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Can underwater robots catch the imagination of middle and high school students and spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics? Researchers and educators from the University of Georgia's Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and Marine Extension (MAREX) think so. They are creating an education program focused on autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), also called gliders or underwater robots.

The program, “Choose Your Own Adventure,” will capitalize on Skidaway Institute's expertise with AUVs and MAREX's extensive history of marine education. Skidaway Institute scientist and UGA faculty member Catherine Edwards, and MAREX faculty members Mary Sweeney-Reeves and Mare Timmons will direct the one-year project.

The AUVs are a cutting-edge technology in marine research. The torpedo-shaped vehicles can be equipped with sensors and recorders to collect observations under all conditions. They are launched into the ocean and move through the water by adjusting their buoyancy and pitch. Because they are highly energy-efficient, gliders can remain on a mission for weeks at a time. Every four to six hours over their mission, they surface, report their data by satellite phone and receive instructions as needed.

Skidaway Institute's AUV, nicknamed "Modena," has been used in several recent projects, including “Gliderpalooza,” a simultaneous, cooperative launch of 13 AUVs from different institutions in 2013.

“Gliders are education-friendly, but the existing outreach activities are stale,” said Edwards. “Our program will develop the next generation of AUV outreach programs by combining cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research with educational activities and strong STEM components.”

The proposed work will highlight the problem of working with the strong tides that are characteristic of the Georgia coast. A big issue in operating gliders there is developing a guidance and navigation system that will function well in that kind of environment. The fast-moving Gulf Stream, located roughly 100 miles off the Georgia beaches, also introduces navigation problems.

“Although the AUVs have Global Positioning Systems and can be programmed to travel a set course, tidal and Gulf Stream currents can exceed the glider's forward speed, which can take the instrument off course and keep us from collecting data where we need it,” Edwards said.

However, on the education side, the predictability of tides makes the proposed program highly intuitive and education-friendly.

“Students who grow up and live on the water already have an intuitive sense of tidal currents," said Timmons. "Students understand why currents change during certain phases of the moon. This coastal intuition will provide a foundation for us to start an innovative, hands-on approach to STEM activities.”

Activities will depend on grade level so middle school students will have different objectives than those in high school. However, all the activities will address the direction and speed the AUV travels to a destination. The AUV direction and speed will depend on the sea state of coastal waters such as strong currents, storms or high winds.

To address the problem of strong tides, Edwards and a team of Georgia Tech graduate students, co-advised by Fumin Zhang, have developed the Glider Environmental Network Information System, called GENIoS, which optimizes a glider's path based on data from real-time observations and ocean models. Current doctoral students Dongsik Chang and Sungjin Cho are working to upgrade the system to integrate real-time maps of surface currents measured by Skidaway Institute radar systems.

The education plan is to involve two local educators, April Meeks and Ben Wells, who teach in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System. Since the activities are multidisciplinary, their expertise in building math curriculum will be valuable as the team integrates concepts of marine science, math and engineering into classroom activities.

“After the initial planning phase, we will be taking the program on the road to Chatham County schools,” said Sweeney-Reeves.

Activities will include student role-playing as an AUV maneuvers through a playing field of vector currents on a large game board. Successful arrival at their destination depends on how the individual pilot responds to currents, wind and density changes in route.

“The real fun will begin when obstacles, like underwater volcanoes, a giant squid or other surprises, cause the pilot to reroute the course of the AUV,” said Sweeney-Reeves.

The activities will allow students to develop analytical skills in a program that will be compliant with Next Generation Science Standards for the 21st Century in the common core state curriculum.

The funded study will include two short glider deployments. A summer 2014 deployment will be used for field-testing, software validation and developing real-world scenarios for the outreach program. A fall deployment will serve as an opportunity for classroom participants to communicate with the glider in real time.

“We hope this one-year program will serve as a springboard for future funding and continued joint outreach by Skidaway Institute and Marine Extension,” said Edwards. “We'd love to develop computer games and apps for tablets and mobile phones that let students fly gliders through even more realistic scenarios based on the measurements we collect in real time.”

The program is being funded through a joint grant from Skidaway Institute, UGA Public Service and Outreach, and the UGA President's Venture Fund. The UGA President's Venture Fund is intended to assist with significant funding challenges or opportunities. The fund also supports small programs and projects in amounts typically ranging from $500 to $5,000.

For additional information, contact Catherine Edwards at 912-598-2471 or; Mary Sweeney-Reeves at 912-598-2350 or; or Maryellen Timmons at 912-598-2353 or


UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography now has its own YouTube channel. This is a one-stop-shop for videos produced by or in conjunction with Skidaway Institute and its research projects. To view Skidaway Institute videos, visit this link.


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   Skidaway Island, Ga. – Delta, a loggerhead sea turtle, spent the first 15 months of her life in an aquarium tank, but now she is swimming free in the Atlantic Ocean, courtesy of the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography and its Research Vessel Savannah.

Delta was hatched on Tybee Island on August 19, 2012 as a straggler, a juvenile sea turtle that does not successfully leave the nest. She was taken to the Tybee Island Marine Science Center. There, she served as the Science Center’s Ocean Ambassador and educated more than 49,000 thousand visitor.

Eventually, though, Delta grew too large for her tank and it became necessary to release her into the wild. Although the Atlantic Ocean is only a few steps from Science Center’s front door, the water on the Tybee beaches is fairly cool this time of year. Delta’s caretakers at the Science Center wanted to release Delta into the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream. The Tybee Island Marine Science Center contacted Skidaway Institute for assistance. Conveniently, Skidaway Institute scientist Gustav Paffenhöfer had a similar research cruise on board the R/V Savannah scheduled for the coming weeks, and he agreed to allow Delta and her crew to “piggy back” on this trip.

In preparation for her release into the wild, Delta was fed live crabs and jellies, which helped her bulk up to a healthy twelve pounds. Delta was also checked out by veterinarian Terry Norton from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island.

With Delta and her team of handlers aboard, the R/V Savannah left the Skidaway Institute dock on Monday morning, Dec. 2, for the ten hour cruise to the edge of Georgia’s broad continental shelf and the western edge of the Gulf Stream. Captain Raymond Sweatte identified a favorable release spot, approximately 82 miles southeast of Tybee Island, based on the location of the shelf edge and by monitoring the surface ocean temperature. At the point of release, the water temperature was approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Delta’s crew placed here in a plastic shrimp basket and lowered her off the R/V Savannah’s stern. Once in the water, Delta quickly emerged from the basket and swam out of sight.

Tybee may not have seen the last of Delta. “Since loggerhead sea turtles return to their natal beaches to nest, we can expect to see Delta back on Tybee around 2043,” said Cody Shelley from the Science Center.

Video of the release can be viewed here:


Scientists at the University of Georgia Skidaway Institute of Oceanography are investigating black gill in shrimp, a condition Georgia shrimpers are blaming for an ongoing downturn in shrimp harvests. Very little is known about black gill, so professors Marc Frischer and Dick Lee are working with shrimpers and a number of agencies in a collaborative project to answer some key questions about the condition.

Black gill is a symptom of a health problem in the shrimp. The affected shrimp are easy to identify because they exhibit large black areas on their gills, which are right behind their head. The black gill has no effect on the edible qualities of the shrimp. Shrimp affected with black gill are perfectly safe to eat, and the condition has no effect on the taste of the shrimp.

Black gill has been an issue for pond-raised shrimp for more than a decade, but it has only been within the last several years it has become a problem for wild shrimp fishermen. Black gill can be triggered by several factors among pond-raised shrimp. Skidaway researchers believe black gill in wild Georgia shrimp is caused by a microscopic parasite classified as a ciliate—a single cell animal with tiny hairs called cilia that help them move. The scientists don’t know yet exactly which ciliate is to blame. The blackened gills are the result of the shrimp’s immune system reacting to the ciliate invasion. It creates black nodules around the invasive ciliates in the shrimp’s gills.

Beyond the blackened gills, it is not known how the condition affects the health and morbidity of the shrimp. Shrimp shed their gills through their normal molting process. Scientists suspect the parasite triggers a molting response, causing the shrimp to shed their shells and gills repeatedly in an effort to rid themselves of the parasite. This may cause them to use up extra energy and leave them stressed and vulnerable to predators. Examination of infected gill tissue also reveals the ciliate can damage the shrimp gill and directly impact the ability of the shrimp to breathe.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources statistics indicate that at its peak in October 2013, 40 percent of the shrimp captured in its surveys had black gill. Shrimpers are blaming black gill for reduced catches last year and so far this season.

“That may turn out that is the case, or it may not,” said Frischer. “As of right now, we have no scientific evidence to support it. That would be a good question to address in an additional research project beyond this one.”

Frischer, Lee and their collaborators will try to determine how black gill is transmitted, and if it is infectious. They also want to determine the distribution of the condition and its causative agent, and also see if the parasite exists in other crustaceans, in sediments or in the water.

According to Frischer, the black gill ciliate may always be present in the shrimp and probably other places too. For most of the year, shrimp are able to handle it. “However, in the late summer the water warms and the oxygen level drops, the shrimp may become stressed,” he said. “This may stress the shrimp and allow the parasite to proliferate.”

The two-year project will be sponsored by a $140,000 grant from Georgia Sea Grant, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach. The funding is not yet official, but Skidaway Institute scientists began their work early because this is the time of year when black gill is prevalent. 

Anna Walker of Mercer University is working with the Skidaway Institute researchers to conduct pathological tissue studies.

Other collaborators on the project include UGA Marine Extension Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources – Coastal Resources Division, the Georgia Shrimp Association, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Southern Shrimp Alliance, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries.



Upcoming Event
SkIO Seminar: Campus Buzz: Apis mellifera, The Honey Bee
Ms. Barbara Phillips, Coastal Empire Beekeepers Association
4/30/2014 11:00 am
Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, John F. McGowan Library Auditorium, Savannah, GA

The "buzz" on campus is that a hive of honey bees has recently made a home at Skidaway Farms Community Garden. Ms. Phillips of the Coastal Empire Beekeepers Association will talk about the history and biology of Apis mellifera, the honey bee, and share some key bee facts. The importance of the honey bee will be discussed, as well as the threats and challenges that face the species in today's world.


Barrett, P. M., J. A. Resing, N. J. Buck, R. A. Feely, J. L. Bullister, C. S. Buck, and W. M. Landing. 2014. Calcium carbonate dissolution in the upper 1000m of the eastern North Atlantic. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 28. doi:10.1002/2013GB004619
Hammerstein, H. C., P. A. Work, and M. E. Frischer. 2014. Bacteriophage tracer for fecal contamination sources in coastal waters. Water Quality, Exposure and Health. doi: 10.1007/s12403-013-0104-4
Grand, M. M., C. S. Buck, W. M. Landing, C. I. Measures, M. Hatta, W. T. Hiscock, M.Brown, and J. A. Resing. 2014. Quantifying the impact of atmospheric deposition on the biogeochemistry of Fe and Al in the upper ocean: A decade of collaboration with the USCLIVAR-CO2 Repeat Hydrography Program. Oceanography 27(1): 62-65.
Helms, J. R., J. Mao, A. Stubbins, K. Schmidt-Roh, R. G. M. Spencer, P. J. Hernes and K. Mopper. 2014. Loss of optical and molecular indicators of terrigenous dissolved organic matter during long-term photobleaching. Aquatic Sciences doi: 10.1007/s00027-014-0340-0
Green, N. W., E. M. Perdue, G. R. Aiken, K. D. Butler, H. Chen, T. Dittmar, J. Niggemann, and A. Stubbins. 2014. An intercomparison of three methods for the large-scale isolation of oceanic dissolved organic matter. Marine Chemistry doi: 10.1016/j.marchem.2014.01.012
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