CARTHE, Waterlust Team Wins Top Prize in Video Challenge

A team of scientists and filmmakers at the Rosenstiel School won top prize in the Ocean 180 Challenge for their video “Drones on the Beach” and placed in the top 10 for their video about ocean currents, “Bob the Drifter.”

Watch the award-winning video:

To read the corresponding science publication on drone technology used in oil spill research, click here.

The videos were created by the Waterlust team, which includes Ph.D. student Patrick Rynne and alumna Fiona Graham and Jennah Caster. Both videos were based on CARTHE ((Consortium for Advanced Research on the Transport of Hydrocarbon in the Environment) research. CARTHE is a Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative consortia based at the Rosenstiel School.

37,795 middle school students judges in over 1,600 classrooms in 21 countries selected the top entries. These students were responsible for critiquing and evaluating the finalists based on their creativity, message, and educational value.

Watch “Bob the Drifter”

The Florida Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE Florida) hosts the annual Ocean 180 Video Challenge, which aims to engage non-scientists and students in timely and relevant ocean science research while inspiring scientists to effectively share their discoveries and excitement for research with the public. For more on the Ocean 180 video Challenge, click here.

CARTHE, Waterlust team

CARTHE, Waterlust team

Faculty, Student and Alumni Updates

Professor Amy Clement Named 2015 AMS Fellow

Amy Clement 1UM Rosenstiel School Professor Amy Clement has been elected a 2015 Fellow of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the nation’s leading professional society for scientists in the atmospheric and related sciences. The award was presented at a special reception on Jan. 4 2015 at the AMS annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.

Clement, an associate dean and professor of atmospheric sciences, leads a climate modeling research group at the UM Rosenstiel School, which aims to better understand various aspects of Earth’s climate, from Saharan dust and clouds to El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which is the largest mode of variability in the modern climate. Clement’s research focus is on fundamental aspects of the climate system, including understanding why the climate changed in the past, and predicting how it will change in the future.

Grad Student Gives Keynote at Sailing Symposium

waterlust-nsps-2 (1)Rosenstiel School Ph.D. student Patrick Rynne recently gave a keynote lecture at the National Sailing Programs Symposium in New Orleans. His talk focused on the inherent connection between sailing and the ocean and how decisions we make impact that relationship and how his cause-based organization, Waterlust, came to be and what small (or big) steps that organizations can take to help promote environmental awareness.

Patrick founded Waterlust, a student-run project aimed at inspiring the world to consider their relationship with water through online film and photography, while a student at RSMAS.

Alumna Joins MPS Program, Awarded Suncoast Emmy®

JulieHUM Rosenstiel School alumna Julie Hollenbeck recently joined the Master of Professional Science (MPS) Program team as associate director. Julie has extensive experience within and among the University of Miami community and has worked in TV broadcast journalism, communications, project management, and outreach and education.

Julie was honored in December 2014 with a Suncoast Emmy® for her work on Living Fossils, an episode from WPBT2’s original television series Changing Seas. Hollenbeck worked as an associate producer for Changing Seas.

The episode, Living Fossils, produced by Changing Seas series producer Alexa Elliott, features research on deep-sea crinoids, a flower-like animal related to starfish, urchins and other echinoderms. Crinoids can be traced back to the Paleozoic era yet very little is known about this enigmatic creature. Researchers featured in the episode explored the depths from a deep-sea submarine, filling in previously unknown details on the lives of crinoids.

Julie is also a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Exeter’s European Center for Environmental and Human Health program.

What is Aquaponics?

photo-1Aquaponics is an ecosystem approach to food production. In one recirculating system, aquaponics maintains a school of fish, a variety of plants, and a healthy colony of beneficial bacteria. The bacteria are the real heroes here. They rapidly consume toxic ammonia waste produced by the fish and turn it into nitrates on which the plants can thrive.
It all boils down to the nitrogen cycle. The fish feed contains nitrogen in the form of protein, which is the primary source of energy for the fish. As part of their digestion and respiration, the fish excrete nitrogen as ammonia both directly from their gills and indirectly through their solid waste. This waste ammonia will rapidly accumulate in recirculating aquaculture systems, and is quite toxic to fish even at relatively low levels. For aquaculture, ammonia must either be flushed out of the system or consumed in a biofilter.
A biofilter is nothing more than an elaborate bacteria condominium. In the biofilter, there is a lot of substrate surface area for bacteria to call home. Two kinds of bacteria have been identified as the main beneficial actors in a biofilter: Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter. In turn, these bacteria convert ammonia into nitrite and then nitrate. This is good for the fish because nitrate is far less toxic than ammonia. This is great for the plants because nitrate is great plant food.
After the bacteria in the biofilter have eaten up the ammonia and spat out nitrate, the plants uptake these chemicals and prevent them from building up. Thus, the plants effectively purify the water for the fish in the aquaculture system.
The plants get great fertilizer, the fish get pristine water, and the bacteria make it all happen.
Unlike aquaculture, aquaponics allows no effluent to leave the culture system for the environment to break down. Unlike hydroponics, aquaponics systems do not require the entire system’s water to be dumped down the drain every two weeks. With aquaponics, you can produce edible fish and plants, waste little water, and produce no external effluent.

Aquaponics at the University of Miami
At the University of Miami (UM) Experimental Hatchery, the main focus has been on raising marine pelagic finfish in semi-recirculating tank systems.
By leveraging the considerable aquaculture experience available in the faculty, staff and students at the hatchery, a successful aquaponics system has been started at the UM Experimental Hatchery to showcase the technologies relied upon in aquaponics systems. We are raising Tilapia in a completely recirculating aquaponics system, with no wastewater going down the drain.
For the hydroponic component of our aquaponic system, we are using a media bed filled with expanded clay and we are experimenting with a vertical tower system which allows greater production per square foot. We are currently growing two crops: basil and spearmint. If you have eaten the pesto at the restaurant SALT on campus since late in the fall semester of this year, there’s a good chance you’ve enjoyed the basil grown in our aquaponics system.
The Aquaponics program at the UM Experimental Hatchery continues to grow. Aquaponics is a great way to eliminate the waste effluent being produced at aquaculture facilities and hydroponic plant production facilities. We are engaging with a variety of commercial and educational facilities which are interested in developing aquaponics operations.

–Joshua Grubman, UM Rosenstiel School part-time lecturer

 

Students Collaborate on One-of-a-kind Coral Bleaching Study

Thanks to an award from the Rosenstiel School’s Graduate Career Development Fund, a collaborative, graduate student-led research team has a one-of-a-kind opportunity to study how corals recover from mass bleaching events.

Five students – Jay Fisch, Erica Towle, Crawford Drury, Phil Kushlan and Rivah Winter – from three different labs across the Rosenstiel School campus have come together to design and execute a field study of an important reef-building coral, Orbicella faveolata, commonly known as Mountainous Star Coral, that suffered during the widespread coral bleaching event at Horseshoe Reef in the Florida Keys during the summer of 2014.

RSMAS graduate students: Phil Kushlan, Erica Towle, Crawford Drury, Jay Fisch, and Rivah Winter

RSMAS graduate students (from left to right): Phil Kushlan, Erica Towle, Crawford Drury, Jay Fisch, and Rivah Winter

Historic information previously collected at the site, combined with collections over the next year will allow the student team to study changes in coral symbiosis and metabolism and to measure individual colony response and recovery following a bleaching event. The research project will provide scientists with valuable new information on the relationship between recovery patterns and subsequent reproductive output.

“Recovery of reefs depends on both the recovery of the surviving individuals as well as the input of new individuals through reproduction,” said the students.

The students received a total of $3000 from the Graduate Career Development Fund. The students are Ph.D. candidates in Lirman’s Benthic Ecology Lab, Baker’s Coral Reef and Climate Change Lab and Langdon’s Coral and Climate Change Lab.

Rescue a Reef Update

130813_112247_054_CoralRestoration Coral reef with out planted stag horn corals.

It’s been over 2 years since Dr. Diego Lirman’s Benthic Ecology Lab at RSMAS began outplanting nursery reared staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) to degraded reefs as part of one of the largest Acropora restoration projects along the Florida Reef Tract. Today, those corals are making a significant impact on the structure and function of Miami’s reefs.

The University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science began growing colonies of the threatened staghorn coral in underwater nurseries starting with only 200 small fragments collected from existing wild colonies. To date, UM’s nurseries have produced over 6,000 healthy corals. Beginning in 2012, over 2,500 staghorn corals were carefully transplanted to their new homes on local reefs in Miami-Dade County. Over 85% of outplanted corals have survived to become part of the natural habitat and have grown to equal 243 meters of new staghorn! That is over 603% more coral than was originally outplanted! This is a significant increase in the number of Acropora colonies on local reefs and will help bridge spatial gaps between existing populations to enhance sexual reproduction and genetic diversity.The Benthic Ecology Lab has learned valuable lessons from their initial restoration success and has developed methods and techniques to increase the survival and growth of outplanted corals. In addition, important informtion about nursery and outplant site selection, growth and productivity variation between genotypes, effects of predation, and recovery from bleaching have been investigated to provide researchers and managers with essential conservation tools for the recovery of threatened staghorn corals.

–Stephanie Schopmeyer, Senior Research Associate II, Lirman Lab

N In Plot 3 P46 Initial size of staghorn coral fragment outplanted in 2012 (5 cm)

IMG_1360-1 Growth of staghorn coral two years after outplanting onto local reef (390 cm)

Water, Water, Everywhere: Sea Level Rise in Miami

Like many low-lying coastal cities around the world, Miami is threatened by rising seas.  Whether the majority of the cause is anthropogenic or natural, the end result is indisputable: sea level is rising and it is due to climate change.  It is not a political issue, nor does it matter if someone believes in it or not.

Tidal flooding on the corner of Dade Blvd and Purdy Ave in Miami Beach in 2010. (Steve Rothaus, Miami Herald)

The mean sea level has risen noticeably in the Miami and Miami Beach areas just in the past decade.  Flooding events are getting more frequent, and some areas flood during particularly high tides now: no rain or storm surge necessary.  Perhaps most alarming is that the rate of sea level rise is accelerating.

Diving Into Data

Certified measurements of sea level have been taken at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School on Virginia Key since 1996 (Virginia Key is a small island just south of Miami Beach and east of downtown Miami)[1].  Simple linear trends drawn through annual averages of all high tides, low tides, and the mean sea level are shown below, and all three lines are about 3.7″ higher in 2014 than they were in 1996.

Annual average water levels and linear trends at Virginia Key, FL (1996-2014)

[This graph was updated in Feb 2015 to include verified data through the end of 2014.]

Zooming in to daily data, let’s look at two representative months (nothing unique about them): May 1996 and May 2014.  Tidal predictions are calculated to high accuracy using dozens of known astronomical factors, but do not account for non-astronomical factors such as weather or sea level rise.  In 1996, the observed water levels were typically close to the predicted values… sometimes slightly higher, sometimes slightly lower due to meteorological influences.  In May 2014, however, there was still variability, but the tides were always higher than predicted.

Predicted (blue) and observed (green) high/low water heights at Virginia Key, May1-May 31. (NOAA/NOS)

Predicted (blue) and observed (green) high/low water heights at Virginia Key, May1-May 31. (NOAA/NOS)

As eluded to in the introduction, sea level is not just rising here, the rate of the rise is accelerating.  For the following chart, only the daily high water mark (highest of the two high tides) for every day for 19 years is plotted.  The water levels at high tides are the most relevant because that is when flooding events are more prone to occur.  The data are color-coded by arbitrary 5-year periods (pink is 2010-2014, green is 2005-2009, blue is 2000-2004, and purple is the remainder: 1996-1999).  For reference, the average seasonal cycle is shown by the thin black line and is calculated using a 31-day running mean of all 19 years of daily data.  There is plenty of daily and intra-annual variability of course, but what stands out is the increasing slopes of the linear trends.  Over the past 15 years, the average high tide has increased by 0.30″/year, but over just the past 5 years, the high tide has increased at an average rate of 1.27″/year.

[This chart was updated in Feb 2015 to include verified data through the end of 2014.]

If the seasonal cycle (black line in the figure above) is subtracted from the data, as well as the mean of all of the data, a revised series of trendlines can be generated (see figure below).  Removing the dominant annual and semi-annual cycles from the time series leaves only daily variability, miscellaneous cycles, and trends.  The results are qualitatively similar (upward and accelerating trends), but the rates are slightly reduced. For example, over the past 15 years, the average annual increase is roughly 0.27″/year, but over just the past 5 years, it’s about 0.97″/year.  Be advised that simple linear trends of complex data are not necessarily reliable for extrapolating very far into the future.

[This chat was added in February 2015 and utilizes data through the end of 2014.]

[This chart was added in Feb 2015 and includes verified data through the end of 2014.]

Exposure

The Miami metropolitan region has the greatest amount of exposed financial assets and 4th-largest population vulnerable to sea level rise in the world.  The only other cities with a higher combined (financial assets and population) risk are Hong Kong and Calcutta [2].

Using a sea level rise projection of 3 feet by 2100 from the 5th IPCC Report [3] and elevation/inundation data, a map showing the resulting inundation is shown below.  The areas shaded in blue would be flooded during routine high tides, and very easily flooded by rain during lower tides.  Perhaps the forecast is too aggressive, but maybe not… we simply do not know with high confidence what sea level will do in the coming century.  But we do know that it is rising and showing no sign of slowing down.

Map showing areas of inundation by three feet of sea level rise, which is projected to occur by 2100. (NOAA)

Map showing areas of inundation by three feet of sea level rise, which is projected to occur by 2100. (NOAA)

An Attack from Below

In addition to surface flooding, there is trouble brewing below the surface too.  That trouble is called saltwater intrusion, and it is already taking place along coastal communities in south Florida. Saltwater intrusion occurs when saltwater from the ocean or bay advances further into the porous limestone aquifer.  That aquifer also happens to supply about 90% of south Florida’s drinking water.  Municipal wells pump fresh water up from the aquifer for residential and agricultural use, but some cities have already had to shut down some wells because the water being pumped up was brackish (for example, Hallandale Beach has already closed 6 of its 8 wells due to saltwater contamination).

Schematic drawing of saltwater intrusion.  Sea level rise, water use, and rainfall all control the severity of the intrusion. (floridaswater.com)

Schematic drawing of saltwater intrusion. Sea level rise, water use, and rainfall all control the severity of the intrusion. (floridaswater.com)

The wedge of salt water advances and retreats naturally during the dry and rainy seasons, but the combination of fresh water extraction and sea level rise is drawing that wedge closer to land laterally and vertically.

In other words, the water table rises as sea level rises, so with higher sea level, the saltwater exerts more pressure on the fresh water in the aquifer, shoving the fresh water further away from the coast and upward toward the surface.

Map of the Miami area, where colors indicate the depth to the water table.  A lot of area is covered by 0-4 feet, including all of Miami Beach. (Dr. Keren Bolter)

Map of the Miami area, where colors indicate the depth to the water table. A lot of area is covered by 0-4 feet, including all of Miami Beach. (Keren Bolter, FAU)

An Ever-Changing Climate

To gain perspective on the distant future, we should examine the distant past.  Sea level has been rising for about 20,000 years, since the last glacial maximum.  There were periods of gradual rise, and periods of rapid rise (likely due to catastrophic collapse of ice sheets and massive interior lakes emptying into the ocean). During a brief period about 14,000 years ago, “Meltwater Pulse 1A”, sea level rose over 20 times faster than the present rate. Globally, sea level has already risen about 400 feet, and is still rising.

Observed global sea level over the past 20,000 years... since the last glacial maximum. (Robert Rohde, Berkeley Earth).

Observed global sea level over the past 20,000 years… since the last glacial maximum. (Robert Rohde, Berkeley Earth).

With that sea level rise came drastically-changing coastlines.  Coastlines advance and retreat by dozens and even hundreds of miles as ice ages come and go (think of it like really slow, extreme tides).  If history is a guide, we could still have up to 100 feet of sea level rise to go… eventually.  During interglacial eras, the ocean has covered areas that are quite far from the coastline today.

Florida's coastline through the ages.  (Florida Geological Survey)

Florida’s coastline through the ages. (Florida Geological Survey)

As environmental author Rachel Carson stated, “to understand the living present, and promise of the future, it is necessary to remember the past”.

What Comes Next?

In the next 20 years, what should we reasonably expect in southeast Florida?  The median value of sea level from various observed trends in 2034 is around 6″, with a realistic range of 3-12″.

Year by year, flooding due to heavy rain, storm surge, and high tides will become more frequent and more severe.  Water tables will continue to rise, and saltwater intrusion will continue to contaminate fresh water supplies.

This is not an issue that will simply go away.  Even without any anthropogenic contributions, sea level will continue to rise, perhaps for thousands of years.  But anthropogenic contributions are speeding up the process, giving us less time to react and plan.

The entire region is already considered high-risk by insurance companies because of the hurricane threat, so at some point, this additional gradual threat will likely lead to extreme-risk properties being uninsurable.

Coastal cities were built relatively recently, without any knowledge of or regard for rising seas and evolving coastlines.  As sea level rises, coastlines will retreat inward. Sea level rise is a very serious issue for civilization, but getting everyone to take it seriously is a challenge.  As Dutch urban planner Steven Slabbers said, “Sea level rise is a … storm surge in slow motion that never creates a sense of crisis”.  It will take some creative, expensive, and aggressive planning to be able to adapt in the coming decades and centuries.

—–

Special thanks to Keren Bolter at Florida Atlantic University and Dr. Shimon Wdowinski at University of Miami for their inspiration and assistance.

1. http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/stationhome.html?id=8723214

2. http://www.businessinsider.com/cities-exposed-to-rising-sea-levels-2014-4

3. http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter13_FINAL.pdf