Category: Earth

Dorsey, Garfinkel and Joye elected to AAAS

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dorsey_alan_0.jpgFantastic news for the Franklin College and UGA, as three faculty members including Franklin dean Alan Dorsey were elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

an honor bestowed upon them by their peers for "scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications."

These three faculty members are among 401 new AAAS Fellows who will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin—representing science and engineering, respectively—on Feb. 14 at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, California.

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Dorsey, dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and professor of physics: Dorsey's research in theoretical condensed matter physics seeks an understanding of the peculiar properties of matter subjected to extreme conditions, such as low temperatures and high magnetic fields. Such conditions reveal fundamental quantum-mechanical phenomena that lead to wholly new phases of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids and supersolids.

David J. Garfinkel, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology: Garfinkel's research focuses on "jumping genes" known as transposons, which make additional copies of themselves and insert those copies throughout the genome. The Garfinkel lab has contributed to understanding the mechanism by which transposable genetic elements are mobilized, shape genome structure and function and are regulated by host factors.

Samantha Joye, UGA Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences and professor of marine sciences: Joye is a microbial geochemist by training, and her expertise lies in quantifying rates of microbial hydrocarbon metabolism and environmental geochemical signatures in natural environments. She has studied Gulf of Mexico natural seeps for 20 years and has tracked the environmental fate of oil and gas released from the Macondo well blowout since May 2010.

Thrilling news. New AAAS members from UGA is a key indicator to our peer institutions and a great sign of the intellectual engagement on campus by these leaders in research. Wonderful accolades for the individuals, our college and the university.

New funding for ECOGIG-2

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Joye.AuSt_0.jpegSamantha Joye's tireless work in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the 2010 Macondo well blowout will continue thanks to a major new support stream:

Joye has received a new grant to continue its studies of natural oil seeps and to track the impacts of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

The project, known as ECOGIG-2 or "Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf," is a collaborative, multi-institutional effort involving biological, chemical, geological and chemical oceanographers. The research team has worked in the Gulf since the weeks following the 2010 Macondo well blowout.

The three-year, $18.8 million dollar ECOGIG-2 program was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, or GoMRI.

"I am so thrilled that the ECOGIG-2 research program was selected for funding by the GoMRI research board," said Joye, the UGA Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences and a professor of marine sciences. "Our work will explore the basics of oil and gas cycling at natural seeps, discern the impacts of chemical dispersants on microbial populations and their activity and on the fate of discharged hydrocarbons, use sophisticated instrumentation and physical and biogeochemical models to track hydrocarbon transport and continue to document recovery of deep-water ecosystems from the Macondo blowout."

Congratulations to Joye and her colleagues. So many facets to this work, which will produce a better understanding of natural and not-so-natural hydrocarbon discharges into marine ecosystems. With energy exploration and regional economies interconnected perhaps as never before, Joye's research focus and expertise continue to play a crucial role in policy debates that try to reconcile the common interests of the two.

Image: Samantha Joye aboard a research vessel Atlantis, courtesy the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiaitive

The 'Anthro' in Anthropcene

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housing.jpgWho is the 'Anthro' in Anthropocene? A very good question, and professor of philosophy and women's studies Chris J. Cuomo provides the answer Thursday at the Chapel in this week's installement of the Anthropocene Lecture Series:

The term “anthropocene” has gained enormous popularity among scientists who believe that we are currently in a global geological era that is distinguished by the extensive and lasting impacts that “human” activities (i.e. fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, pollution, etc.) are having on all of Earth’s vital systems. But should the practices, institutions and decisions that have led to the current global ecological crisis be identified as human activities? Or is it more appropriate to label these activities as Western, modern, or produced by particular value systems? Does the entire human species deserve the “blame” for the problems of current “man-made” global changes, or should scholars and scientists have more specific analyses of the historical causes of present geological trends?

Again, we are very lucky to have this series of engaged, informative public presentations by some of our best faculty members. The ethical and political dimensions of the systems that guide us are probably one of the few routes to informed solutions on public policy questions. But it takes time to learn, and great expertise to teach. You can increase your own level of understanding and build your informed opinion by attending this talk at 7 pm on Thursday. Very few things are so simple and straightforward.

Fritjof Capra lecture: Systems view of Life

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Genomics_GTL_Program_Payoffs.jpgThe Franklin College is one of the sponsors of an important Chapel lecture this week by Physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra on the "Scientific Understanding of Living Systems and the Systems View of Life" Nov. 13 at 3 p.m.

What is a systems view? That's why we'll attend the lecture but, the namesake of our Odum School of Ecology, Eugene Odum, along with his brother Howard T., was an early pioneer of systems ecology - a holistic view of an ecosystem as a complex system exhibiting emergent properties. Systems ecology focuses on interactions within and between biological and ecological systems, and is especially concerned with the way the functioning of ecosystems can be influenced by human interventions.

It's a fascinating perspective, capable of illuminating much about how we interact as a part of the natural world. I'm sure that Dr. Capra will tell us even more tomorrow. See you at the Chapel, Thursday at 3.

Carbon Sequestration in Salt Marshes

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DeepakMishra-marshes.jpgThe importance of the world's rainforests, and to some extent the mangroves, as storage sinks for atmospheric are carbon well-known. But salt marshes, too, are extraordinarily efficient mechanism for photosynthesis and the production of biomass that work together to sequester carbon at a high rate. So disappearing wetlands along the coast present much more peril than loss against storm surge, which itself plays significant part in their role in an ecosystem.

Now, Deepak Mishra, associate professor in the department of geography, has developed tools and techniques to map carbon storage in coastal marshes using satellite data:

[Mishra] is principal investigator on the new prototype demonstration study that will use NASA's MODIS—Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer—Earth Observatory satellite to gather data to model the marshes.

"There is high demand to understand wetlands, and it's not just about land lost, land gained, marsh lost or restored-people want to know more about these marshes," Mishra said. "How they are performing in terms of their productivity, their resiliency, do they produce enough underground biomass to be stable? We hope to be able to answer these questions.

"The idea is to see what kind of carbon loss to the atmosphere is happening by means of satellite-derived proxies as we lose wetlands, not only in terms of area but also productivity."

Restoration projects along coastal areas are expensive, and their success is judged primarily by the amount of vegetation gained. This new modeling capability will allow for more complete assessments of the marshes' overall productivity: carbon capture, light-use efficiency for photosynthesis and biomass production. It also will differentiate which species of marsh grass provides better productivity.

"Right now, monitoring wetlands via satellite is problematic because of the way water and soil moisture interferes with the signal," Mishra said. "It can be difficult to effectively separate the water contribution from the vegetative contribution."

Data from the two monitoring stations along the Gulf Coast will be used to establish models for other areas around the U.S. as well. As Mishra explains, being able to quantify the carbon capture in these areas will become increasingly important as we begin to put a dollar value on carbon as a part of our ability to responsibly limit emissions - and more precisely, value the overall productivity of an ecosystem.

Joye at Blue Ocean Film Festival

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BLUE_logo-2014.pngSamantha Joye, Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences, is participating as a judge in the internationally acclaimed "BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit", underway in St. Petersburg Florida.  Joye joins global leaders in ocean conservation including Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, marine advocates Fabien and Celine Cousteau, grandchildren of Jacques Cousteau, and royal philanthropist Prince Albert II of Monaco. Other luminaries include renowned actor of stage and screen Jeremy Irons (narrator of Trashed a marine debris film), global explorer and discover of the Titanic Robert Ballard, who has his deep ocean exploration vessel, the E/V Nautilus on display at BLUE, and famed adventurer Sir Robert Swan, the first human to walk both Poles. About Blue Ocean:

BLUE is an enlightening and entertaining 7-Day summit showcasing the world's finest ocean films and award winning marine photography along with a filmmakers marketplace, science and conservation seminars, international policy discussions and a robust ocean media industry conference.

This is tremendous and high profile public outreach from one of the world's leading marine scientists. Joye is also serving as a member of a Mission Blue youth education session, "Ocean Gems" (http://ocean-gems.org/)​, and as a panel member discussing the current state of the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Examining the history of plants

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Morning_glory.jpgIt sounds like the title of a cable documentary (a good one! And maybe it is) but scientists from North America, Europe and China have published a paper in PNAS that reveals important details about key transitions in the evolution of plant life on Earth:

From strange and exotic algae, mosses, ferns, trees and flowers growing deep in steamy rainforests to the grains and vegetables humans eat and the ornamental plants adorning people's homes, all plant life on Earth shares over a billion years of history.

"Our study generated DNA sequences from a vast number of distantly related plants, and we developed new analysis tools to understand their relationships and the timing of key innovations in plant evolution," said study co-author Jim Leebens-Mack, an associate professor of plant biology in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

As part of the One Thousand Plants, or 1KP, initiative, the research team is generating millions of gene sequences from plant species sampled from across the green tree of life. By resolving these relationships, the international research team is illuminating the complex processes that allowed ancient water-faring algae to evolve into land plants with adaptations to competition for light, water and soil nutrients.

Great stuff, congratulations to this international team. More lights come on and we are able to understand our world and how it works a little better.

Image: Morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) is a beautiful flowering plant and agricultural weed. (Credit: Lindsay Chaney/Brigham Young University)

Observatory open house Oct. 17

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Hubble_Ring_Nebula.jpgAfter a short pause, the UGA observatory open house returns this Friday Oct. 17 from 8 to 9:30 pm:

During the early part of the viewing, Mars will be visible. In addition Albireo, a double star in the constellation of Cygnus, and the Ring Nebula, a glowing shell of gas blown off a giant star in the final phase of that star's life, also should be visible. The Ring Nebula is in the  constellation of Lyra.

Visitors can view the objects through the 24-inch telescope in the dome on top of the building. Faculty and students from the department will be on hand to point out the various celestial objects and to answer questions. Free parking is available immediately to the north and west of the building, which is located at the corner of Cedar Street and Sanford Drive.

This is a fun campus activity - take a date or take your family. As always, the back up plan incase of cloudy skies is an astronomy talk by professor Loris Magnani, "The Gas and Dust in the Milky Way," in the auditorium of the physics building. Who ever gets to experience such wonderful things, except you?

Anthropocene: Economics of the transition

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renewable_energy.jpgSomething that often goes missing in conversations on, much less debates about, what to do about climate change is optimism. If, for example, a discussion of the economics of the transition to an industrial model from the agricultural age had occured, there would have been great gnashing of teeth but a convincing case could have been made, though likely with some strict limitations toward eventual consequences, if these could have been imagined. The point is, the same dynamics are at play when trying to imagine the transition away from a dependence on fossil fuels; we're limited by how things work now - travel, food production, growth, defense - and that present bias makes any transition all the more unimaginable, optimism evaporates and we choose to do nothing as though it's an preferable option. The next Anthropocene Lecture takes on this very question:

The lives of six out of the seven billion people now living on Earth are dependent on a combination of technology and fossil fuels.  Green Revolution crops have greatly increased food production, but only when supplied with plentiful fossil fuel inputs.  Supporting an even larger world population without using fossil fuels will pose a major technological challenge.  Transitioning away from fossil fuels on a global scale is a huge challenge but deploying new technologies is our best hope.  This lecture assembles a variety of data to present a coherent, quantitative view of both the challenges and the opportunities.  It concludes by examining the current state of the art of using markets to drive the transition to carbon-free energy systems. 

These are the discussions we need to have, led by the folks who need to lead them. Come be a part of the discussion. Knowledge is power and the switch gets flipped at 7 pm Thursday Oct. 9 in the Chapel. Free and open to the public.

Science at the Stadium

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One the greatest missed opportunities of gathering so many people on campus several Saturdays each fall for football is not engaging them in other ways with the research mission of the university. Franklin colleagues in marine sciences have designed a new way to make inroads with some of the many UGA supporters who will be here for the Homecoming matchup with Vanderbilt:

marine sciences department and faculty will present "Science at the Stadium" on Saturday, Oct. 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the north entry to the Georgia Center for Continuing Education across from the Lumpkin Street entrance to the South Campus parking deck.

The new public outreach series, led by Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences Samantha Joye and her research team known as ECOGIG, is designed to educate fans attending home football games about oceanography and the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem.

"I want to engage and excite kids about science in general and oceanography specifically, and seeing a mini-remotely operated vehicle in action is a great way to give these kids a feel for what we do out on the water," Joye said. "Athletic venues draw a diverse and large crowd and present a fantastic place to share our knowledge and enthusiasm with young people of all ages and their parents.

"Plus, the kids (and some of the parents, too) will learn to ‘drive' an ROV. It's a great way to get people excited about science and to educate them about the ocean and environmental conservation and sustainability at the same time."

Since a few days after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf in 2010, Dr. Joye has been on the scene assessing the damage and learning how the ecosystem has been and will be effected. Her expertise about conditions there is second to none, but her willingness to share her knowledge and experience with visitors is inspiring and truly extraordinary. Her dedication to teaching beyond the classroom reaches the public in ways of lasting importance, engaging with future scientists and fellow citizens. great job. Come by Saturday and speak with one of our leading researchers.