Category: Earth

First Anthropocene Lecture

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R&B Anthropocene.jpgThe first in the Anthropocene Lecture Series was last night in the UGA Chapel. The Red & Black provides coverage:

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are increasing at two parts per million, which can be directly attributed to human activity, he said. Basic chemistry shows the carbon dioxide dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, which in turn makes the Earth’s bodies of water more acidic, significantly altering the ecosystems of aquatic life.

About 250 million years ago came the Permian extinction, during which ocean pH plunged to about 7.6, killing 90 percent of the Earth’s species. This is the projected ocean pH in about 100 years, Farmer said.

“[The lecture was] eye-opening,” said Troy Woodward, a junior health promotions student from Valdosta. “Ocean acidification is not something I think a lot of people know about.”

The heart of the problem is the rise in carbon dioxide, but with time plants’ photosynthesis and natural processes will be able to bring these levels back down, Farmer said. However, this requires cutting down on the input of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Science Learning Center: breaking ground

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UGA-ScLC-rendering.jpgThe D.W. Brooks mall on South Campus is about to [begin to] change for the better, with much-needed science instruction space in the new Science Learning Center:

The University of Georgia will break ground on its newest building-the 122,500-square-foot Science Learning Center-on Aug. 26 at 11:30 a.m. at the south end of the S10 parking lot located just off Carlton Street.

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The Science Learning Center will be situated on South Campus adjacent to Pharmacy South and across from the Miller Plant Sciences Building. Funded by Deal and the Georgia General Assembly, the center will cost $44.7 million and be designed around an environment that promotes active learning.

The building's 33 instructional labs will be designed specifically for interactive learning in core undergraduate science courses. The Science Learning Center also will contain two 280-seat lecture halls and two 72-seat SCALE-UP classrooms. SCALE-UP stands for Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs, a learning model that focuses heavily on group-work class participation and technology-making student-to-student and student-to-teacher interaction easier in a larger class setting.

The building is scheduled to open in fall 2016.

Okay, that seems like a long way off but it will be here before you know it. Great news for students and faculty in the sciences, which more than ever, venture into many more disciolines than we have traditional associated with only chemistry or biology. But definitely for all our science majors, this new building is a welcome new addition to the campus learning environment.

Image: A rendering of the Science Learning Center shows how the new building will be situated on UGA's South Campus.

 

Anthropocene Lectures

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Anthropo_Lecture_Header.jpgWhat are we doing to the planet? Is that even an accurate formulation? In the great words of Tonto, what do you mean 'we'? Humans are of the Earth, and yet at the same time our impact on it has been a great force, often working against it. This can be a complex line of inquiry and to help shed some light on it, our division of biological sciences has devised and will host an important series of public lectures this fall spanning the breadth of this very subject:

First coined by ecologist Eugene Stoermer in the 1980s, the term "anthropocene" has come to stand for a geological time period in which the actions of humanity have had a significant impact on Earth's ecosystems.

"For over four billion years the Earth has been changing, and in all of that time it is natural processes that have affected the amount of land covered by forest, desert, plains or tundra," said Farmer, chair of the division of biological sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and organizer of the lecture series. "The anthropocene represents a fundamental change in Earth's history, in that it is now humanity that has become a major driver of those natural processes that most affect life on our planet."

In an effort to better understand this period of unprecedented change, a number of leading scholars at UGA will present eight public lectures on the latest scientific findings on everything from how we are altering the planet's chemistry to what these changes will mean for billions of people around the world.

The lectures are designed as public discussions about science for non-scientists.

The series begins with "Extinction in a Changing World" by professor of cell biology Mark A. Farmer on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. in the UGA Chapel. A complete list of subjects and speakers is here. The lectures are free and open to the public. See you on the 28th - you might want to get to the Chapel early.

Shepherd named Captain Planet Protector

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CapnPlanets.jpgThe award sounds funny, but the prestigious Captain Planet Foundation has honored Marshall Shepherd for his very serious efforts on educating the public about climate change: 

Marshall Shepherd is a Captain Planet Protector of the Earth, according to the Captain Planet Foundation, which recently added him to a list of outstanding real-life environmental superheroes.

Shepherd, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in the Social Sciences, will receive the award at the annual Captain Planet Foundation Benefit Gala Dec. 5 at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta hotel. Other 2014 honorees include renowned primatologist Jane Goodall and Carter and Olivia Ries of the non-profit "One More Generation." Larry King will be master of ceremonies.

The Atlanta-based Captain Planet Foundation was founded in 1991 by Ted Turner and is now chaired by his daughter Laura Turner Seydel. The foundation supports high-quality, hands-on environmental stewardship projects that have enabled more than 1.1 million youths around the world to make significant environmental improvements to their schools or communities.

Past recipients of the award include Erin Brockovich and former EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

"It is wonderful to be honored for something that I would do without fanfare at all," Shepherd said. "I am passionate about ensuring that the state of Georgia, our nation and the planet are in good shape for my two kids. It is truly humbling to be mentioned in the same breath with many of the previous honorees."

A very high distinction considering the former honorees, whose ranks have only become more impressive as Shepherd is added to the list. Great honor for important work by a superhero faculty member.

Georgia Sea Grant planning for port expansion

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SHEP.jpgUGA faculty members and Georgia Sea Grant are doing important work along the Georgia coast, helping communities plan for a major expansion of the Savannah Harbor:

"Most of the regional attention to the Savannah Harbor deepening has focused on the ecological effects to the river and adjacent wetland ecosystems," said Charles Hopkinson, Georgia Sea Grant director. "We want to shift the focus to local communities so that they are prepared to handle the secondary impacts that are likely to accompany the port expansion, such as new transportation and parking needs or the school and housing needs of an expanded workforce."

As the country's fourth busiest container port and creator of $18.5 billion annually in personal income from port-related jobs, much is riding on the success of Savannah's port expansion. Plans include dredging 32 miles of the harbor's navigation channel to allow the port to accommodate supersized freighters from Asia and the Pacific coast of Latin America that will come to the east coast through the newly expanded Panama Canal, due to be completed in 2015.

"The changes will affect the entire coastal corridor between Georgia's two main maritime ports, and we want to help each community benefit from the development," said Stephen Ramos, assistant professor in UGA's College of Environment and Design, who received funding from Georgia Sea Grant to conduct research and consult with the coastal communities.

An enormous project that will impact the Georgia coast in a multitude of ways, the harbor expansion is also great opportunity for broad engagement with the public. UGA expertise, on everything from economics and social policy to ecology and physical infrastructure, has an important role to play that help make this project an enduring success.

Shepherd on MSNBC

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Athletic Association Professor of Social Sciences and director of our atmospheric sciences program Marshall Shepherd was a guest of Raphael Miranda on MSNBC this week, talking about extreme weather, new satellite technology for forecasting and the polar vortex, among other subjects. Great job, Dr. Shepherd.

 

 

Spotlight on Geography

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The department of geography at UGA is a leading center of scholarship--both in the classroom and in the field--about earth’s landscapes and human relationships to the environment.  Each semester, the department creates a newsletter compiling the latest research, awards, alumni news and profiles of students and faculty.  

Of note in this edition is an article about Jerry Shannon and his research on food deserts, a term used for geographical areas where health food is inaccessible or prohibitively expensive. Shannon, a temporary assistant professor in the department of geography, authored the article, "What does SNAP benefit usage tell us about food access in low-income neighborhoods?" published in the April print edition of the journal Social Science and Medicine.  This edition of the newsletter also features an article about Sarah Mizra, a 2014 Harry S. Truman Scholarship recipient majoring in geography and Spanish.  The award recognizes students with exceptional leadership potential with a commitment to a career in government or public service.  Also, be sure to read through the great list of departmental news, including many awards, fellowships and grants given to students and faculty in the department.

New research tracks Amazon River microbial activity, effects on global carbon budget

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New research from the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences  departments of microbiology and marine sciences could have a major impact on the study of microbial activity in the Amazon River, as well as the effects on the global carbon budget.. The Amazon River, the largest in the world in terms of discharge water, transfers a plume of nutrients and organisms into the ocean that creates a hotspot of microbial activity.  This affects many global processes, including the storage of atmospheric carbon.

The new study further reveals detail about the microbial activity of the Amazon River Plume as part of a broad project to understand the global carbon budget and its possible impacts on a changing ocean. The study, "Microspatial gene expression patterns in the Amazon River Plume," was published July 14 in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"By collecting data from genes and gene transcripts in the water samples, taking billions of sequences of DNA and RNA from organisms at various places in the plume, we were able to construct the most detailed look that's ever been put together of the microbial processes in a drop of seawater," said Mary Ann Moran, Distinguished Research Professor of Marine Sciences at UGA.

UGA researchers from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences departments of marine sciences and microbiology took samples from the plume 300 miles offshore from the Amazon River mouth, then isolated the genes of organisms using the nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon being carried into the ocean by the river plume.

Discharge from the plume, more than 200,000 cubic meters of fresh water per second, delivers nitrogen and phosphorus to microscopic phytoplankton that live in the upper sunlit layers of the ocean. Via photosynthesis, phytoplankton capture carbon dioxide that dissolves into the ocean from the atmosphere, a mechanism that captures a larger proportion of CO2 than is consumed by the world's rainforests.

Until now, quantitative data about the microbial activity underlying this mechanism has been elusive.

Data in the paper will used be as part of a larger model of the Amazon and will be available to researchers around the world.

"The scientific community as a whole can draw new conclusions or study different aspects from the data sets," said Brandon Satinsky, a doctoral student in microbiology at UGA and lead author on the study. "It's such a large amount of water and material, and the location of the plume moves over the course of the year, from the Caribbean virtually over to Africa."

"It's first time we've had this kind of data, at this level of detail, and so now we can share with teams of modelers to help them make better predictions about the future of the system," Moran said.

The project is part of two major UGA research initiatives: ROCA, the River Continuum of the Amazon; and ANACONDAS, Amazon iNfluence on the Atlantic: CarbOn export from Nitrogen fixation by DiAtom Symbioses, both of which are led by associate professor of marine sciences Patricia Yager. The initiatives are supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation through grant GBMF2293 and the National Science Foundation.

For more on UGA research in the Amazon, see http://amazoncontinuum.org/.

Shepherd to host Weather Geeks

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shepherd-marshallReflecting the need to understand the complexity of weather and climate issues today The Weather Channel is launching a new talk show, "Weather Geeks," featuring our own Marshall Shepherd as host:

“One of the greatest aspects of my involvement with AMS and our community as a whole is the opportunity to hear the best minds in our field discuss the most pressing issues in weather,” said Shepherd. “Our vision is for Weather Geeks to be a weekly forum for those types of discussions, and I am looking forward to inviting scientists from across the weather community to be a part of the show.”

Guests on Weather Geeks will come from all areas of meteorology -- from NOAA and NWS officials to academics and members of the media or private sector. The first episode of Weather Geeks will focus on the merits of storm chasing and ask the tough questions - is it worth it? what is the value? are chasers putting themselves and others at risk? The episode will feature expert host Dr. Marshall Shepherd and his guest, world-renowned storm chaser Dr. Charles Doswell.

“The opportunity to have Dr. Shepherd as a regular contributor and host made this an ideal opportunity to create a national platform for a discussion of weather issues,” said David Clark, president of The Weather Channel TV network. “We recognize that we play a role in a much larger community and we felt an obligation to set aside air time for that community to come together and share ideas and expertise.” 

This a fantastic idea by the TWC as well as a terrific honor and opportunity for Shepherd, not to mention a brilliant use of his expertise. Both as an expert on atmospheric sciences and as an interlocutor on weather-related issues, Shepherd has proven to be an adept, cleared-eyed observer. This is a smart expansion of that promising role and one sorely needed in our national dialogue.

New chemistry study challenges fundamental mechanism

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As one of the fundamental disciplines that help us understand the physical world and how it works, organic chemistry plays an essential role in both our instruction and research missions. So it is significant that researchers continue to test and challenge this crucial area of study at its most basic levels:

A family of millions of known chemical compounds called "aromatics" or "arenes" and their products, including a great number of medicines, plastics and synthetic fibers, are characterized by their regular arrangement of ring atoms instead of alternating single and double bonds. A new study published by researchers in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of chemistry posits a different fundamental mechanism for the way these compounds react to replace atoms.

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Aromatics constitute a diverse and widely used chemical family. Employed to make derivatives, benzene consistently ranks among the top 20 chemicals produced annually.

The key chemical reaction giving these derivatives depends on the underlying ring structure. "Electrophilic aromatic substitution" describes the reaction whereby an atom of an aromatic is replaced by another of an "electron-seeking" reagent. This fundamental organic chemical reaction of aromatics is the focus of the paper.

"The electrophile is supposed to attach itself to the aromatic in a first stage to give an ‘intermediate,' from which another group, present at the same site, is then lost in a second stage," said Paul von Ragué Schleyer, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry at UGA and one of the study's authors. "Although this putative intermediate has garnered much attention in the literature as a simplification, we find instead that it doesn't exist when the reaction conditions are modeled computationally."

Re-evaluting how this fundamentally discipline itself works only reinforces its reliability and rigor, as well as the theories and products that derive therein. Significantly, when reseachers of the caliber of Schaefer, Schleyer and their internaitonal colleagues publish the results of their investigations, the scientific community takes notice. This is a major contribution to the overall body of knowledge and we are proud of and humbled by their ongoing scholarship on both a fundamnental level and an over-arching plane.

For more on the UGA Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry, visit here.