Wednesday, December 9, 2020

HALO Dec. 2020 update (i.e. Lake Okeechobee HABs)

 By: Jordon Beckler 

So, long time no see, I guess thats how these things go...a great person once told me "a clean workbench is the sign of an empty mind"..I guess an empty blog is the equivalent...

Anyways, things are kicking into high gear. We had a record number of people at one of our recent meetings...twenty two!  A lot of cool ideas bouncing around!

We have an all-systems test run the week of Dec. 14th - basically, all tasks will be active. 

For us, this means we will be out on the Lake 2 or 3 days. My team will be deploying our new benthic lander, and our friends at Watson Technical Dive Training will help us collect sediment cores we can then analyze. We will have the autonomous sailboat meet us out there on the water, and we will of course be collecting samples for water quality and HAB organisms.

We are hitting 5 sites total that cover a good portion of the lake, including the hotspot bloom areas.

Last week, we had the team at Navocean stop by Harbor Branch to work on calibrating some of the autonomous sailboat sensors (i.e. CTD, fluorometer with chlorophyll-A, backscatter sensor, and ADCP). Here is a cool pic of Lynn Wilking and Jess Carney calibrating the fluorometer using fluorescent rhodamine dye for a phycocyanin calibration (i.e. to measure blue-green algae toxins).

We also had the Engineering and Marine Ops crews over to discuss deployment rigging options for our big benthic lander in the foreground:

The lander has some fun new components on it, e.g. a couple of syringe samplers to collect fluid from the sediment flux chambers (pictured), a new LiFePO4 battery, and some new Seabird pumps to gently stir the sediment flux chambers.

So thats the newest on the HALO project. We will have the data portal at fully operational soon - by the end of the year - so make sure you routinely stop by to see what we are up to!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Sediment Microbial Fuel Cells

By: Emerick Gilliams (our NSF-REU Renewable Energy Program summer intern)

Hi! I am a rising junior studying chemical engineering at the University of Florida. This summer, I have been taken on as a renewable energy intern at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute where I have been working remotely on benthic microbial fuel cells (BMFCs).

            BMFCs are an emerging option for renewable energy. BMFCs utilize microbes in the sediment of the benthic layer in a body of water to create an electric current as the microbes oxidize organic and inorganic matter. This creates a redox gradient between the anoxic sediment and oxic water.

            The importance of this research and all research with BMFCs strongly relates to oceanographic research, as BMFCs are being investigated as a possible power source for subsea sensors. BMFCs are currently being used as battery substitutes and battery chargers for offshore dataloggers and sensors. Successfully making BMFCs a consistent power source would reduce the costs for device deployment, maintenance, and replacement, which happens to be some of the most expensive portions of marine research.

            The overall goal of my project is to explore the capabilities of small-scale BMFCs. During my project, I have created ten indoor BMFCs using sediment and water samples from a nearby lake. I have been testing various sets of three variables: salinity, BMFC design, and addition of carbon-based additives. My project has shown that with even a fuel cell design size of a few inches, harvestable power is accomplishable.

            During this research, I have also been working with Arduino circuitry to create a battery-powered device that can monitor the voltage of a fuel cell while recording that data to a micro SD card. This device can monitor up to six BMFCs for about 100 days while connected to a battery.

            For the conclusion of my project, three BMFCs will be constructed in situ in a nearby lake and will be monitored by my Arduino circuit in a waterproof enclosure. The data will be analyzed after the completion of the program.

            Overall, I am very thankful to have had this experience, and I cannot wait to bring what I have learned into my future academic and professional career!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Hiring for HALO: The Harmful Algal Bloom Assessment of Lake Okeechobee

Such an exciting time! We are leading a large effort to monitor and predict detrimental blooms of Microcystis aeruginosa algae in Lake Okeechobee. See the snippet below...We can't speak too much about things publicly now, so the main reason for this post is for hiring purposes. More to come soon!

But first, we need to fill three EXCITING positions slated to start between July and September of 2020. They are all OPEN NOW!!!

REQ08679 Postdoctoral Fellow: Biogeochemistry: This person will work closely with myself (Jordon Beckler) to lead the development and implementation of new, innovative monitoring techniques (e.g. in situ electrochemistry on benthic landers) for comprehensive monitoring of sediment dynamics in relation to harmful algal blooms. There will be tremendous opportunities for career growth both within the institute and through external partners. 

REQ08678 Postdoctoral Fellow Oceanographic/Environmental Data Science: This person will manage the information hierarchy of numerous data streams and ensure the data is archived and disseminated efficiently to the public. While this person does not need to code the database (we have partners for that), they should be familiar with state-of-the-art database construction and practices, and be able to write scripts to allow the retrieval and processing of the data, e.g. for performing statistical analyses. This person will "have their finger on the pulse" of the Lake, and will be expected to interact with public officials and the media routinely. 

REQ08672 Biogeochemical Coordinator: This person will split their time between the Geochemistry and Geochemical Sensing Lab and the Phytoplankton Dynamics lab and will plan and conduct all sorts of geochemical and biological analyses. Great position from someone fresh out of a Masters degree or a couple of years post bachelors degree (or with lots of previous lab experience)

Please visit the FAU website, select the Harbor Branch campus, and find those those corresponding requisition numbers. Please contact me if you have questions!!


To combat Florida freshwater eutrophication, harmful algae proliferation, and ultimately protect human and ecosystem health, a comprehensive sensing and information visualization package will augment existing State of Florida monitoring programs by expanding ambient and ground water water quality and biological measurements with innovative HAB detection and environmental characterization technologies, allowing the pinpointing problem areas prior to or early during Lake Okeechobee harmful algal bloom (HAB) emergence, and developing predictive models. The HALO system (Harmful Algal Bloom Assessment of Lake Okeechobee) will include a web-based platform for visualizing Lake Okeechobee freshwater HAB bloom intensities and extents, as well as results of environmental characterization and modeling. The multi-faceted approach will provide the necessary data to improve our overall knowledge of the triggers underlying HAB formation, toxin generation, and bloom senescence. Finally, the innovative technologies and the knowledge gained during this Project will set a foundation for selecting and applying future mitigation technologies, whether of a preventative or active nature, while the HALO system will provide a platform for mitigation efficacy monitoring.

Briefly, tasks include:                                                               

      Task 1: A round-the-clock data portal, HALO, will be implemented and serve as a publicly available database and data portal. HALO will integrate data collected in other tasks and from existing monitoring programs to provide data visualization. Biogeochemical and machine learning models will also be implemented within HALO to forecast bloom conditions based on data aggregated within HALO.

      Task 2: Traditional HAB sampling monitoring techniques will be applied in conjunction with advanced analytical methods to detect and monitor HABs. This task will focus on environmental monitoring, biological sampling and analysis, and toxin analysis of water column samples. Data collection will include discrete samples as well as autonomous in situ monitoring via innovative optical and acoustic techniques.

      Task 3: Traditional and novel sediment sample measurements will be utilized to determine the role of sediment nutrient loading in relation to HABs in Lake Okeechobee. Spatial and temporal load mapping and benthic fluxes of carbon and nutrients will be assessed, in situ sediment measurements will be collected continuously and over discrete time periods, and toxin analysis will be conducted on sediment cyst samples.

      Task 4: An Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV) will be employed to provide continuous environmental, biogeochemical, and physical monitoring of surface waters with real-time communication. The ASV will be programmed to survey a specified area of Lake Okeechobee, but its route can be updated based on bloom conditions or other factors. Data will be transmitted at regular intervals to HALO.

      Task 5: A SeaPRISM radiometer will be used to conduct autonomous monitoring of spectral radiometry at a fixed location on Lake Okeechobee. Additionally, satellite remote sensing data will be obtained, processed, and uploaded to HALO, and eventually used for development of HAB and other algorithms specific to Lake Okeechobee.

      Task 6: Fixed-location intensive water quality monitoring will be conducted via at two locations in Lake Okeechobee. The systems will provide an intensive array of continuous water quality monitoring parameters, including chlorophyll, nitrate, and orthophosphate, and data will be regularly uploaded to HALO.

      Task 7: Human exposure to HAB toxins will be monitored over the course of this study to determine the relationship between environmental and human health. Nasal swabs of human subjects participating in this study and ambient air samples will be collected and analyzed for microcystin.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Sea Vegetable Experiment Begins

On March 11th, Lynn Wilking assisted Dr. Megan Davis, Ikuko Fujisaki, and volunteer Obby Tapley to plant 3 types of sea vegetables in different types of substrate. Plants were set up at the aquaculture center at Harbor Branch, and were planted in sand, clay pebbles, or no substrate (water only). Their growth will be monitored over the next few weeks to see if substrate type influences growth rates. As you can probably guess, our lab is interested in the sediment aspect of this project. We are looking forward to seeing the results!

FCCHH Field Sampling Wrap-up

The Beckler lab got up before the sun to complete the field sampling for the Florida Center for Coastal and Human Health, and we have some beautiful sunrise photos to prove it! This was a collaborative effort with several other Harbor Branch faculty and staff, and we were happy to get out on the boat and collect sediment and surface water samples for the final dry season sampling event, which wrapped up on March 17th. Samples were collected from the Indian River Lagoon, spanning from the Banana River in the north to Jensen Beach in the south. The goal of this project is to determine the impact harmful algal blooms, climate change, and human activities may have on the IRL, and how all these factors interact to influence human health and environmental concerns. Check back to find out the results of this study!

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Iron just never ceases to amaze...

By Matt Quinan:
Terrestrially derived iron minerals may safeguard marine ecosystems from eutrophication and sulfidization, but the full extent of their ecosystem benefits has not been established.  Iron redox cycling can generate hydrocarbon-degrading hydroxyl radicals, with reactions probably occuring more frequently in sediments with elevated iron content such as those in the RiOMars (River-dominate Ocean Margins). To determine if iron in marine sediment affects the degradation of hydrocarbons, we augmented sediments with iron and Deepwater Horizon crude oil to simulate conditions similar to those of a post-spill seafloor environment. Significant differences in the redox environment and oil degradation result as a function of sediment composition. These results could have significant implications for environmental policy decision making.

In order to determine if redox conditions do indeed affect hydrocarbon degradation rates and pathways, artificial sediment cores were created with variable compositions of play-sand, iron-coated sand, Indian River Lagoon (IRL) mud, and clay. The cores were separated into three oil treatments: Control, Oil 1, and Oil 2. Five replicates of each core were assembled to provide five sacrificial timepoints. They were then incubated in natural IRL water using a flow through system constructed for this experiment in the Harbor Branch Sediment Incubation Laboratory.

A black layer consistent with FeS minerals and concentrated in microbes formed in the cores almost immediately after incubation started.  But, the concentration of crude oil and iron in the cores seems to control the extent of the black layer.  It is possible that the presence of iron slows the slows the establishment of sulfur chemistry in the core.


Oil extraction and analysis (GC/MS) after 2 months of incubation, has shown that an increase in the sedimentary iron concentration leads to an increase in the n-alkane degradation rate.  Also, the shorter chain alkanes that are not present in the source crude oil have appeared in cores with higher oil concentrations after incubating.  It is possible that the longer chain alkanes are being transformed into shorter chain alkanes when iron is present in the sediment. 

The next phase of this project will include the incubation natural sediment from the northern Gulf of Mexico amended with crude oil. The culmination of this project will be the construction of a model capable of estimating the length of time required for natural river systems to degrade hydrocarbons under different discharge scenarios that affect mineral delivery.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Whale Parts

By Matt Quinan:
Anthropogenic activities have significantly altered the chemistry of the world’s oceans.  Heavy metals from manufacturing are constantly transported to the oceans via rivers and streams and bring with them the potential to harm much of the life off our coasts.  One group that is particularly at risk is cetaceans.  As these large mammals consume prey laden with heavy metals, the contaminants build up in their tissue leading to potentially serious health problems.  One thing that is not well understood is the partitioning of different heavy metals throughout their bodies.  300 whale tissue samples collected from strandings in Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida are currently being processed and will soon be sent out for heavy metal analysis.  Concentrations of different heavy metals in liver, kidney, muscle, blubber, and skin samples will be compared to determine where different heavy metals tend to collect within the mammals.  This information, measured against known heavy metal concentrations in prey tissue from different areas may be able to offer us a glimpse into the lifestyles of these elusive animals. For example, if a whale is stranded on the beach in the southeastern U.S., can we develop a model that will help us determine where it spent its life based on its heavy metal fingerprint? In other words, if we know the geographic distribution of mercury, cadmium, lead etc. in the environment (e.g. in the whale's prey), can we inversely determine the geographic life history of a whale assuming that the cumulative uptake as a function of time spent in different areas will manifest a specific heavy metal fingerprint in its tissues? We are working with Dr. Annie Page-Karjian, Dr. Adam Schaefer, and Dr. Mingshun Jiang at Harbor Branch to tackle this problem, with a grant from the Harbor Branch Foundation.
Matt gets down and dirty subsampling frozen stranded whale tissue that will be sent off for basic heavy metals analysis by ICP-MS.