EPA funds USF climate research

College of Marine Science professor Frank Muller-Karger and integrated biology professor Jason Rohr received two of 14 grants awarded nationally by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after responding to a nationwide call for proposals pertaining to extreme event impacts on air quality and water quality with a global climate.

Muller-Karger, professor of biological oceanography and remote sensing in the college of Marine Science, was awarded a $750,000 grant by the EPA to study Puerto Rican and Gulf of Mexico estuaries using satellites to better understand water quality changes based on environmental and weather factors, he said.

The grant money received will go toward building databases of variables, including wind, rainfall and river discharge, that could potentially impact the quality of the enviornment. The funding will also provide stipends for two students who have joined Muller-Kargers team, Ph.D. candidates Matthew McCarthy and Daniel Otis.

Ive been working with satellites for a long time, Muller-Karger said These satellites look at the earth and they measure the color of the earth and theyre very sensitive, so they can measure small changes in the color. When you look at (estuaries) from space, the color is very dark, and you can say something about whats in the water… We want to explain the changes that we have seen, and thats what has not been done.

Muller-Karger said he hopes to build relationships with other estuary programs around the Gulf of Mexico, such as the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.

Rohr received a $375,000 grant to study animals pathogenic responses to temperature change.

Rohrs experiment will introduce animals to temperatures in the lab for four weeks to get them comfortable with the temperature, with half residing in a temperature of 17 degrees Celsius, and the other half at 27 degrees Celsius. The temperature will then change for some of the animals, and the rest will be kept at the same temperature. The team will then quantify the amount of pathogens, or infectious agents, that grows in these animals and collect data.

The climate change will increase variability in temperature and should benefit these pathogens, especially exothermic hosts, Rohr said. This will increase disease risk, which can spill over to humans.

Rohr said his team has been given approval to conduct the experiment.

The temperature treatments shouldnt harm the animals, but anytime you expose another animal to a pathogen theres always the risk that it could get sick, he said.

Funding for both projects is planned to last three years. Of the 14 total awards given across the nation, two others were given to researchers of universities in the southeast, one at Georgia Tech and the other at Mississippi State University.