Category Archives: Oceanography

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.

Chasing Ice to Jekyll Island

I took a little “blog-cation”: for a while. I was feeling down with a cold-turned-bronchitis for most of January, and didn’t really feel like doing too much.

Mrs. Poolman and I had a nice weekend. On Saturday evening, we drove down to Jekyll Island (about an hour and a half from our home) to attend the screening of an environmental film “Chasing Ice.”  It was very impressive! Several folks from work were involved in the program. Also we are considering sponsoring a screening here in Savannah later in the spring. I thought it would be a good idea to see it first. The organizers from the University of Georgia did a great job. They estimate more than 700 people showed up for the reception, film and panel discussion. I guess there isn’t much else going on in the “Golden Isles” on a Saturday night in February. The film itself was also very good. Here is a trailer.

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.

A lovely trip to Sapelo Island

It’s been a busy two weeks. Now it’s time to catch up.

Earlier this month, I had an interesting day-trip. I had been asked to address a “master naturalist” class being held on Sapelo Island. Sapelo is a coastal island about 40 miles south of Savannah. I was out the door by 6:30 am, just to make absolutely sure I was on board the 8:30 am ferry to the island.

I got to the ferry just as the sun was coming up and the view was almost worth having to get up in the dark of the night.

A beautiful morning.

Marsh near the Sapelo ferry dock.

Nearly ready to go.

The passengers on the morning ferry ride.

Sapelo Island is an interesting place. Even with the ferry, access is restricted. You have to be invited to go there, either because you are visiting one of the residents, or you have some business on the island.  I have been there before when I visited the old Gulluh-Geechee community of Hog Hammock. The occasion at the time had been to accompany a professor-linguist who was working with the local residents to translate some old recordings that had been made on the island in the 1930s. This time, I was headed to the University of Georgia Marine Institute. It is located on the old RJ Reynolds (tobacco fortune) property.

I and some of the other speakers were picked up at the dock in one of the open-air trucks.  I’m glad it was a bright, sunny day, and not storming.

Sapelo Island's answer to mass transit.

I met up with Don Gardener, the extension service agent who invited me to the talk. My talk apparently was well received. I was scheduled for an hour on the agenda, which is about three times our normal civic club talk. But the group seemed to stay engaged, and there were lots of questions. That is good.

While waiting to depart for the 230 pm ferry trip, I got to talking with Dorset Hurley, the research director of the Sapelo Island National Esturine Research Reserve. He had a little time on his hands, so he offered to take me for a drive around the south end of the island. Nice guy. The tour included the historic light house.

Sapelo Island light house

He also gave me with a great rundown of the kind of salt marsh research they are doing there.

The entire ambience of Sapelo is very laid back. One good example of that is what I was told to do in the event my expected “ride” back to the ferry dock did not arrive in time.

“Just take one of these pick up trucks. Drive it to the dock and just leave the keys in the ignition.”

Clearly, auto theft is not a major problem when you are on a small island and there is no way to get the vehicle off.

In any case, my ride showed up in time and I was on the 230 ferry for the half-hour trip back to the mainland.

Back to the mainland.

All told, it was a very nice day. Back to work.

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 fun ride!

One of the many things I really like about my job is that, from time to time, I get to do things fun or interesting. Research cruises or trips to isolated barrier islands are two examples. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go along on a cool helicopter ride.

The science purpose of the helicopter was to observe a study looking at water flow through a salt marsh. A concentrated die was dumped into the water and then the flow of the dye was observed and measured.

Releasing the concentrated red dye.

The helicopter was a Robinson R-22.  It is a fairly small four-seater with the doors all off.

The ride.

As I sat in the back-right seat and looked past my shoulder, there was nothing but air. We climbed to 3,000 feet to get a wide view

Skidaway Island at the bottom and Wassaw Island on the horizon.

You can really see how the dye moves through the marsh.

and then zoomed down across the marsh at around 100 feet.

Part of the science team in a small boat.

All told, the flight was only around 25 minutes, but it sure made my day.

Today, it just another day in the office. Oh well, real life returns.

A well-spent Friday

We had an interesting day today. It started off with a meeting with our county legislative delegation. My boss was the main speaker, but I went along to carry his spear. We aren’t looking for anything special from the legislature in the session that will begin in January, but we need to hold on to the funding we have. Mostly we were there just to keep us on their radar screen.

After that, I spent the rest of the day out on the water and hiking around a couple of the local inner barrier islands.

It was a very nice day!

The project is a joint effort between our institute and the state DNR archaeology division.  We are trying to identify significant archaeological sites that may be threatened by erosion in the foreseeable future. A reporter from the Savannah newspaper went along to do a story. I joined the group to liaison with her and to take pictures for her. Not a bad way to spend a fall Friday.

It was a beautiful day, with temperatures ranging from the low 70s to the low 80s. Nice break from the office. As Mrs. Poolman said, “And you get paid for that?”

A salt marsh

We saw some nature and a couple of pretty cool archaeological sites, including a Civil War era earthen artillery battery and a 19th century bricked walled grave yard.

The graveyard

It’s weird seeing something like that on an otherwise deserted island.

I am not the most coordinated person in the world, which I demonstrated once again. As we were walking along, we came to a fallen tree across our path. Holding on to my camera, I straddled the log, sitting on it. The log was on a slant, with the downhill side to my back. Before I could swing my trailing leg over and hop off the other side, I felt myself falling backwards. Sure enough – down I went. It was like, well, falling off a log. I had dirt and leaves in my hair, but no damage except to my dignity. I fall a lot, and have gotten pretty good at it.

We did see a little wildlife. I was standing and talking with the reporter, when I saw feral hog. It was a mama with about ten little piglets. Mama was fairly large, about the size of my Labrador retriever. She heavily engaged snuffling around looking for food or whatever they do and didn’t notice us until she was about 40 feet away. I raised my arm to try to get a picture and that caught her attention. You could just see what went through her little porcine brain.

“Ohay, itshay!” (That’s pig latin for “Oh, sh_t!)

Off she went, running all the way home. We didn’t hear her, but she must have sent a message for the little pigs, because they also scurried after her.”

All together, it was a good day.

Mrs. Poolman and I are having an early dinner (Spare ribs. How appropriate?) and to bed early. The Gators have an “exhibition game” tomorrow against Florida International. Mrs. P is staying home, so I’m taking two of my Gator-fan friends to the game. We’ll be out the door at 5 am. That’s criminal for a Saturday morning, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”

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.

Back to “booniestomping”

I was back out in the field again this morning taking more pictures of the same project that I was working on last week. This is a geology project. What they are trying to do is to “drill” out core samples of the marsh material to determine the depth of the earlier ice-age era marsh surface. Fun, huh?

This is what it looks like. (This was early in the day, so everyone is still fairly clean.)Vibracore 3

It’s called a Vibracore. That vertical pipe is 20 feet long and the device hooked to hit causes it to vibrate and slowly sink down into the marsh, collecting a core sample for later analysis.

I don’t mind going out and taking pictures. I was only out there for a couple of hours. I don’t envy the rest of the science crew who stayed out all day. It was hot, humid and buggy, and the labor was an awfully lot like work. As I indicated in an earlier post, the ground there is also about eight inches of sucking muck. I fell only once. I tried to take a step backward but the marsh muck wouldn’t let go of my foot. No damage. I was wearing a pair of rubberized overall-pants so my clothes actually stayed clean. One of the crew helped me up. (Placing your hands down to push yourself backup doesn’t work well. Your hands just sink to your elbows so you get no push-off. Also, your hands and arms are covered with the lovely, black, stinking muck, which is great when you have an expensive camera to operate. It’s always better if someone can give you a hand.)  I got to return the favor to the same crew member later. Nice to know I’m not the only klutz on he crew.

There was one cool thing I had never encountered before – snapping shrimp. (not my photo)Snapping ShrimpI didn’t see any, but I heard them. When you are quiet you can here them snapping. It’s a very audible popping sound all around you. Pretty neat.

Hunting the doliolid and a leap of faith

Two of our scientists are taking our ocean-going research vessel, the R/V Savannah on a four day trip looking for the elusive doliolid (doe-lee-OH-lid).

R/V Savannah

R/V Savannah

“What is a doliolid?” you may ask, “and why do I care?” Good questions. These little critters are tiny, not quite microscopic, gelatinous (like jellyfish) organisms that look like little beer barrels.

Doliolid

Doliolid

They occasionally “swarm” on the continental shelf. The changing ocean environment, especially a falling pH, may create conditions ripe for these critters to proliferate. It would be nice to know what they eat, what eats them and how they fit into the whole oceanic food-web scheme of things. Right now we know very little.

Actually, I would love to go along on the trip, but I cannot justify four days at sea for about an hour’s worth of photography work. So I have turned over one of our institutional cameras to the marine tech and asked him to snap away.  In the past, I have not been very successful in getting useable photos from amateurs. (Not that I’m any great shakes, but I can get it in focus and properly exposed and framed frequently enough to get some serviceable photos.) Actually, our marine tech is a very sharp guy and so I am optimistic. I’ll let you know how it turns out.