Archive for August, 2010

Skidaway Institute facility awarded LEED Gold Certification

August 31, 2010

The Marine and Coastal Science Research and Instructional Center (MCSRIC) at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography has been awarded a Gold Level certification in Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Completed in mid-2009, the research and laboratory building was designed from the outset to be environmentally friendly.

The building’s orientation minimizes its east-west exposure which reduces the heat it will absorb from the sun. This orientation is one reason the MCSRIC is 31 percent more energy efficient than a comparable building. Its courtyard, roof and sidewalks are organic or reflect the sun’s energy, further reducing the amount of heat the building will absorb.

The layout of the MCSRIC’s interior minimizes the building’s perimeter, reducing the energy and heat that can leak into or out of the building. The common work areas and the central hallway are open to the roof and have a row of upper windows running the length of the building. This allows natural night to flood the building on sunny days and saves on lighting energy.

Other “green” characteristics of the building include a solar hot water heating system, a 1,000 gallon cistern to capture rainwater for various uses, six-inch foam insulation and energy efficient windows.

The MCSRIC contains 11,000 square-feet of state-of-the-art research laboratories and offices, space for visiting scientists, and instructional space for marine science students from throughout the University System of Georgia. It was funded with a $5 million dollar appropriation approved by the Georgia General Assembly in 2006 and signed by Governor Sonny Perdue.

The architect for the MCSRIC was Lord, Aeck & Sargent, Inc.. The construction manager was Choate Construction. Engineering work was done by Hussey, Gay, Bell & DeYoung International Inc., and Nottingham, Brook & Pennington, Inc.

Notes from the Arctic – The end is near. August 30th, 2010

August 31, 2010

Hi All,

For a brief moment this morning the sun graced us with its presence and it was glorious.

Arctic summer splendor.

Today was our last day of sampling at our standard station and we made the best of it. Captain Quuniq and Nelson again took us out to our standard station and we quickly sampled and came back in to process our samples in the lab.

Sampling complete!

Compared to conditions yesterday afternoon, the ocean was a bathtub today. And, with all the kinks worked out of our equipment and protocols, we made record time processing the samples. Victoria was even able to complete our RNA purifications by dinner time.

Molecular biology on the go.

All the samples are now safely stored in liquid nitrogen and in shipping containers ready to be shipped out in the morning.

Shipping containers ready to go.

With all the sampling complete and after a quick and not very satisfying dinner of Ramen noodles, it was time to think about starting the process of cleaning and packing-up. Since our stuff is scattered all over the campus its quite a daunting task gathering everything, cleaning all of our salty equipment and packing it so that it will be organized and ready for next January.

Its nearly 2 am now and I’ve been at it since 7 so I think I have to cut this one short. Tomorrow promises to be a busy day of cleaning and packing, but the end is near and we’re all looking forward to heading home.


Notes from the Arctic – Questing for Humics August 29th, 2010

August 30, 2010

Dr. Marc Frischer continues his log of his research trip to Barrow, Alaska. Here is some background information on the research project.

Hi All,

This morning we woke up to reasonable weather, but not the beautiful calm and sunny day that was forecast.  It was still foggy and the wind was blowing, but not too bad.  The temperature was in the mid 30’s (F), but it felt much colder due to the wind.  Captain Quuniq thought that we’d better head straight for the Mead river if we were going to have a chance today of getting those humic samples we’ve been searching for and, if the weather holds, complete our third and last sampling for this trip at our standard station off of Barrow.  So we headed back to the Niksiuraq boat ramp and headed southeast to the Mead River.  Along with Captain Quuniq was his cousin Nelson who had just returned from a trip on the Mead River.  Quuniq brought him along to help out on the boat and help navigate the shallow river waters.  Of course they had another agenda as well, but more of that later.

The trip took about two hours mostly hugging the coast to stay out of the wind and waves as much as possible.  As we entered the Bay where the Mead River empties into the Beaufort Sea, we slowed down to avoid shallow hazards and to examine the water periodically for the brown tea color characteristic of high humic acid concentrations.  Humics are the remains of decaying plant materials that, just like tea leaves steeped in water, turn the water brown.  From a chemical perspective humics are carbon rich organic material that microbes should digest and re-inject them into the realm of biology.  One of the big climate change questions is what is going to happen to all the humic material that will be released as the permafrost melts?  In the western Arctic (where Alaska is) there are literally kilometers of this material in the form of ancient peats buried and currently frozen.  Their release into coastal waters will likely have profound implications for the food webs here from the microbes all the way up to whales and humans.

Alaska tundra in the summertime.

But back to the trip.  Although we could clearly see the presence of peats in the summer tundra, the water really didn’t have the brown color we were looking for in the bay or river.  Probably there was just too much fresh river water diluting the humics.  Our strategy was originally to sample at the river mouth where we hoped to find high concentrations of humics in the water, but since this wasn’t the case we decided to get off the boat and examine one of the many pools that form in the tundra.

The first place we landed we were rewarded two-fold.  First, not 10 meters from where we beached the boat, we found exactly what we were looking for.  Second, up on a small ridge were two beautiful Caribou bulls.

The caribou that got away.

So we all got off the boat, Rachel Sipler and myself carrying our water collection gear and Quuniq and Nelson with rifles and ammunition.

Quuniq and Nelson heading off to hunt caribou.

They are both passionate subsistence hunters and even though they were on the job taking care of us geeky scientists, they just couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass them by.  I suspect that they knew they would find Caribou here and were just waiting for an excuse to go hunting.  Who can blame them?   Soon we were happily collecting our tea colored water and they were stalking the Caribou.  Fortunately for the caribou, the gods weren’t with them today and they missed all their shots.  Rachel and I were pleased though, since if they had been successful we would have had to share the ride back with two huge dead caribou.  Not something we really wanted contaminating our science gear and beautiful clean humic rich water.

Rachel Sipler sampling the humic rich tundra pool water.

Humic rich water, just what we were looking for!

After we were all through we all returned to the boat and headed back towards Barrow with the hope of completing our second sampling mission.  However, once we got out of the river it became apparent that indeed as Quuniq had predicted, the wind and waves had picked-up significantly.  The trip home took over three hours and when we tried to reach our standard sampling site, it was immediately clear that it was too rough to get there safely.  Hopefully we’ll be able to get out tomorrow since that will be our last chance before needing to pack-up for our departure.

So please wish us luck again,


Notes from the Arctic – 2nd Sampling Day August 28th, 2010

August 29, 2010

Hi All,

We made it back out on the water today!  When we woke up, although it was still foggy, the wind had dropped significantly so that the station manager Lewis Brower and captain Quuniq agreed it was safe for us to go out.  We still had 3’ swells, but the chop was mostly gone.  After checking our gear, most of which was already loaded on the boat from yesterday and suiting up in our very attractive Mustang survival suits, we headed-out to the Niksraq ramp to the east of the station (past the football field and duck camp).

Debbie couldn’t join us today since she was scheduled to present a talk on climate change and ocean acidification to a local audience.  We try to make presentations each time we are here in an effort to give something back to our hosts.  Obviously I couldn’t attend the talk since I was out sampling, but I heard it went very well.  The room was packed and there were lots of questions.  Debbie said that she felt she had just been through another doctoral defense since the questions were so extensive and good.

Back to the sampling trip.  On our way out from the Niksraq launch, as we pass Point Barrow, we cross from the Beaufort Sea into the Chuckchi Sea.  Today, without all the chop, where the two oceans meet was distinctly visible with the Chuckchi looking a bit browner then the Beaufort.  Very cool!

Where two oceans meet. The Chuckchi and Beaufort seas.

We made it to our station and anchored this time.  After our first trip captain Quuniq made sure he had a suitable anchor and enough line to keep us on station.  This made our sampling much more efficient.  While we were anchoring we were visited by a small group of bearded seals, one of which, a 9 footer, gave us quite a show by jumping all the way out of the water.  Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough with the camera.

Sampling went smoothly and even more efficiently then our first day.

Collecting samples

It seems that practice does help.  It only took us 1.5 hours from the time we reached our station until the time we left and it felt much easier.  We were really working as a team anticipating each others needs and helping each other out as needed.

Once back to shore we quickly got to work setting up our experiments and processing samples.  For Victoria and me, that means filtering a lot of water.

Victoria filtering water samples

We all finished-up by 7:00 pm and decided to go out to dinner for Chinese food at a local restaurant called Northern Lights and, with the possible exception of a somewhat surly waitress, it was a very good dinner.  Better then last night for sure.  While at dinner we were able to discuss our plans for tomorrow.  Because we are a day off our planned schedule we decided to attempt to do an abbreviated sampling tomorrow and make a trip to the Mead River to collect those humics we’ve been looking for.  The weather forecast predicts favorable conditions with the winds continuing to lessen.  If all goes well we will be able to collect our final samples for this trip and find the humics we need for our next trip in January.

Wish us luck,


Notes from the Arctic – Weather Day August 27th, 2010

August 28, 2010

Skidaway Institute professor Marc Frischer continues this daily log of his research trip to Barrow, Alaska. With him are Skidaway Inst research tech Victoria Baylor and researchers from the University of Georgia and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

Hi All,

Its been a long day of waiting and finally giving-up on getting out to sample.  The wind picked-up even more and the fog has stuck around all day.  We were all set for an 8:00 am departure, again led by captain Quuniq, but we had to scratch the mission.

Although we were all disappointed and worried about completing our research, we trust the experience and common sense of our local logistical support.  So we spent the morning making good use of our time reorganizing our plans, taking care of the many details and small tasks left over from yesterday’s lab day.  The unexpected “day off” also gave us the opportunity to meet with the local logistics support staff at BASC (Barrow Arctic Science Consortium) to plan our next trip in January 2011.  This place will be completely different with our sampling site covered by ice, temperatures around -40°F, and only a few hours of light a day.  Although the weather is extreme now, just wait until January!

I also had an opportunity to meet with Glenn Sheehan, the director of BASC, to discuss future projects and to start making a dent into the pile of other work that has been piling-up.  All in all it turned out to be a pretty productive day, just not in the way I had expected it to be.

In the late afternoon we all decided to go into town to visit the Iñupiat Heritage Center and to eat dinner.

Marc at the Heritage Center

The Heritage center is a small museum dedicated to preservation, advancement, and education about Iñupiat culture.

A Bowhead Whale model at the heritage center

The museum features exhibits, largely photographs, taxidermy animals, and art objects documenting past and current Iñupiat culture.  One of the nicest aspects of the center was that they host local artists that are eager to talk to visitors about their culture and crafts.  We helped the local economy by buying a few pieces ourselves.

Marc with scrimshaw artist

I bought a scrimshaw Bowhead whale baleen personalized for my son David (don’t tell him, it’s a surprise present) and Debbie bought a few.  We also both enjoyed talking with the artists including Mr. and Mrs. Patkotak who, in addition to producing amazing ivory and baleen art, lead a successful whaling crew.

Debbie wanted to take a picture with them since she collects pictures of strong women and Mrs. Patkotak was definitely women of strong character.

Deb Bronk with local Barrow couple

We continue to be impressed with the local Iñupiat people and culture.  Despite the harsh life and climate here, they clearly enjoy their lives and are well adapted to the lifestyle.  We have a lot to learn from them.

After a bizarre trip to an incredibly tacky but not for tourists store called “La Bamba” found nestled in a local neighborhood, we found are way to dinner at the famous Brower Café.

Local Barrow neighborhood taken looking away from the La Bamba store

The café is located in a building originally built by the first international polar year expedition in 1883.  Unfortunately, the dinner wasn’t as inspiring as the history or scenery.

Research team on the beach behind the famous Brower Cafe

After dinner it was back to the station, a little more work, and off to bed.  Hopefully we’ll be able to get back to research tomorrow if the weather allows.

Until then,


Notes from the Arctic – Lab Day August 26th, 2010

August 28, 2010

Hi All,

Just finishing-up here in Barrow today.  Today was a big day of processing all the samples that we collected yesterday.  Our general strategy for this trip is to alternate between sample collection days and sample processing days.

Again we woke up to foggy skies and moderate temperatures (low 40’s), but today the wind was blowing 20-25 knots (23-29 miles per hour).  The Bronk group actually did have some field plans this morning; they were hoping to travel by boat to the mouth of the Mead River to collect humic rich water.  Their goal is to collect local humics for their experiments.  Currently they are using Nordic humics in their studies so having materials from around here would probably be a little more relevant.  However, after hemming and hawing about whether it was safe to go today, we finally decided not too.  Probably a very wise decision.  However, I was a little disappointed because I was hoping to tag along to help and sightsee.  Alas, good sense prevailed and we all stayed on shore processing samples.  Me and Victoria extracted our RNA samples leaving the DNA samples for processing at home.  Because RNA is so unstable, we have to process them as soon as possible or risk losing them to degradation so we’ve set-up a mini molecular biology laboratory here to do the job.  The Bronk group (Debbie, Quinn, and Rachel) “filtered like the wind” processing 56 samples that had incubated 24 hours.  The Yager group (Tara and Karrie), who were up most of the night last night were back at it all day processing their samples.  Despite the tedium everyone was in good humor and feeling good about the progress we’ve been making.

Football stadium

In between sampling processing I did take the opportunity to visit the brand new outdoor football stadium and what I thought was a whaling camp but turned out to be a “Duck Camp”.

Duck Camp

This is where the local hunters congregate for bird hunting.  It still looks like ice fishing camp to me.  My favorite hut is decorated with faux palm trees (remember there are no trees here in the tundra).

That’s about all for now but stay tuned for tomorrow’s report.  Hopefully it will be another day on the water.

Skidaway scientists map salt marshes topography with a view from above

August 26, 2010

Salt marshes are among the world’s most valuable ecosystems. They treat waste, provide habitat for marine life, produce food and offer recreation. They are also our key natural defence in the face of climate change and sea level rise. These services are driven by the fact that twice everyday, marshes are submerged by the flooding tide and six hours later, drained by the ebbing tide.

Skidaway Institute professor Jack Blanton and two visiting scientists from the University of Lisbon (Portugal), Francisco Andrade and Adelaide Ferreira, are contributing to the understanding of  salt marshes by using aerial surveys to improve the way they are mapped. Research associates from Skidaway Institute, Julie Amft and Mike Robinson, are also participating in the project.

(l-r) Francisco Andrade, Jack Blanton and Adelaide Ferreira

“We all have seen how the tide flows through the meandering network of salt marsh channels, but it is virtually impossible to go in the salt marsh and accurately map the entire channel network and the surrounding vegetated areas,” said Andrade.

Most charts simply show a salt marsh as a flat surface, cut by channels where boats can navigate. However, it is critical for scientists to understand how the marsh functions and evolves.

“To understand a salt marsh, we must know how much estuary-water the tide moves over it together with how the water spreads over the salt marsh and how it retreats,” Andrade said.

The scientists have developed a method that relies on identifying the flooded area of a salt marsh at any given moment using an infrared (IR) aerial photograph. Since IR light is almost completely absorbed by water, the flooded areas show up as dark, as opposed to brighter dry areas. The active green vegetation, whose chlorophyll strongly reflects IR, will show brighter shades. By taking a series of aerial photographs during the course of a tidal cycle, and coupling each corresponding flooded area to elevation data from local tide gauges, scientists can develop a topographical profile of the marsh.

In the left hand image, the digital elevation model for the Duplin River and surrounding marsh. The area in the red box is enlarged in the right hand image.

The team tested their technique in the Duplin estuary, behind Sapelo Island, Ga., by constructing a detailed digital elevation model (DEM) of the entire intertidal area, including all the salt marsh.

“Using the DEM, circulation patterns over the intertidal area and the corresponding water volumes can now be readily evaluated, yielding information on the time material is retained in the marsh,” said Blanton. “Moreover, the high-resolution DEM provides detailed topography required for state-of-the-art hydrodynamic circulation models whose goal is to faithfully represent currents in the tidal channels and over the surrounding intertidal area.”

The scientists are currently testing their new technique by comparing their results with independently measured topographical data. Plans are underway to conduct an additional survey on an ebbing tide. The rate at which the marsh floods compared to the rate at which it ebbs will provide quantitative estimates of water retention as well as ground water discharge.

Notes from the Arctic – A day on the water August 25th, 2010

August 26, 2010

This is the second post by Skidaway Institute professor Marc Frischer, chronicling his research trip to Barrow,  Alaska,  for his study of the effect of a warming climate on the coastal ecology there.

Just completing day 3 of the expedition.  After staying-up half the night to get ready for an 8:00 am sampling trip, the weather delayed us.  We were fogged in.  But what can you do?  That is the nature of fieldwork.

After waiting around until nearly noon, the fog had finally dissipated sufficiently so that our native whaling captain, Captain Quinik (pronounced something like “Cone – Nick”), gave the long-awaited ok.

Captain Quinik

We followed captain Quinik and his first mate to the launch ramp located several miles east of the research station and launched on the Chukchi Sea side of Point Barrow. For about an hour we motored our way around Point Barrow, into the Beaufort Sea, and to our sampling station about 3 miles north of the station.  It was a choppy ride but the boat, a sturdy 27’ aluminum hulled boat with two brand new 175 four stroke Suzuki engines, handled it well.

The sampling team

Once on station we began our collections.  Since there are three teams of us collecting different types of water samples and data, we had to carefully choreograph our activities.  First on the agenda was to determine the basic characteristics of the water. Its depth, 12M (about 40 ft); its temperature, 6°C (around 43°F); its salinity, 31.4 o/o; and the oxygen content (fully saturated with the atmosphere).

We also measured light penetration which was the most important parameter for determining our sampling depth since we are conducting experimental incubation studies and need to match the light levels in the lab.

All this data told us that we had a very well mixed water column typical of the region for this time of year.  Just what we were hoping for!

After these measurements were completed, the Yager team ( for Patricia Yager, UGA) began collecting water for their studies to characterize the carbon chemistry of the water and the activity and abundance of the bacteria and phytoplankton.  After they were nearly finished, we deployed a special submersible pump to 4M, our optimal sampling depth, and the Bronk team (for Deborah Bronk, Virginia Institute for Marine Science) began collecting water and filling up what seems like hundreds of sample jars for their experiments.

The Bronk group is interested in understanding the effects of different nutrient additions on Arctic microbial populations. They are especially interested in humic materials, since those are expected to be released in high concentrations as the permafrost melts into the coastal Arctic ocean. Humics are the left over organic matter from plants that make the water in our neck of the woods tea colored.

As the Bronk team completed their sampling it was our turn.  We collected 120 liters (a little more that 30 gallons) of water for our genetic studies that we are conducting to provide insight in how microbial communities may adapt to future changes. Once all the samples were safely on board and our gear stowed safely, we returned to the lab.

Approaching Barrow

Luckily, since the water was relatively calm, we were able to head south and offload our samples onto the beach which we were then able to easily transport to our various laboratories.

After the sampling expedition, the rest of the day was a blur, with each of us rushing around trying to get everything done. But it was a pleasure since this is what we had been planning for so long.  Victoria and I spent about six hours in a walk-in cold room set at ambient water temperature filtering all the water we collected. As I’m typing now (nearly midnight) the Yager group is still at it though the Bronk group has already called it quits for the day.

Tomorrow is a lab day and should present a lighter workload for all of us. I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit the whaling camp (think ice fishing camp) and soak it all in.

Point Barrow whale boneyard

The native Iñupiat Eskimos, who make up over 60% of the 4,000+ residents, authentically practice their culture and seem to be eager to share it with interested visitors.

Off to Alaska!

August 25, 2010

Professor Marc Frischer and research technician Victoria Baylor are traveling to Point Barrow, Alaska for field work on their project to study the effects of global climate change on the coastal environment there.

Dr. Frischer will be blogging about their adventures. Here is the first report.

Notes from the Arctic — We’re on our way!  August 23 & 24th, 2010.

Today was a travel day.  After months of planning, preparation, ordering supplies, and shipping we’re finally off.  This will be our second sampling trip to Barrow Alaska, the most northern point in the continental US.  Our goal is to collect information concerning the response of the organisms at the very base of the food web (the microbes) to climate change.  Arctic ecosystems are considered to be the most sensitive environments to the effects of climate change.

The journey itself is an adventure.  Victoria Baylor and I left Savannah on Monday August 23,  early in the morning traveling to Atlanta, Minneapolis, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Prudhoe Bay, and finally to Barrow — racking up nearly 5,000 frequent flier miles along the way.

Marc Frischer (right) with friend in Anchorage hotel lobby

It never ceases to amaze me how big our country is and yet, at the same time, how fragile it is. This is certainly one of the great paradoxes of our times.  Amazingly, with the exception of a few minor delays that we’ve all come to expect whenever we travel by air, the trip itself was thankfully uneventful.

Sunset in Anchorage

After arriving in Barrow and being greeted by the rest of our team who had arrived earlier, we spent the next 14 hours readying our equipment and laboratories for the first sampling expedition tomorrow. Our team, in addition to Victoria and myself, includes Debbie Bronk, Quinn Roberts, and Rachel Sipler from the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, and Tara Connelly and Karrie Sines from the University of Georgia. Our goal is to sample coastal water just a couple of miles offshore at a standard station we have previously established.  The last time we were here in April, we had to access our site on snow machines and had to drill a hole in the ice to sample the water below.

Now in August, the ice is melted and we’ll be traveling to our site in a small boat charted from a native whaling captain. Currently the temperature in Barrow is in the upper 40’s (F) and, at least for now, sunny. For sure, one thing that really slaps you in the face up here is the extreme climate.

Stay tuned for more, the fun really begins tomorrow!

Marc Frischer

Skidaway Institute scientists differ with officials over amount of remaining oil

August 20, 2010

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientists Dick Lee and Jay Brandes have been working with other scientists from the University of Georgia and Georgia Sea Grant to ascertain the threat from the remaining oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Their opinions differ significantly from estimates released from the National Incident Command.

They believe as much as 70-79% of the oil that entered the water remains in the water column, an estimate that is much higher than the figure of 25% cited by the NIC.

Their report, released earlier this week, can be found here.