Monthly Archives: September 2015


Butts for Mutts!

Butts for Mutts Flyer 2015 w


Skidaway scientists work to predict 22nd century look of the Georgia coast

Clark Alexander and his team are working on a project to predict how the Georgia coast—characterized by a complex system of barrier islands, salt marshes, estuaries, tidal creeks and rivers—may look 25, 50 and 100 years from now. As sea level rises over the next century, that picture is changing.

Predictions of sea level rise over the next century vary from the current rate of roughly 30 centimeters—about a foot—to as much as two meters—about 6 feet. Although scientists disagree on the ultimate height of the rise, they all agree that salty water is moving inland and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, Alexander said. Here on the Georgia coast, islands will become smaller or disappear entirely; salt marshes will be inundated by the rising waters and migrate towards the uplands; and some low-lying uplands will become salt marshes.

To predict the extent of these changes, scientists are using the predictive Sea Level Affecting Marshes Model, or SLAMM, which was originally developed for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

SLAMM predicts the effects of future sea level rise based on two key inputs: an elevation mapping of the coastal zone and salinity profiles up the rivers and waterways. Salinity and elevation are two key factors that determine the type of plants, and thus habitat, that will be present at any particular location.

“As sea level rises, the fresh water in rivers will be pushed further upstream,” Alexander said. “The brackish and salty water will also move up, and the salt marshes will expand.”

LeeAnn DeLeo lowers a conductivity-temperature-depth sensor through the water column.

LeeAnn DeLeo lowers a conductivity-temperature-depth sensor through the water column.

Funded by a Coastal Incentive Grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Program, Alexander and his team have been studying the five key river systems along the coast and numerous salt marsh estuaries. Salinity along the coast is dominantly affected by river discharge into the estuaries, so the team has been conducting its surveys during both winter—high river flow—and the summer—low river flow—conditions.

“We start at the mouth of a river about an hour before high tide and then we follow that high tide up the river, mapping the surface salinity along the way,” Alexander said. “We find the maximum inshore intrusion of salinity at high tide during a spring tide. That is the location that defines the boundary between the brackish marshes and the freshwater marshes.”

In addition to tracking surface salinity, the researchers also stop periodically and measure the salinity throughout the water column to determine if what they measure at the surface is similar to what is present near the bottom. They lower a device that measures the water conductivity (which is related to salinity), temperature and depth from the surface to the bottom. Also equipped with GPS capability, the device automatically captures the location of every water column profile.

Mike Robinson adjusts the monitoring system while LeeAnn DeLeo drives the boat.

Mike Robinson adjusts the monitoring system while LeeAnn DeLeo drives the boat.

In many coastal regions, denser, saltier water tends to sink to the bottom and the lighter, fresh water remains near the surface. However, because of the energy produced by Georgia’s wide tidal range, the team found that most of the water on the Georgia coast is well mixed and doesn’t show up as layers.

The second part of the project is to fine-tune existing elevation data. Scientists have an extensive set of elevation information from airplane-mounted Light Detection And Ranging systems. LIDAR is usually very accurate, except in marshes, because it cannot see through the vegetation to the actual ground surface.

“You might be off by 30 centimeters or more, and in a low-lying, flat area like our coastal zone, that can make a big difference in predicting where the water will flood,” Alexander said.

The Skidaway Institute team is working with Georgia Southern University scientist Christine Hladik on a fix. By comparing LIDAR data with the true elevation in a particular area, Hladik observed that the LIDAR error varied according to the type of plants growing there. For example, if the area contained the dense, tall spartina, the error was large and, on average, a consistent number of centimeters. If the region was covered with a different, less-dense-growing salt marsh plant, like short spartina, the error was smaller but also consistent.

“She discovered that if you know what type of vegetation is covering a section of marshland, you can plug in the correction and come back with an accurate measure of the elevation,” Alexander said.

The research team observed the vegetation and measured the true ground level at 400 randomly selected points throughout coastal brackish and salt marshes in Georgia. That information and knowledge of plant types is being used to correct the existing marsh elevations.

The research team will complete one more set of river surveys before the project ends in September. Alexander hopes to obtain continued funding to use this newly acquired elevation and salinity data in a fresh SLAMM model run for the Georgia coast, using all the high-resolution data developed in this project.

“We should be able to look out as much as 100 years in the future and see where the different wetlands will be by then,” he said. “That way we can plan for marsh sustainability, retreat and sea level rise.”


MAREX intern class on campus

The 2015-16 class of Georgia Sea Grant interns has arrived at Marine Extension.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKayla Clark is from Old Chatham, N.Y. She recieved a B.A. in sociology with a minor in marine science from Smith College in Northampton, Mass.  Before coming to intern at Marine Extension, Kayla worked as an environmental educator for Coral Reef Ed-Ventures in San Pedro, Belize, the Alabama Four-H Center Science School, and the New York Aquarium.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJessica Hernandez grew up in Bakersfield, Calf. with, according to her, “the valley at her feet, a trio of mountain ranges in her backyard, and the ocean never more than a short drive to the west.”

She graduated from Pomona College last May with a B.A. in biology. Throughout college she had opportunities to research diet patterns of Chinstrap penguins; osmoregulation in Australian White’s tree frogs; homing behavior of northern spring salamanders; and the effects of urbanization on testosterone levels in male Western fence lizards. This summer she interned at the Bald Head Island Conservancy, where she was able to study and monitor Loggerhead sea turtles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACaitlin Shea-Vantine is from Bridgeport, Conn. She graduated from Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt. with a B.S. in biology. She is very interested in ichthyology and the effects of acidification and climate change. As an undergraduate, she spent a semester abroad studying marine life in the Galapagos Islands. Caitlin has previously held internships with the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Conn., the ECHO Lake and Science Center in Burlington, Vt. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Her marine biology interests began at the Maritime Aquarium marine science summer camp.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesenia Feliciano is from Perth Amboy, N.J, and a 2015 graduate of Stockton University with a B.S. marine Science and a concentration in marine biology.  She worked a summer internship with the New Logic Marine Science Camp in New Jersey in the summer of 2014. In addition Yesenia also did  ROV peer mentoring for Philly Sea Perch last spring  for an underwater robotics course.

“Through these experiences and education, it has inspired me to go further into marine science education and outreach,” she said.  “My goal is to find new ways in helping the general public to become more educated about the marine environment and to find ways for the them to be more active in helping restore the environment as well.”

New tee-shirt designs have arrived


R/V Savannah @ Sunset T-shirt

This white 100% cotton Hanes® tagless Beefy-T® shirt features a large print on the back and small round logo on the front.

The stylized blue on blue art shows the R/V Savannah docked at the Institute at sunset. Skidaway Institute at the top, and  of Oceanography at the bottom.

The left chest logo on the front is the popular boat bullet design in two colors with Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and 1968 in the surround. These shirts are $10 each in S, M, L or XL and $12 for XXL.


Glider Lab T-shirt

This light-weight, heather grey, 52% cotton/48% polyester Bella Canvas® tagless V-neck shirt features a round logo on the front and artwork of the glider lab star Modena on the back.

The front logo reads Modena and Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. The design pays homage to the compass rose design on the floor of the round barn located on the Skidaway campus.

The back artwork is a large drawing of Modena with the text The Glider Lab at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. These shirts are $18 each in S, M, L or XL and $20 for XXL.

See Anna – Room 162 next door to IT in the Dorothy Roebling Laboratory.


Skidaway Institute post-doc stands atop the globe

Skidaway Institute post-doc researcher, Chris Marsay, is on top of the world — literally!

Chris checked in from the North Pole this week. He is taking part in the US GEOTRACES Arctic Expedition on board the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy. The project is part of an international, multiple ice-breaker effort (US, Germany and Canada) to conduct geochemical sampling of the Arctic Ocean. The cruise arrived at the North Pole (90oN) on Sepember 7th in what is the first occupation of the Pole by an unaccompanied surface ship. While at the Pole, the Healy rendezvoused with the German ship which is conducting the German leg of the GEOTRACES Arctic program.

Chris Marsay with the USCGC Healy in the background.

Chris Marsay with the USCGC Healy in the background.

Chris works in Cliff Buck’s lab. Along with colleagues from Florida State University and Rutgers University, the Buck Lab has been funded by the National Science Foundation to collect atmospheric, precipitation and surface water (melt ponds) samples during the cruise.North Pole 2a

“Our research goals are to describe the chemistry of atmospheric deposition to the region and quantify flux rates,” Buck said. “These data will then be shared with the scientific community to better understand biogeochemical cycling of trace elements and isotopes in the Arctic Ocean.”

Chris is aboard the Healy to collect and process these samples. The Healy is scheduled to return to the continental U.S. on October 12.


Joint summer course draws notice

The joint summer course taught partially at Skidaway Institute has received some attention this month.

Taught by Jim Nelson and Dana Savidge at Skidaway, and Mary Ann Moran at Sapelo Island, the new program was the featured, cover story in the most recent issue of the University of Georgia Magazine. (Click the image to access the article.)GM_Sept15 w

A video produced on the project was featured by USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby at the August Board of Regents meeting as part of his report to the board.

BOR Video w

Wagner joins Stubbins’ lab as post-doc

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASasha Wagner is a new post-doc in Aron Stubbins’s lab.

Sasha recently earned her doctorate in environmental chemistry from Florida International University. Her research interests include the reactivity and transport of fire-derived carbon (“black carbon”) in freshwater systems.  Initially considered to be a stable and refractory component of the organic matter pool, black carbon is actually quite dynamic and can be readily mobilized to surface waters where it is highly susceptible to photodegradation.  Sasha also characterizes dissolved organic matter on the molecular level using ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry.  This method reveals unique molecular “fingerprints” which allow for the assessment of environmental effects on dissolved organic matter composition.

Sasha likes to decompress outside of the lab by running or cooking or trying a new type of beer. “ I am also on a quest to find a decent bagel in Savannah,” she says. “Suggestions are welcome!”