Category Archives: Georgia Southern University

Teachers join UGA Skidaway Institute research cruises

A Frischer lab cruise on board the R/V Savannah to hunt and collect doliolids had a pair of extra passengers in May. Two K-12 teachers joined the cruise. JoCasta Green is a pre-K teacher from Decatur, Ga., and Vicki Albritton is a middle school teacher at the STEM Academy here in Savannah. The two  were the second group of teachers to join a cruise this year, as part of a cooperative program between UGA Skidaway Institute and Georgia Southern University’s Institute for Interdisciplinary STEM Education (i2STEM). The goal of the i2STEM  program is to improve the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at all levels from kindergarten through college throughout coastal Georgia.

“I was hoping to see science in action, and I did that all day long,” Albritton said. “I got to participate and learn what was going on and to take many pictures. Now I have a wealth of information to take back to the classroom.”

(l-r) Mike Sullivan, Aurea Rodriguezsanti (Hampton Univ), Natalia Lopez Figueroa (Hampton Univ), Lauren Lamboley, Vicki Albritton, Nick Castellane, JoCasta Green, Marc Frischer, Tina Walters

(l-r) Mike Sullivan, Aurea Rodriguezsanti (Hampton Univ), Natalia Lopez Figueroa (Hampton Univ), Lauren Lamboley, Vicki Albritton, Nick Castellane, JoCasta Green, Marc Frischer, Tina Walters

Albritton says an experience like the cruise raises teachers’ credibility in the classroom, because the students see the teachers going out to learn more themselves. “If I want them to be perpetual learners, then I need to demonstrate that same trait,” she said.

Although Green admitted she was nervous about the cruise initially, she credited the scientists with making her comfortable. “They were great teachers,” she said. “I understood what we were doing and why we were doing it.”

The partnership between UGA Skidaway Institute and i2STEM is expected to grow. Five additional doliolid cruises are scheduled this year with space available for as many as four teachers on each cruise. UGA Skidaway Institute will also offer two half-day cruises this month as part of i2STEM’s summer professional development workshop for teachers.


Lots of new faces on campus this summer

As always, the summer season has brought a group of new people to the Skidaway campus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlex Goranov is an intern in Aron Stubbins’s lab. He is majoring in chemistry at Ramapo College of New Jersey and plans on pursuing a career in teaching and researching chemical oceanography. His research interests are in instrumental analysis, biogeochemistry and the chemical ecology of plants and invertebrates. Alex has past research experiences in Australia and the Turks and Caicos Islands. In his free time he likes to travel (He has been to 40 countries.) and SCUBA dive.



Emily Palmer is also interning in the Stubbins Lab. Emily grew up in Richmond Va. and now attends the University of South Carolina. She is a rising senior, majoring in marine science with an emphasis in biology. Emily would eventually like to conduct research on whales, but, she says, she is starting small.  Currently at USC, she is researching zooplankton and their Redfield stoichiometry with different depths, size fractions, time of day and season. Her biggest hobby is SCUBA diving, and she is in the process of training to be a dive control specialist.


Max Liao is a grad student in the Stubbins Lab. He is pursuing a master’s degree in biological engineering at the University of Georgia. While here at Skidaway, he will be constructing a dissolved organic carbon analyzer compatible with ocean water sampling. This device should help scientists gain more precise measurements of the carbon processes in aquatic samples. Max grew up in Georgia and went to Georgia  Tech for his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering. His main hobbies are cooking, yoga, cycling, sports, piano and guitar.


Justin Holliday is interning with Bill Savidge. He is originally from Greenwood, S.C. and is a senior at the University of South Carolina. Justin is majoring in geophysics with a minor in mathematics.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACarter Percy is another Savidge Lab intern. Carter is a fourth-year environmental engineering major with a minor in ecology at the University of Georgia. “These two together have given me knowledge of how ecosystem services can be used, rather than artificial systems, to solve engineering problems,” he said.  After graduation, Carter would like to hike the Te Araroa Trail  across New Zealand before becoming an engineer for a few years and, ultimately, teaching environmental science at a high school. His hobbies include rock climbing, running, backpacking and road tripping. One random fact about Carter is he is a pescatarian.


Colby Peffer is interning with Clark Alexander. Colby is an oceanography major with geospatial analysis and scientific diving minors at Humboldt State University in California (Clark’s undergraduate alma mater). She is scheduled to graduate in spring 2017. She is originally from Los Angeles County. Colby’s interests include coastal restoration and management, although she says “I really enjoy getting experience in everything that I can get my hands on.” She participated in research in the past involving dune surveying and restoration, nitrogen inventories for Humboldt Bay and trace metal analysis. Her outside interests include her three horses, scuba diving and outdoor rock climbing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANick Veronesi is also interning in the Alexander Lab. Nick is from Westfield, Massachusetts and just finished his sophomore year at the University of South Carolina, where he is majoring in marine science and geographic information systems. He is considering a minor in journalism or English because of his immense passion for writing. “I was the managing editor for my high school for one year and currently write sports articles for both S.C. sports and professional sports. I write for the Miami Marlins, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, Denver Nuggets, and a couple of other teams on the occasion,” he said. You can find his articles at He has also produced videos covering Gamecock sports which can be viewed

Chad Larsen wAt Gray’s Reef, Chad Larsen is a public relations intern with Michelle Riley. Chad is a recent graduate of Georgia Southern University with a B.S. in public relations. Originally from the metro-Atlanta area, he came south to escape the city life and to be closer to the coast. He became the first-ever public relations intern for Gray’s Reef because of their recent shift in focus toward raising public knowledge. Chad was a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity and spends his weekends bartending at Dingus Magee’s, a popular bar in Statesboro. After his internship, he will return to Atlanta to work at a public relations firm.

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.”


Georgia Power releases wind turbine update

Georgia Power recently released its timetable and other key update points for their wind turbine project on the Skidaway campus. The wind turbines will be installed in the large field along McWhorter Drive.

While the exact model of the wind turbines has not yet been determined, this is an example of the type under consideration.

While the exact model of the wind turbines has not yet been determined, this is an example of the type under consideration.

– The University System Board of Regents has signed a lease agreement with Georgia Power for this project at the large field on SKIO’s campus as we described previously.

– The term is for 2 years with an option for 1 additional year if needed to complete the research.

– Georgia Power plans to install the meteorological tower later this summer.

– Plan is to install the 4 turbines in 2016.

– To get good data covering all seasons of a year will likely require more than 12 calendar months after the turbines have been installed.

– Georgia Power contracted with Georgia Southern University whose professors have already started gathering data for the research project into avian and noise effects of the small wind generation technology.

– At the conclusion of the research project and before the lease expires, the small wind turbines will be removed.

– Skidaway Institute will decide whether to keep the meteorological tower for their use or not.

Georgia Southern grad student joins Frischer lab

Eli O’Cain is a new grad student in Marc Frischer’s lab.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA native of St. Simons Island, Eli received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Georgia Southern University in 2013. After receiving his degree from Georgia Southern, he worked on St. Simons Island as a kayak tour guide for Southeast Adventure Outfitters and on Jekyll Island as an environmental educator at the 4-H Center.

In the fall of 2014, Eli returned to Georgia Southern to pursue his master’s degree in biology. His thesis is studying the role that coral recruitment plays in alternate reef stable states in the Florida Keys. He is working at Skidaway to develop a bioassay that will allow identification of coral recruits to the species level.