Category: environment

Archeology of the Anthropocene

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anthropocene-small.jpgThe terrific Athropocene Lecture Series continues tomorrow night, Sept. 11, in the Chapel at 7 p.m. with an Archeology of the Anthropocene:

 

We tend to think that the human capacity for changing the face of the planet as a relatively recent development. Often we attribute its beginnings to the industrial revolution. While certainly today humankind is altering the earth on a larger scale and faster pace that is unmatched in our history, our ability to modify large portions of the earth’s ecosystem is by no means a recent phenomenon. In which case, the argument for the start of the Anthropocene is more complicated than previously stated. From fire, to plant and animal domestication, to the extinction of species from around the globe, humans have significantly modified the planet for over 10,000 years. The archaeological record provides important clues to how past people managed entire landscapes successfully and the consequences for societies whose practices were unsustainable. 

Associate professor of anthropology, Victor Thompson studies the societies that occupied the coastal and wetland areas of the American Southeast - specifically the ritual and ceremonial landscapes, subsistence systems, and the political development of the peoples who occupied these areas over extended time frames. This lecture should be great. Remember to get there early.

Changing the Humanities

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It is difficult to defend the humanities and simultaneously champion the idea that they must change with the times. An article in the CHE shows the Mellon Foundation grappling with this contradiction:

Other private donors and foundations—the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, for instance—foot the bill for occasional humanities projects. But the Mellon foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities are pretty much the only game in town when it comes to long-term, humanities-focused philanthropy.

And Mellon’s financial contribution far outpaces the NEH’s. From 2000 to 2012, the foundation awarded 6,649 grants totaling $2.9-billion, according to The Chronicle’s analysis. With an endowment currently worth about $6-billion, Mellon handed out about $254-million in grants in 2012, the latest year for which data are available; according to the NEH, in the 2013 fiscal year, approximately $41-million of its grant money—about 36 percent—went to support humanities projects related to higher education, scholarship, and digital humanities.

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The foundation is also concerned about how much pressure universities and colleges feel now "to prove their worth, what they’re really contributing," Ms. Westermann says. Institutions of higher education "do a lot for the public good," she says, "but they are often awfully quiet about it." How can Mellon "help the institutions best think about that and make the case for the humanities in particular in the public sphere?"

Rethinking how graduate students are trained—an issue also on the agendas of scholarly societies like the Modern Language Association and the American Historical Association, both Mellon grantees—could help. The rise of digital scholarship represents "a huge opportunity," Ms. Westermann says. "Not everyone’s going to love the digital humanities, nor probably does everyone have to, but it would be good to begin to build the opportunity to develop that competency right into doctoral education rather than waiting till 10 years out" from graduate school to do it.

The quest for greater diversity, open access, the business model of scholarly publishing... all of these are having an impact on support for the humanities. The discussion is ongoing and important to all parts of campus so be sure to read the whole article. There is nothing to say that the humanities cannot adapt to changing times and hold steady to their importance and centrality at the heart of the liberal arts educational model. But we need to re-enforce this basic message at every turn, that humanities scholarship and teaching is at the core of critical, analytical thinking. Otherwise, higher education risks falling victim to fashion and trends as though it were just another business venture - which it should never be.

Assessing the Gulf

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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. 

Students field tested during Hercules blowout emergency response

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drifter deployment on a boatWhen the Hercules 252 rig blew out and began spewing gas, condensate and other hydrocarbons into the Gulf of Mexico on July 23rd earlier this year, UGA marine scientist Samantha Joye and colleagues from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative quickly assembled a team and plan to assess the potential impacts of the accident. Graduate students involved with the project found themselves with the rare opportunity to participate in 'rapid response' science:

Five students – Joy Battles (ECOGIG), Nathan Laxague (CARTHE), Conor Smith (CARTHE), Tiffany Warner (CWC), and Sarah Weber (ECOGIG) – suddenly found themselves at the heart of this important mission, and not as sideline players. Their educational and research background and their personal fortitude were put to the test, working as a full-fledged response team to plan and execute this “herculean” data-gathering operation.

The coordinator of this response effort was University of Georgia biogeochemist and microbial ecologist Dr. Samantha Joye, science lead for the Ecosystem Impacts of Oil & Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG) consortium. She said that at-sea experience, learning how to plan and stage cruises, is a requirement for oceanography students. However, this was no ordinary field work. “Planning and executing a rapid response cruise is a different animal as time is of the essence and there is no margin for error,” Joye explained, adding, “They were all faced with an incredible challenge yet they achieved remarkable success. I could not be more proud of them.”

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[UGA graduate and current marine science graduate student] Battles and Weber together served as co-chief scientists for a portion of the cruise, guiding the water column and sediment sampling around the blowout site as well as collecting samples for later analyses of methane levels and biological activity related to carbon and nitrogen cycling. Weber explained, “We had to coordinate and execute a strategic sampling plan given the evolving circumstances of the blowout and the capabilities of our scientific gear and personnel.” Though Weber had done similar work, she said, “previous to this cruise…the responsibility had never fallen on my shoulders.”

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"As long as humans endeavor to extract oil and gas resources from the Gulf’s seabed, it is important for scientists to study the consequences of such accidental releases.” – Joy Battles, University of Georgia and ECOGIG

Battles continued speaking about the impact on the Gulf’s fragile ecosystems, “It’s easy to overlook the effects of a natural gas leak because gas is invisible to the eye, but methane is an important contributor to global warming and it plays an important role in oceanic food webs.”

Fantastic experience for these students as well as an important update on the situation from Dr. Joye. Read more about this developing situation and the positive impact the consortim of universities involved in research in the Gulf of Mexico are having on this complex situation. Several of our societal goals (energy independence and protecting the environment among them) come into conflict in the Gulf. Staying informed on progress, and regress, in this important ecosystem can be difficult, especially after dramatic events fade from the headlines.

Image: Conor Smith is shown here in a time lapse photo of one CARTHE drifter being deployed from the R/V Acadiana near the site of the Hercules rig. (Photo courtesy of CARTHE)

Study Abroad: A Franklin experience

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Don’t miss next week’s Study Abroad Fair

By JESSICA LUTON

 jluton@uga.edu

 A well-rounded education can only be enhanced by an international experience. Franklin College of Arts and Sciences students are taking advantage of the many UGA programs all over the world. Our own Dean Alan Dorsey’s endorsement of the international educational experience speaks to the wonderful opportunities open to students and the importance of a global view on thier future.  

Franklin College students make up the largest percentage of Study Abroad participants at UGA, with over 1000 Franklin students taking to the global educational experience during the 2011-2012 school year. That’s 45 percent of the UGA Study Abroad population.

The University of Georgia has plenty to tout in their Study Abroad offerings. There are over 100 faculty-led group programs being operated in approximately 50 countries each year. Students have taken notice of all that UGA offers in this area:

  • Currently, just over 2,000 students, or nearly 6% of the entire campus enrollment (graduate and undergraduate) study abroad in a given year. About three-quarters of those chose either a UGA program or a UGA exchange partner.
  • Western Europe and Latin American remain the most popular destinations for UGA students. The fastest-growing areas in terms of participation, however, have in recent years been Asia and the Middle East, with Africa recently showing significant growth as well.
  • UGA offers breadth in other ways than just geography. We have study abroad programs for dozens of disciplinary areas. We have three residential centers ( Oxford , UK; Cortona , Italy; and San Luis, Costa Rica ) each with unique facilities and foci, and we offer some programs geared specifically to freshmen and sophomores as well as those well into their major curricula.
  • We have program lengths ranging from 10 days to a full semester, as well as full-year exchange partnerships; program offerings range across a variety of pedagogies including service-learning, lecture, tutorial, field work, internship, and laboratory experience.

            While a study abroad educational experience is warranted and certainly sought out by students, the process of picking a program, funding that experience and selecting a program that meets your other degree requirements can be quite the daunting experience.  

Never fear, though. Two events—one this week and another next week—will help you get your boots on and ready to trek the world.

            Today, head on over to the Zell B. Miller Learning Center for “Study Abroad 101: Things to Know Before the Fair” event in room 214 from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. to get the 411 on preparing for the annual Study, Work and Live Abroad Fair.

            Once you’ve done your prep work, head on over to next week’s event and dive into the world of options that an international educational experience can offer. The 29th annual “Study, Work and Travel Abroad Fair” will be held at the Tate Student Center Grand Hall on October 7 and 8 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.

UGA's 29th annual Study, Work And Travel Abroad Fair will play host to over 90 programs that include UGA faculty-led programs, external program providers and organizations involved in international education. These programs will provide information on upcoming study abroad programs which include program dates, academic information, program cost and other pertinent information. This fair is a great opportunity for program providers to market their programs to students and for students to learn more about study abroad opportunities. 

The world is your oyster. Begin planning for a once in a lifetime educational experience now. You won’t regret it.

Want more information on study abroad programs? Visit the University of Georgia Office of International Education website: http://international.uga.edu/education_abroad/

Joye organizes research expedition to Hercules incident site

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Hercules-Natural-Gas-Rig-Fire_Coast-Guard_600x336.jpgOn July 23, a natural gas drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico known as Hercules 265 exploded. All workers were evacuated before the fire, which burned out of control, too dangerous for firefighters to approach, extinguished two days later. UGA marine scientist Samantha Joye, who has become the go-to expert on the ecological impact of Gulf disasters since the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, quickly organized a research expedition to assess the damage:

The rapid response research cruise was on site four days after the incident began on July 22, when workers lost control of the well and the blowout preventer failed.

"The data obtained on this cruise will provide the first glimpse of the impacts of the gas well blowout on the concentrations of hydrocarbons, including methane, in the water column and on water column microbial activity," Joye said.

We, along with the rest of the world, await the findings from Joye and her team about the effects of this disaster. The consortia involved in scientific reseach in the Gulf are a formidable cast from the some of the best universities in the country. Dr. Joye's work, and the reputation and trust it has earned, make UGA a leader in this important work. We appreciate the enormous effort involved in this level of coordination, as well as her abilities in this challenging field of research.

Image of the Hercules 265 rig burning out of control from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Title edited for clarity.
 

CO2 levels hit new peak

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The big news starting on Saturday grew out of reports that scientists measured an average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide of 400 parts per million for the first time, which equals one very busy UGA geography professor:

"Most experts that really study CO2 amounts estimate that we haven't seen that amount of CO2 in our atmosphere in about 3 million years," said J. Marshall Shepherd, climate change expert and professor at the University of Georgia. In other words, modern humans have never seen carbon dioxide in these proportions before.

Scientists say it's apparent that human activity -- namely burning coal, oil and natural gas -- has been driving a rapid rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

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The amount of carbon dioxide varies daily somewhat and has cycled historically in accordance with changes in the Earth's orbit, a phenomenon known as Milankovitch cycles. But the exponential rise in carbon dioxide levels since the Industrial Revolution is far out of the ordinary, experts say.

The number 400 parts per million is symbolic of what many scientists believe to be the inevitable growth of this gas in our atmosphere, Shepherd said. Getting to this number was to be expected.

"It also is kind of a warning sign or red flag that hey, we really need to tackle this problem," he said. "It's happening right before our eyes."

What if this meant you had to do something drastic to cut down on the amount of CO2 you personally generate? What if. What could you start doing different this afternoon that would begin to make a difference?

Reflections on the Latin American Natural Environment

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This Friday April 26th, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute inaugurates an interesting new juried exhibtion to bring attention to art and the natural environment:

"Reflections of the Latin American Natural Environment," a national juried exhibition of contemporary art, [will be on view] from April 22 to May 17 in its offices at 290 S. Hull St.

An artists' reception will be held April 26 from 4-6 p.m. in the UGA Latin American Ethnobotanical Garden behind Baldwin Hall on UGA's North Campus. The event is free and open to the public.

The exhibition's focus—on painting, drawing, textile, sculpture and photography—is designed to help the public develop an appreciation for Latin America's wealth of biological diversity and its variety of land, water and cultural resources.

This work will be for sale, so drop by LACSI during business hours and see what you might be able to add to your collection, an unusual opportunity to view works we might not see in Athens or at UGA.

Every week is Earth Week

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But in April we schedule events designed to highlight the importance of sustainable living:

From April 22-27, the UGA Office of Sustainability, Students for Environmental Action and other campus and community organizations will host events highlighting opportunities ranging from alternative transportation and local food to water resource preservation and career insights from industry leaders.

UGA Earth Week is held in conjunction with Athens-Clarke County Green Fest, a community-wide event that provides citizens with the opportunity to increase their awareness of and interest in improving the environment of their homes, yards, businesses and communities.

Creating the Office of Sustainability was a good step for a community with the size and impact of ours; we can and should do much more to encourage living within our means. Check the complete schedule at the link(s) and use these events to learn more about what you can do. Because every week is Earth Week.

2013 Udall Scholars

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Udall scholarship winnersIt's that time of year again, and the accolades for UGA students are beginning to roll in:

Two University of Georgia Honors students were among 50 students nationwide who were awarded 2013 Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation Scholarships. The scholarships of up to $5,000 are awarded annually to outstanding sophomores and juniors pursuing careers focused on environmental or Native American public policy.

The recipients bring the university's total of Udall Scholars to 12 in the past 10 years. This year's recipients are:
Sara Black, a junior in the UGA Foundation Fellows Program from Birmingham, Ala. who is pursuing degrees in anthropology from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and in ecology from the Odum School of Ecology; and
Ian Karra, a junior from Roswell who is pursuing degrees in economics and finance from the Terry College of Business.

Great news for our students and the institution. The Franklin College proudly honors the many outstanding students in our midst, and a Udall Scholar has particular resonance with the interdisciplinary focus across departments and institutes. As the release states, Black

has held national leadership positions in prominent grassroots organizations, including the Real Food Challenge, the Greenhorns, the Sierra Club and the Sierra Student Coalition, where she currently works to coordinate trainings on grassroots organizing skills for young people. She is also a co-founder of Real Food UGA, a campus organization working with Food Services on sustainability initiatives.

Congratulations to these students, their parents, friends and faculty mentors.