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June 2020

Featured Articles and Video

Coastal Lakes Sampling Thrives through Pandemic

When New Jersey issued its stay-at-home guidance in March, Dr. Jason Adolf worried the Coastal Lakes Observing Network (CLONet) project could grind to a halt. Instead, the alerts indicating when community volunteers had filed water quality sampling results online continued to roll in, perhaps at a greater pace than before.

At a time when businesses, parks and boardwalks were closed indefinitely, sampling local lakes offered citizen scientists a welcome diversion. Adolf created a CLONet Facebook Group in April where some participants have shared images of themselves enjoying their few minutes with nature.

Citizen scientists at coastal lakes
Citizen scientists conduct sampling in Asbury Park (left) and Long Branch.

“We wanted to make sure everyone understood there was no pressure to continue sampling, but if they wanted to and were willing to take the proper social distancing precautions, we would support that,” said Adolf, Monmouth University endowed associate professor of marine science and the CLONet project lead. “I think people were really happy to get outside.”

Through CLONet, University staff and students have provided equipment and training to residents from communities surrounding Monmouth County’s seaside lakes to take regular readings from the waters for parameters such as temperature, clarity, dissolved oxygen and pH levels. The volunteers then share their data through an online app, where it can be analyzed by the Monmouth research team. Seven water bodies are currently being monitored: Lake Takanassee, Deal Lake, Sunset Lake, Wesley Lake, Sylvan Lake, Lake Como and Spring Lake.

The data supplied by residents is supplemented by a steady stream of samples taken twice per week by Monmouth University student Maria Riley. Riley typically starts her rounds at Long Branch’s Lake Takanassee and heads south, checking each lake for the same categories as the citizen scientists, plus a few others that she has specialized equipment for. Her water samples are also shared with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for further analysis.

Monmouth University student Maria Riley gathers a water sample from Lake Takanassee in Long Branch.

Riley said sampling has provided her with a unique view of COVID-19’s impact on daily life in the Shore towns.

“It’s been fun to see the change over the weeks as I’ve driven from here down through Belmar, how everything is opening up,” Riley said. “It’s also been interesting to see the passion people have brought to the project.”

CLONet is now approaching the end of its first year of data collection. It’s a key milestone from a scientific standpoint, as the research team will now have four full seasons of data that can serve as a baseline for comparison to future readings. Through June 1, the citizen scientists had filed data for nearly 300 sampling sessions. Adolf is preparing a journal article summarizing the findings to date so CLONet may offer lessons to other efforts nationally.

Before the project concludes at the end of 2020, Adolf plans to confer with the community groups that had the highest participation to find out how they kept enthusiasm up throughout the year. He also hopes to obtain new equipment that enables the samplers to directly measure harmful algal bloom (HAB) abundance in the water, rather than just parameters that indicate it, like reduced water clarity and elevated daytime oxygen levels.

“If they have this ability and can see the numbers increasing, they would have an early warning of harmful algal blooms and then the state might have time to do something about it,” Adolf said.

As for this summer, Adolf will be on the lookout for repeated trends from last year in terms of poor water quality along with any indications of system changes due to COVID-19. He noted that humans can cause nitrogen levels to spike by inadvertently loading the lakes with nutrients (e.g. lawn fertilizers and trash carried by stormwater runoff) or emissions from increased vehicular traffic.

“People bring the nitrogen – the more people, the more nitrogen,” Adolf said. “We know the area where these lakes and estuaries exist is an area where the population increases 73% compared to the year-round population, and on peak days, weekends and holidays in the summer, it’s more like a doubling of the population. If we don’t see that kind of growth in population, there’s a very good chance that the estuaries and lakes we’ve been studying will look different.”

‘Ocean Stories’ Feature Offers Glimpse at Life in Region’s Submarine Canyons

In a new “Ocean Stories” feature on the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal, UCI Communications Director Karl Vilacoba profiles Dr. Timothy Shank, who explored eight of the region’s lesser-studied canyons with towed camera technology. The work revealed what the insides of these ancient formations look like in stunning detail and mapped the locations of thousands of never-seen coral colonies. Part story map and part digital magazine, Ocean Stories is a unique platform with educational features about the people, industries and wildlife at sea in the region. Click here to read the story (best viewed on non-mobile device).

Vilacoba also worked with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) and Shank to create this companion photo gallery that offers a rare glimpse at life in the canyons. The scenes capture colorful corals, fish, crabs, cephalopods, steep canyons walls, boulder-strewn landscapes and even disconcerting plastic pollution along the ocean floor.

UCI Marine Scientist Shares Warm Memories from Antarctica

In early February, news that a weather monitoring station recorded an all-time high temperature reading of 65 degrees in Antarctica stunned the world. Urban Coast Institute Marine Scientist Jim Nickels happened to be there that day – on vacation. A trip to the South Pole may not be on most people’s short list, but the journey marked the conclusion to a world travel challenge started by his family years earlier. Upon their retirement as Ocean Township school teachers, Dorothy and William Gray, the parents of Nickels’ wife, Debbie, set out to visit all 50 states. After checking them all off the list, they raised their goal to visit every continent. Dorothy and William made it to all but Antarctica before passing away in 2016 and 2015, respectively. In late January, Jim, Debbie, her sister Karen Gray, and Gray’s son, Eric Ferguson, picked up the baton to complete this last leg of the tour. They brought along some of Dorothy and William’s ashes so it could be said that they had officially been to all seven continents. And they hoisted the Monmouth University flag on Antarctica’s soil – a meaningful gesture for Nickels, a longtime member of the UCI staff; Debbie, who earned an MBA from Monmouth; and the late Dorothy, who attended Monmouth when it was a junior college, returned later for her master’s degree in education, and taught there for several years as an adjunct. The group flew to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in South America, where they embarked on a 36-hour trip across the Drake Passage, which is notorious for its rough waters and foul weather. The crew hit 15 to 20-foot seas that caused many a fall by passengers onboard, but that wasn’t what bothered Nickels. A proud streak came to an end. “I’ve spent most of my career going to sea on research and vessels, and this is probably the first and only time in my life I’ve paid to go on a boat ride,” he said. “I’m still a little bitter about that, but I’d go back in a heartbeat.” Scroll below to view a gallery of images from the trip and read some of Nickels’ observations as a marine scientist on a nine-day tour of the frozen continent. Signs of climate change abound. Beyond the warm temperatures, which were in the 40 to 60 degree-range during his trip, sea ice floated about in places where it shouldn’t have been. “We saw a lot of glaciers in the area calving off, huge icebergs that were city blocks long and tall. It’s very hard to have a perspective of what you’re looking at because they’re so huge.” Nickels was impressed by the resilience of the wildlife he observed, but worries about the long-term implications for some of the less adaptable animals, like the penguins, which have trouble diving for food when chunks of ice block the waterline. The water color. The term “crystal clear” is overused but applies in Antarctica. Nickels was exhilarated to watch humpbacks swimming in vivid detail underwater before surfacing. He has been a part of marine expeditions all over the world, but observed, “It’s an unbelievable, vibrant blue color that I’ve never seen before.” The quiet and size are disorienting. One of the first things you notice about Antarctica is how total the silence is. There are no humans to be seen, no planes flying overhead – a brutally hard yet peaceful setting. “It’s hard to describe the scale and immensity and vastness of it. It looks like the ice and snow go on forever, and you know that for the most part, no one has ever been to the places you’re looking at.”

View the Photo Gallery in Our Blog