists needed to collect much more water in each sample than the auto sampler could handle and the auto sampler tends to produce bubbles in the water, so it is not effective for measuring dissolved gasses.

Megan Thompson supervises Dan Barrett (l) and John DeRosa, both UGA interns, as they process samples in a UGA Skidaway Institute laboratory.

Megan Thompson supervises Dan Barrett (l) and John DeRosa, both UGA interns, as they process samples in a UGA Skidaway Institute laboratory.

“The UT scientists wanted to conduct enzyme analysis as well as RNA and DNA tests on the samples, and for those, the samples must be very fresh,” said Megan Thompson, a UGA Skidaway Institute research technician. “You can’t just go out and pick them up the next day.”

About a dozen scientists and students were involved in the project, including Thompson, Tait, a group of undergraduate students completing summer internships at UGA’s Skidaway Institute and a similar group from UT. They split their time between the tent and outdoor laboratory on a bluff overlooking Groves Creek, and the UGA Skidaway Institute laboratories a mile away.

“It was an interesting experience, and I think it went very well,” said Thompson. “However, when we wrapped it up, we were all ready to just go home and sleep.”

“26 Hours on the Marsh” is supported by two grants from the National Science Foundation, totaling $1.7 million that represent larger, three-year, multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary research projects into salt marsh activity. These projects bring together faculty, students and staff from UGA’s Skidaway Institute, UT and Woods Hole Research Center. UGA Skidaway Institute scientists include principal investigator Jay Brandes; chemical oceanographers Aron Stubbins and Bill Savidge; physical oceanographers Dana Savidge, Catherine Edwards and Jack Blanton; and geologist Clark Alexander. Additional investigators include microbial ecologist Alison Buchan and chemical oceanographer Drew Steen, both from UT; as well as geochemist Robert Spencer from WHRC.


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