Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

UGA Skidaway Institute research paper selected for Research Spotlight

February 3, 2017

 

Skidaway Institute's Aron Stubbins

Skidaway Institute’s Aron Stubbins

A research paper by University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Aron Stubbins has been selected by the Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences to be featured as a Research Spotlight on the journal’s website and in the magazine Eos. Research Spotlights summarize the the best accepted articles for the Earth and space science community.

Stubbins’s paper, titled “Low photolability of yedoma permafrost dissolved organic carbon,” followed-up on earlier research into a massive store of carbon—relics of long-dead plants and other living things—preserved within ancient Arctic permafrost. That research showed the long-frozen permafrost is thawing, and the organic material it has preserved for tens of thousands of years is now entering the environment as dissolved organic matter in streams and rivers. Bacteria are converting the organic material into carbon dioxide, which is being released into the atmosphere.

A bank of permafrost thaws near the Kolyma River in Siberia

A bank of permafrost thaws near the Kolyma River in Siberia

The current paper examines the effect of sunlight on the dissolved carbon compounds. The researchers discovered that sunlight changes the chemistry of the permafrost carbon, however sunlight alone does not convert the permafrost carbon to carbon dioxide. The researchers concluded the decomposition of organic materials via bacteria is mostly likely the key process for converting permafrost carbon within rivers into carbon dioxide.

The research team includes co-lead author Robert Spencer of Florida State University; co-authors Leanne Powers and Thais Bittar from UGA Skidaway Institute; Paul Mann from Northumbria University; Thorsten Dittmar from Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg; Cameron McIntyre from the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre; Timothy Eglinton from ETH Zurich; and Nikita Zimov from the Russian Academy of Science.  While climatologists are carefully watching carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, another group of scientists is exploring a massive storehouse of carbon that has the potential to significantly affect the climate change picture.

 

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Fall black gill cruise rolls out new research

November 10, 2016

The University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography entered the fourth year of its black gill research program with a daylong cruise on board the Research Vessel Savannah and the introduction of a new smartphone app that will allow shrimpers to help scientists collect data on the problem.

Led by UGA scientists Marc Frischer, Richard Lee, Kyle Johnsen and Jeb Byers, the black gill study is being conducted in partnership with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, and is funded by Georgia Sea Grant.

Black gill is a condition Georgia shrimpers first noticed in the mid-1990s. Many shrimpers have blamed black gill for poor shrimp harvests in recent years, but until Frischer began his study, almost nothing was known about the condition. Now the researchers know black gill is caused by a parasite—a single-cell animal called a ciliate—although the exact type of ciliate is still a mystery.

The October cruise had three goals. The first was simply to collect data and live shrimp for additional experiments.

 

“We were able to collect enough live shrimp in good shape to set up our next experiment,” Frischer said. “We are planning on running another direct mortality study to investigate the relationship between temperature and black gill mortality. This time, instead of comparing ambient temperature to cooler temperatures as we did last spring and summer, we will investigate the effects of warming.”

Researchers Marc Frischer (UGA Skidaway Institute), Brian Fluech and Lisa Gentit (both UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant) examine shrimp for signs of black gill.

Researchers Marc Frischer (UGA Skidaway Institute), Brian Fluech and Lisa Gentit (both UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant) examine shrimp for signs of black gill.

If his hypothesis is correct, Frischer believes researchers would expect that raising fall water temperatures to warmer summer levels in a laboratory setting will induce black gill associated mortality in the shrimp caught in the fall.

Those studies will be compared to those that are being conducted in South Carolina in a slightly different manner. Frischer expects the results should be similar.

“However, as it goes with research, we are expecting surprises,” Frischer continued. “We also collected a good set of samples that will contribute to our understanding of the distribution and impact of black gill.”

A second goal was to introduce and begin field testing a new smartphone application developed by Johnsen. The app is intended to be a tool that will allow shrimp boat captains and recreational shrimpers to assist the researchers by filling some of the holes in the data by documenting the extent of black gill throughout the shrimp season. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources conducts surveys of the shrimp population up and down the coast throughout the year. However, those surveys do not provide the researchers with the rich data set they need to really get an accurate assessment of the black gill problem.

A sample screen shot of the black gill smartphone application.

A sample screen shot of the black gill smartphone application.

“Instead of having just one boat surveying the prevalence of black gill, imagine if we had a dozen, or 50 or a hundred boats all working with us,” Frischer said. “That’s the idea behind this app.”

The fishermen will use the app to document their trawls and report their data to a central database. Using GPS and the camera on their smartphone, they will record the location and images of the shrimp catch, allowing the researchers to see what the shrimpers see. If repeated by many shrimpers throughout the shrimping season, the information would give scientists a much more detailed picture of the prevalence and distribution of black gill.

“The app is complete and available on the app store, but we are still in the testing stages,” Johnsen said. “We want to make sure that it will be robust and as easy to use on a ship as possible before widely deploying it.”

Recruiting, training and coordinating the shrimpers will be the responsibility of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

“I think it should be entirely possible to at least have a small group of captains comfortable and ready to start using it when the 2017 season begins,” Frischer said.

Johnsen is excited about the app for what it can provide to the shrimping and research community, but also the implications it has for using apps to involve communities in general.

“There is still work to be done to improve the usability of these systems,” he said. “But I’m confident that we are going to see an increasing number of these ‘citizen science’ applications going forward.”

The final aim of the cruise was to bring together diverse stakeholders, including fishery managers, shrimpers and scientists, to spend the day together and share ideas.

“This was a good venue for promoting cross-talk among the stakeholder groups,” Frischer said. “I had many good conversations and appreciated the opportunity to provide a few more research updates.”

Georgia DNR's Pat Geer sorts through the marine life caught in a trawl net.

Georgia DNR’s Pat Geer sorts through the marine life caught in a trawl net.

Frischer says he thinks the communication and cooperation among the various stakeholder groups has improved dramatically since the beginning of the study. He recalled that when the study began in 2013, tensions were high. Shrimpers were angry and demanded that something be done to address the problem of black gill. Meanwhile, fishery managers were unclear if black gill was even causing a problem and frustrated that no one could provide them any reliable scientific advice. The research community had not been engaged and given the resources to pursue valid investigations.

“In 2016, we still have black gill. The fishery is still in trouble, but it does feel like we are at least understanding a bit more about the issue,” Frischer said. “Most importantly, it is clear that all of us are now working together.

“My feeling is that the opportunity for us to spend a day like that together helps promote understanding, communication and trust among the shrimpers, managers and researchers.”

UGA Skidaway Institute scientists study role of sunlight on marine carbon dioxide production

July 21, 2016

Scientists at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography have received a $527,000 grant from the National Science Foundation Chemical Oceanography Program to answer one of the long-standing questions about carbon in the ocean—the rate sunlight produces carbon dioxide from organic carbon molecules in the sea.

Jay Brandes, Leanne Powers and Aron Stubbins will use a new technique they developed to measure this process, which is known as photo-degradation.

Researchers Aron Stubbins (l) and Jay Brandes

Researchers Aron Stubbins (l) and Jay Brandes

The ocean is full of millions of different types of organic compounds. Some are consumed by bacteria, but many are not easily consumed and remain in the ocean for hundreds or thousands of years. However, near the surface, sunlight causes the breakdown of organic compounds and converts them into carbon dioxide through photo-degradation. Until recently, this process has been nearly impossible to measure directly in most of the ocean because the additional carbon dioxide produced per day is tiny compared to the existing high concentration of CO2 present in the sea.

Researcher Leanne Powers

Researcher Leanne Powers

Brandes described the problem as looking for a needle in a haystack.

“You might think this is not important because it is hard to measure, but that’s not true,” he said. “We’re talking about a process that takes place across the whole ocean. When you integrate that over such a vast area, it becomes a potentially very important process.”

The project became possible when the team developed a new technique to measure the change in CO2 concentration in a seawater sample. The concept was the brainchild of Powers, a Skidaway Institute post-doctoral research associate. The technique uses carbon 13, a rare, stable isotope of carbon that contains an extra neutron in its nucleus. Researchers will add a carbon 13 compound to a sample of seawater and then bombard the sample with light. The scientists will then use an instrument known as an isotope ratio mass spectrometer to measure the changes in CO2 concentration.

According to Brandes, this project will be breaking new ground in the field of chemical oceanography.

“We don’t know what the photo-degradation rates are in most of the ocean,” he said. “We are going to establish the first numbers for that.”

The team plans to take samples off the Georgia coast, as well as from Bermuda and Hawaii.

While they will continue to refine the carbon 13 technique, Brandes said it is now time to put that tool to work.

“It is now a matter of establishing what the numbers are in these different locations and trying to develop a global budget,” he said. “Just how much dissolved organic carbon is removed and converted to CO2 every year?”

The project is funded for three years. The team will also create an aquarium exhibit at the UGA Aquarium on the Skidaway Island campus to help student groups and the public understand river and ocean color.

VIDEO – The climate change issue you probably haven’t heard about

July 6, 2016

The soil in the Arctic holds a massive store of carbon. These remnants of plants and animals that lived tens of thousands of years ago have been locked in permafost, soil that is always frozen…until now.

UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Aron Stubbins is part of a team that travelled to Siberia to discover what happens to that carbon when the permafrost thaws.

 

Skidaway scientist interviewed for sea leval rise TV story

April 26, 2016

UGA Skidaway Institute professor Clark Alexander was featured in a story by WSAV-TV reporter Andrew James regarding sea level rise and coastal flooding. A longer version of this story is scheduled to be included in the station’s storm special this weekend.

STORM WATCH: Coastal Floods reached historic levels in 2015

Video — UGA Skidaway Institute scientists complete sea level study on Georgia coast

February 25, 2016

Sea level is projected to rise at least one meter by 2100. Where will that water go and how will it change the Georgia coastal ecosystem? University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Clark Alexander and Georgia Southern University researcher Christine Hladik are attempting to answer those questions.

https://youtu.be/vNFrxb4cytU

Skidaway Institute Arctic carbon research gets additional exposure

January 27, 2016

The Website Environmental Monitor published a good article on some of the work Skidaway Institute scientist Aron Stubbins has been conducting on carbon in black carbon in the Arctic. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

http://www.fondriest.com/news/arctic-ocean-biochar-could-increase-with-global-warming.htm

Climate change likely to increase black carbon input to the Arctic Ocean

November 30, 2015

University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Aron Stubbins led a team of researchers to determine the levels of black carbon in Arctic rivers and found that the input of black carbon to the Arctic Ocean is likely to increase with global warming. The results of their study were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Earth Science.

Black carbon, or biochar, is formed when vegetation and other organic matter burns. Today black carbon is a massive store of carbon in global soils, where it is thought to be very stable — so stable, that researchers have previously suggested that adding black carbon to soils might be a good way to lock away carbon dioxide and reduce climate change. This new research reveals that the black carbon stored in Arctic soils is being exported to the oceans.

Arctic rivers are the major way black carbon is transported to the ocean.

Arctic rivers are the major way black carbon is transported to the ocean.

The Arctic is warming faster than other regions of the planet due to climate change. The scientists report that, as the planet warms, the amount of black carbon transported to the Arctic Ocean will likely increase. Once dissolved in the ocean and exposed to sunlight, black carbon may be rapidly converted back to the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

In ongoing work at UGA and partner universities, Stubbins and his colleagues are trying to determine just how much black carbon will be exported to the Arctic Ocean as the Arctic continues to warm, and once it reaches the oceans, what percentage will reach the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

The article is titled “Utilizing Colored Dissolved Organic Matter to Derive Dissolved Black Carbon Export by Arctic Rivers.” In addition to Stubbins, the co-authors include Robert Spencer from Florida State University; Jutta Niggemann and Thorsten Dittmar from the University of Oldenburg, Germany; Paul Mann from Northumbria University; Max R. Holmes from Woods Hole Research Center; and James McClelland from University of Texas Marine Science Institute.

The entire article can be viewed online at: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/feart.2015.00063/abstract

Stubbins has a website detailing this and other work on black carbon at:

http://www.skio.usg.edu/?p=research/chem/biogeochem/blkcarbon

Skidaway Institute scientist explores deep-sea hydrothermal vents

October 29, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUniversity of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Aron Stubbins joined a team of researchers to determine how hydrothermal vents influence ocean carbon storage. The results of their study were recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Hydrothermal vents are hotspots of activity on the otherwise dark, cold ocean floor. Since their discovery, scientists have been intrigued by these deep ocean ecosystems, studying their potential role in the evolution of life and their influence upon today’s ocean.

Stubbins and his colleagues were most interested in the way the vents’ extremely high temperatures and pressure affect dissolved organic carbon. Oceanic dissolved organic carbon is a massive carbon store that helps regulate the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—and the global climate.

Photo Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010

Photo Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, INDEX-SATAL 2010

Originally, the researchers thought the vents might be a source of the dissolved organic carbon. However, their research showed just the opposite.

Lead scientist Jeffrey Hawkes, currently a post-doctoral fellow at Uppsala University in Sweden, directed an experiment in which the researchers heated water in a laboratory to 380 degrees Celsius, 716 degrees Fahrenheit, in a scientific pressure cooker to mimic the effect of ocean water passing through hydrothermal vents.

The results revealed that dissolved organic carbon is efficiently removed from ocean water when heated. The organic molecules are broken down and the carbon converted to carbon dioxide.

The entire ocean volume circulates through hydrothermal vents about every 40 million years. This is a very long time, much longer than the timeframes over which current climate change is occurring, Stubbins explained. It is also much longer than the average lifetime of dissolved organic molecules in the ocean, which generally circulate for thousands of years, not millions.

“However, there may be extreme survivor molecules that persist and store carbon in the oceans for millions of years,” Stubbins said. “Eventually, even these hardiest of survivor molecules will meet a fiery end as they circulate through vent systems.”

Hawkes conducted the work while at the Research Group for Marine Geochemistry, University of Oldenburg, Germany. The study’s co-authors also included Pamela Rossel and Thorsten Dittmar, University of Oldenburg; David Butterfield, University of Washington; Douglas Connelly and Eric Achterberg, University of Southampton, United Kingdom; Andrea Koschinsky, Jacobs University, Germany; Valerie Chavagnac, Université de Toulouse, France; and Christian Hansen and Wolfgang Bach, University of Bremen, Germany.

The study on “Efficient removal of recalcitrant deep-ocean dissolved organic matter during hydrothermal circulation” is available at http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v8/n11/full/ngeo2543.html.

 

Skidaway Institute’s Elizabeth Harvey embarks on month-long Atlantic cruise

October 27, 2015

UGA Skidaway Institute scientist Elizabeth Harvey will be spending the next month on board Woods Hole’s Research Vessel Atlantis.NAAMESbannerWithSat w

The North Atlantic Aerosols and Marine Ecosystems Study (NAAMES) is a five year investigation to resolve key processes controlling ocean system function, their influences on atmospheric aerosols and clouds and their implications for climate.

Here is Dr. Harvey’s first post on the cruise’s blog.