Scientific Drones Help Understand Formation of Bahamas Islands

University of Miami graduate student Kelly Jackson and Camera Wings Aerial Photography recently teamed up to capture high-resolution photographs of remote islands in the Bahamas using specially equipped drones. The study is aimed at finding new ways to more precisely study the geological evidence preserved inside bedrock during critical events in Earth’s history.

The UM Rosenstiel School and Camera Wings Aerial Photography teams prepare to launch a drone

The UM Rosenstiel School and Camera Wings Aerial Photography teams prepare to launch a drone. From left to right: Robert Youens (CW), Brent Hall (CW) Gregor Eberli (UM), Kelly Jackson (UM), and Mitch Harris (UM).

“Drones are changing the way geologists map,” said Jackson, a Ph.D. student in the Marine Geology and Geophysics program at the UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “It is now possible to acquire high-resolution photographs and elevation data of the hardest to reach locations.”

From the deck of the John G. Shedd Aquarium’s research vessel R/V Coral Reef II, Jackson and her team launched this unmanned aircraft outfitted with high-resolution digital cameras and position loggers over the remote islands of the Exuma Cays. Their goal of the study is to look back in time at the formation of the islands, which was driven by rapid fluctuations in sea level 125,000 years ago during the Pleistocene.

A drones-eye view of the Bahamas.

A drones-eye view of the Bahamas.

Using this newly available data from the drone technology, scientists can develop more detailed 3-D maps of the complex carbonate deposits, which holds important information about what Earth was like during the last interglacial period, when warmer global temperatures caused glacial melting.

Jackson and her team are currently analyzing the data obtained from the drone mapping survey.

A drone captures a photo of the research team below.

A drone captures a photo of the research team below.

— Annie Reisewitz 

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Faculty and Student Honors & Awards

Professor Eberli Receives Distinguished Educator Award

UM Rosenstiel School Professor of Marine Geology and Geophysics Gregor Eberli is the recipient of the 2014 American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Grover E. Murray Memorial Distinguished Educator Award “for being a superb teacher and mentor to young geoscientists and an educator to the industry and for his insightful and scholarly publications.”

UM Rosenstiel School Professor Gregor Eberli

UM Rosenstiel School Professor Gregor Eberli

A native of Switzerland, Dr. Eberli received his doctorate from the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich in 1985. In 1991 he joined the faculty of the UM Rosenstiel School, where he has been a principal advisor to over 20 doctoral and masters students and 12 post-doctoral students, as well as being associated with numerous other students through his teaching and as a research advisor. He is currently director of the CSL – Center for Carbonate Research, an association between oil companies and the University of Miami, which has been a model copied by numerous other universities. The mission of the Center is to conduct fundamental research in carbonates and to disseminate the results of this integrated research not only through academic journals but also directly to geoscientists working in companies.

Together with colleagues he leads high-quality field trips and short courses to industry geologists and engineers working for various companies from around the world. He co-led an AAPG Field Seminar to Great Bahama Bank for over a decade; the seminar is still run through the University of Miami and since its inception nearly 400 industry “students” have been introduced to carbonates with a major focus on stratigraphy and heterogeneity issues in carbonate reservoirs. He has been a distinguished lecturer for AAPG in 1996/97, JOI/USSAC in 1998/99, and the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers in 2005-2006.

The AAPG Grover E. Murray Memorial Distinguished Educator Award is given in recognition of distinguished and outstanding contributions to geological education, including the teaching and counseling of students at the university level, and contributions to the education of the public, and management of educational programs. The award is presented at the AAPG annual meeting.

2013 Delcroix Prize in Oceans and Human Health

UM Rosenstiel School Professor Emerita Lora Fleming has been awarded the 2013 Delcroix Prize for her outstanding research in the field of oceans and human health.The prize will be awarded in Oostende, Belgium in June 2014, including a presentation from the laureate on her prize-winning research.

UM Professor Emerita Lora Fleming

UM Professor Emerita Lora Fleming

Prior to retiring from UM and joining the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter, Fleming held a joint appointment at the UM Rosenstiel School and the UM Medical School and was co-director of the NSF-NIEHS Oceans and Human Health Center. She has created outreach and educational materials on the human health effects of marine and freshwater natural toxins, and performed research in Ciguatera Fish Poisoning, Florida Red Tides (Brevetoxins) and cyanobacterial toxins.

The Dr. Edouard Delcroix Prize is an international scientific prize awarded to a researcher or a research team for a scientific study on the links between oceans and human health. The prize was established in honor of Dr. Edouard Delcroix (1891-1973), Belgian orthopaedic surgeon and pioneer in thalassotherapy.

Rosenstiel School Student Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention

Joaquin Nunez received Honorable Mention from the Goldwater Scholarship Selection Committee. Nunez transferred to the Marine Science/Biology program in the Rosenstiel School in fall 2013, after earning an Associate’s degree in biology from Miami-Dade College – where he was involved with the National Science Foundation-funded STEM FYE program, which provides academic services to under-represented students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

During his first semester at UM, Nunez joined the UM Rosenstiel School Laboratory of Marine Genomics, where he studies how genomes in the mummichog fish respond to changes in temperature. His work has implications for climate change and the global distribution of fish populations.

Associate Professor of Marine Biology Marjorie Oleksiak, who leads the marine genomics lab, wrote, “Mr. Nunez has proven to be responsible and dedicated, but also enthusiastic and curious.” She said that this “dedicated scholar” has an innate “ability to see a need or opportunity and act on it,” adding, “Often, what he does is above and beyond the call of duty.”

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry M. Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate.  The purpose of the foundation is to provide a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields. For more information, visit: 

A Catch of Another Kind

When Miami fisherman Tim O’Neill went fishing off Key Biscayne one morning in search of swordfish he returned with a much rarer specimen than he had in mind. When he finally reeled in the big chunk of ocean bottom he realized he had hooked a giant tooth.

“I couldn’t grab the rock fast enough,” said O’Neill, captain of the F/V Cacique.


What he reeled in that day from 1800 feet below was an exceptional find – a crustal rock from the ocean floor with a large fossilized shark tooth jutting out. He contacted UM Rosenstiel School scientists to help him identify his unusual find.

According to Rosenstiel School scientists the fossilized upper front tooth encased in rock he caught is from the now extinct relative of the great white shark, Carcharodon megalodon, which is known for its “mega teeth” and estimated to be 10-15 million years old.

“The great white shark that exists today is more closely related to the prehistoric Mako shark than the megalodon,” says Rosenstiel research assistant professor Neil Hammerschlag and director of the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program.

Rosenstiel School marine geology professor Gregor Eberli examined the rock first hand to discover that the black-colored megalodon tooth was well preserved in the limestone rock coated with a mixture of iron and manganese.


O’Neill caught his one-of-a kind find about 10 miles off the coast of Miami in an area known as the Miami Terrace. University of Miami scientists conducting an echo-sounding survey first discovered the region in 1958. The area is of interest to scientists for its mix of geological and biological finds.

“At approximately 1800 feet depth, the Miami Terrace is a large, current-swept submarine plateau whose flank down to the floor of the Straits of Florida at 2600 feet is covered with 100 foot ridges, which provides habitat for deep-water corals, sponges, lobsters and fish,” said Eberli.

Tim O’Neill pulled the rock off the edge of the Terrace. He is planning to keep his million-year-old ocean treasure at home as a reminder that great whites once roamed the Straits of Florida.

— RSMAS Communications

— Photos: Diana Udel

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Mesophotic Reefs: Geology in the Deep

Mesophotic, or mid-light (30-150m) reefs are home to many coral species and critical to commercial and recreational fisheries. In a recent episode of Adventures in Nature on Key Biscayne’s Channel 77, host Teri Scott interviews University of Miami (UM) Ph.D. student David Weinstein, UM Professor James Klaus, and undergrad Marine Science students Christopher Kaiser, Alyson Kuba and Meghan Jones to learn more about work underway to uncover the secrets held in these fascinating reefs.  Watch now! Mesophotic reefs


Mentoring Matters!


On May 10th seventeen RSMAS faculty members, including most of our Division Chairs and Deans, met for a four-hour workshop on “Why Mentoring Matters.”

In the workshop, faculty learned that Institutions with active mentoring are more likely to have productive employees with strong institutional commitment and that good mentoring of junior colleagues, postdocs, and students will lead to a more satisfying, collegial, and productive environment at RSMAS for all. A good mentor will make themselves available, give positive affirmation, actively listen, define expectations, and act as a role model for their mentees, as well as challenging and sponsoring them. In their turn, a good mentee has the responsibility to be pro-active, keep commitments, strive for excellence, and be open to both criticism and praise. An excellent quality for both mentors and mentees is to maintain a sense of humor, which is an antidote for anxiety and frustration!

Faculty discussed ideas for improving mentoring at RSMAS, including establishing a team mentoring plan for postdocs, and facilitating new faculty and postdocs in finding the right mentor for their needs.

The mentoring workshop was given by Dr. W. Brad Johnson, who is professor of psychology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the US Naval Academy and author of eleven books in the areas of mentoring, professional ethics, and counseling. The workshop was funded jointly by Dean Avissar and UM SEEDS (Scientists and Engineers Expanding Diversity and Success).

Text provided by Dr.Lisa Beal, photos by Barbra Gonzalez.

The disappearing of the largest lake in the Middle East

U5The world’s third largest hypersaline lake, Urmia Lake is located 1267 meters above sea level in a closed continental drainage basin in northwestern Iran. The lake and its associated wetlands are home to 27 species of mammals, including the endangered Mesopotamian Fallow Deer, 212 species of birds, 41 reptiles and 7 amphibians. High levels of salinity – 200 ppt, which is 5.5 times more than average seawater – limits the fauna and flora that can survive within the lake. The most dominant flora is a green algae and the only marine zooplankton is a unique brine shrimp; Artemia urmiana, which plays a key role in the lake’s food chain, in particular as the primary source of food for migratory birds such as flamingos.

RSMAS_scientistsAlthough the unique and fragile environment of Urmia Lake is protected under the United Nations Ramsar Convention and registered as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve location, the lake and its surrounding wetlands have been subject to extensive disturbances since the early 1980s. One of the main developments that severely impacted the lake’s environment was construction of the dyke-type “Kalantari” highway to connect two major cities across the lake. As a consequence, natural water circulation, sedimentation pattern and evaporation rates have been significantly altered and high levels of heavy metal contaminants have been introduced to the lake environment.

Lake UrmiaOur study of the elemental distribution patterns in the lake’s sediments reveals high mercury contamination near the Kalantari highway. Moderate mercury contamination is also detected in the main rivers that supply water to the lake, indicating progressive human development in the Lake’s catchment basins. Another major anthropogenic disturbance comes from excessive damming on the Urmia Lake’s tributaries and poor water management in their watershed areas. As a result, the lake’s water level has dropped by as much as 9 meters over the last two decades. The lake has also been losing water to enhanced evaporation in its southern “sub-basin” due to construction of the Kalantari highway.

IMG_8204Covering an area of 5000 km2, Urmia Lake is one of the largest bodies of water in west Asia and plays a crucial role in conditioning regional climate. Rapid shrinkage of the lake not only changes climate conditions in northwest Iran, but it also has a transboundary climatic effect on the neighboring countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.  Decreasing the lake’s surface area leads to expansion of salt planes with high albedo and affects the thermal balance of the atmosphere above the lake. Freshly exposed salt planes become new point-sources of toxic slat aerosols into the atmosphere, and can cause serious agricultural and health complications across the region. While enhanced global climate change cannot be ruled out as a contributor to higher evaporation rates at Lake Urmia, it is clear that anthropogenic sources have played a far more significant role in the graduate demise of the largest continental lake in the Middle East. The fate of Lake Urmia and the demand for saving it has increased tension between people and state authorities in a way that an environmental disaster has turned into a national security concern (“The Guardian” September 5, 2011).

600px-Urmia_lake_1984_to_2011Another important aspect of our research is the study of abrupt climate change in the history of the Lake Urmia. Long-term climate data can be used to assess the natural trends in regional climate and their effect on the lake’s water and sedimentary regime. During September of 2012, in collaboration with the Iranian National Institute for Oceanography, we conducted a field campaign in Urmia National Park and collected more than 20 meters of split cores from different locations around the Lake.  The preliminary results of our study has revealed possible abrupt variations in past climate condition of the region, but the severity of such variability and its impact on Lake Urmia is the subject of our ongoing investigation.

By: Assistant Professor Ali Pourmand and graduate student Arash Sharifi of the Division of Marine Geology and Geophysics at RSMAS