Category: Gulf of Mexico

Kudos, December 2014

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Uma-Canopy-group.jpgEach month, we are humbled by the achievements of our faculty, staff and students. We list a few of the most recent here not to be boastful (though we are quite proud of your accomplishments) but as a simple acknowledgement: grouping together so many accolades from one college, over a short period of time, reminds us of the talent, productivity and professional engagement of colleagues all around us.

That being said, the month just past brought an exemplary set of outstanding achievements that is so extraordinary, I didn't want them to get lost in the fact that we regulalry spotlight such awards and accolades. We do, and there is nothing ordinary about any of them. But there's no way to soft-pedal it - this is greatness in action:

A group of scientists led by Samantha Joye received $18.8 million in new funding 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

Three UGA faculty members (all from the Franklin College) have been named Fellows of 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. The three are dean Alan Dorsey, Samantha Joye and David Garfinkel

A delegation of seven undergraduate students representing UGA at the 18th Annual Southeast Model African Union simulation at Clayton State University won the best delegation award - faculty advisors Karim Traore and Akinloye Ojo

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching selected John A. Knox as the Georgia Professor of the Year for 2014. Knox was the first state winner of the award from UGA since 2004 and the first atmospheric scientist from any state to be selected since 1989.

The Georgia Debate Union won an intercollegiate debate tournament featuring 32 teams from East Coast colleges

Doctoral student Uma Nagendra (pictured above) flipped and twisted her way to the top prize in the seventh annual Dance Your Ph.D. contest for her video explaining biology research through an aerial dance performance

And to preview the upcoming fall Commencement exercises on Dec. 19 at Stegman Coliseum, UGA Alumnus, associate director of programs for the NASA Ames Research Center and great friend of the Franklin College Roger Hunter will deliver the undergraduate commencement address. The graduate commencement will feature UGA Foundation Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Gregory H. Robinson.

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

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.

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)

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.
 

Marine Scientists receive $1.3 million Deepwater Horizon grant

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When the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico began to unfold in 2010, spreading agony for acquatic life, gulf-area residents and the federal government - not to mention BP - UGA scientists knew that the long-term consequences of the spill were likely the most worrisome. Now Samantha Joye and her marine science colleagues will be able to follow up on their very important initial investigations into the consequences of the spill:

University of Georgia marine scientist Samantha Joye, who is the Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences, and UGA colleagues Patricia Medeiros and Christof Meile have received a $1.3 million grant from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative that will enable UGA researchers and scientists from 13 other institutions to understand more thoroughly the ecosystem impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.