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DMS grad students do outreach in local elementary school

Academic institutions have a tendency to stay in the “Ivory Tower” and be distant from their surrounding communities. Scientific communication and outreach is a great way to minimize the gap between institutions and their communities, and to educate the new generation, especially about environmental awareness. We in the Marine Sciences Department try our best to be aware of this and reach out to communities in order to explain what we do. During the Ocean Week (June 7-9), Prof. Hannes Baumann and Dr. Zosia Baumann, reached out to the Catherine Kolnaski Steam Magnet School, in Groton/CT to give science talks about various marine science topics.

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Prof. Hannes Baumann explaining 'who eats whom' in the ocean

Zosia introduced the Long Island Sound and its importance to 2nd grade students. Then the kids split up to visit various stations. The stations were led by graduate students Ewaldo Leitão, Lingjie Zhou, Max Zavell, Jenna O’del (URI), Molly James, and Dr. Susan Smith. Each one showcased their area of expertise, but catered to 2nd graders.

There were four different stations. Ewaldo and Susan explained plankton and their importance, despite their tiny size, connecting with the kids using the famous Plankton from SpongeBob Squarepants as an example and how it was created based on copepods. To grab kids' attention, organisms were displayed in many different ways, with pictures, a dissecting scope that had a sample with shrimp, baby starfish, a concentrated sample of copepods, and finally a copepod under the microscope so that kids could see how similar copepods are to the Plankton.

Lingjie introduced the concept of DNA, and made the kids build their own DNA strand by using gummy candies and straws. She explained the bases of the DNA using gummies with different colors to represent each, and how they match in the strand. As a motivation, the kids could take their own DNA strand candy home.

Max and Jenna were explaining fish physiology and behavior. They used cleared and stained specimens to show bones and cartilage of the fish. These can determine important fish behavior such as schooling, which is easily observable in the wild.

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Finally Molly explained the physics of the ocean. Using dyes to color water with different salinities, she demonstrated how salty water is denser and therefore stays in the bottom of the less dense, freshwater. These are not just important concepts for the ocean, it is why the kids can buoy easier in the ocean compared to lakes.

There’s an inherent joy and challenge in explaining scientific concepts to kids. We, scientists, are often told to have our elevator pitch in many levels of expertise, in order to explain what we do to our mom and to a potential employer. But explaining to kids is a completely different game. They can have a rather short attention span and yet get easily fascinated by new things. Therefore, explaining scientific concepts requires a combination of teaching them in an exciting way, that is also engaging but simplified so that they are able to retain the knowledge.

Having said that, it is a delight to end these interactions by asking the kids what they have learned, and listening to their excitement when they describe what they have just seen and experienced. Scientific outreach to our youngest generation is a great way to create environmental awareness and to build minds who will take better care of our planet.

Surveying ocean acidification on the Northwest Atlantic shelf

By Ewaldo Leitao.

In August of 2022, Prof. Samantha Siedlecki and Prof. Craig Tobias, along with students Halle Berger and Alex Frenzel, went on the East Coast Ocean Acidification Cruise (ECOA-3). The cruise was led by scientists at the University of New Hampshire, joined through transdisciplinary partnerships with other universities, aboard the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown. The UConn Avery Point members joined the cruise to investigate the contribution of sediments to carbon chemistry and how that ultimately impacts ocean acidification.

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“Core team” on the deck of NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown with multi-core sampler. Left to right: Halle Berger, Samantha Siedlecki, Craig Tobias, Alex Frenzel

Sam, Craig, Halle and Alex were the sediment coring team. The cores go all the way down to the bottom of the ocean and collect both the upper part of the sediment and the layer of water above it. This way, it is possible to understand chemical reactions in this zone between the sediments and the water above it. “The idea here is to understand how sediments control the chemistry of bottom water. There are sediment reactions that could help buffer acidity. But it's unclear how sediments talk to the water above it or how that communication might change in the future” says Craig. You can learn more on the Facebook page of research vessel Ronald H. Brown.

These measurements are valuable information because they are not only timestamps of what is happening at the moment of collection. Increasing the number of observations and fine-tuning the measurements of these chemical processes in bottom waters helps the research of modelers, like Sam. Models are important to test our understanding of ocean processes. We need more measurements like this to more accurately predict marine climate change. Part of Sam’s work is to use this information into regional ocean models to better constrain the role of sediments in the chemistry of the ocean.

Graduate student Halle uses modeling to understand how ocean acidification and warming impacts marine animals like Atlantic sea scallops. “I learned a lot about how all the different carbonate system parameters are measured, and it was great to meet other students and scientists working on ocean acidification. We got to see some whales and dolphins, amazing sunsets and starry nights, and ate a lot of delicious food. My favorite memory was at one station where all the multi-corer brought up was a single hermit crab (no sediment at all). We named him Fred.”, said Halle.

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Sediment sample with overlying seawater and a white brittle star attached to the side of the tube

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Alex Frenzel (left) and Halle Berger (right) collecting a subsample of the core on the deck

This was the third ECOA survey, which only happens every four years. The cruise starts in Newport, RI, travels to Portland, ME and then continues on to Nova Scotia. Traveling the Gulf of Maine, Georges Bank, Long Island Sound, Mid-Atlantic Bight, Chesapeake Bay, and the South Atlantic Bight. Each of these regions has their own physical processes that affect ocean acidification in each region, such as the Gulf of Maine receiving cold waters from the northern Labrador current and freshwater from rivers. In each of these regions, ocean acidification will likely have different effects. In the South Atlantic Bight, coral reefs, soft bottom corals, and therefore fish abundance may decline with ocean acidification. To better understand and accurately predict the impact of ocean acidification in different ecosystems, it is important to continuously do these measurements in order to understand how processes are changing over time in such dynamic environments.

Dr. Lingjie Zhou defends PhD on quantifying phytoplankton carbon biomass using DNA

Congratulations to Dr. Lingjie Zhou on her Ph.D. defense. Check out Dr. Zhou’s description of her Ph.D. journey and accomplishments below. We are wishing Dr. Zhou all the best for her future career!

I defended my Ph.D. dissertation entitled “Estimate phytoplankton carbon biomass using DNA” on Nov. 15th, 2022. My Ph.D. research was aimed at establishing the correlations among the cellular contents of DNA, C, and rDNA in phytoplankton and I measured these parameters for 11 species spanning major algal lineages at different growth stages and under different growth conditions. The correlations would enable oceanographers to determine the species composition and species-specific carbon biomass in the phytoplankton community simultaneously. Throughout the Ph. D. study period, I gave presentations at conferences, including the Northeast Algal Symposium, Phycological Society of America, ASLO Aquatic Sciences Meeting, and Feng Graduate Research Colloquium. I have published several papers as co-author (listed below), and I’m still working on my own papers now. I have received the Student Research Award from the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department of the University of Connecticut (UConn) and the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History in 2019 as well as several summer research awards from the Department of Marine Sciences at UConn.

References:
Nanjing Ji, Jinwang Huang, Zhenzhen Zhang, Lingjie Zhou, Xin Shen, Senjie Lin, Identification and expression analysis of meiosis-related genes in the harmful alga Heterosigma akashiwo (Raphidophyceae). Harmful Algae, 2020, 92, 101736, ISSN 1568-9883, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hal.2019.101736.

Nanjing Ji, Zhenzhen Zhang, Jinwang Huang, Lingjie Zhou, Shengxian Deng, Xin Shen, Senjie Lin. Utilization of various forms of nitrogen and expression regulation of transporters in the harmful alga Heterosigma akashiwo (Raphidophyceae). Harmful Algae, 2020, 92, 101770, ISSN 1568-9883, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hal.2020.101770.

Chuner Cai, Feng Liu, Ting Jiang, Lingke Wang, Rui Jia, Lingjie Zhou, Kai Gu, Jianfeng Ren, Peimin He. Comparative study on mitogenomes of green tide algae. Genetica, 2018, 146(6): 529–540, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10709-018-0046-7

Zhou at the 56th Northeast Algal Symposium in April 2017

 

Dr. Zhou at her PhD defense

 

Zhou at the ASLO 2019 Aquatic Sciences Meeting in February 2019

 

Zhou working in the Lin lab

Annette Carlson presents master’s thesis on oxygen and nutrient cycling in St. Helena Bay

Congratulations to Annette Carlson, who presented her master’s thesis on November 9, 2022. Annette‘s thesis was entitled “Quantifying interannual variability of shelf nutrients and associated hypoxia in St. Helena Bay with new metrics and tools” and she was advised by Professor Samantha Siedlecki.  St. Helena Bay is located in the Southern Benguela Upwelling System off the coast of South Africa. During her master’s, Annette traveled to South Africa to work with collaborators at the University of Cape Town and gain experience collecting water samples, and analyzed an existing dataset to characterize and develop mechanistic understanding of the variability in nutrients and oxygen in this dynamic upwelling region.

Annette also presented a webinar on her thesis work to the Global Ocean Oxygen Network in October 2022, which is available on YouTube, and she participated in several conferences.

CongratulationsAnnette, and best wishes in your future career!

Carlson’s thesis was funded by the US National Science Foundation through a grant to Dr. Samantha Siedlecki and Dr. Julie Granger.

Annette Carlson and colleagues (Raquel Flynn (left), Sina Wallschuss (right)) sampling for oxygen and nutrients in False Bay, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo credit: Pieter Truter.

DMS Kayla Mladinich shows that bivalves can reject microplastics

8 November 2022. DMS is happy to share the latest publication by PhD student Kayla Mladinich, showing the surprising but good news that blue mussels and oysters appear not to ingest all microplastic particles floating in the water.

By Kayla Mladinich.

Oysters and mussels are filter feeders that draw particles in from the surrounding water to be eaten. These animals can select which particles are eaten or rejected depending on factors such as particle size and surface properties. This study was performed to determine what kinds of microplastics will be consumed or rejected by oysters and mussels. Both species rejected larger microplastics more than smaller microplastics and did not differentiate between different types of plastic polymers. The results suggest that oysters and mussels will not ingest all microplastics that they are exposed to in the natural environment!



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Kayla changing water and replenishing food for the animals.

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An oyster being exposed to microplastics in the laboratory. Microplastics are gently pipetted over the inhalant aperture (where oysters draw particles in) which allows the oysters to choose between drawing the particles in or not (Photo: Kayla Mladinich).

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Mladinich et al. ES&T (2022) Graphical abstract

Shell recycling will help restore oysters in Long Island Sound

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On 6 October, Research Professor Z.Baumann surveys the wild oyster reef at Morris Creek, CT

By Elaina Hancock.

7 November 2022. An unexpected find of a healthy, well-established oyster reef tucked away in a shoreline park inspired UConn Marine Science researcher Zofia Baumann to study ways to help these vital ecosystem engineers make a comeback.

Oyster habitats were largely destroyed by development, over-harvesting, and pollution, but in Long Island Sound, their numbers might be on the rise. Baumann and others hope to help restore Connecticut’s oyster populations.

Oysters build habitats where many species flourish, they improve water quality and make shorelines more resilient to erosion, but they need old shells to start building on. The site that became the focus of the project is one where oyster shells were deposited. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of shells in Connecticut and addressing this problem is the primary goal.

The project brings together members of the community, shellfish farmers, and regulators, as Baumann says, this effort relies on the community, otherwise, it will not work.

Dr. Yipeng He becomes the department’s newest PhD!

Congratulations to Dr. Yipeng He, who successfully defended his PhD thesis entitled “Air-sea exchange of mercury and its species in the coastal and open ocean” on October 28, 2022. Dr. He was a student in Professor Rob Mason’s group and his PhD research included research cruises in the Pacific Ocean (GEOTRACES cruise GP-15), Arctic Ocean, and Long Island Sound to collect measurements of mercury at the air-sea interface. Drs. He, Mason and colleagues have already published some of the thesis results in Environmental Science & Technology and Atmospheric Environment.

Check out some photos from Dr. He’s journey below!

Dr. He will be departing soon for another GEOTRACES research cruise to collect more mercury data!

Dr. Yipeng He and Dr. Rob Mason following a successful thesis defense!

 

Yipeng He and colleagues on an Arctic research cruise

 

Yipeng and colleagues coring ice in the Arctic

 

Yipeng and the Mason lab with their atmospheric mercury sampler

Outreach event for eelgrass restoration

On October 19, members of the Marine Sciences Department participated in an outreach event for a research project that is led by Professors Craig Tobias and Jamie Vaudrey, graduate student Shannon Jordan, and Chris Pickerell from the Cornell Cooperative Extension. The research is funded through the Long Island Sound Study. The researchers are aiming to improve the success of eelgrass restoration by adding a chemical amendment to the sediments when eelgrass shoots are transplanted to a new location.

The outreach event involved bringing community members and scientists together to prepare the eelgrass shoots for transplanting at the new sites in the Niantic River. Shannon and the team have also been conducting lots of field measurements and laboratory experiments in the lead up to the transplanting event. We look forward to learning how the eelgrass grows in its new habitat over the next year!

Shannon Jordan, Josie Mottram, Anagha Payyambally, and Alex Frenzel prepare eelgrass shoots for transplanting

Community members prepare eelgrass shoots for transplanting. Credit: Jamie Vaudrey

 

Shannon Jordan and Alex Frenzel participate in fieldwork for the project

 

Shannon, Amelia, Brian and Peter collect sediments for laboratory experiments

Graduate student Mackenzie Blanusa participates in NASA S-MODE cruise

Graduate student Mackenzie Blanusa (a MSc student in Professor Cesar Rocha’s group) has written a blog post about her experience on the NASA Sub-Mesoscale Ocean Dynamics Experiment (S-MODE) research cruise.

Check it out here!

Mackenzie says: “I had been patiently waiting and dreaming about this research cruise for months. Yet a few days before traveling from Connecticut to Oregon for ship mobilization, I couldn’t shake a feeling of denial – like I couldn’t believe I was really going to be out in the Pacific Ocean on a research vessel for an entire month. … S-MODE is wrapping up in a few days and I’ll be on my way back home. The sense of denial I once felt has been replaced with self-confidence and motivation to pursue a career as a seagoing oceanographer. I have learned so much from all the other scientists on board who are more than happy to share their knowledge with a curious graduate student. Although S-MODE is ending, I know this is just the beginning of my journeys at sea.”

Congratulations to Mackenzie and the team on a successful expedition, and we look forward to seeing you back on campus!

Mackenzie (left) and Avery Snyder (right) getting ready to deploy a mixed layer float. Credit: Alex Kinsella

Marine Sciences faculty and students participate in Early College Experience event

On September 23, 2022, the Department of Marine Sciences helped to welcome 200 students from 12 high schools across Connecticut to the Avery Point campus for the annual Early College Experience Cardboard Boat Race event. These students are taking UConn courses at their local high schools and also prepared boats made only from cardboard and duct tape, which they raced in the waters off of Avery Point in the afternoon.

Prior to the races, Professor Matassa shared a presentation on the life of an ecologist and Professor Manning described how oceanographers use new technology to study changing ocean chemistry. Graduate students Mackenzie Blanusa and Riley Pena led a demonstration on the buoyancy of different vegetables. We look forward to seeing some of these high school students join the UConn Husky family in the future!

Congratulations are also on order for Marine Sciences undergraduate Devan Barnum who won the Avery Point community cardboard boat race on September 21, on behalf of the men’s basketball team!

Check out this article in The Day for more photos of the boat race.

The photos below were taken during the event  and are provided by Michael Illuzzi, Gordon Daigle and Cara Manning.
Top: Graduate Students Riley Pena and Mackenzie Blanusa led a demonstration on buoyancy.
Middle: Prof. Matassa conducts a presentation on the life of an ecologist
Bottom: Prof. Manning dressed as a pH indicator for a presentation on changing ocean chemistry.