Category: Earth

Deep-sea plumes


Deep-sea-plumes.jpgA significant new grant for more leading-edge research from the department of marine sciences:

Deep-sea hydrothermal plumes—waters nearly two miles down in the ocean—are home to processes that effect life across the planet. However, high pressure and water temperatures that exceed 300 degrees Celsius have made research on the plumes very difficult.

With a new grant from the National Science Foundation, a University of Georgia researcher will develop instrumentation to collect data at these depths. The study will help provide long-term data for understanding the impact of ocean phenomena—such as tides and storms—and geologic events from earthquakes on deep-sea ecosystem development.

Long-term data is needed for researchers to find connections between different processes.

Daniela Di Iorio, an associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of marine sciences, was the first to gather long-term data of deep-sea plumes when she monitored plumes for six weeks using her novel acoustic instrumentation in a previous study. With newly designed instrumentation developed through NSF support, Di Iorio will begin a three-year project that will provide researchers with a constant feed monitoring deep-sea development.

Our faculty is working on many fronts at once, seeking to understand physical phenomena across the globe and the impact of changes occuring therein. Congratulations to Di Iorio on the development of these new analytical tools. We wish her and her team well in putting them to use in such a challenging environment.

Ice sheet melt into the oceans: what to expect


meltwaterGreenland exteriorThe effects of climate change have been [mostly] slow moving and difficult to detect, up to now. But where glacial melt is occuring, the changes are rather dynamic - and that's only what can be observed above the water line. UGA researchers and other scientists are working together to understand the impact of melting glaciers on the world's oceans:

A new $1.49 million interdisciplinary science grant from NASA will support efforts by University of Georgia faculty in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences departments of geography and marine sciences to measure the effects of climate change on biological productivity in the ocean. The three-year research project on "From the Ice Sheet to the Sea: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Impact of Extreme Melt on Ocean Stratification and Productivity Near West Greenland" is a collaboration between UGA and scientists from the City College of New York, Rutgers University and Stanford University.

The study will examine the connection between Greenland ice sheet melt water and ocean productivity using remote sensing and modeling tools as well as data gathered on site. The work will examine the effect of melt on ocean circulation and mixing and investigate the role of ocean stratification and nutrients on ocean productivity.

The seriousness of this issue, notwithstanding reluctance from some quarters, is impossible to overstate. It would seem to be a major signal to all that NASA, the world's leading scientists and every other research organization across the globe speak without caveat about that seriousness. Perhaps further findings from research like this will produce the necessary political will to turn the tide, so to speak. As of now, the tide continues to be the force ahead of the change to come. Thanks to our faculty for working to understand it better.

Image: meltwater runoff from the ice sheet margin in Greenland during summer 2013, courtesy of Thomas Mote.

AAAS on Climate Change: What We know


photo-consensus-senseThe American Association for the Advancement of Science launched a big climate change initiative today, "What we Know":

At the heart of the initiative is the AAAS's "What We Know" report, an assessment of current climate science and impacts that emphasizes the need to understand and recognize possible high-risk scenarios.
"We're the largest general scientific society in the world, and therefore we believe we have an obligation to inform the public and policymakers about what science is showing about any issue in modern life, and climate is a particularly pressing one," said Dr. Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS. "As the voice of the scientific community, we need to share what we know and bring policymakers to the table to discuss how to deal with the issue."

The Nobel laureate Mario Moilina, Diana Wall and James McCarthy, along with the 10 panelists spanning climate science specialties, will engage in the initiative in various ways, from speaking engagements to testimonial on a forthcoming interactive web site to knowledge sharing with other professionals. The initiative encourages Americans to think of climate change as a risk management issue; the panel aims to clarify and contextualize the science so the public and decision-makers can be more adequately informed about those risks and possible ways to manage them. 

Emphasis mine, as these 10 panelists of course include our own J. Marshall Shepherd. Good for the AAAS for not sitting on their hands any longer, but actually getting to work. It's a rare intervention by the group, but the stakes couldn't be higher and this debate demands a much higher profile.

Assessing the Gulf


joys on a boatA team of researchers led by professor of marine sciences Samatha Joye will return to the site of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout to assess environmental impacts resulting from the discharge of roughly 5 million gallons of oil into the ocean over a period of 84 days:

Using the U.S. Navy's newly upgraded human-occupied deep submergence vehicle, Alvin, scientists will view the ocean floor, record observations through high-definition cameras, and collect water and sediment samples during the monthlong research cruise. This cruise is the first research voyage with the upgraded Alvin and is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.

"No one has visited these sites in a human-occupied submersible since 2010, so we are very eager to evaluate the health of these locations firsthand," said Samantha Joye, a UGA marine scientist who has studied the oil spill extensively and will be the chief scientist on the cruise. "Populations of many organisms living in the water and on the ocean floor were seriously damaged by the blowout, so we want to know how things have changed since December 2010."

During their cruise, which will last nearly the entire month of April, Joye and her colleagues will come within 2 nautical miles of the wellhead, visiting seafloor that was covered with oil in 2010.

Follow-up, especially to horrific disasters that take up a lot of media attention initially, is a crucial element of containment and cleanup of marine and wildlife habitats. We have a tendency in American society to want to move on even after such an environmental catastrophe, on a need to believe everything is okay and will work out. But that tendency can have negative consequences, particularly when everything this isn't quite okay. According to Dr. Joye, this is the case in the Gulf and despite assurances from some quarters that the marine ecosystem has bounced back, much more assessment is and will be needed for some time to come. Thanks to her and scientists from around the region for their persistence, and ability to keep attention focused on important problems. 

Sulfur into clouds


UGA-ESP instrumentIn a naturally-occuring process, sulfur makes its way from microbes in the ocean up into the atmosphere where it plays a part in the formation of clouds. The phenomenon has long been know, but now scientists are learning more about how it actually happens:

A new $2 million National Science Foundation grant will allow the UGA-led research group to further document how genes in ocean microbes transform sulfur into clouds in the Earth's atmosphere.

Co-principal investigators on the grant are Franklin College of Arts and Sciences professors Mary Ann Moran of the department of marine sciences and William "Barny" Whitman of the department of microbiology. The team is joined by Ronald Keine, a marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, and James Birch and Chris Scholin, scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California.


Engineers at Monterrey Bay had created an autonomous ocean-going instrument that houses a miniaturized molecular lab that sits in the ocean, takes in water, extracts DNA from cells, analyzes DNA and sends the information back to shore via radio modem, providing scientists with real-time ocean data.

"They were looking for good uses of their unique instrument that would be scientifically valuable," Moran said. "We deployed primers for bacterial DMSP genes in their ocean-going molecular lab and caught an example of DMSP pathway regulation as it happened, for the first time ever."

Hopkinson awarded Sloan Foundation Fellowship


sloan_foundation_hopkinson.jpgBig congratulations to assistant professor of marine sciences Brian Hopkinson, who was awarded a 2014 Sloan Foundation grant to support his work on rising carbon dioxide levels in the oceans:

The fellowship is presented by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation each year to early-career scientists and scholars whose achievements and potential identify them as part of the next generation of scientific leaders.  This year, 126 fellowships were awarded to promising young scientists like Hopkinson in eight scientific and technical disciplines.

Hopkinson, an assistant professor at UGA since 2010, was awarded the $50,000 fellowship to continue his work on investigating the physiological changes that occur in marine algae and corals due to rising CO2 concentrations in the ocean.

“As CO2 in the atmosphere increases, CO2 increases in the ocean and evidence suggests these increases cause higher rates of photosynthesis in the ocean,” said Hopkinson. “The molecular details of how that works were not very well understood.  But in some of our recent research, we established a decent explanation for how that happens.”

A very prestigious award - the Sloan Foundation announced the awards in a full page ad in the New York Times yesterday. More great news about another bright young faculty member. Very well done.

Marshall Shepherd on CBS' Face the Nation


Atheltic Association Professor Marshall Shepherd was a guest on CBS' Face the Nation yesterday. He not only represented UGA extraordinarily well, as usual, he also made a great deal of sense talking about weather and climate:


World's Most Influential Scientists


Schaefer-Henry-230x344_1.jpgIf you wanted to create a list of the 50 most influential scientists in the world today, and someone has, the list would be incomplete without UGA computational chemist Henry F. Schaefer.

The Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and director of the Center for Computational Chemistry, Schaefer was named in list of influential scientists at number 38. A Humboldt Award winner and slated to receive the Peter Debye Award from the American Chemical Society in 2014, Schaefer is known for

inventing the field of computational quantum chemistry, developing it into a reliable quantitative discipline in chemistry. Using supercomputers and simulations rather than actual chemical substances, his lab uncovers chemical structures by crunching numbers. His theoretical research has been directed at one of the most challenging problems in molecular quantum mechanics, the problem of electron correlation in molecules.

Said Dr. Schaefer from IIT Bombay where he was accepting another award, "This one caught me by surprise. My research strategy is one I have used for 40 years. Surround yourself with 15 of the brightest, most original, and most motivated young scientists in the world. Encourage them to work as a team.  Suggest some good scientific projects, provide so little scientific advice that they are forced to learn by themselves, and help them write excellent papers describing their research."

A true gentleman who humbles us by his accomplishments. Congratulations and thank you for the honor and distinction your achievements bring to UGA and the Franklin College.

Focus on the faculty: Lisa Donovan


Lisa_donovan with plantsGreat Q & A on the UGA homepage with professor of plant biology Lisa Donovan:


When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I came to the University of Georgia in 1995 and was attracted by the diversity and excellence of the plant biologists here.

What are your favorite courses and why?

At the undergraduate level, I enjoy contributing to BIOL 1108, “Principles of Plant Biology II” for biology majors, because it provides the opportunity to interact with a lot of students early in their academic careers. At the graduate level, I enjoy teaching PBIO 8890, “Plant Reproductive and Physiological Ecology,” because I get to teach my specialty to receptive and enthusiastic graduate students.

What interests you about your field?

An understanding of ecological and evolutionary relationships helps explain the patterns that I see in the natural world around me. It also has the potential to help us mitigate the effects of global climate change.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

I have had some research successes, but I get just as much satisfaction from being graduate coordinator, which allows me to facilitate the professional development of young scientists.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa

Research allows me to contribute to our understanding of plant ecological and evolutionary responses to the environment. Teaching keeps my small research contributions in perspective within the bigger picture of science and society.  You never really understand something until you teach it!

Some of the world's best, right here on our campus. Read the whole thing.

Student Reports from Antarctica



Carr_AAPG with penguinsGeology student participates in field study, featured in AAPG Explorer article


Congratulations are in order for geology department student Hunter Carr for his research venture to Antarctica alongside nearly 100 other geology academics.

Carr’s research field expedition was recently featured in the American Association of Petroleum Geolost’s magazine, the AAPG Explorer. This academic publication is dedicated to the field of petroleum geology, the study of subsurface locations of the Earth which can contain extractable hydrocarbons, especially petroleum and natural gas.

Carr, who hails from Tyler, Texas, grew up close to the field of petroleum geology.  His father is a member of AAPG and has been working in the industry for years. 

However, the trip, which garnered participation from 100 geologists and climatologists, all with different specialties and expertise, was invaluable due to the exposure to the other disciplines.  Carr was one of just five students invited to participate in this intensive field student. 

Titled,  “Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands Scotia Arc Tectonics, Climate and Life,” the trip gave all participants to learn about the geological terrain of Antarctica, and the changes that are occurring as a result of climate change.

Carr, who is quoted in the article about his experience on the trip, keenly articulates just how important a field expedition is for the study of geology and for discovering one’s own interests within the field.

 “The GSA field trip taught me how to observe the geology of an area because I was mostly learning from Ph.D. geologists, all specialists in their various disciplines,” Carr said. “Listening to how they approached a problem observed in outcrop was like absorbing 10 geological papers, all at once.

“I was able to see how they dissected an outcrop, discussed it amongst themselves and reached a consensus,” he said. “Within five to ten minutes, they had an outcrop completely figured out.”

In September, Carr enters the final year of his bachelor’s degree in geology. His senior thesis will investigate sulfur isotopes of a volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit, an ancient sea floor smoker in Turkey, that’s subsequently been uplifted.

“Picture yourself on the sea floor, and you have all of these sulfide metals precipitating out,” he said. The GSA geology field trip, with its emphasis on sea floor spreading and plate tectonics, inspired him to undertake this senior thesis in economic geology.