News and Events

Interview with Dr. Weisberg, Ocean Circulation and Ecology – Part I

ST. PETERSBURG, FL – “What is ecology?” asked Dr. Robert Weisberg, a Distinguished Professor at USF’s College of Marine Science. “… the study of life in its environment,” came an acceptable answer to this physical oceanographer who places great importance on interdisciplinary science. The key to answering many of the big questions about living organisms is to understand the forces at work in their everyday environment. For both the coastal and deep oceans, this begins with, what is the water doing?

The myriad of life forms and their interactions with each other are strongly influenced by large and small scale physical processes that can be found everywhere on earth. Colorful satellite imagery reveals where primary production, the base of the food chain, thrives in the ocean and where it does not. High productivity zones, whether along coastal margins, the equator or elsewhere, as well as the oceanic equivalent of deserts in the central portion of ocean basins, are all associated with physical processes such as ocean circulation that determine whether or not nutrients are coincident with light.

Ocean circulation physics also determine the interaction between the deep ocean and the continental shelf, which impacts the recruitment of gag grouper larvae, the instigation of red tides, and the spread of pollution through events such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill or the 2017 releases of partially treated sewage by multiple municipalities in the Tampa Bay region.

Gag grouper spawn offshore and settle near shore. Juveniles arrive at their coastal nursery habitats via a near-bottom route (transported within the bottom Ekman layer). This transport is strongly influenced by the Loop Current, a large scale ocean current that flows clockwise through the Gulf of Mexico. Since the Loop Current varies from year to year, the recruitment of gag larvae is not always consistent.

Working alongside Dr. Weisberg, research associate Dr. Yonggang Liu utilized an extensive set of observations to demonstrate the importance of circulation and its implications for fisheries as well as for red tide occurrences. Interannual variations in Harmful Algal Blooms (fisheries ), like successful gag recruitments, result from variations in the Loop Current. Protracted Loop Current interactions near the Dry Tortugas set the entire west Florida continental shelf in a state of upwelling, which brings deeper ocean nutrients onto the shelf. With nutrient replete conditions, other faster growing phytoplankton such as diatoms can outcompete the red tide organism Karenia brevis, thus preventing a red tide.

To study aquatic organisms, it is equally as important to know the water properties as it is to know the organism. The movement of water, its temperature, as well as salinity and nutrients determined through interactions of the ocean, land and atmosphere all help to explain the location of everything from fish to the plankton that they feed on.

Specifically, the ocean circulation determines the position of the thermocline, the region where temperature changes rapidly with depth. Nutrients also change rapidly over a similar depth range as temperature. Most organisms in the ocean require a certain amount of light, warmth, and nutrients. And so, as Dr. Weisberg stated, “The ecology of the earth actually begins with the ocean circulation. This is what unites nutrients with light, fueling primary productivity and, after that, all higher trophic level interactions.”

Stay tuned for Part II of this interview, “A critique of storm preparedness and renewable energy.”

Written By: Sean Beckwith

Last modified on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 13:18

The lesser of two evils: comparing the impact of catastrophic events on coral reefs of the US Virgin Islands


Speakers/Affiliations: Marilyn Brandt, University of Virgin Islands

Seminar Title: The lesser of two evils: comparing the impact of catastrophic events on coral reefs of the US Virgin Islands

When: May 11, 2018 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Cara Cooper

Marilyn Brandt Profile Page

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Last modified on Tuesday, 08 May 2018 16:05

Spring 2018 OCG Reunion and Clam Bayou Cleanup

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - Reunite with former campers, counselors, and science mentors while helping to beautify and preserve "The Clam" with volunteers from Duke Energy. Make sure you dress comfortably, bring sunscreen and come prepared to have some fun while volunteering for a worthy cause.

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Last modified on Thursday, 26 April 2018 21:18

Montgomery Blair High School Cruises to Victory in 21st Annual National Ocean Sciences Bowl | NOSB

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - The 2018 Spoonbill Regional champion team, students from Eastside High School in  Gainesville Florida placed 10th overall in the National Ocean Sciences Bowl competition. The NOSB Finals took place April 19-22, 2018 in Boulder Colorado at UC Boulder and CIRES.

Our Spoonbill team members  enjoyed two environmental-focused service field trips. Four team members, Emily, Ari, Ike and Liliana helped to plant 250 new trees in the Boulder community. Team member, Alex and RC's Lodge and Greely helped to clear a hiking trail in the Rocky Mountains National Park. It was a great day of fieldtrips...and we even had snow fall at the end of the day's work!
On Saturday our home team from Eastside High competed well and after the Round Robin rounds was vying with five other teams for 3rd place.  At the end a long day of competition Eastside did not  advance to the Sunday playoffs between the top 6 ranked teams.
Congratulations to our regional champions Liliana, Alex, Ike, Emily, Ari and their dedicated coaches, Anne West-Valle and Arnoldo Valle for competing well and representing Florida's Spoonbill Bowl.

If you are interested in competing in the NOSB, be sure to register your high school team for the 2019 Spoonbill competition taking place next February. Email questions to: or

Last modified on Thursday, 26 April 2018 21:02

Professor Emeritus Al Hine strives for Marine Science activism at the community level

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - "Back away from the barrier islands," Dr. Albert Hine urged county commissioners in the past here in the Tampa Bay region. 

Also known as ‘Retreat from the Beach’, scientists have repeatedly stated that extensive permanent structures should not exist on barrier islands because they are, on long time scales, temporary bodies of land that change shape and even disappear or migrate due to fluctuations in sea level, currents, and wave patterns.  Even more pressing, category 5 hurricanes are incredibly destructive and costly to areas where extensive infrastructure exists on the beach. 

Catastrophic events like hurricanes were Al Hine’s focus throughout most of his career when speaking publicly before elected officials and policy makers concerning the beach issue.  Ironically, though, it has been Sea Level Rise (SLR) that has recently captured the attention of most decision makers.  A much more gradual issue than hurricanes, SLR seems to be viewed as a more certain one.  Al Hine and colleagues have written an engaging and very informative book on this issue called Sea Level Rise In Florida: Science, Impacts, And Options.  It is, as the title suggests, recommended reading for every Floridian.

Regardless of which natural deterrent draws the most attention, Al Hine would be glad to see any method successfully prevent people from further building out the beaches.  Taxpayer burdens from storms could be reduced, and he feels that barrier islands should be developed mostly as public recreational spaces with minimal infrastructure beyond that needed to enjoy a day-trip to the beach.  Beachfront living and vacationing continues to be extremely popular and lucrative, so turning high-rise properties into meadows of sea oats and palm trees is decidedly a long-term goal.  Any major storm event to make landfall on the Tampa Bay area, though, will likely begin to change the minds of developers and residents alike.   Drawing on his 40 year career, Al offers this life lesson as admonition, "I’ve moved away from telling people what they should do and instead to explaining the science to inform decision making." 

Al Hine began at the College of Marine Science in 1979 when the Florida legislature allocated 8 new faculty positions for what was then the Department of Marine Science within USF’s College of Natural Sciences.  Outside disciplines are desirable in marine science because they bring ingenuity to the field.  Al joined as a geologist and began teaching classes in geological oceanography, eventually focusing on marine sediments, continental shelf processes, and seafloor features like reefs and other hard bottom structures where life in the ocean congregates.  Al was awarded the national Shepard Medal for sustained excellence in marine geology in 2009.  Dr. Francis P. Shepard is considered the father of modern marine geology.  Recently, Al published a book, Geologic History of Florida: Major Events that Formed the Sunshine State, which explains the geological processes in a way that is applicable to college students and to intriguing minds of all ages. 

Another frequent subject of Al’s research career was related to carbonate rocks and the principles that allow scientists and engineers to discover oil reserves within them.  Thinking often about the subject of oil and gas exploration, Al put pen to paper and recently published a column in the Tampa Bay Times entitled, "In the long term, Florida offshore oil drilling is simply irrelevant."

Present onshore oil wells in Florida are tiny, accounting for just 0.05% of US crude oil production.  Further offshore, as Al writes, there may be something worth exploring but there is simply no guarantee.  The oil reserves in question are an unknown, and the only thing that we know for certain is that it would take an enormous effort to extract that oil, he suggests.  According to Al, the debate over Florida offshore drilling is irrelevant because of the high cost of extraction, the cost of environmental damage that will likely result, and because other viable energy sources will someday replace oil and gas.  In the article, Al also recognizes that the energy companies’ are the ones best poised to lead the transition to renewables, and indeed, they have already begun.

"Explaining science to the public is kind of my mission now," stated Al Hine.  He admits that he still wrestles with how much of the science to explain.  How much is too much before you lose your audience?  And, how much is enough to get the point across without sounding like you’ve just made something up?  The key, he suggests, is to make it interesting and to explain science in such a way that your listener doesn’t hear ideologies. 

Written By: Sean Beckwith

Last modified on Friday, 20 April 2018 13:00

National Academies Gulf Research Program Awards Over $340,000 to Assist Scientific Research Impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - The National Academies' Gulf Research Program is awarding USFCMS Professor Robert Weisberg $47K to repair crucial meteorological & oceanographic monitoring research moorings damaged during Hurricane Irma. USF is one of 11 institutions receiving recovery support.

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Last modified on Friday, 20 April 2018 12:39

USF students gain valuable experience on floating lab

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - It’s been nearly a year since University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft christened the multi-million-dollar research vessel, the WT Hogarth. Since then, students and scientists have climbed aboard this floating lab in St. Petersburg, FL.

The role of colloidal iron species in the marine environment


Speakers/Affiliations: Jess Fitzsimmons, Texas A&M University

Seminar TitleThe role of colloidal iron species in the marine environment

When: Apr. 20, 2018 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Timothy Conway

Jessica Fitzsimmons Abstract Title

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Last modified on Monday, 16 April 2018 23:38

Spatial dynamics of Florida's recreational fisheries and implications for their management


Speakers/Affiliations: Ed Camp, University of Florida

Seminar TitleSpatial dynamics of Florida's recreational fisheries and implications for their management

When: Apr. 13, 2018 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Marcy Cockrell

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Interdisciplinary research in Costa Rica: Beach water quality and management to protect public health

National Water Lab at the University of Costa Rica - USF Reclaim alumna, Dr. Erin M. Symonds, is currently a USF postdoc working with the Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (AyA)’s National Water Lab in Costa Rica. Symonds, two USF Integrative Biology Ph.D. students (Adriana Gonzalez and Javier Gallard), and Marine Science Ph.D. candidate Abdiel Laureano-Rosario are investigating beach water quality and how it relates to pathogens and human health in Costa Rica.

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Cycling of carbon from the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - This study led by Brad Rosenheim shows that the isotopic signature of oil is still present in the water column of the N. Gulf of Mexico 4 years after the spill. The chemistry of the oil may have changed through biosynthesis or degradation, however the isotope signature remains. The fascinating part of this observation is the physical oceanography question of how the signature remains in the water column for such a long time despite currents and waves that would suggest otherwise.

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Last modified on Thursday, 05 April 2018 18:02

The 2018 Eminent Scholar Lecture Series

ST. PETERSBURG, Fl - The Eminent Scholar Lecture Series (ESLS) is a two day lecture series held annually during the Spring semester. The ESLS is presented by the USF College of Marine Science, and the
US Geological Survey, and sponsored by, David Fanciullacci of Raymond James Financial, Marine Exploration Center, The Tampa Bay Times. The ESLS brings in four speakers from institutions across the United States and abroad to address a given marine science topic. All lectures are open to the public.

Spring 2018 ESLS: Successful Achievements of Societal Importance in Ocean Sciences

Join the event on Facebook - April 5, 2018

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Watch Live 4/5/18 & 4/6/18 on our YouTube channel

SciCafe Event - Title: Preparing for Our New Climate: Resist, Mitigate, Adapt
Where: Dali Museum
1 Dali Blvd, St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Moderator: Rob Lorei, News Director WMNF 88.5
Featuring: Kim Cobb, PhD, Georgia Tech
Sharon Wright, Sustainability and Resiliency Director, City of St. Petersburg
When: Thursday, April 5, 2018
Time: Reception at 6:00 PM, Conversation at 6:30 PM
Event Contact: H. Rutherford, 727-553-3355

Download the 2018 ESLS Flyer

Successful Achievements of Societal Importance in Ocean Sciences


Last modified on Thursday, 05 April 2018 18:03

USF College of Marine Science establishes the Vembu Subramanian MSAC Award

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - In memory of our colleague, friend and unifying spirit, Vembu Subramanian, the USF College of Marine Science established the Vembu Subramanian MSAC Award. This fund was created through an initial gift from the Little Laws Big Dreams Foundation and will provide an award annually to a current graduate student who demonstrates a collaborative spirit through service to the College of Marine Science and to their fellow graduate students. The award fund will be enhanced through two annual fundraisers, the Vembu Cup Golf Tournament (May 19, 2018) and the Bad Santa Fundraiser each December. The intent is to grow this fund to endowment level to ensure that Vembu’s memory continues in perpetuity.

The first annual Vembu Cup Golf Tournament honors the memory of Vembu Subramanian with proceeds benefitting the Vembu Subramanian MSAC Award. The Vembu Cup Golf tournament takes place on Saturday, May 19, 2018 at Mangrove Bay Golf Course and after-party to take place at the College of Marine Science MSAC Festival directly following the tournament. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

The Vembu Subramanian MSAC Award Sponsor Form

The Vembu Cup Golf Tournament Registration Form

For more information contact E. Howard Rutherford- Office: (727) 553-3376  Cell: (727) 515-7033  email:

Last modified on Wednesday, 28 March 2018 16:09

State-space modeling applications in fisheries science and management


Speakers/Affiliations: Sean Cox, Simon Frasier University, Vancouver

Seminar TitleState-space modeling applications in fisheries science and management

When: Mar. 30, 2018 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Cameron Ainsworth

Sean Cox Profile Page

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Last modified on Wednesday, 28 March 2018 16:09

What can a Teapot teach us about Loop Current predictability?


Speakers/Affiliations: Joe Kuehl, University of Delaware

Seminar Title: What can a Teapot teach us about Loop Current predictability?

When: Mar. 23, 2018 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Robert Weisberg

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Last modified on Wednesday, 21 March 2018 12:46

A missing generation of fish from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - Findings from a new study published in PLoS One suggest additional impacts on fish communities from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon (DwH) oil spill may occur in the coming years. The study titled “Impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill evaluated using an end-to-end ecosystem model” estimates fish populations and ecosystem health in the decades following the 2010 BP oil spill.

“Even though we are 8 years removed from the oil spill, we may have not seen the last of its effects based on the results of our model” says Dr. Cameron Ainsworth, a professor at the University of South Florida-College of Marine Science and lead author on the publication. 

The oil spill had its most lethal effects on bottom-dwelling and reef-associated fish, and especially on juvenile fish.  In some species, there is a missing generation of fish.  These fish would have reached maturity and enter the fishery within the next few years, but their absence could have cascading impacts through the food web, according to the model.

The ecosystem model “Atlantis” predicts impacts on the ecosystem and fishes, while another model estimates the movement and fate of the oil.  Partners from the University of Miami developed this latter portion, known as the Deepwater Horizon hindcast model, as a virtual oil spill to provide estimates of oil concentrations in inaccessible areas like the deep ocean.

“This is the first time we’ve combined the hindcast and Atlantis models to estimate oil spill impacts to different Gulf ecosystems” says Ainsworth. “We were surprised to see how widespread the potential impacts were.”  Smaller fish species, which form the base of the food web were impacted heavily.  These species and their disappearance lead to starvation in large predatory fish like groupers and snappers as far away as Texas and Mexico.  If true, then the impact footprint from the oil spill is much larger than is generally recognized from post-spill assessments.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout released nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, 50 miles south of the Louisiana coast. The initial explosion killed 11 workers.  It was triggered by a series of equipment failures and lead to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Since the spill, researchers from the University of South Florida-College of Marine Science have collaborated with international scientists to form the C-IMAGE Consortium through funding from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI).


Read the full PLoS One article here:



Cameron Ainsworth (PhD)-Associate Professor

University of South Florida

140 7th Ave S.

St. Petersburg, FL 33701



Benjamin Prueitt

C-IMAGE Consortium


Last modified on Monday, 19 March 2018 13:48

Ernst Peebles – New CMS Chair of Alumni Outreach

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - Having sat in classes as a College of Marine Science (CMS) student through two degrees, and having taught as a professor of biological oceanography for a decade at CMS, Dr. Ernst Peebles is an excellent fit as the next chair of alumni outreach.  
Dr. Peebles’ work began in various ecosystems of southeast Louisiana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from Tulane University.  Working in creeks, rivers and other freshwater bodies, he surveyed fish in both pristine and agriculture-impacted areas to better understand baseline ecosystem conditions.  Later work in estuarine waters led to an interest in the early-life stages of fish.

The appeal of estuarine work steered him towards pursuing a Master’s degree and eventually a Ph.D. at CMS.  After getting his Master’s degree, he did extensive work for Florida’s water management districts, for environmental engineering firms, and for the FWC, and this public- and private-sector experience greatly enhanced his ability to apply the principles of marine science and ecology to practical problems.  Completing his Ph.D. eventually led to the opportunity for a tenure-track position at CMS as a fish ecologist.  Although his central focus remained on estuaries, Dr. Peebles’ winding career path provided first-hand study of the ecology of both freshwater and oceanic end-member ecosystems, allowing the kind of big-picture perspective that was necessary for understanding why coastal aquatic animals require different habitats at different stages in their lives.  Novel methods (eye-lens isotope records) allowed this effort to expand to studies of the lifetime movements of individual organisms, including attempts to compare and contrast the health conditions of individual fish that had different habitat-use histories.  
Another tool, DNA barcoding of fish eggs, has been highly effective in locating fish spawning grounds; this work is being done in conjunction with Dr. Mya Breitbart’s lab at CMS.  Newly fertilized eggs collected by plankton net give the location of fish spawning, but the problem has been that no one could visually differentiate the eggs of different species, which often look alike.  Comparing fish-egg DNA with an online database provided the solution.
Message to Alumni
Over the decades, CMS has experienced continual improvement. The core courses are in their best shape ever, thanks largely to the feedback provided from student evaluations.  A new, shared analytical instrument center is under construction, and a new vessel in the FIO fleet, the R/V Hogarth, offers an improved research and education platform over the well-loved R/V Bellows, which has since been retired.  The alumni support and genuine interest in the college has always been great, and we look forward to continued strong interactions between alumni and CMS’s students, researchers and professors.  In future editions of Rising Tides, we hope to include articles highlighting alumni in each generation of CMS, from the ′70s to the present.  

Personal Bio
Ernst loves outdoor activities, especially fishing and hiking; his love of being in remote locations is “almost an obsession.”  Although Pinellas County does not offer much in the way of remote living, Ernst finds solitude in offshore excursions on his Calcutta catamaran, through visiting the more pristine locations in Florida, and by planning his “off-the-grid” retirement, which may be awhile coming due to the steep investment required to go off the grid in a remote setting with reasonable comfort.  In the meantime (and while he still has ample access to electricity), Ernst enjoys all kinds of woodworking, whether it’s furniture making, renovation carpentry or even making his own wooden fishing lures, with which he has recently caught several king mackerel.  He and his artist/illustrator wife, Diane, have two teenage children who don’t quite understand why their parents are fixated on fish, but tolerate them anyway.

Please contact Ernst Peebles if you have any exciting alumni news to share with the college.  We would like to hear from you.

Article written by:  Sean Beckwith

Last modified on Friday, 16 March 2018 14:00

As Earth Changes Rapidly, International Scientific Team Calls for New Satellite Observing Tools

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - Rapid environmental changes call for a new generation of satellites to gather scientific data, writes USFCMS Professor of Biological Oceanography and Remote Sensing Frank Muller-Karger & an international scientific team in presenting the case for a modernized system in the journal Ecological Applications.  

Read the full article here

Last modified on Monday, 12 March 2018 14:28

PhD student to sail on IODP Expedition 379 to Amundsen Sea, Antarctica

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - CMS PhD student, Theresa King, has been invited to sail on International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 379 to the Amundsen Sea, Antarctica. This expedition will set sail from Punta Arenas, Chile in January 2019, and over the course of two months, will collect sediment records from the continental shelf and rise of the Amundsen Sea. These records will allow for a better understanding of West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) dynamics from the Paleogene through the Holocene. Such an understanding, correlated with global climate records, will illuminate the stability and sensitivity of the WAIS through time. As the WAIS is currently experiencing the largest amount of ice loss of Antarctica, the information gleaned from this expedition will be vital to improving modeling parameters and outputs of future climate and sea level conditions.

Aboard the D/V JOIDES Resolution, King will work as a Petrophysicist/Physical Properties Specialist. Upon returning to CMS, King’s research will focus on using the recovered sediments to reconstruct interactions between the ice shelf and warm waters on the continental shelf.

For more information on IODP Exp 379 please click on the link below.

Attendees from CMS share their research and insights from the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting

PORTLAND, OR - With vibrant, artistic, earth-conscious Portland as a backdrop, oceanographers and aquatic scientists converged on the Oregon Convention Center from February 11th through the 16th for the 2018 Ocean Sciences Meeting

The conference facilitated many scientific presentations, successful collaborations, long-time-no-see reunions, engaging social activities, and interactions between art and science.  The conference also inspired a lot of young scientists, and invigorated veteran scientists, to confidently assert their research findings and reach out to collaborators around the world.  Over 30 students, researchers and professors from the USF College of Marine Science attended OSM this year to present posters and talks or to chair meetings. 

The art theme persistent in past OSM gatherings became a focus of this year’s meeting.  As described by the organizers of the Fluid Oceans Pecha Kucha event, both science and fine arts are creative endeavors pursued by creative people.  This passion to discover and to create is what leads scientists at CMS to complete their work and to share it broadly.  See the photos and video interviews below for a selection of poster presentations and to hear some of the experiences of OSM 2018.

Written By:  Sean Beckwith


View The 2018 Ocean Science Posters

View Jing Chen's Poster

View Shuangling Chen's Poster

View Anni Djurhuus's Poster

View Megan Hepner's Poster

View Enrique Montes's Poster

View Jonathan Sharp's Poster

View Noémi Van Bogaert's Poster


Last modified on Friday, 09 March 2018 11:57

Global ecosystem overfishing: clear delineation in the context of a changing climate and real limits to production


Speakers/Affiliations: Jason Link, Senior Scientist for Ecosystem Management, NOAA-NMFS, Woods Hole, MA

Seminar Title: Global ecosystem overfishing: clear delineation in the context of a changing climate and real limits to production

When: Mar. 6, 2018 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Cam Ainsworth/Steve Murawski

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Characterizing coastal turbulence and in situ oceanic particle fields using particle image velocimetry and digital holography


Speakers/Affiliations: Aditya NayakHarbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, Florida Atlantic University

Seminar Title: Characterizing coastal turbulence and in situ oceanic particle fields using particle image velocimetry and digital holography

When: Mar. 2, 2018 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: David Murphy, USF College of Engineering

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