Posts Tagged ‘beach’

UGA Skidaway Institute researchers study sand resources near the Georgia coast

January 7, 2016

If a hurricane hits the Georgia coast, a major priority for coastal communities will be finding sand to rebuild beaches destroyed by erosion. University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Clark Alexander has received funding approval from Georgia Sea Grant for a two-year study to collect and analyze new, high-resolution data to identify the sand resources available near the Georgia coast.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused billions of dollars in damages to communities along the east coast of the U.S. Coastal communities in Georgia are vulnerable to future storms, and some have begun to develop strategies to increase their resilience to such storms and to speed their recovery from one. When it comes to restoring storm-eroded beaches, those communities will require a detailed understanding of the locations and characteristics of the available sand resources they will need.

Beaches like Glory Beach on Jekyll Island may potentially benefit from the sand resource study.  Photo Credit: www.GoldenIsles.com

Beaches like Glory Beach on Jekyll Island may potentially benefit from the sand resource study.
Photo Credit: http://www.GoldenIsles.com

“Sand resources are needed to rebuild beach and dune systems to provide the same or better levels of protection to lives and property,” Alexander said. “These sand resources data are critically needed in Georgia, as the sand resources in our state waters are the most poorly known of all the states along the East Coast.”

The study will focus on three developed barrier islands that have not been renourished — Sea Island, St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. The project will gather new samples and data on seabed sediment texture and composition from the beach out to the state-waters boundary, three nautical miles offshore. The researchers will merge that data with existing samples from the beaches and the sea bed and integrate all the samples to determine where sand deposits are located that would be suitable for beach renourishment.

“Typically, we find a wide range of sand, and not all of it is beach-quality,” Alexander said. “We need to locate sand deposits that have similar size and composition to the natural beach.”

The team will collect beach grain size samples during both the summer and winter to assess the differences in texture and composition in the beach in response to changing storm, tide and wave conditions.

The sea floor in the study region has not been comprehensively surveyed since the 1930s. Another part of the project will be to use an echosounder to collect data on the depth and morphology of the sea bed. This data will be used to create bathymetric maps of the ocean bottom. These maps will also identify regions of thicker sand deposits, which indicate greater volumes of sand.

The researchers will then combine the new information with existing data in a Geographic Information System tool to integrate the sand resource and bathymetry information and model the extent of beach-quality deposits in the Sea Island to Jekyll Island region.

The results of the project will be made available online to government officials, the management community and the general public on a number of Web sites, including the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal (http://gchp.skio.usg.edu/) developed by Alexander.

Georgia Sea Grant is a unit of the UGA Office of Public Service and Outreach.

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UGA study finds high marine debris, need for standardized reporting along Georgia coast

February 3, 2015

Skidaway Island, Ga. – University of Georgia researchers are hoping to find a consistent way to record the marine debris—particularly pieces of plastic—crowding Georgia’s beaches as part of an effort to find a solution for the growing problem.

Marine debris has been washing up on Georgia beaches and uninhabited islands for years. Combatting the issue starts with figuring out how big it is, and a new two-part study from the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and Marine Extension published online in the Marine Pollution Bulletin finds that marine debris reporting can improve if it becomes standardized.

The problem right now is this: A volunteer group goes out and records the weight or volume of the marine debris collected. However, volunteers don’t often record the specific square feet measured or the contents of the debris. Due to a lack of report standardization, researchers often can’t compare the marine debris, especially plastic fragments, reported by different groups.

A sample of marine debris collected along the Georgia coast sits on a table at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

A sample of marine debris collected along the Georgia coast sits on a table at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

“We’ve seen plastic usage go up dramatically,” said study co-author Dodie Sanders, a marine educator and outreach coordinator for UGA Marine Extension, a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach. “It’s an important 21st century global issue. We need to learn more to better understand the issues of marine debris.”

The study’s lead author Richard F. Lee, professor emeritus with the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, agrees.

“Plastic debris is created on land and then it goes into rivers, flows into the ocean and washes up on land,” he said. “We’ve found that plastic debris ends up not only on populated beaches, but on inaccessible islands as well. We’ve found plastic everywhere on the coast.”

The first part of the study gathered debris from 20 sites along Georgia’s coast, including Tybee, Cumberland and Ossabaw islands. The debris was reported from volunteer organizations like Clean Coast, which hold monthly beach and marsh cleanups in Georgia.

Participants in a July 2014 teacher's workshop focusing on marine debris sift through the sands of Tybee Island in search of microplastic particles.

Participants in a July 2014 teacher’s workshop focusing on marine debris sift through the sands of Tybee Island in search of microplastic particles.

“The volunteer groups reported the weight of the debris, though we didn’t know the exact amount of plastic,” Lee said. “Based off the volunteer information we received, we did a follow-up study to more precisely measure the marine debris in a fixed location and period of time.”

The total collected debris ranged from 180 to 1,000 kilograms. The levels of plastic debris differed at each site over the course of the study, though plastic was consistently among the mix. Found plastic included plastic bottles, wrappers, food utensils and fragments of fishing gear.

Sanders spearheaded the second part of the study, where she and students collected plastic debris from Skidaway and Wassaw islands over a period of two years.

“While Dr. Lee did data analysis, I did some of the field work,” Sanders said. “We picked the two islands in the second part of the study because they were accessible sites where Marine Extension often takes students for marine education.”

For the fieldwork, Sanders and students visited the islands each month. They took inventory of what kinds of plastics were on specific areas of the coast.

“On about a monthly basis, I would take students to learn about debris and tally all the items on the islands,” Sanders said. “We took areas of 200 meters by 40 meters and recorded the items found. We also used GPS units to mark what areas we had done.”

The students, many of them in middle and high school, came from all over Georgia to assist. As part of Marine Extension, Sanders regularly teaches visiting students about marine life. When students volunteered to clean up, she tried to emphasize the issues surrounding debris.

“The bulk of the plastic comes from land,” Sanders said. “When people think of marine debris, they think of the ocean. I try to emphasize watershed concepts—what happens upstream ultimately gets downstream.”

“It can take years for plastic to degrade,” Lee said, adding, “80 percent of the plastic found at Wassaw turned out to be fragments. The fragments then spread and can have a number of environmental effects.”

Sanders says that since plastic debris is everywhere on the coast, it has to be addressed and reported efficiently to reduce its effects.

“There are proactive and reactive approaches to the issues of marine debris, and both are important,” she said. “We’ve been reactive so far by picking up debris. The proactive approach is our role in educating the public and researching the negative impacts of marine debris.”

The study was supported by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Incentive Grant, NOAA Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative and the NOAA Marine Debris Program.

The full article on “The amount and accumulation rate of plastic debris on marshes and beaches on the Georgia coast” is available at www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X14008200#.

 

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.

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.

Scientists use underwater robots to excite students about science

March 3, 2014

Can underwater robots catch the imagination of middle and high school students and spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics? Researchers and educators from the University of Georgia’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and Marine Extension (MAREX) think so. They are creating an education program focused on autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), also called gliders or underwater robots.

The program, “Choose Your Own Adventure,” will capitalize 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 will direct the one-year project.

Catherine Edwards (center) demonstrates an AUV to Mary Sweeney-Reeves (left) and Mare Timmons.

Catherine Edwards (center) demonstrates an AUV to Mary Sweeney-Reeves (left) and Mare Timmons.

The AUVs are a cutting-edge technology in marine research. The torpedo-shaped vehicles can be equipped with sensors and recorders to collect observations under all conditions. They are launched into the ocean and move through the water by adjusting their buoyancy and pitch. Because they are highly energy-efficient, gliders can remain on a mission for weeks at a time. Every four to six hours over their mission, they surface, report their data by satellite phone and receive instructions as needed.

Skidaway Institute’s AUV, nicknamed “Modena,” has been used in several recent projects, including “Gliderpalooza,” a simultaneous, cooperative launch of 13 AUVs from different institutions in 2013.

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

The proposed work will highlight the problem of working with the strong tides that are characteristic of the Georgia coast. A big issue in operating gliders there is developing a guidance and navigation system that will function well in that kind of environment. 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.

However, on the education side, the predictability of tides makes the proposed program highly intuitive and education-friendly.

“Students who grow up and live on the water already have an intuitive sense of tidal currents,” said Timmons. “Students understand why currents change during certain phases of the moon. This coastal intuition will provide a foundation for us to start an innovative, hands-on approach to STEM activities.”

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

To address the problem of strong tides, Edwards and a team of Georgia Tech graduate students, co-advised by Fumin Zhang, have developed the Glider Environmental Network Information System, called GENIoS, which optimizes a glider’s path based on data from real-time observations and ocean models. Current doctoral students Dongsik Chang and Sungjin Cho are working to upgrade the system to integrate real-time maps of surface currents measured by Skidaway Institute radar systems.

The education plan is to involve two local educators, April Meeks and Ben Wells, who teach in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System. Since the activities are multidisciplinary, their expertise in building math curriculum will be valuable as the team integrates concepts of marine science, math and engineering into classroom activities.

“After the initial planning phase, we will be taking the program on the road to Chatham County schools,” said Sweeney-Reeves.

Activities will include student role-playing as an AUV maneuvers through a playing field of vector currents on a large game board. Successful arrival at their destination depends on how the individual pilot responds to currents, wind and density changes in route.

“The real fun will begin when obstacles, like underwater volcanoes, a giant squid or other surprises, cause the pilot to reroute the course of the AUV,” said Sweeney-Reeves.

The activities will 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.

The funded study will include two short glider deployments. A summer 2014 deployment will be used for field-testing, software validation and developing real-world scenarios for the outreach program. A fall deployment will serve as an opportunity for classroom participants to communicate with the glider in real time.

“We hope this one-year program will serve as a springboard for future funding and continued joint outreach by Skidaway Institute and Marine Extension,” said Edwards. “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 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.

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.

 

Plastics pollution a widespread problem on the Georgia Coast

July 5, 2012

No part of the Georgia coast is protected from pollution by plastics and other marine debris. That is one finding of a study conducted by Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientists Jay Brandes and Dick Lee.

The scientists studied the collection totals from beach clean-up programs by environmental groups like Clean Coast and the Tybee Beautification Association and Rivers Alive. They found that while beach-sweep programs at populated spots like Tybee Island collect the most plastic, even sweeps in relatively remote locations like Cumberland and Ossabaw Islands collect a sizeable haul. A 2007 beach sweep on Tybee by the Tybee Beautification Association and Rivers Alive collected 5,400 pounds of plastic. In similar clean-ups by Clean Coast in 2009, volunteers collected 1,100 pounds on Cumberland Island and 750 pounds on Ossabaw Island.

The places with the largest amount of plastics accumulation were Tybee Island, Little Tybee Island, Turner’s Creek and Pigeon Island.

“It is interesting that some of the beaches receiving relatively low numbers of visitors, such as Blackbeard Island and Cumberland Island, still have relatively high amounts of plastic debris,” Brandes said. “This suggests that the source of plastics on remote beaches is the surrounding coastal waters that contain plastics from both inland and the coast.”

The Skidaway Institute researchers focused their attention on plastics for several reasons. Plastics tend to be very durable and persist in the environment for long periods of time.  Also, relatively small pieces of plastic can be a threat to marine animals. Fish sometime eat the plastics, which can block their digestive systems. Sometimes harmful contaminants tend to cling to plastic and can be ingested when the plastic is eaten.

“Plastics pollution has been getting a lot of attention recently, especially those large gyres, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Brandes. “But most of those plastics are coming from land and that means that most of the plastic in our environment is going to remain near the shore.”

For this study, the scientists were restricted to analyzing data provided by the various beach clean-up groups. The problem is these groups are, understandably, usually more concerned about cleaning up the beach than sorting types of debris they collect. Based on earlier studies of marine debris and limited sorting that has been done during some cleanups, the research team worked under the assumption that one half of the total material collected was comprised of plastics.

The plastics problem is not limited to coolers and plastic cups. According to Brandes, many of the larger plastic objects eventually become broken down into smaller pieces, as tiny as a grain of sand. They may remain suspended in the water column. Brandes has found these micro-plastic particles while collecting samples for other projects.

“Right now, very little is known about what kind of impact these micro-plastics might be having on fish or other parts of the marine ecosystem,” said Brandes.

Students in the Marine Debris program weight some of the material they have collected on the north beach of Wassaw Island.

To help with the problem of understanding what kinds of plastics foul our beaches and marshes, Skidaway Institute scientists are collecting additional data on marine plastics and other debris though a cooperative educational program, “Marine Debris,” with the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service.

“Marine Debris” is a hands-on, interactive program that incorporates the topic of marine debris with an emphasis on plastic debris along the coast of Georgia. Students and their teachers are conducting shoreline marine debris surveys on Wassaw Island to determine types of marine debris, weight of plastics collected and accumulation rates for the designated site. The students are compiling the data using the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Accumulation Survey protocol. The data is being submitted to the Southeast Marine Debris Initiative data base.

A great day-trip to Ossawbaw Island

March 4, 2011

A team of Skidaway Institute scientists visited Ossawbaw Island this week.

The beach

One of the main reasons for the trip was to perform some maintenance on the Barrier Island Network.

Skidaway Institute is one of a group of organizations developing a network of cameras and sensors that will turn the island into a remote laboratory for researchers and students. Right now the network consists of a weather station, a water monitoring sensor at the main dock, two more in wells in the interior of the island and a camera at the dock. You can access the pictures and data here.

(l-r) Herb Windom, Bob Antonelli, Charles Robertson, Sam Cook and Debbie Wells examine a a sensor that spent a little too much time in salt water.

The technical crew needed to change out the sensor at the dock and install a sensor in one of the wells. Long-term exposure to salt water is very rough on scientific equipment.

We got around mostly in pick-up trucks.

Also, the geology team of Clark Alexander and Mike Robinson tramped through the woods to find a good site to obtain core samples.

Clark Alexander and Mike Robinson emptying a core.

That is part of a project to date the origin of the island.

Kathryn Sutton at the beach with her air sampling gear.

Georgia Southern grad student Kathryn Sutton also went along to obtain air samples from the beach and to collect Spanish moss for her research project looking at the possibility of using Spanish moss as a bio-indicator of atmospheric mercury from coal-fired power plants.

The team also placed a new sensor in one of the two research wells on the island.

Sam Cook (Siemitsu Computers) and Bob Antonelli hook up the well sensor while Charles Robertson looks on.

We didn’t see a lot of wildlife this time around. The fresh water ponds are low, which probably keeps the alligators away from the various causeways. Herb Windom and Paul Pressly (Ossabaw Foundation) did meet one of the island’s pet pigs, “Paul Mitchell.”

Heb Windom and Paul Pressly meet "Paul Mitchell."

It was a beautiful day and the island scenes were, as always, a treat.

A dead tree on the Ossabaw beach

Dead palm trees

An Ossabaw Island saltmarsh

Skidaway Institute introduces new coastal management tools

November 23, 2010

Scientists from the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography have introduced a powerful new tool to monitor coastal erosion to coastal planners and managers.

The digital tool, AMBUR (Analyzing Moving Boundaries Using R), was developed to analyze shoreline change along barrier islands with complex shapes and highly curved shorelines.

“One of the issues in dealing with a constantly changing coastline, like ours here in Georgia, is just getting a good picture of the changes over time,” said Clark Alexander, a Skidaway Institute scientist. “AMBUR was developed to do just that.”

An analyst using AMBUR can take data from maps, aerial photographs or raw GPS data and use it to compute erosion and accretion rates in complex situations.

AMBUR was developed by Chester Jackson as his doctoral project at the University of Georgia. Jackson is currently on the faculty of Georgia Southern University and is a partner in this series of workshops. David Bush of the University of West Georgia is also working with Alexander and Jackson.

The three scientists introduced AMBUR to Georgia coastal managers and planners in a workshop in mid-November. Attendance included 8 GIS professionals representing Camden, Glynn, Chatham and McIntosh Counties, the City of Kingsland, the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Coastal Regional Council.

Workshop participants learn the art of beach profiling on Tybee Island beach.

Two additional workshops were held to present the program to non-governmental groups who are interested in monitoring shoreline changes. The two programs were held on Tybee Island and Jekyll Island, and attracted 16 interested observers representing Friends of Sapelo, the Jekyll 4-H Center, the King and Prince Hotel, the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Tybee Island Beach Task force, the City of Tybee and the Burton 4-H Center

The AMBUR project is funded by a Coastal Hazards grant from the Georgia Sea Grant Program. Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Resources Division also partnered on the project.