Day 4: In Wilmington and Morehead City

The coast was fun and informative.  I watched Justin Peglow

The coast was fun and informative. I watched Justin Peglow, left, and Walt Rogers, from the UNC Institute for the Environment, examine a pinfish netted from the sound off Pine Knoll Shores.

We started out this morning at UNC-Wilmington. Chancellor DePaolo took me on a tour of her campus. It was a great day to be in coastal North Carolina, and I could really see how the higher education bonds transformed UNC-W. Chancellor DePaolo and her team have done a great job making sure that the new buildings they built really served their students. They’ve got a fabulous new arts center and a magnificent education building that looks like the Musée D’Orsay (minus the big clock).

At UNC-W's Center for Marine Science, Rosemary DePaolo and I were greeted by Al Roseman, a member of The UNC Board of Governors.

At UNC-W's Center for Marine Science, Rosemary DePaolo and I were greeted by Al Roseman, a member of The UNC Board of Governors.

The rest of the day was spent learning about marine sciences. First, we went to the marine sciences facility for UNC-W that is just off the coast of Wilmington. Director Dan Baden runs a large facility for oceanography and marine chemistry. They’ve got a strong program in marine toxicology, which is a great area for their students.

Dan Baden, director of UNC-W's Center for Marine Science, showed me around the facility.

Dan Baden, director of UNC-W's Center for Marine Science, showed me around the facility.

Then we went to see our Marine Sciences folks in Morehead City. The first stop was at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, where our Professor Pete Peterson was leading a group of students from the Institute of the Environment in their field research. Pete talked about how the increasing water levels due to global warming were challenging the organisms living in the marsh. Later one of his colleagues demonstrated a laser scanner that is used to map changes in the coastline before and after storms. Interesting fact: Tropical Storm Hanna had little effect, but the nor’easter we got a couple of weeks ago produced major changes in the coastline.

Dr. Tony Rodriguez explained the workings of a lidar, which is used to map the effects of hardscape on erosion of salt marshes.

Dr. Tony Rodriguez explained the workings of a lidar, which is used to map the effects of hardscape on erosion of salt marshes.

Pete and the students went in the water and collected a sample of fish, including a baby Mahi Mahi and a long fish that looked like a seahorse. After four days away from campus, it was great to walk out on the dock and see OUR students.

Dr. Charles "Pete" Peterson, on the right, led students from the UNC Institute for the Environment into the sound off Pine Knoll Shores to net samples for their research.

Dr. Charles "Pete" Peterson, on the right, led students from the UNC Institute for the Environment into the sound off Pine Knoll Shores to net samples for their research.

We then went to our Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) in Morehead City. The director, Rick Luettich, is a great scholar and wonderful administrator. He has really brought the IMS a long way during his tenure. Not only that, but he just got an $15 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security to help prepare for natural disasters.

The folks at the IMS are studying changes in coral reefs and marine organisms brought about by climate change and fishing. Hans Paerl has shown that cyanobacteria are really going to flourish in a warmer world. Makes sense: they started off 2 billion years ago when things were even more challenging than they are now.

We have a lot of work ahead of us to document our coasts and figure out how to protect them, but I’m glad that Carolina is playing such an important role.