Posts Tagged ‘Georgia coast’

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

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Skidaway microplastics study get’s front-page coverage

January 27, 2016
Samples of microplastic particles collected off the Georgia coast

Samples of microplastic particles collected off the Georgia coast

A “just-starting” research project into the extent of microplastics pollution on the Georgia coast was featured on the front page of this morning’s Savannah Morning News. Hat’s off to Skidaway Institute’s Jay Brandes and UGA Marine Extension’s Dodie Sanders.

http://savannahnow.com/news/2016-01-26/skidaway-researchers-look-plastics-local-shrimp-fish

Georgia Sea Grant makes awards to Skidaway Institute researchers

December 7, 2015

There was a nice article on the front page of this morning’s, Savannah Morning News. It highlighted three UGA Skidaway Institute research project that have received funding approval from Georgia Sea Grant.

You can read it here. 

UGA researchers study microplastics on Georgia coast

December 3, 2015

Images such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have attracted much attention to the problem of large-size marine debris, but another serious issue has garnered less visibility—marine microplastics. University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientists Jay Brandes and Thais Bittar and UGA Marine Extension educator Dodie Sanders are hoping to change that and have received funding from Georgia Sea Grant to examine the extent of the microplastics problem along the Georgia coast.

Samples of microplastic particles collected off the Georgia coast

Samples of microplastic particles collected off the Georgia coast

Microplastics are particles smaller than five millimeters in size (about one fifth of an inch). They have many sources, from manufactured particles like microbeads used in cosmetics and skin cleaning creams to plastic pieces formed from the breakdown of larger debris. Microplastics are often consumed by marine organisms and may cause them significant harm. Until now, there has been no study on the possible extent of microplastic pollution in Georgia estuarine waters and the organisms that live there.

The project has three primary goals: The researchers will quantify the amount of plastics found in the gut contents of shellfish, fish and shrimp; determine the types of plastic pollution ingested by Georgia estuarine organisms; and educate stakeholders, the public, educators and their students about the issue of microplastic pollution.

The research team will collect marine organisms through the trawls routinely conducted by UGA Marine Extension and will separate, identify and measure the microplastics they find in the fish. As a part of its regular K-12 educational programs, Marine Extension conducts nearly 60 trawls annually and collects fish, shrimp and other organisms to assess the composition and health of local food webs.

“With this information, we expect to get a pretty good idea of how serious the microplastics problem is here in Georgia,” Brandes said.

The team will integrate the entire process into the UGA Marine Extension’s ongoing education programs. They will involve regional educators and their students in both sampling and counting efforts as part of overall marine debris educational programs.

Teachers participating in a summer workshop sift through the sand of Tybee Island in search of microplastic particles.

Teachers participating in a summer workshop sift through the sand of Tybee Island in search of microplastic particles.

The trawls will be conducted with the assistance of visiting school groups, composed of roughly 20 students each. During the trawls, the various species will be identified and counted by the students.  In addition, discussions of microplastic pollution and the potential of ingestion by marine life will be incorporated into the year-round education programs at Marine Extension, such as a fish dissection lab, the invertebrate lab and the plankton lab.

The researchers also plan to enhance an existing marine debris exhibit in the UGA Aquarium by adding a microplastic component.

The UGA Aquarium, UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant are all part of the university’s Office of Public Service and Outreach.

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#.

 

Skidaway Institute scientist presents coastal hazard program

April 29, 2013
Clark Alexander

Clark Alexander

The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Clark Alexander will present an informative and visual program on threats to the Georgia Coast in an “Evening @ Skidaway” reception and lecture on Tuesday, May 21, on the campus of Skidaway Institute.

The program will begin at 6:15 p.m. with a reception at the University of Georgia MAREX Aquarium to be followed by the science talk at 7:15 p.m. in the McGowan Library Auditorium.

The program is open to the public and admission is free.

Alexander’s talk is titled, “Coastal Crystal Ball: A Look at the Future of Georgia’s Changing Coastline.” Drawing on two decades of work in the area, Alexander will discuss coastal hazards relevant to Georgia, such as storms, beach erosion and sea level rise. He will introduce the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal, a web-based tool that anyone can use to assess their specific exposure to coastal hazards, and present up-to-the-minute results of ongoing research to better quantify coastal Georgia’s hazard vulnerability.

The reception will include a demonstration of the Georgia Coastal Hazards Portal display located at the Aquarium.

Seating is limited. Please reserve seats by calling (912) 598-2325 or email to mike.sullivan@skio.usg.edu.

An “Evening @ Skidaway” is sponsored by the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and the Skidaway Marine Science Foundation.

Is the oil coming to Georgia? (Update 5-24)

May 21, 2010

Updated 2:25 pm EDT May 24

We have been getting questions over the past few days about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Is it going to make it into the Gulf Stream, and if so, will it end up affecting the Georgia coast?”

Here the current analysis from Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Drs. Jay Brandes and Dana Savidge contributed their input to this briefing.

Much of the concern about the oil spill and the Georgia coast centers on the possibility of oil becoming entrained in the Loop Current. At present the position of the Loop Current is southward of the Deep Horizon well, so that most of the spilled oil has not been entrained into this strong current.

Graphic by Anna Boyette, Skidaway Inst.

However there are indications that some oil has begun traveling southwards on a section of the Loop current. Any oil that is entrained may eventually pass offshore of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. The Loop Current is a continuous feature that exits the Gulf south of Florida and passes through the Florida Straits where it becomes known as the Florida Current (especially off Florida) or Gulf Stream. Along the east coast the flow strengthens somewhat from contributions from the Antilles Current and recirculations on the offshore side. All the named portions are known collectively as the Gulf Stream System.

The average velocity experienced by oil entrained in the edge of the Gulf Stream should be about 1 mph, or about a half a degree of latitude per day, so it would be 2-3 weeks from the earliest knows entrainment on May 17 before that first surface oil gets here.

Oil is degraded by sunlight and consumed by microorganisms. With the warm waters and intense sunshine of the Gulf of Mexico and the nearby Atlantic Ocean, those processes should be much more effective than they were during the Exxon Valdez spill. The oil will also be transformed by dilution and mixing with saltwater to become tar balls and denser oil-saltwater mixtures, which may not all be at the surface. Where and when that deeper part goes is harder to predict. Light and microbial degradation may not be as effective down deeper, and tar balls are more impervious to microbial degradation than surface oil slicks. Lifetime of the impervious tar balls in the ocean is estimated at about 1 year.

When the oil does make it into the Gulf Stream, one factor that will help protect the Georgia coast is that the Gulf Stream runs roughly 75 miles off the coast. Since the Gulf Stream is a much deeper current (about ½ mile deep) than the shallow continental shelf (about a tenth as deep as the Gulf Stream) that fringes the coastline, it does not flow near shore, but tends to hug the edge of Georgia’s broad continental shelf. Florida and North Carolina are at higher risk because their shelves are much narrower so the Gulf Stream is closer to beaches, marshes, mangroves, and sounds.

Once off the Georgia coast in the Gulf Stream, surviving entrained oil, mixtures, and tarballs would have to get across our broad shelf somehow before it could affect the beaches and marshes. Unfortunately the processes that might do that are poorly quantified or understood, so it could happen. An extreme event, like a hurricane, could potentially push oil in the Gulf Stream onto the shelf perhaps even as far as the Georgia coast. Other avenues may exist that can potentially move oil onshore as well.

However there was a previous similar incident in 1979 when the IXTOC I oil spill occurred, pumping about 20,000 barrels of oil per day for 8 months from a well west of the Yucatan Peninsula. Some of that oil was also eventually entrained in the Loop Current. Skidaway researchers sampled 10 months after the blowout off Savannah, Ga. and New Smyrna Beach Fla., and found tar balls in the Gulf Stream and on outer shelf, but no evidence of tar balls within 40 miles of the coast. Ultimately about 200 miles of Texas coastline was significantly affected.

Skidaway Institute will be able to monitor the surface ocean currents on the Georgia shelf with our coastal radar system. This system measures surface currents out into the Gulf Stream and from the Georgia-Florida state line north into South Carolina. With it, we can better gauge the potential threat to the Georgia coast from any oil that manages to get onto our continental shelf.  Unfortunately, while the entire west coast and the northeast coast of the U.S are monitored by similar radars, coverage in the southeast and the Gulf is very sparse.  You can see our coverage in the southeast here:

and in the entire country here:

Skidaway Institute is part of a consortium of research institutions called SECOORA (Southeast Costal Ocean Observation Regional Association). Our fellow SECOORA partners are also monitoring the progress of any oil in the Loop Current and Gulf Stream.

One of our SECOORA partners, the University of South Florida, has an excellent video of the projections based on several models. You can see it here.

Notice that the models don’t all predict the same paths.  Modeling is difficult in areas of the ocean where there are few real world observations to improve the model’s performance with.  Forecasters look at several models, and use their experience and good sense to predict which is most correct under different circumstances.

Skidaway Institute researcher maps armored shorelines

December 10, 2009

Skidaway Institute of Oceanography researcher Karrie Brinkley has spent a lot of time in recent months traveling up and down Georgia’s coastal waterways in boats and canoes with maps and binoculars in hand. Brinkley is working on a project to identify and map all the armored shorelines in the state’s six coastal counties.

Brinkley has been looking for bulkheads, causeways and rip-rap – the piles or rock or concrete frequently used to stabilize a shore or river bank. The purpose of the study is to establish a baseline set of data to help understand and project the effect of rising sea level on the Georgia coast.

Karrie Brinkley examines a bulkhead armored shoreline on Skidaway Island.

“The shorelines are going to act differently as the sea level rises, depending on whether they are armored or not,” said Brinkley. “In this project, we want to see how much of the coast is armored and what type of armory is being used for individual sections as well as the entire coast.”

Brinkley is working under the guidance of Skidaway Institute professor Clark Alexander. He says that currently the oceans are rising at approximately three millimeters per year, or roughly a foot per century, however many scientists project that rate could double, triple or quadruple in coming decades. This could have a tremendous impact on coastal areas.

“One environmental area of concern is the salt marshes,” said Alexander. “If the sea level gradually rises along a natural coast, the salt marshes that thrive in the intertidal zone will gradually migrate to the upland.

“However, if a section is armored, the intertidal zone may become completely submerged, and we would lose the function of the salt marsh in that area.”

The study is funded by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, under the umbrella of a larger Environmental Protection Agency project. Geographically, Brinkley is studying all the coastal shores, from the beaches westward to either Interstate 95 or US Highway 17, which ever is further to the west.

For the first ten months of the project, Brinkley spent her time in front of a computer, studying aerial photographs of the coastal counties. Using a Geographical Information System program, she electronically marked the photos to indicate causeways, bulkheads, rip-rap and other shoreline armor.

An aerial photo of Wilmington Island showing causeways in purple and shoreline armor in yellow.

“Depending on the resolution of the photography, you can identify a lot from the photos,” Brinkley said. “Bulkheads show up as straight lines, and the bright stones of concrete rip-rap are fairly obvious as well.”

There are still many areas that Brinkley cannot characterize from the aerial photographs due to poor resolution, foliage overhangs or other reasons. Even the tide cycle when the aerial photography was shot can affect how much information can be gleaned from the photos. “A high tide may cover some rip-rap and make it invisible in the aerial photograph,” Brinkley said.

For those sections, she gets in a car, a boat or a canoe and visits the sites personally.

Once completed, the project will be shared with officials in Georgia’s coastal counties. Brinkley expects to have the project completed early in 2010.