Category Archives: Marine Science

Set my turtle free!

I had the chance to go on a pretty neat science cruise the week after Thanksgiving.

It all started a couple of weeks earlier when I received a call from the director of the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. It seemed they had a loggerhead sea turtle that had outgrown her tank. Because of the cool beach water temperature, they wanted to release her into the Gulf Stream and asked if we could help. I explained that we were not in a position to donate a free sea day on our research vessel. The going rate on the R/V Savannah is around $10k/day. However, in the past, we have helped other groups with similar issues when we had room on board an already-scheduled cruise going to the same area.

As luck would have it, we did have a cruise to the Gulf Stream scheduled, and the scientist who “owned” the cruise graciously allowed the Tybee turtle and her entourage to “piggy back” along. As long as we were going, we also invited the team of four interns from the UGA Aquarium here on our campus, just to give them the experience of an overnight science cruise. I got to go along to shoot video, photos and to generally coordinate with the turtle team and the aquarium interns.

We left our dock at a little after 9 am Monday morning and cruised all day, doing some real science along the way, to our launch point, 82 miles off shore, arriving around 7:30 pm. The loggerhead was lowered over the side in a shrimp basket and, once in the water, she took off without as much as a wave good-bye.

Most of us went to bed fairly early while the crew turned the boat around and headed home. The ten-hour trip got us back to our dock around 6 am.

Here is a YouTube video of the release.

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A great turnout for our open house

We had a very full and exhausting Saturday a week ago.

We and all of our campus partners sponsored our annual open house event. Although three other organizations are involved in the project, it falls on my shoulders to organize, coordinate, publicize and trouble-shoot the event.  I have a ton of help so I don’t want it to sound like I’m a one-man-band. But the day of the event, it is very full, busy and tiring.

We had over 2,000 visitors throughout the afternoon. Here are some sample-pictures.

For the past six years, I have wanted to do nothing more the evening of our open house, than to go home, fix a drink, turn on some football and maybe order some wings or pizza. This year, we had two invitations to parties.  We had to pass on one of Mrs. Poolman’s friend’s 50th birthday party in favor of a dinner party at Writer Princess’s and Son-in-Law’s. This was their first event since moving into their house. Fortunately, they didn’t mind me watching the UF-Auburn game, although why I bothered, I don’t know. Ugly.

We went home and “crashed” early. We spent Sunday hanging around the house, doing laundry, yard work, etc.

Such an exciting life we live.

Guten tag, from München!

I am checking in from Munich on the world’s slowest computer, in our hotel’s one-computer telephone booth… er business center.  All is well, but I don’t have Wi_Fi access. This may last post unless I can locate some other internet  access. 

Tomorrow is Dachau and, hopefully, Berchtesgaden and Eagles Nest. Depends on weather. 

We fly home on Sunday. If I don’t get another chance, I’ll post a final account and photos from home early next week.

A great day on Ossabaw Island

I had a great time on Wednesday of this week – a day trip to Ossabaw Island. Ossabaw is one of Georgia’s secluded, undeveloped barrier islands. The only practical way to reach it is by boat.

The beach

We took off from our campus at 8:30 in the morning with a group of eleven scientists and technicians for the one hour trip down the Intra-Coastal Waterway to the island.

Ossabaw Island is held by the State of Georgia as a Heritage Trust. Access is by permission only.

We had several reasons for this trip. One reason was to conduct some maintenance on the “Barrier Island Observatory.” We are part of a group of organizations that are developing an observatory network on the island. This is a series of sensors and cameras that can by accessed through the Internet. Right now there is a weather station, a water sensor at the dock and at two wells, and a camera at the dock. You can see what they pickup here.

We also had a couple of geologists who needed to dig some core samples, and a graduate student who collected Spanish moss and air samples.

I went along to take pictures and to enjoy the day.

It was great to get out of the office. Along the way, we passed the bald eagle nest on Pigeon Island.

Once on the island, we got around on the back of pick up trucks.

The causeway from the dock to the island.

The island is beautiful and peaceful, with scenes ranging from maritime forest, to salt marshes to open beaches.

Salt marsh

Dead palm trees

A dead tree -- the result of erosion.

An interesting matrix of dead wood on the beach.

Tabby former living quarters

When we first arrived, we were greeted by “Paul Mitchell,” one of the island’s pet hogs.However, unlike on my last visit to the island, we didn’t see very much in the way of wildlife. We saw only one alligator. I think part of the reason for this is that the fresh water ponds on the island are very low, so the gators aren’t close to the various roads and causeways.

No water = no alligators.

All in all, it was a great day and a lot of fun.

A busy month behind me

My month of fairly intensive activity is over and life looks to be getting more-or-less back to normal.

Over the past month, Mrs. Poolman and I had two weekend trips and I had an overnight work related trip. Except for when I was out of town for our Pennsylvania trip, I have been tied up with our evening lecture series two nights per week. Plus, I was also out Wednesday evenings with my CCD class. We finished up on Saturday with our campus-wide annual open house event.The open house was a pretty big deal. We had roughly 1,900 visitors on an incredibly beautiful Saturday afternoon. (Clear skies, mid-70s with a light breeze.) They enjoyed the aquarium, science displays, programs, tours of our research vessels and more.Organizing this event is my responsibility. It has become increasingly difficult and stressful in recent years. More and more “volunteers” have opted out of the project, thus increasing the burden on those of us who are left. I frankly admitted that I did not perform as well in marketing the event as I might have because I was distracted by other issues that someone else had handled in previous years. We definitely need to make some structural changes before next year’s event.

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The Gators dropped their third in a row Saturday night. It will be interesting to see just how good our coaching staff can do their job. With an off week this weekend, they have two weeks to regroup the team and get them on the right path. Do they continue in a death spiral, or can they pull them out and salvage the season? The second half of the season will be interesting.

A day on the water

I had a quick turn around and was out the door early Thursday morning for a one-day research cruise on our ocean-going research vessel. I had not been out on a cruise in about a year, so it was time to get some fresh pictures for my files. This particular cruise was for a group of students from a local university.

Safety briefing -- including the survival "gumby suit"

For many of the kids, this was their first experience. For a few, it was their first time on a boat.

"Abandon ship drill." Fortunately we did not have to go through with it.

We went off shore for about 90 minutes and then came in the Savannah River and worked our way all the way to downtown Savannah. The offshore part was a bit of an eye opener for some. We didn’t expect rough seas, but we got it. We were bouncing around like a cork in a hurricane.  I took a motion sickness pill, but was still just a little green. I was pretty happy when we made our way north to the Savannah ship channel and things calmed down quite a bit. I think one poor kid thought he was going do die, and was afraid he wouldn’t. A handful of the kids just went below and curled up in a bunk for a couple of hours. Can’t say I blame them.

Deploying a conductivity-temperature-depth, water collection array

Recovering a plankton net

It was a long day. We got a back well after dark. But aside from fighting the “Gee I just want to go to sleep” after-effects of the motion sickness pill, it was a very good day.

Just before we pulled back to the dock

It’s all in the words

One of the fun things I do at work is to try to translate science into something that can be understood by the general public. This is often an interesting challenge. At the level I am dealing, the general scientific concepts aren’t usually that difficult, but the language is.

For example, I got a call yesterday from our local congressman’s office. They wanted to produce a news release from their office on a new National Science Foundation grant we have received. They needed a brief, “plain English” project description and quote. The title of the project –

“Collaborative Research: Does competition for nitrogen between autotrophs and heterotrophs control carbon fluxes in the western coastal Arctic?”

Right off the bat, I was in trouble. The single-spaced one-page project summary wasn’t a lot better. The issue was, as usual, with the language. What are autotrophs and heterotrophs? Actually the answer, it turns out, is simple. Autotrophs are organisms that utilize photosynthesis, aka plants. Heterotrophs are organisms that do not, aka animals. Why is this so difficult?

Actually, after some consultation and interpretation with my boss, I found the project is actually fairly interesting. It stems from the warming climate; the resulting loss of sea ice and increased river flows; and their effect on the basic food web in the Arctic Ocean.Arctic icebreaker Here is what I came up with for the congressman’s office.

Description: A warming climate is causing significant changes to the Arctic ecosystem, including reduced sea ice and increased river discharge. This research will investigate the cycling of nitrogen and carbon among the different components of the food web in the Arctic Ocean and especially the role of bacteria in that process.

Quote: “We are most appreciative to the National Science Foundation for funding this significant research. A warming climate is causing significant changes in the Arctic marine environment, including reduced sea ice and increased terrestrial discharge from rivers of nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen. It is very important that we understand the way these changes will affect food web dynamics and, ultimately, the entire Arctic marine ecosystem.”

I run into the same issue when I attend one of our fairly frequent science seminars here on campus. These are informal scientist-to-scientist “brown-bag” presentations that essentially break down to “Here is what I am working on these days.” I usually try to attend in the hope I might actually glean some bit of useful knowledge. Too often, I don’t understand a work the presenter is saying after he gives his name. Although, I later discovered I would probably understand more of the science, if I understood the acronyms and technical “shorthand” they usually use when communicating with peers.

I was walking out of one such program one day and expressed my frustration to one of our faculty scientists, who happens to be a chemist. I felt better when he said, “Heck, you’re not alone. I have a PhD, but it is in chemistry. That guy was a biologist and I don’t think I understood any more than you did.”

It’s nice to not be alone.