From The Cistern Yard to Antarctica

The sunset reflecting off the ice and the mountains, making them appear pink. (Photo: Michael Bollen)

Recent College of Charleston graduate, Lauren Lees (BS, Biology, 2017), shares her experiences aboard a research cruise to Antarctica

When I graduated from the College of Charleston last May, I never thought I would spend a significant part of my year off working in Antarctica. However, that’s where I ended up thanks to an amazing opportunity offered to me by Dr. Jack DiTullio. The trip down south was a chance for me to broaden the scope of my research experience, as well as a personal adventure, to say the least. Dr. DiTullio was the Chief Scientist aboard the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer. The Palmer set sail from Punta Arenas, Chile on December 19, 2017 to the Amundsen Sea. From the Amundsen we performed a transect along the Antarctic continent into Terra Nova Bay. After a brief stop in McMurdo Station roughly halfway through the trip, we continued to collect data in Terra Nova Bay until we began our transit to Hobart, Tasmania where we disembarked on March 4, 2018.

Many (but not all) from the science party and USAP staff aboard the second leg of NBP18-01. (Photo: Michael Bollen)

Zodiac operations to collect sea ice and brine samples. (Photo: Michael Bollen)

On board, the DiTullio group was one of four academic research groups gathering massive amounts of data over our 77 day research cruise. We were funded by National Science Foundation to investigate the factors that limit phytoplankton growth in the Southern Ocean. This is one of the most productive phytoplankton communities in the ocean, and it plays an important role is sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By understanding what factors limit phytoplankton growth, we can begin to predict how this community might affect, as well as be impacted by, climate change in the future. In our experiments, we explored how the limitation of iron, B12, zinc, manganese and other trace elements affected the growth, productivity, and species composition of phytoplankton in the Ross Sea. Additionally, we conducted a series of hydrocasts as we travelled from the Amundsen Sea into Terra Nova Bay. From these samples, we measured numerous variables such as chlorophyll, accessory pigment and Vitamin B12 concentrations. The data collected from the hydrocasts allow us to develop spatial and depth profiles of several biogeochemical parameters that influence the phytoplankton community. The DiTullio group also consisted of two collaborators from Italy—Francesco Bolinesi, a PhD student from the University of Naples Federico II who investigated the photosynthetic efficiency of phytoplankton, and Pasquale Castango, a physical oceanography post-doctoral researcher from the Parthenope University of Naples. We worked closely with Dr. Mak Saito’s group from the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI).  The Saito group focuses on trace metal chemical oceanography and worked with us to set up experiments investigating the effects of various trace metals on phytoplankton growth and productivity. Their sampling involved the use of a separate trace metal clean rosette which allowed them to measure concentrations of various trace metals (e.g. iron, cobalt, zinc, etc.)  that may greatly affect phytoplankton growth and productivity throughout the cruise.  The WHOI group also collected large volume in-situ filtered water samples for measuring protein concentrations. Dr. Rob Dunbar’s group from Stanford investigated dissolved oxygen isotopes and salinity changes in seawater to determine how much water at a given location and depth came from basal ice melt, which can be used as evidence for rates of glacial melt in Antarctica. Additionally, throughout the cruise they collected data to investigate carbon cycling, and one graduate student, Michael Bollen from the University of Otago, New Zealand  also collected samples for diatom identification and abundance. The fourth group aboard the Palmer was Dr. Grace Saba’s team from Rutgers University, who deployed and monitored an autonomous glider fitted with an acoustic sensor that will be used to better understand the composition and food web interactions in the Ross Sea.

New frazil ice forming in February. (Photo: Lauren Lees)

The Palmer breaks through ice. (Photo: Michael Bollen)

Being on a research vessel for the first time was an experience that I’ll always value, and it was filled with highs and lows. One of the best parts of the cruise was meeting my fellow scientists and getting to bond with them as time went on. It can be hard to see the same people every day, all day for an extended period of time, but the group got along incredibly well—probably too well if you knew of the shenanigans that took place during the science breaks. Another obvious highlight of mine would be seeing the wildlife and the scenery—pictures honestly don’t do it justice. I’d also being lying if I said one of my happiest moments wasn’t getting off the ship in McMurdo. Being able to walk for more than a few hundred feet in one direction felt amazing after being on board for about a month and a half.

With high points, there are always low points. The most glaring low point for me was running out of fresh food half-way through the trip. But, we all survived, and I have a new appreciation for a salad. Additionally, being unable to communicate with my loved ones back home was hard at times. The ship has limited internet—enough to send some messages— but not enough to maintain the constant communication we are so used to today. That being said, it was rather refreshing to unplug from social media for a few months, and I can now say I’m able to live without my smartphone.

Overall, the high points of the trip greatly outweigh the low. We were able to see Orcas with the southernmost active volcano, Mt. Erebus, in the background. We saw penguins and seals regularly as we transited through the ice. We experienced a sunset after months of constant light in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. And we conducted some amazing science with an incredible group of people.

An Orca spy-hopping in the channel into McMurdo. (Photo: Michael Bollen)

Orcas and penguins stand-off. (Photo: Hannah Beutler)


SCDNR Open House 2017

The SCDNR Open House was this past Saturday, October 21. Every two years SCDNR invites the public to meet and talk with marine biologists, fisheries managers, and educators at the Marine Resources Center plus their partners at the College of Charleston, Hollings Marine Lab, NIST and NOAA.
Guests learned about marine science with informational booths as well as tutorials, tours, crafts and fun family-friendly activities.
We are happy to be a partner for this event and had a great day meeting the community!

GPMB students hosted a touch tank and offered fun crafts for the kids.

GPMB students also had a bake sale and raffle to raise funds for the MBGSA in support of student travel for conferences and events.

Guests were invited inside to see some of the resources of the lab and experience hands-on activities.
Faculty and students presented preserved sharks and fish, live plankton samples and the entire collections room of over 100,000 preserved fish and invertebrate specimens!

Thanks to everyone who made the event a success! It was a great day and we are already looking forward to the next one!

21st Annual Student Research Colloquium

The 21st Annual Student Research Colloquium was held on September 23, 2017. We had another successful event with oral and poster presentations from our Graduate Program in Marine Biology students as well as a graduate student from The Citadel.

Presentations were followed by the keynote address given by Dr. Billie Swalla, Director, Friday Harbor Laboratories, Washington University.

The event was closed with a Lowcountry Boil and introduction of the new GPMB students.

The purpose of the colloquium is three-fold:

  • It gives students the opportunity to present their research in a professional setting and receive feedback from judges and audience members.
  • The presentations are a showcase of the research activities performed by GPMB students and faculty affiliated with the program.
  • Finally, the colloquium is an opportunity for students and faculty to interact and talk about the research activities they are interested in.

You can view the full program, including presentation abstracts here.

2017 Presentation Awards

Congratulations to this year’s presentation winners!

Oral Presentation – 1st Place: Elizabeth Underwood “Investigation of the Salinity Tolerance of the Invasive Island Apple Snail in South Carolina.”

(L to R: Keynote Speaker Dr. Billie Swalla, Underwood, Dr. Karen Burnett, Sigma Xi)

Oral Presentation – 2nd Place: Rachel Leads “Occurrence, Fate, and Effects of Microplastics in the Charleston Harbor Estuary, South Carolina.”

(L to R: Keynote Speaker Dr. Billie Swalla, Leads, Dr. Karen Burnett, Sigma Xi)

Poster Presentation – 1st Place: Teresa Popp “The Reproductive Biology and Ecological Impacts of an Invasive Crab, Petrolisthes armatus

(L to R: Keynote Speaker Dr. Billie Swalla, Popp, Dr. Paul Nolan, Charleston Audubon Society)

Poster Presentation – 2nd Place: Emily Welling “Energetic Response to Feedinga nd Temperature in Juvenile Red Drum, Scianeops ocellatus

(L to R: Keynote Speaker Dr. Billie Swalla, Welling, Dr. Paul Nolan, Charleston Audubon Society)


Another great Student Research Colloquium in the books

We would like to thank Dr. Billie Swalla for being our Keynote Speaker!

Thanks also go out to all of the student presenters, committees, faculty and staff who made this event a success!



GPMB third-year student Nathan Baker begins his oral presentation titled: TEMPORAL CHANGES IN SOUTH ATLANTIC OCEAN FISH BIODIVERSITY.

Keynote Speaker Dr. Billie Swalla with Poster Presenters

Keynote Speaker Dr. Billie Swalla with Oral Presenters

Lowcountry Boil at the SCDNR Outdoor Classroom

Lowcountry Boil at the SCDNR Outdoor Classroom



2014 Grice Marine-ival

The annual Grice Marine-ival festival took place on Saturday, May 3rd this year and was a great success. Over 100 students, faculty, staff and family members attended, and nearly $300 was raised for the Marine Biology Graduate School Association (MBGSA)! The students won the student vs. faculty volleyball game, and the faculty won the student vs. facutly kickball game. Other events at the festival included a cookout, bake sale, cornhole tournament, fiddler crab races, face painting, water balloon fight, and digging for sharks teeth. marine


Successful Beach Sweep 2013

On September 28th, Fort Johnson had another successful beach sweep thanks to George Reikerk, the Beach Sweep Coordinator.  Participants included  Grice graduate students, students from James Island Charter and Porter-Gaud high schools, as well as DNR and MUSC staff.  The area covered included Fort Johnson, Grice Beach, and the south end of Morris Island.  All total of 2.3 miles of coastline and 3 boat loads of trash were collected. The trash included 34 bags of trash and usual collection of floats, lumber, boat parts and rope. the This year, Hope Wertz, a Marine Biology graduate student, will be comparing the plastic materials collected with microplastic particles that can be found in our estuarine waters and sediments. You can review a list of what was found: Beach Sweep 2013 summary


Algae Expert Queried

erik-gracilaria-smallDr. Erik Sotka was interviewed by the Sun News regarding the algae commonly referred to by anglers as snot grass. The macroalgae, Polysiphonia and Ulva, plagues anglers by sticking to fishing gear during the winter months. Dr. Sotka attributes the winter blooms to reduce feeding by fish and crabs. In the Pawleys Island, Litchfield, Murrels Inlet areas, the high salinity, high light-levels and abundance of hard substrate also contribute to the problem. Read more

Turtle Tracks

The Owen’s Lab and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (Dr. Al Segars and GPMB alumni Jeff Schwenter) recently resumed long term collaboration with researchers from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. They captured and did ultrasound as well as laparoscopic evaluations on approximately 20 adult size sea turtles. Only four of the sea turtles were sexually mature and ready for reproduction out of the 20 turtles examined. These turtles were fitted with new generation GPS enhanced satellite transmitters. Their migrations can be checked daily at this website.