The Roebling barn in perspective

by Debbie Jahnke

Editor’s notes: Debbie and Rick Jahnke were long-time members of the Skidaway Institute family. Rick was a faculty scientist and, for several months, interim director of the institute. Debbie was his research coordinator. They both retired in 2008 and moved to Port Townsend, Wash.

In March of this year, the Georgia General Assembly approved a $ 3 million bond issue to renovate and repurpose the barn into usable laboratory and meeting space.

In 1986, Rick Jahnke interviewed for a faculty position at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. At the time, he was a research scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Rick returned home to San Diego with the impression that he wouldn’t be hired because Stuart Wakeham had also interviewed for the position and would undoubtedly be selected. Instead, Skidaway Institute came up with the funds for two positions and hired both Rick and Stuart.

Rick’s start-up requests to Skidaway Institute were modest: a germanium detector and a desktop computer. He also requested lab and office space in the Roebling building and a staging lab in the barn for maintenance, repair and modification of his various seagoing autonomous vehicles. The barn was nearly perfect for that purpose, with plenty of storage space and a central open area that allowed loading and offloading of equipment with a hand-winched pulley system.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARick didn’t need any extra space for me and, instead, split his office with a wall so there was a spot just big enough for my desk and a “labradog” named Daisy. I was the analytical tech for his research and he hired an equipment tech for the seagoing operations. The barn lab operations expanded to the second floor of the barn when it became clear that anyone interested in measuring natural levels of C-14 wasn’t going to be able to do it in many existing Skidaway Institute labs. In the free-form early days of productivity measurements, enough C-14 made it into the ambient spaces of many Skidaway Institute labs that C-14 dating indicated that our labs existed about 50,000 years in the future. The levels of so-called contamination were in no way concerning for health or safety, but they made natural abundance measurements impossible without a ‘clean’ space for sample storage. The bright yellow room with the pink and green interior and cold room on the second floor of the barn were the result.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom those barn labs, autonomous vehicles were staged, packed and deployed for oceanographic research off western Africa, Peru, Panama, New Guinea, deep shelves off Cape Hatteras, California, Oregon and other locations, as well as the Georgia shelf. Samples were returned and stored in the yellow lab upstairs.

The barn provided another opportunity for me when I was drafted in a weak moment to try to improve what was quite dismal visitor housing at Skidaway Institute in the 1980s. The first housing we made habitable was the barn apartment. As we worked through the process of getting three NSF grants for housing, we also were able to set up a small laundry room in the barn so that volunteers could keep clean linens in the housing we did have. The first successful grant built the quadraplex (Menzel, Zeigler, Carpenter and Knight apartments). The second grant rehabilitated the housing that existed since the plantation days (the barn apartment, now renamed Baggett, Rice House, Thomas and Martin apartments). The third grant built the Commons. I spent many hours in that barn laundry room while most of my weekends and holidays were spent cleaning housing units before the institute finally figured out how to pay someone to do that as a real job.

Rick and I retired in 2008 and headed west with our five cats. All I know of the modern Skidaway Institute is what I read on the website and Facebook pages and occasional emails from friends still there. Skidaway was wonderful to us and the barn was a big part of the ease with which our research was facilitated. It was with considerable pleasure that we learned of the grand and useful future being planned for the good old barn.

Donna Rutter joins Skidaway Institute’s business office

Donna Rutter is UGA Skidaway Institute’s new procurement specialist.


Donna is originally from Pennsylvania, but has lived in the Kennesaw, Ga. area for the past 33 years.

“I recently decided I needed a change for various reasons and when I saw the posting for this position, I thought Savannah was absolutely a great choice,” she said. Donna is a member of the first graduating class of Lassiter High School which has always been one of the highest rated schools in Georgia. She is a certified purchasing technician who comes to Skidaway from a four year stint at Chattahoochee Technical College.

Donna has two children.  “My 20-year-old son, T.J., was awarded a full scholarship at Princeton last year but has not gone yet,” she said. “My 13-year-old daughter, Dakota Rose, is exceptionally gifted as well, loves to sing and dance on stage and is on her way to high school next year.  Both are very artistic and are my pride and joy!”

Donna says she is a diehard NASCAR fan and a recreational artist in just about every medium, such as drawing, painting and sculpture.  She also loves to garden. “Bingo is a rockin’ good time to me!” she exclaimed. “I overdose on educational TV along with a heavy portion of guilty pleasure viewing.”

“I used to do my own tune-ups in the 80s, before computer chips. I’ve almost always driven a Camaro Z28, having owned three in the past,” she said. “I will almost always stop for a car show, if possible.”

She owns a previous Futurity Champion Arabian horse which is located in Dallas, Ga.


UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant welcomes Emily Woodward

emily-wEmily Woodward is UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s new public relations coordinator. She’ll be taking over the communications program in place of Jill Gambill, who was recently promoted to UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant’s coastal community resilience specialist and public service assistant. Woodward will be based on Skidaway Island at the Shellfish Research Lab.

In her role, she will work to improve the visibility of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant not only on the coast, but across the state of Georgia by promoting the latest marine research, educational opportunities, and outreach events on behalf of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.

Throughout her professional career, Woodward has communicated the importance of science and natural resource conservation for government agencies, non-government organizations, and academic institutes. She understands the need to educate coastal communities about marine research and how it can be used to inform public policy and coastal management. She believes in the importance of helping humans understand natural systems by explaining their connections to them and the benefits they derive from them.

Most recently, Woodward served as the Communications Specialist at the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve, a program managed through a state and federal partnership between NOAA and the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Coastal Management. Some of her projects involved leading a communications and outreach campaign promoting the use of living shorelines for erosion control, writing articles focused on marine ecology and water quality research, and assisting with K-12 educational programs and training workshops designed for technical and real estate professionals. She has her bachelor’s degree in English from North Carolina State University.

Kimberly Roberson new research coordinator at Gray’s Reef

kim-roberson-wKimberly Roberson is the new research coordinator for Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.

Kimberly began working with NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s Biogeography Branch in 2005 and joined the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in 2016. Kim received her bachelor of science degree from Berry College in Rome, Ga. She earned her master of science degree from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia where she conducted research on leatherback sea turtles, using genetics to explore connectivity between nesting populations and pelagic individuals. Prior to NOAA, Kim worked with the National Park Service in St. Croix, USVI, conducting research and implementing conservation measures on endangered and threatened species.

Kim uses diving as a tool for research and has been a NOAA certified diver since 2005 and a NOAA divemaster since 2006. She served as the National Ocean Service Diving Officer for three years and chaired the NOAA Diving Control and Safety Board for two years. Her early NOAA work had her diving, conducting fish counts and assessing the potential research area boundaries of Gray’s Reef.

Kim is originally from Tennessee and developed a love for the ocean during family vacations to the coast. She enjoys spending time outside, running, swimming, playing and exploring with her husband and two young sons.

Georgia Tech-UGA Skidaway Institute grad student defends dissertation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACatherine Edwards’ Ph.D. student, Dongsik Chang, successfully defended his dissertation July 11th in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. His dissertation was titled “Motion Tomography Performed by Underwater Mobile Sensor Networks.” He was co-advised by Catherine and Fumin Zhang of Georgia Tech.

Dongsik started his Ph.D. work in 2010 at the Georgia Tech Savannah campus, and began work with Catherine in 2011 for the NSF-funded Long Bay project. He developed the GENIoS (Glider Environment Networked Information System), which optimizes navigation of gliders based on information from real time model and observational data streams like HF radar, satellites, and operational ocean models. Dongsik’s dissertation defense focused on the concept of “motion tomography” pioneered by the Skidaway Institute/Georgia Tech glider lab. Similar to medical CT, which reconstructs 3-D images of objects, glider motion tomography uses the displacement of a glider by currents to reconstruct features of the flow field.

“His work bridging oceanography and engineering has been demonstrated to improve the quality of the data that can be collected by gliders, and has major implications for generalized fleets of autonomous underwater vehicles,” Catherine said. “Congratulations, Dongsik!”

Aron to chair ASLO session

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUGA Skidaway Institute researcher Aron Stubbins will chair a session at the ASLO 2017 Aquatic Sciences Meeting which will be held from February 26 through March 3, 2017 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The title of the session will be “The Biogeochemistry of Dissolved Organic Matter.” The session will highlight novel research into the biogeochemical functions and cycling of dissolved organic matter across multiple aquatic environments from tree tops to the depths of the ocean.

Aron will share the chair with Helena Osterholz and Thorsten Dittmar of Oldenburg University.

More information is available at:

Rivers to Reefs

by Michelle Riley

Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary

In June, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary hosted the 13th annual Rivers to Reefs Workshop for Educators in association with UGA’s Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the Georgia Aquarium and Gordon State College. Cathy Sakas, chair of the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, and Kim Morris-Zarneke, manager of education programs at Georgia Aquarium, served as the primary leaders of the workshop, with assistance from Theresa Stanley of Gordon State College.  Michelle Riley from Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary served as communications lead.

Rivers to Reefs is an educational expedition for teachers, focused on Georgia’s Altamaha River watershed. During the six-day trip, 16 Georgia science teachers canoed the Oconee, Ocmulgee and Altamaha rivers into the Sapelo estuary, crawled through salt marshes, traveled to Gray’s Reef and trawled the Wilmington River. They learned and explored the connections between the watershed and the ocean.

Teachers Marilyn Kinney (foreground) and Candace Bridges collect water samples in Flat Shoals Creek. Photo: Michelle Riley

Teachers Marilyn Kinney (foreground) and Candace Bridges collect water samples in Flat Shoals Creek. Photo: Michelle Riley

The week was packed with activities that most teachers never experience, beginning with a behind-the-scenes orientation at Georgia Aquarium, and it included an offshore trip to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary aboard the first working research vessel the educators had ever seen close up, Skidaway Institute’s R/V Savannah. In between, the group explored creeks, waterfalls, rivers and estuaries, and saw an abundance of flora and fauna. They frequently stopped to collect water samples, conduct water quality tests and record environmental factors to determine the overall health of the creeks and streams that flow to the river system. As the week progressed, the teachers developed an understanding of the profound influence the waters flowing through the Altamaha River watershed have on the health of Gray’s Reef and were inspired to teach their students about environmental responsibility and ocean literacy.

Always a highlight of the workshop, the marsh crawl on Sapelo Island was a memorable  experience. The group sloshed on their bellies through the thick dark mud to learn why marshes are considered some of the most important and productive habitats on earth. The estuary that encompasses the salt marsh, where the freshwater from the Altamaha River mixes with the saltwater of the Atlantic, is one of the largest estuary systems on the Atlantic coast.

Waters were calm for the voyage out to Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary on the R/V Savannah under the command of Captain John Bichy, marine superintendent at UGA Skidaway Institute. With extensive assistance from the R/V Savannah crew, the teachers conducted water quality tests at three separate points in the ocean. Meanwhile, the ship’s crew pulled a trawl net through the ocean at midwater depth and brought in many interesting fish, a large pile of Georgia shrimp and a handful of sharks, including a hammerhead and a small Atlantic sharpnose shark. During the trip, the teachers were delighted when they were treated to lessons by Professor Marc Frischer of Skidaway Institute on black gill in shrimp and on pelagic tunicates called doliolids. While in the sanctuary, the crew deployed an underwater camera to allow the teachers to see the reef and its sea creatures in real time, without getting wet.

A group shot on board the R/V Savannah.

A group shot on board the R/V Savannah.

On the final day of Rivers to Reefs, the teachers boarded UGA’s R/V Sea Dawg, a smaller vessel used by the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium, a unit of the UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Captain John “Crawfish” Crawford and Anne Lindsay, associate director for marine education, conducted a field class during the two-hour trawling voyage in the Wilmington River. The teachers recorded the catch for research purposes and ended their trip with a wrap-up by Frischer and the expedition leaders, before scattering across Georgia with great memories and a treasure trove of experiences to pass on to their students this fall.