Archive for July, 2014

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.

Skidaway Institute intern wins research prize

July 16, 2014

Candy v wAn undergraduate student who conducted her research at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography will attend a prestigious international science conference as a reward for winning the Outstanding Research Paper in the Savannah State University’s Bridge to Research program.

Candilianne Serrano Zayas’ paper was chosen from 10 others and tied for first place. She will attend the international science conference sponsored by the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography meeting in Granada, Spain, in February 2015.

Zayas is a rising junior and biology major at the Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her research project studied the microbiological community present in dolphins.

“One of the reasons this is important is because bottlenose dolphins are a marine sentinel species,” Zayas said. “This means that their health can be indicative of the health of the overall environment, which in the case of dolphins is our coastal waters.”

Zayas believes what made her project special was that it involved both field and lab work, and it created an interesting and important relationship between human health and animal health. “You don’t need to take a molecular biology class to understand how it works, so it makes it so much easier to explain to different audiences.”

Zayas worked in the lab of Skidaway Institute professor Marc Frischer, who praised her and her mentors.

“The combination of a good student, an appropriate project and, most importantly, a stellar mentor shoots these students to the stars,” Frischer said.

Zayas was mentored by SSU graduate student Kevin McKenzie, who is also a member of the Frischer research team. Zayas echoed Frischer’s praise. “Kevin took the time to explain it all to me, even two or three times, and he taught me everything I did on this project,” she said.

In the 2013, McKenzie mentored another REU student who also won this prestigious award. Kristopher Drummond, an SSU student and star football player for SSU, has continued the research he started and plans to continue his studies.

Zayas says she plans to complete her bachelor’s degree in Puerto Rico and then attend graduate school.

Zayas shared the first place honor with SSU student Darius Sanford, who worked at Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and who will also attend the ASLO meeting.

Launched in 2009, the SSU Bridge to Research in Marine Sciences program is a National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program. The SSU program has proven successful in inspiring under-represented student populations to pursue degrees and careers in science and technology-based research fields.

“African-Americans are greatly underrepresented in the ocean sciences,” SSU professor Tara Cox explained. “Of the 28 students who have completed the program, 20 are African-American.”

The seven-week 2014 Bridge to Research program began with field trips and classroom work covering research basics. The students then took a two-day research cruise on Skidaway Institute’s Research Vessel Savannah. They then were paired with a mentor at one of the participating organizations—Savannah State University, UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary or Georgia Tech-Savannah. During this partnership, they conducted research and then presented it at a public forum.

Hunting microplastics on Tybee Island

July 10, 2014

UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography’s Jay Brandes joined a group of K-12 teachers on an excursion to find microplastics in the beach sand on Tybee Island. The teacher workshop was sponsored by the UGA Marine Extension Service and coordinated by Dodie Sanders.

The trip on July 8 generated coverage from two local TV stations (WTOC-TV and WSAV-TV) and the Savannah Morning News. As of this morning, the newspaper article has not yet been published.

Dodie Sanders (in the blue shirt) gives instructions to the teachers.

Dodie Sanders (in the blue shirt) gives instructions to the teachers.

Three teachers sift through the same looking for tiny particles of plastics.

Three teachers sift through the same looking for tiny particles of plastics.

Dr. Jay Brandes is interviewed by WTOC-TV reporter Elizabeth Rawlins and photographer Channing Meacham.

Dr. Jay Brandes is interviewed by WTOC-TV reporter Elizabeth Rawlins and photographer Channing Meacham.