Category: marine science

New funding for ECOGIG-2


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

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



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

Joye organizes research expedition to Hercules incident site


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.

UGA to launch robotic submersible, 'Salty Dawg'


Castelao-Renato with gliderGreat news from the department of marine sciences:

UGA physical oceanographer Renato Castelao and colleague Ruoying He of North Carolina State University will launch two autonomous underwater vehicles called gliders in fall 2013. UGA's Salty Dawg and NCSU's Salacia, named for the Roman goddess of salt water, will remotely collect data on the exchange of water between the coastal ocean off Georgia and the Gulf Stream.

"The oceans are chronically under-sampled, and it is difficult and expensive to deploy traditional instruments in the water to measure them," said Castelao, an assistant professor of marine sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, and the project's principal investigator. "Gliders provide a cost-effective way to increase the number of observations we collect by the sheer number and detailed analysis of samples they can collect over time."

Efficient and cost-saving intruments to explore the oceans. Our demand for data creates new pressures for our research scientists. Castelao and colleagues at other institutions are working together to create and implement new solutions. Congratulations and we look forward to the launch of Salty Dawg and Salacia later this year.

Image: UGA photo of Renato Castelao and the glider Salty Dawg

Focus on the Faculty: Patricia Yager


yager_patricia, with ocean backgroundAssociate professor of marine sciences Patricia Yager, whose research attempts to help the scientific community keep pace with how climate change is impacting our oceans, is the subject of the Focus on Faculty feature on the UGA homepage all this week. A sample:


What are your favorite courses and why?

I really enjoy teaching the Honors-level biology class (MARS 1025H) to non-science majors. Everyone seems to love marine biology even if they don't love science. I try to teach the class so that marine science is approachable to all students. Every once in a while, someone in the class even decides to change majors! 

I also enjoy teaching a graduate course (MARS 8050) on “Climate, the Ocean, and the Marine Biosphere.” It evolves every time I teach it and keeps me current on the latest research findings across the broad fields related to climate. I also expect that every current graduate student in marine science will find themselves dealing with climate change issues in the future—no matter what their research focus—so I hope to give them some tools to do that.



NSF renews coastal research grant


Sapelo-island estuary daylight.The UGA Marine Institute on Sapelo Island was founded in 1953 and has been at the center of ecological research on salt-marsh coastal ecoystems ever since. That work, lead by our department of marine sciences, continues apace with the renewal of an important NSF grant:

A consortium of universities headed by the University of Georgia will continue ecological field research on the marshes and estuaries of the Georgia coast following the renewal of a six-year, $5.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The award will help scientists understand how these ecosystems function, track changes over time and predict how they might be affected by future variations in climate and human activities.

"Discerning long-term trends in natural systems requires careful scientific analysis over the course of many years," said Merryl Alber, Georgia Coastal Ecosystems Long-Term Ecological Research project manager and professor of marine sciences at UGA.

Congratulations to all involved in the consortium, whose work will take on added urgency in the coming years, as coastal areas become the focus of increased observation on the effects of climate change. 

Image: Sapelo Island, courtesy UGA Photography.


New 'Seascape' mural brings to together science, art



 A collaboration between the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences division of biological sciences, Lamar Dodd School of Art and the department of marine sciences, a new “Seascape” mural in the Biological Sciences building, will be formally unveiled on Friday August 31 at 4 p.m. in the third floor hall of biological sciences.

Ecology and the Learning Environment



The slowest-moving indicators can often be the most difficult to study, requiring patience and a general knowledge of many overlapping correlations. It's axiomatic that the seeming constants in life become the benchmarks and things we depend on, even though there are no true constants - with the exception of change itself. Learning from these changes also takes a great deal of patience, honed skills of observation and a diversity of knowledge that runs through many disciplines. Ecology is the study of the many systems that work together to form our natural environment, and so it follows that ecology is a kind of umbrella super-structure of study that touches many parts of the university, including of course, the Franklin College.

UGA is the home of the man who initially formulated many of the systems theories of modern ecology, Eugene Odum, widely considered the father of modern ecology. Our Odum School of Ecology is properly the base of this umbrella discipline, which has connections thoughout the Franklin College - from genetics and anthropology to marine science, statistics and elsewhere. A great example of these connections is the 97th annual meeting this week of the Ecological Society of America, where almost forty faculty and students from UGA will present their work.

The Odum School of Ecology has the most attendees from UGA with 16 presenting at the meeting. They are among 38 from UGA who will lead sessions and present papers and posters on topics such as disease ecology, biogeochemistry, aquatic ecology, woody plants and ecosystem management.


Other UGA colleges sending scientists include the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources (13), the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences (five) and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (four).

Deepwater Horizon, two years later



Two, very short years ago today, high pressure methane gas from a BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico expanded into the drilling riser and was released onto the drilling rig, where it ignited and exploded, engulfing the drilling rig (wikipedia). It's no surprise that ecological issues in the Gulf persist, though the gravity of them can be unsettling:

research into the disaster's environmental effects is turning up ailing fish that bear hallmarks of diseases tied to petroleum and other pollutants.

Those illnesses don't pose an increased health threat to humans, scientists say, but the problems could be devastating to prized species such as grouper and red snapper, and to the people who make their living catching them.

There's no saying for sure what's causing the diseases in what's still a relatively small percentage of the fish, because the scientists have no baseline data on sick fish in the Gulf from before the spill to form a frame of reference. The first comprehensive research may be years from publication. And the Gulf is assaulted with all kinds of contaminants every day.

And UGA marine scientists continue to make the case that our spill responses need to be amended:

On the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon blowout, a national panel of researchers including University of Georgia marine scientist Samantha Joye is urging the federal government to reassess how it would respond to similar oil spills that might occur in the future.

Marine Scientists receive $1.3 million Deepwater Horizon grant



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.