Remote Sensing, a necessary tool for studying biodiversity at effective scales

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - From local to global and micro to macro, the applications of remote sensing are integral to understanding biodiversity across regions and filling the data gaps that exist between them. 

Dr. Frank Muller Karger and his group at the Institute for Marine Remote Sensing collaborate with a larger network of scientists and resource managers to catalog biodiversity as it has never been done before:  with consistency of data from region to region and at scales that reveal the important connectivity among the gradient of marine habitats.

Sanctuaries Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (Sanctuaries MBON) is part of a global consortium of BONs that are building web portals of real-time and historical data through which scientists and environmental resource managers can assess the ecological well-being of the region they are tasked with studying, maintaining or improving. 

On-going bimonthly cruises in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) are conducted by NOAA AOML scientists and members from IMaRS to gather a suite of water quality data.  Pairing water samples with satellite observations, IMaRS member Megan Hepner uses GIS maps to display biodiversity of coral reef fishes along the entire reef tract of the FKNMS.  Simpson and Shannon diversity indices – statistical methods used to classify ecosystem integrity and resilience – show that greater diversity is found in the Lower and Upper Keys than in the Middle Keys.  Dr. Muller-Karger and assistant Dr. Enrique Montes oversee the assimilation of the sampling efforts and observations into the Sanctuaries MBON research initiative. 

Tools like infographics will be a key point of interaction on the sites for both resource managers and members of the general public to learn about the biological composition of some protected ecosystems and any changes in diversity over time.  GIS maps hosted on the MBON web portal provide further spatial and temporal visualizations of ecosystem health and diversity in three National Marine Sanctuaries:  the Florida Keys, Monterey Bay and Flower Garden Banks. 

An additional layer of sampling within the MBON initiative is environmental DNA (eDNA).  The Marine Genomics Lab led by Dr. Mya Breitbart at the USF College of Marine Science is responsible for analyzing seawater samples for trace amounts of genetic material left behind by anything from microbes to whales.  New methods allow for fast, affordable interpretation of the DNA present in concentrated water samples.

The size, depth, and unforgiving surface conditions of the ocean make it impossible to continuously monitor conditions from all desired locations.  Satellite-based remote sensing provides solutions at exceptional spatial and temporal scales.  Careful groundtruthing is required to match sea surface conditions to the data derived from sensors orbiting the earth, and once that is accomplished, the result is unparalleled coverage of terrestrial and oceanographic ecosystems. 

Analysis of satellite data has allowed researchers from IMaRS to study phytoplankton blooms off the Texas coast in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, explore outbreaks of Dengue fever in the Caribbean, and improve wetland mapping methods for coastal areas.  In addition, the lab is improving characterization of the impacts to coastal areas from red tides, storm-generated sediment plumes, water quality events, and land cover changes. 

Concurrent satellite observations of biological and physical variables from around the world allow observation networks to map the data in near real-time.  Some records span nearly three decades, and without these long term measurements, our understanding of changes throughout time would be lacking over much of the surface of the earth.  The list of global measurements includes:  vegetation biomass (land and ocean), winds, currents, waves, rainfall, cloud cover, land topography, and more.  As Dr. Muller Karger states, “This allows us to see how biological processes on land and in the ocean react to, or in some cases modify, environmental variables that force them.”

Understanding diversity of life in the oceans is crucial to managing and preserving these resources, and the use of remotely sensed data enables the study of biodiversity on the proper scales.


Written By: Sean Beckwith

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 November 2017 17:34

Cognitive bias is scientific research


Speakers/Affiliations: Pete Rose, Rose & Associates

Seminar Title: Cognitive bias is scientific research

When: Nov. 17, 2017 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Gene Shinn

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USF Alumni Roundtable


Title: USF Alumni Roundtable


Merrie Beth Neely, MS '96, PhD '08
Marine Habitat Habitat Resource Specialist II, Earth Resources Technology, Inc.


Beau Suthard, MS '05
Client Program Manager, APTIM

Bio: Beau graduated from Eckerd College in 1997 with a BS in Marine Science (Geology Track), and from USF CMS in 2005 with an MS in Geological Oceanography under Al Hine. After graduating, Beau immediately joined Coastal Planning and Engineering (now known as APTIM) as a Coastal Geologist. Beau is currently a Client Program Manager with APTIM, and is responsible for managing the St. Petersburg, Florida office. This office conducts all of APTIM’s offshore geophysical and geotechnical survey work. This work includes seafloor and sub-seafloor mapping in support of environmental and marine infrastructure projects, including identifying sand resources for shore protection projects and site assessment and clearance for marine infrastructure projects like pipeline routes and offshore wind farms.

Steve Walker, MS '84, P.G.
Principal Consultant, ENERCON Services, Inc.

Bio: Mr. Walker holds a B.A. in Geology from New England College and an M.S. in Marine Science (Geology) from the University of South Florida College Of Marine Science.  He began his career as an applied scientist in 1984 at the Southwest Florida Water Management District working as part of a team establishing an ambient ground water quality monitoring network covering most of west-central Florida.  In 1986, he became a consulting hydrogeologist and environmental consultant for a national environmental firm and in 1990, along with three colleagues, founded an environmental science and engineering firm (Terra Environmental Services, Inc.) located in Tampa, Florida.  Mr. Walker has provided consulting services to hundreds of clients throughout the United States for a wide-range of projects including development of ground water supplies for private companies and municipalities, science and engineering studies at contaminated sites including for some of our nation’s most complex Superfund sites, environmental construction and operations services to implement cleanups at some of those sites, investigations of marine, riverine and lacustrine sediment investigations, and authored hundreds of technical investigation plans and reports.  His work has included extensive interaction and negotiations with state and federal agencies and on some projects, collaboration with academic researchers to bring their knowledge gained from research to difficult-to-solve, real-world environmental problems.  He also has provided technical and regulatory support to private-sector clients and litigation support for parties involved in legal actions related to environmental and regulatory matters.  In 2015, Terra Environmental was acquired by ENERCON Services, Inc., a growing national firm engaged in providing environmental and engineering services  private- and public sector clients throughout the US, where he continues his consulting work.
Mr. Walker is also a volunteer patient advocate for people diagnosed with serious and terminal diseases, and has worked for approximately 17 years to improve patient access to emerging medical progress.  He lives in Saint Petersburg, FL and tries mightily to make it to happy hour on time every Friday.

Monica Wilson, MS ’07, PhD ‘13
Oil Spill Research Extension Specialist, Florida Sea Grant College Program, UF/IFAS Extension

Bio: Monica graduated from Eckerd College in 2003 with a BS in Marine Science (Geology) and Computer Science. She received her MS from USF’s College of Marine Science in 2007 and her Ph.D. in 2013 in Physical Oceanography. After graduate school, Monica joined Florida Sea Grant as a member of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative outreach team. Her role is to transfer information between GoMRI oil spill scientists and coastal stakeholders.  The oil spill science outreach program’s focus is on the two-way transfer of information between the people whose livelihoods depend on a healthy Gulf of Mexico or who are involved in the protection and management of Gulf of Mexico coastal and marine resources; and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative scientists, administrators and board of directors.


When: Nov. 9, 2017 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Howard Rutherford

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Last modified on Tuesday, 07 November 2017 17:59

Applied Ecosystem Modeling For Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management


Speakers/Affiliations: Howard Townsend, NOAA Chesapeake Bay

Seminar Title: Applied Ecosystem Modeling For Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management

When: Nov. 3, 2017 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Cameron Ainsworth

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Revealing mechanisms of biogeochemical metal cycling in the ocean


Speakers/Affiliations: Rene Boiteau, Pacific Northwest National Lab

Seminar Title: Revealing mechanisms of biogeochemical metal cycling in the ocean

When: Oct. 27, 2017 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Tim Conway

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Florida Marine Science Symposium Live

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - Watch the Florida Marine Science Symposium Live. The two livestreams can be found on FIO's YouTube channel and on the USFCMS's YouTube channel.

FIO Livestream:

USFCMS Livestream:

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 October 2017 14:48

Tampa Bay Marine Science Networking Happy Hour Event Oct 24 2017

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - Our next Tampa Bay Area Marine Science Networking Happy Hour will be tomorrow Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 4:30-6:30pm at Canopy Rooftop Bar atop the Birchwood Hotel, 340 Beach Dr. NE, St Petersburg, FL 33701.  The event is self pay and name tags will be provided. You can park at street meters or in nearby garages.  Please share this notice and join us and bring your ocean science professional friends and colleagues.

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 October 2017 16:51

Scientists, educators, and conservationists bring their work to life at the 2017 St. Petersburg Science Festival

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - On Saturday, October 21, 2017, crowds arrived from 10 a.m. onwards to expand their minds and appreciate science, that human pursuit responsible for so many advances in society and industry and a source of excitement and wonder to us all.

St. Petersburg Science Festival 2017

Mayor Rick Kriseman championed support for science and recognition of its role in our daily lives as he read a proclamation which established October 21st as “Saint Petersburg Science Festival Day” in the city of St. Petersburg.  Inhaling alternately from balloons filled with helium (six times lighter than air) and sulfur hexafluoride (six times heavier than air), the mayor read the proclamation in high-pitched and low-pitched voices and at one point equated science to sports, food, and the arts, suggesting a more common  celebration of science within our community traditions.

Mayor Rick Kriseman St. Petersburg Science Festival 2017

Research and innovation were well represented at booths hosted by various laboratories from the College of Marine Science, as well as by NOAA, the USGS, and Eckerd College.  Both research and conservation were well showcased by FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute through Marine Quest, the original portion of the festival now celebrating 23 years!  Fantastic demonstrations were performed by MOSI and Mad Science and several ways that science is important to society were on display by Pinellas County, the City of St. Petersburg, Great Explorations, Bay News 9, Duke Energy and many more.

Saint Petersburg Science Festival Day

This year, the festival expanded to include Port St. Pete which hosted FIO’s research vessel, the Weatherbird II, and a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, the Pelican.  Inside the port building, visitors could catch a glimpse of what will be the Marine Exploration Center, opening in 2018.  The festival offers a very full day of activities and, thanks to the hard work of all the volunteers, promises to be a success next year, as well.  We hope to see you all in 2018.

Written By: Sean Beckwith

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 October 2017 17:00

Are lionfish the next modern coastal cuisine?

TREASURE ISLAND, FL - Dr. Chris Stallings of USF Marine Science recently participated in a lionfish awareness dinner event. Dr. Stallings helped by providing his own insight on the invasive lionfish species by creating awareness to the general public. 

“This fish is from the Endo-Pacific region and the red sea and after they are released into our local system they are now distributed up and down the east coast of Florida, The west coast of Florida, The Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. So, the reason why we are concerned about this is that they are eating machines. They can reduce the abundance of our native fish by up to 90 percent and this can include juvenile grouper and snapper as well as lobster and stone crabs,” said Dr. Chris Stallings, Associate Professor of Biological Oceanography at USF.

The Club at Treasure Island hosted the event and is hopeful this will benefit the Florida Institute of Oceanography.


Last modified on Wednesday, 25 October 2017 16:50

Mermaids, Manatees, and the Rising Seas


Speakers/Affiliations: Chris Anastasiou, Southwest Florida Water Management District

Seminar Title: Mermaids, Manatees, and the Rising Seas: Profound changes along Florida’s Springs Coast are shifting ecological paradigms before our very eyes

When: Oct. 20, 2017 3:30pm EST

Where: MSL Conference Room (134)

Host: Sean Beckwith

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