Archive for August, 2007

More sushi news

August 28, 2007

Mike Sullivan writes:

Dick Lee’s black sea bass aquaculture project is back on the front page this morning. Dick & Karrie“The Skinnie” magazine gave it a nice spread in last week’s issue. (A sample photo, featuring research assistant Karrie Brinkley, is at left.) The Skinnie is a good-looking magazine targeted amost exclusively towards the 8,000 or so residents of The Landings, an upscale, gated golf community that occupies most of the rest of Skidaway Island. The editor/publisher, Scott Lauretti, also serves on the Skidaway Marine Science Foundation Board of Trustees and is always willing to help us spread the word about what’s happening here on campus. You can read the entire article online at The Skinnie Web site.

We also are set up for a special “sushi taste test” next week. Dick would like some expert opinions on the taste difference between black sea bass raised on the diet of juvenile tilapia versus those raised on a traditional diet of food pellets. I put out an email to the campus community and our Foundation members and quickly filled our panel of 20 experts. (Sorry! Our test panel is now full. We will only have so much sushi to go around.) We’ll report back on the results of the taste challenge.

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Atlanta, Politics and the Coast

August 27, 2007

Dr. Herb Windom is a professor emeritus at Skidaway Institute. Dr. Windom was the first scientist to join the faculty in the late 1960s and served as acting director of Skidaway Institute of Oceanography for several years in the late 1990s. He submitted the following entry. As the standard disclaimer goes — the opinions he offers are his own.

The Institute has just received a contract from the State of Florida Department of Environmental protection for about $200K. They come to the institute for the established high quality reliable trace contaminant analyses, the capabilities for which we have developed over the past almost 4 decades. We have conducted contractual work for Florida for the past 20+ years. This work has been done through unsolicited contracts where they have sought us. We have done similar work for other states as far away as New Jersey.

What is amazing to me is how little we are called upon by our on State. In fact there have been occasions when the State has had environmental concerns and have contracted with groups outside the State who have, in turn, come to us to help with the problem.

I am at a loss for why this occurs. This Institute does a lot to communicate what it does, so ignorance of our capability shouldn’t be the problem. I think it has most to do with the location of political power.

I know that for states, such as Florida, where we have done the most, the political power is on the coast and therefore more money is spent on the problems there. Florida spends an enormous amount on coastal problems that relate to the over developed coastline. The same can be said for South Carolina, where the political power is also on the coast.

In Georgia, the power is in Atlanta, so the major environmental issues that consume the environmental dollars in the State are urban air quality and potable water supply for the metropolitan area of Atlanta. But coastal Florida and South Carolina are about to run out of room and the Georgia coast has attracted much development interest. As the coast fills up and becomes overcrowded, the increased political power will bring more money to address the environmental problems which will surely follow.

It would make sense to address environmental problems which can be forecast and in the long run avoid many environmental, social and political problems in the future. But that does not make sense in terms of the 2-4 year cycles that govern the issues on which politician focus. Planning for the future to minimize or negate problems is not as politically attractive as doing something about an existing problem. Climate change is a good example. Rather than plan for it, politician are much happier addressing how we should stop it, as if we could. But this is for another time.

A little Skidaway history

August 23, 2007

Mike Sullivan writes:

I really don’t want to turn this blog into a series of book reviews, but I ran across another book with a strong Skidaway Institute connection.

I was in the neigborhood library last week, looking for an audiobook for my next road trip to Atlanta. I saw “The Great Bridge” by David McCullough (1776, John Adams, etc.). The Great Bridge coverThe book is the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. I thought, “Maybe they say something about the Roebling family,” so I checked it out. I am now nearly finished with the six-cassette audiobook and, so far, the book is almost entirely about the Roeblings (John Augustus and his son Washington.)

Those of you who are not familiar with the history of Skidaway Institute are probably wondering, “Who are these people?” Skidaway Institute was founded in the late 1960’s when Robert Roebling donated roughly 800 acres of his cattle plantation on the north end of Skidaway Island to the State of Georgia to establish an oceanographic research laboratory. Robert Roebling had started the cattle enterprise in the mid-1930’s when he moved his family from New Jersey to Skidaway Island on board their 175-foot three-masted schooner, the Black Douglas.

Going back slightly farther, Robert Roebling was the great grandson of John Augustus Roebling and the grandsonof Washington. The elder Roebling developed twisted wire cable which allowed for the construction of large suspension bridges, and founded a company, John A Roebling and Sons, to manufacture it . He designed the Brooklyn Bridge but was killed in an accident just before construction began. His son, Washington, was the chief engineer for the rest of the project. There are many details in between, but there is a direct lineage between the engineering work the Roeblings conducted in the 1860’s and 70’s and the work being done today at Skidaway Institute.

By the way, the book is really very interesting, even without the Skidaway connection.

More on global climate change

August 22, 2007

Skidaway Institute’s Dr. Herb Windom has offered the following comment on “Global Climate — Comment and Reponse.” (See below.)

Just to enter the fray on Rick’s side, I offer the following:

The first research project in which I participated determined the age of the ancient corals which form the Florida Keys. The results, published in 1965, indicated that they formed about 130,000 years ago and their elevation indicated that sea level must have been 10 meters above the present, indicating that the earth was considerably warmer then and most of Florida was under water. When the first ancestors of Native Americans first came to North America about 12-15 thousand years ago, sea level was about 100 meters below its present level. This allowed them cross a land bridge across the Bering Sea which is now under water. In the geologic past sea level has been much lower than this and has been much higher than the 10 meters indicated by the age of the Florida Keys coral, indicating that the earth has experienced much warmer and much colder periods in the past.

Today, we live in a world with a climate and global temperature we deem to be acceptable. Folks like Al Gore, argue that it should remain this way (even though present conditions are not necessarily the average or norm for the past earth), and that we should do all that we can to keep it that way. The implication is that this is what we consider to be the “natural” state of the earth. A similar logic, used closer to home, has to do with barrier islands. We see the “undeveloped” ones as “natural” and work to see that they remain that way even though they were virtually all used for farming from colonial to reasonably recent times. On others such as Tybee Island, which are develop, we wish to keep them in their present state and spend considerable amounts of public funds in efforts to do so, even though all barrier islands, left to nature, will continually change; erode in one place accrete in another. This will be an unending battle.

Turning to global warming, I think that efforts to decrease the use of petroleum and other fossil fuels and turn to other energy sources such as nuclear fission make a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. I just don’t think trying to control global warming is one of them. Such action, I suspect, would be embarking on a fruitless effort of keeping Nature from doing what Nature always does, change.

Summer Update

August 21, 2007

Mike Sullivan writes:

The summer may be winding down but there is all kinds of activity at Skidaway Institute.

  • The Board of Regents included our request for $1.2 million for marine infrastructure renovation in their capital FY09 budget proposal to the Governor and legislature. We had a similar amount in the budget proposal last year, but didn’t make it through the legislative process. We’re crossing our fingers we’ll be more successful this year. The work on our docks and other facilities is desperately needed.
  • Design work is continuing on our new research/laboratory building. We are hoping to have a ground breaking in the coming months.
  • Jay Brandes is getting his mass spectrometer laboratory up and operating. See his blog entry below.
  • A group of educators from the Georgia Aquarium will be here tomorrow and Friday for a series of presentations on the various institutions and research programs here. On Thursday they will be going to Ossabaw Island for an overnight adventure. We’re looking forward to having the educators here and furthering a relationship with the Aquarium.
  • A group of students from Savannah State University will be going on an overnight research cruise on the RV Savannah Wednesday and Thursday. This is part of an on-going collaboration we have with SSU called the Collaborative to Integrate Research and Education (CIRE.) I have been along on several of these student-cruises. They will have a blast… assuming the seas stay calm.
  • We are planning our next Skidaway Marine Science Day for Saturday, October 13. This is a big, campus-wide open house. We probably had 1,600 visitors last year. This year’s event has a couple of new twists. The UGA Aquarium, which is closed for renovations, will have its grand re-opening as part of the day. Also, a couple of our research assistants (Debbie Wells and Charles Robertson) have come up with a new techy-activity they are calling”Skio-cache.” This is a play on the generic name “geocache” and the acronym for Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (SkIO). Essentially this is a scavanger hunt, but instead of clues, the participants are given GPS coordinates. They then use their GPS devices to locate the various stashes of trinkets or goodies hidden around the campus. Apparently, this getting to be a big deal with GPS lovers. We’re still working out the details, but if you are into GPS, mark the day on your calendar. Should be fun!

New Mass Spec Lab

August 20, 2007

Dr. Jay Brandes, a Skidaway Institute faculty research scientist, writes:

Stable Isotope Facility Update- We have been working with engineers from Thermo-Finnigan corp. to install a brand new isotope ratio mass spectrometer system in my lab these last few weeks. We are about ½ way through the install, with the gas chromatograph having been checked out for carbon and hydrogen isotope measurements. We still have the elemental analyzer and gas bench interfaces to test and attach. So far it has been going smoothly. It is a little odd, however, seeing a mass spectrometer without any tuning dials- a first in my experience. Everything is done by computer interface now, a far cry from the early days when a mass spectrometer was manually tuned like a radio for sensitivity and precision. Or the REALLY old days when scientists built their own instruments from vacuum tube electronics, glass and mercury!

Why science is important

August 7, 2007

Mike Sullivan writes:

I am about half-way through a pretty good book, “The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science” by Natalie Angier who is a science writer for the New York Times.

I first picked the book up at a “new releases” table at Barnes & Noble and it intrigued me. Please understand; while I may work for a scientific research institution, I’m not a scientist. My degree is in broadcast journalism and for most of my career I was a TV news manager. I took the usual run of biology, chemistry and physics in high school. In college, I took some chemistry and zoology courses during an ill-advised stab at a pre-med major. However, I can’t hold a candle to the scientists I see every day at work. I jokingly say I know just enough science to impress someone who doesn’t know anything.

I flipped though the book and it looked interesting. “Maybe I’ll learn something that will help me with my job,” I thought to myself. So being the tight-wad I am, I put the book back on the table and went to the neighborhood library and reserved a copy. (Sorry, Natalie, you are getting a “plug” but you didn’t get any royalties from me.)

The author devotes a chapter each to a range of scientific topics such as probabilities, evolutionary biology, physics and so on. It is ceverly written, almost too cutsey at some points, and full of interesting information.

I was most impressed with the Introduction. It us rather long (17 pages in the book.) In it Angier laments the lack of public interest in science and the low emphasis it gets in the US education system. As she points out, most people take pride in having flunked chemistry. Even if you don’t read the whole book, if you are interested enough in the subject to be reading this blog, you ought to read her Introduction. It is available on her Web site.

I hope you enjoy it.

Global Climate — Comment and Response

August 6, 2007

Skidaway Institute Professor Rick Jahnke’s letter to the editor on Politics and Global Climate Change (see below) produced a comment from a reader. Here is the comment and Dr. Jahnke’s response.

tamino Says:
August 3rd, 2007 at 9:04 pm   edit

In what way has Al Gore “politicized” the discussion about global climate change? Exactly what “debate” are you referring to?

This post reads like unadulterated assault on the character of Al Gore, in an attempt to discredit the importance of necessary actions to mitigate global warming. I get the distinct impression that you are laying a foundation for exactly the kind of denial you pretend to disdain.

It sure sounds to me as though you people are the ones attempting to “politicize” the discussion.

Dr. Jahnke writes:

Dear Sir:

First let me say that I wrote that message as a letter to the editor as a private citizen and not as a faculty member of the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography – it was reproduced on the blog page and reflects my views only. 

My letter is not a pretense for denial.  I have spent my entire professional life (last 33 years) devoted to studying the environment, mostly focusing on advancing our understanding of the global carbon cycle because long before greenhouse gas, global warming or climate change were household words, I (and many scientists) recognized it as an emerging major human challenge.  Because human population is the foundation controlling the magnitude of the impacts of most human activities, my wife and I made the difficult choice to not have children, minimizing our impact and reducing our legacy carbon footprint to zero.  We changed our lifestyle years ago and the letter was not a pretense for denial. 

In “An Inconvenient Truth” Mr. Gore devotes several vignettes to depict the present administration in a less than flattering way.  His deliberate choice of these is meant to be political.  He could have picked other stories to tell.  For example, in 1997 the Senate had a test vote on the Kyoto treaty (Byrd-Hagel Resolution).  It had 65 bipartison sponsors and the vote was 95 – 0 to recommend that the U.S. not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Although Mr. Gore occupied the office of Vice President at the time, he could not sway a single Democratic Senator to vote for the treaty.  Both parties shared equally in this vote but Mr. Gore chose not to highlight this.  A more positive example Mr. Gore could have related is the leadership shown by the Bush Administration in the creation of the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS).  As pointed out by Mr. Gore in his movie, in a changing climate, different areas and countries will be affected differently.  A comprehensive assessment of global change cannot be obtained with data from individual countries of limited area.  GEOSS was initiated in the first Bush term to provide a common framework, standards and database to globally assess the state of the planet.  To date, 71 countries and 46 organizations have joined.  There is much to criticize in all previous administrations (and the current one) on this issue, but the selection of vignettes provided by Mr. Gore in his movie was clearly intended to be political.

 All of the above, however, misses the main point of my original letter, which was to encourage non-political, rational dialog so that our leaders in Washington could take effective steps to mitigate our impacts and facilitate our adaptation to changing conditions which are already occurring.  Without this discourse, this issue has the potential to become so polarized that little will be accomplished.  One needs only to look at issues such as abortion or immigration to see how polarization stymies action.  Quite frankly, from the tone of your comment, maybe we are already there.

Rick Jahnke

Politics and Global Climate Change

August 3, 2007

Our associate director, Rick Jahnke, wrote the following as a letter-to-the-editor to the Savannah Morning News.

Rick Jahnke

We Need to Depoliticize the Global Climate Change Discussion

Al Gore has recently raised awareness of global climate change but has also greatly politicized its debate. Unlike Mr. Gore, governments do not have the luxury of focusing exclusively on a single issue but must weigh each issue against other challenges.

For example, how many people have died from climate change versus AIDS, cancer, tsunamis, or starvation world-wide?

Will an unintended consequence of policies designed to promote biofuel production be additional starvation deaths due to reduced foreign food-aid?

It is not possible to discuss these complex questions in a highly-charged political climate.
Let’s start by recognizing that global climate change is too serious an issue to belong to any particular political party. Let’s take it seriously and depoliticize it.

Change is only an obstacle for humans if we are unprepared for it due to ignorance or denial. Mitigation strategies within our capabilities can utilize the natural resiliency of ecosystems to minimize environmental impacts.

With a sound scientific basis for evaluating and predicting future climate and thoughtful policies, we can facilitate adaptation and position economies to thrive in the coming climate – but only if we can engage in rational, bipartisan discussion.

Rick Jahnke, Ph.D., Professor, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography

Fishy visitors

August 2, 2007

One of our professors, Dick Lee, had some interesting visitors yesterday. They were international businessmen who are looking to get into the aquaculture (fish farming) business in one way or another. They were interested in learning more about Dick’s black sea bass project.

Dick is one of our “emeritus professors” who has officially retired, but still comes in and puts in a good day’s work. One of his pet projects is developing a commercially viable system for raising black sea bass for the sushi market.

Black sea bass is a relatively small (2 lbs at market size) salt water fish that is apparently in fair demand by sushi chefs. The goal of the project is to develop a system and work out the bugs to raise the fish in a commercially viable and environmentally friendly manner. A big issue with many aquaculture projects is their effect on the environment. Typically, in most aquaculture systems some clean water comes into the system, and some waste water is returned to the environment. Dick and his assistant, Karrie Brinkley, have been operating a closed-cycle system that has no discharge into the environment.

They actually operate two separate systems or cycles. On one side is the black sea bass raised in salt water tanks. On the other side is tilapia in fresh water tanks and ponds.

Dick and Karrie use the young tilapia “fry” as the primary food for the black sea bass. This serves two ends. It is an excellent, high-protein diet for the black sea bass. They have been growing to market weight in 11 months, significantly shorter than the typical two years.

Also, in a typical fish farm situation, the fish are fed food pellets. (Think of dry dog food.) Many of those are not eaten. They sink to the bottom or float to the top and generally gunk up the water. In the system here, the baby tilapia just swim around until some hungry sea bass sucks them down in one gulp. No muss. No fuss. And much cleaner water.

On both the salt water and fresh water side of the system, they use algae and bacteria to cleanse the natural fish waste from the water. The water is pumped into a series of trays full of algae mats and bacteria. It takes roughly 45 minutes for it to flow downhill from one tray to the next until the water at the bottom is relatively clean and is pumped back into the tanks.

On the fresh water side of the project is one more cool twist. It turns out what is waste for fish water is great fertilizer for plants. Dick and Karrie grow hydroponic vegetables in the fresh water trays. It serves a double purpose. The vegetables help pull those waste/nutrients out of the water and can also serve as a second stream of revenue for some would-be fish farmer. Just yesterday, Karrie put her latest crop of cucumbers out in the lunch room for her friends and co-workers. Good stuff.

Dick approached me earlier this week about setting up a taste test. He has been raising some black sea bass on the traditional food pellet diet. He would like to find some knowledgeable sushi fans and offer them some delicacies from black sea bass raised on both the food pellet and the tilapia diets. They can tell him if they taste different and which one tastes better.

We’ll let you know how the “Sushi Challenge” turns out.