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Meet the Team, April-May 2013

Steve W. Ross, PhDSteve W. Ross, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator and cruise Chief Scientist
Research Professor
UNC-Wilmington, Center for Marine Science

Dr. Ross is a native of North Carolina and has spent most of his career involved in marine science of the southeast region. He earned a B.S. degree in zoology from Duke University, a Master’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. from North Carolina State University. He was the Research Coordinator for the NC Coastal Reserve Program for 13 years. He is currently a research faculty at UNC-Wilmington and also has led offshore studies for the US Geological Survey. His area of specialization is ichthyology (fishes), particularly in areas of ecology and life history studies (age, growth, feeding, reproduction). He has conducted numerous, diverse projects in estuaries and offshore waters and has served as chief scientist on many cruises, including those using submersibles and ROVs. The current work of Dr. Ross and his team involves assessment of the fish communities of unique deep water habitats off the southeastern US in the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Middle Atlantic Bight. In particular, they are looking at energy flow (trophodynamics) and relationships of animals to various habitats, including coral banks, canyon systems, and rocky areas. Dr. Ross is also involved with European scientists in conducting deep-sea trans-Atlantic ecosystem studies. One ultimate goal of this research program is to provide information for these poorly known areas that will facilitate management and protection of productive and vulnerable habitats.

Sandra BrookeSandra Brooke, Ph.D.

Principal Investigator and cruise co-Chief Scientist
Associate Research Scholar
Florida State University Coastal and Marine Lab

After completing my undergraduate and M.Sc. degrees in England, I spent a few years working in mosquito control in the Cayman Islands, where I learned to dive and discovered marine ecosystems. I obtained an M.A in Marine Biology from VIMS, and a Ph.D (2002) from the Southampton Oceanography Center, UK. I have since worked on deep-water coral projects in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, Norwegian Fjords, South Atlantic Bight and Gulf of Mexico, including post oil-spill assessment. I have also worked extensively on shallow coral reefs in the Caribbean and south Florida. My recent research has focused on the biology and ecology of deep corals and characterization of deep reef ecosystems. In August 2008, I became the Director of Coral Conservation at the Marine Conservation Institute. The primary objective of the coral conservation program is to identify sensitive hard bottom habitats such as coral reefs that are ecologically valuable and advocate for their protection from damaging human activities.

Liz BairdElizabeth Denton Baird

Director of Education
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Raleigh, NC

As director of education at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Liz Baird is accustomed to sharing science information with students and teachers across the state and around the world. During this mission, she will share research activities with the public via transmissions from the ship. She will work closely with researchers and the ship’s crew to answer questions sent from students, and will assist the research team wherever she’s needed. She will also assist Art Howard with the collection of footage for a production about the mission. Ms. Baird and her staff work with students and teachers and the general public to help enhance their understanding and appreciation of the natural world. In addition to leading an annual teacher workshop to Belize, Ms. Baird founded international Take A Child Outside week which is held September 24 through 30th every year. She has a B.S. in biology from Salem College and a M.S. in science education from North Carolina State University.

Jill 2Jill R. Bourque, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Researcher

Cherokee Nation Technology Solutions, Contracted to the U.S. Geological Survey

Gainesville, FL

Jill Bourque is a postdoctoral researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey Southeast Ecological Science Center in Gainesville, FL.  She received a B.S. in Marine Science from Rider University (2002), and an M.S. (2005) and Ph.D. (2009) from the University of Delaware’s College of Marine Studies in Lewes, DE.  Her graduate work examined the population biology and community structure associated with intertidal worm reefs in Delaware Bay.  Since joining the lab of Dr. Amanda Demopoulos (USGS) in 2011, Jill has been involved in taxonomic identification and community analysis of marine macrofauna residing near deep-sea coral habitats in the Gulf of Mexico.  Her research interests include the community ecology and ecosystem function of biogenic reefs in coastal and deep-sea habitats with a focus on how these habitats contribute to local and regional biodiversity. On this cruise she will be sampling canyon sediments adjacent to hard-bottom habitats to examine their role in habitat provision for soft-sediment benthic macrofauna.

photo (2)Frank Cantelas

Maritime Archaeologist

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Silver Spring, MD

Frank is the marine archaeologist for NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and is serving on the science team for Leg-2 of the expedition.  At NOAA, he manages a peer review maritime archaeology grant program that funds interdisciplinary expeditions to discover shipwrecks and other submerged archaeological sites in the United States and around the world.  Frank works with other government agencies on maritime archaeology studies and coordinates a government-wide task force to advance new ocean exploration technology. He also oversees maritime archaeology activities conducted on NOAA’s deep-sea exploration ship Okeanos Explorer including those employing telepresence technology that brings images and other data live to audiences ashore.  Frank earned an MA from the Program in Maritime Studies at East Carolina University and taught for the Program until coming to NOAA in 2006.

KaseyKasey Cantwell

Field Operations Specialist
National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
Silver Spring, MD

Kasey is a Field Operations Specialist in NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and will be serving as the expedition coordinator for the archeology leg of this expedition. Kasey’s background includes field work on reefs throughout the Caribbean with a focus on the Florida and Andros Reef tracts, evaluating management and monitoring strategies, aerial geologic surveys, and long term ecosystem monitoring. Kasey finished her Masters of Science earlier this year at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Her thesis work revolved around documenting mortality and recovery on Florida reefs after a catastrophic cold water anomaly in 2010. While a part of the Coral Reef Imaging Lab at RSMAS, Kasey worked with the US Navy to develop a new method of coral reef surveys using photo mosaics to improve the efficiency and quality of reef monitoring. Kasey is looking forward to working with an ROV for the first time as the she has only worked with shallow water ecosystems before.

AlannaAlanna Casey


University of Rhode Island

Alanna is a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island pursuing a joint MA/PhD in underwater archaeology and marine affairs.  She completed her undergraduate degree in history and coastal and marine sciences at Smith College.  She is interested in the interpretation of underwater archaeological sites, stakeholder identification in ocean planning, and policy process flexibility.

Tito photoTito Collasius

Senior Engineering Assistant 1
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole, MA

Alberto (Tito) Collasius Jr. is a senior engineering assistant in the Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. A native of North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, Tito participates in research expeditions at sea as expedition leader with the JASON remotely operated vehicle. In that role he supervises the JASON crew that operates the vehicle and works with the science party to maximize their use of the vehicle. His primary focus at WHOI is the development and operation of robotic vehicles within the Deep Submergence Laboratory. Highlights of his career include being involved in the 1985 discovery of the wreck of the Titanic; exploring underwater volcanoes as they erupt; and participating in the discovery of a perfectly-preserved 3rd century shipwreck in the Black Sea.

james_connors photoJames Connors

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration
Silver Spring, MD

James Connors is a web producer for NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. He normally works behind the scenes, helping to create many of the expeditions featured on the Ocean Explorer website. On this occasion, however, he will be joining the team aboard the Ron Brown to coordinate NOAA’s coverage of the Mid-Atlantic Canyons project first-hand. James has always been fascinated by marine life, growing up split between the Chesapeake and Gulf of Maine regions, and welcomes the challenge of cultivating an everyday understanding of natural science in the public–thereby enhancing social consciousness–in a time when human activity continues to radically alter the planet.

coykendall2Katharine Coykendall, PhD

Aquatic Ecology Branch


Kearneysville, WV

Dr. Coykendall is a geneticist at USGS Leetown Science Center.  Since childhood, she has wanted to become a marine biologist.  As an undergraduate at the University of South Carolina, she narrowed the focus to studying population genetics of threatened and endangered marine species.  She continued this trajectory at UC Davis getting a PhD in genetics.  Her post-doctoral work as a collaboration between Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and Rutgers University focused on the gene flow in the deep sea hydrothermal vent tube worm, Riftia pachyptila.  Currently, along with Dr. Cheryl Morrison, she is conducting research on the genetic connectivity of the octocoral, Paragorgia arborea, within the mid-Atlantic canyons and between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  She is also interested in the population connectivity of Eumunida picta, within and between coral reef habitats as well as the phylogenetic relationship between it and other squat lobster congeners.

Amanda DemopoulosAmanda Demopoulos, Ph.D.

Research Benthic Ecologist  US Geological Survey
Gainesville, Florida

Amanda Demopoulos is a Research Benthic Ecologist for the US Geological Survey at the Southeast Ecological Science Center in Gainesville, Florida. She received a Oceanography from the University of Washington (1996), and M.S. (2000) and Ph.D. (2004) in Biological Oceanography from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. After completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, she joined the USGS in 2007 as a Research Ecologist and currently serves as principal investigator for the USGS DISCOVRE program and chief scientist for the USGS Mid-Atlantic Canyons project. Her overall research program examines the ecology of coastal and deep-sea environments and associated food webs. On this cruise, she will be sampling the benthos using cores deployed by the ship and ROV to examine benthic invertebrates associated with deep-sea canyons and ship wrecks. In addition, she will process water samples, plankton, invertebrates, and fish for stable isotope analysis to help elucidate the structure and function of marine canyon food webs.

mike gMichael Gray


U.S. Geological Survey

St. Petersburg, FL

Michael Gray is a microbiologist at the U.S. Geological Survey Coastal and Marine Science Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. Mike earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Eckerd College (1998), and his MS in Marine Science from the University of South Florida (2003), both in St. Petersburg, FL. In his time working at the USGS, Mike has studied the impacts of African Dust and its transportation of microbes to the Caribbean, human-induced changes in the microbiology of cave systems in Carlsbad National Park, and coral diseases in the Florida Keys.  His current research interests focus on the microbial communities of deep-water corals, using next-generation sequencing techniques to characterize and understand the structure and function of these communities.

WaltGurleyWalt Gurley

Co-Coordinator of the Visual World Investigate Lab
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Raleigh, NC

Walt is a native of North Carolina with a background in Earth and environmental sciences. He received his B.S. in Geology from UNC Chapel Hill and M.S. in Earth science from NC State University. He has conducted research on topics ranging from analyzing relationships between climate and the growth patterns of gastropods from Spain and Norway to mapping the impact of agricultural activities on stream water chemistry in the Cape Fear River Basin in NC. Before joining the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, Walt managed the NCSU Stable Isotope Lab where he was responsible for evaluating and processing water quality data from the Neuse River and various other locations. His experience in science provided him with the opportunity to work with various data analysis and data visualization computer programs, which became one of his primary interests. As co-coordinator of the Visual World Investigate Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, he now focuses on the use of computer and electronics technologies to develop interactive and educational scientific programs to enliven the scientist in all of us.

Art HowardArt Howard

Producer/Director of Photography
Raleigh, NC

For 34 years, Emmy award winning photographer and producer Art Howard has helped viewers experience life through images from 50 countries and 7 continents. A native North Carolinian, he has followed the researchers aboard 7 deep sea missions, documenting the excitement and challenges of offshore reef exploration. Art will use the latest video technology, to bring viewers as close as possible to life at sea from the surface to depths of 3000 feet, capturing both the scientists and the life they seek to understand. Howard has spent the last 11 years independently producing media for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

IMG_2647 LavaleyeDr. Marc Lavaleye

Marine biologist and taxonomist

Department Marine Ecology

Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)

Marc is a deep-sea specialist and is especially interested in the marine bottom fauna, from small worms to big squids. As a student he joined his first major seagoing cruise in 1976, and since then never missed a year to add one or more cruises. During this cruise quantitative bottom samples will be taken with the NIOZ boxcorer, which will be sieved over very fine sieves (0.2mm), and all animals will be preserved for later identification. Smaller subsamples will be taken to analyze Foraminifera and to measure the available food (fresh algae). Near-bottom water samples are collected to analyze the suspended particles. We do this to get a better idea of the fauna in a canyon, and how they manage to survive here. Although he participated in lots of cruises, he is still very excited as this is again a new deep-sea area for him


Rod Mather, Ph.D.

Marine Archaeologist
Professor of History and Underwater Archaeology
University of Rhode Island

Rod Mather is the director of the archaeology and anthropology graduate program at the University of Rhode Island, and the adviser of the university’s underwater archaeology undergraduate program. He received his bachelor of arts from Leeds University in 1986, his master of arts from East Carolina University in 1990, and his doctorate from New College in Oxford in 1996. Dr. Mather will direct the archaeological aspects of the Atlantic Deepwater Canyons project and will focus his attention on the discovery, identification and assessment of submerged historic and pre-contact sites.

Jennie McClain-CountsJennifer McClain-Counts

Biological technician
U.S. Geological Survey
Gainesville, FL

Jennifer McClain-Counts is a biological technician at U.S. Geological Survey at the Southeast Ecological Science Center in Gainesville, FL. Jennie received her B.S. degree in Marine Biology (2006) and her M.S. degree in Marine Science (2010) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her graduate work examined the trophic relationship of midwater fishes over cold seeps in the Gulf of Mexico. Before joining USGS in 2011, Jennie worked with Dr. Steve Ross, participating in multiple research cruises and working on projects such as the ecology of Eumunida picta, a squat lobster associated with Lophelia pertusa,and the community structure of midwater fishes in the Gulf of Mexico. She is particularly interested in the use of stable isotopes to elicit trophic relationships and currently works with Dr. Amanda Demopoulos (USGS) to examine trophic relationships and community structure of marine fauna collected in various habitats, such as wetlands, offshore wrecks and deep-sea corals.

Kirstin Meyer

Oregon Institute of Marine Biology

Kirstin Meyer just started as a graduate student at the OIMB in the fall of 2012.  Born in Michigan, she earned her B.S. in Zoology from Northern Michigan University in 2011 and then studied for a year in northern Germany at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, funded by a Fulbright Study-Research grant.  Kirstin’s research interest lies in benthic deep-sea invertebrates, specifically how the community of invertebrates is affected by the availability of hard substrate.  She used a deep-sea camera system to study the benthic community in Germany and will be collecting samples and recording video of animals that inhabit shipwrecks on this cruise.

Jamephotos D. Moore III, Ph.D.

Marine Archaeologist

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Herndon, VA

I am a marine archaeologist in the Division of Environmental Sciences at BOEM’s national headquarters and serve as the discipline contact for the agency’s studies pertaining to cultural resources.  I received my B.S. degree in marine science from Eckerd College in 2000, my M.A. in history from East Carolina University in 2003, and my Ph.D. in oceanography from the University of Rhode Island in 2011.  I have participated in research expeditions in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Black Seas; the Gulf of Mexico; and the Atlantic.  My research interests include the corrosion behavior of iron and steel shipwrecks, deep sea survey and mapping technology, and the maritime history of vessels from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Cheryl MorrisonCheryl Morrison, Ph.D.

Scientist, Geneticist
USGS Leetown Science Center, West Virginia

Dr. Morrison is a geneticist at the USGS Leetown Science Center. She received her bachelor of science in marine biology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 1991, and her Ph.D. from Florida State University in Biological Sciences (1997). Dr. Morrison has always loved the ocean, from tide pools in the northeastern US to tropical coral reefs. She has been studying deep coral ecosystems for ten years in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic Bight. Her current research involves utilizing genetic techniques to estimate connectivity, or dispersal of juvenile coral larvae, between geographically separated populations. Estimates of connectivity give managers information about sensitivity of populations since highly connected populations are likely to be re-populated following damage. During the mission she will be collecting corals and squat lobster associates that will be taken back to the lab for analysis.

Nancy ProutyNancy Grumet Prouty, Ph.D.

Scientist, paleoclimate/oceanography
USGS Oceanographer

Nancy Prouty is an oceanographer at the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in Santa Cruz, CA.  She received her Ph.D. at Stanford University in the Oceans Programs in 2004 after earning a M.S. at the University of New Hampshire. Her scientific background includes atmospheric chemistry, oceanography, and climate change.  Using geochemical signals preserved in “natural recorders” (e.g., ice cores and coral records) of climate variability, Nancy has focused her research on enhancing our understanding of climate variability on human-relevant timescales and impact of human activities on the climate.  Her training includes a postdoctoral position at the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Ocean Research (CICOR), a NOAA Cooperative Institute at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).  She joined the U. S. Geological Survey in 2006 as a Mendenhall Fellow as part of the Ridge-to-Reef studies in Hawaii.  She is now working as a research oceanographer as part of the Coral Reef Project, and is a member of the Diversity, Systematics, and Connectivity of Vulnerable Reef Ecosystems (DISCOVRE) team. Nancy’s geochemical analytical research at the USGS has focused on the effects of understanding both present and past effects of climate changes on coral reef ecosystems, both shallow water and deep-cold water coral ecosystems.

Mike RhodeMike Rhode

Coastal and Deep-sea Fisheries Research Specialist
UNC-Wilmington, Center for Marine Science

Mike Rhode is a Coastal and Deep-sea Fisheries Research Specialist with the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He earned a B.S. in biology from Kutztown University, and a M.S. in marine studies from the University of Delaware, College of Marine Studies. His master’s project consisted of comparing the dynamics of the larval fish assemblages at two coastal Delaware inlets. Mike also spent three years at the Marine Science Consortium in Wallops Island, VA as the equipment manager, college coordinator, and programs manager. Mike has participated in several offshore cruises and during this mission he will be chief of the night watch. His responsibilities also include assisting with gear management, data collection, fish identifications.

Brendan RoarkBrendan Roark, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Geography and the Ocean Drilling and Sustainable Earth Sciences (ODASES) at Texas A&M University

Dr. Brendan Roark is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and the Ocean Drilling and Sustainable Earth Sciences (ODASES) at Texas A&M University. He earned his B.A. degree of the University of Colorado, his M.S. and Ph.D. at the University California, Berkeley and did Post-doctoral training at Stanford University. Brendan is a paleoceanographer whose research emphasis is in stable isotope biogeochemistry, trace metal analyses, and geochronology using radiocarbon and U/Th dating methods to study ocean and climate variability over the last 50,000 years. He has been doing research on reconstructing past oceanographic conditions using biogeochemical signals measured in the skeleton’s of deep-sea corals for more than ten years working with both submersibles and ROVs in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. One of the more interesting outcomes of this research is that we have demonstrated that some species of deep-sea corals can be extremely long lived; 2700 and 4200 years for Gerardia sp. and Leiopathes sp. respectively, and thus may be unique archives of intermediate ocean water variability.

Craig RobersonCraig Robertson M.Sc.

Doctoral Student
School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University

Craig is working towards his Ph.D. in deep-sea ecology in at Bangor University. His Ph.D. focuses on ecosystem functioning in submarine canyons, involving a complete appraisal of the hydrodynamic regime, sediment flux and food supply influencing the benthic habitats and fauna found at these biodiversity hotspots. Prior to his Master of Science degree in Marine Environmental Protection, he participated in EU cold-water coral reef projects in the North Atlantic, specifically looking at the ecology of Lophelia pertusa and associated microbial communities. He has considerable experience in macro-faunal analysis having worked for several years as a benthic taxonomist in commercial marine science, specialising in fauna from around the North Atlantic and the Middle East. He will be working on benthic fauna with Dr Amanda Demopoulos and benthic landers with the NIOZ team.

Esprit Saucier-HeestandEsprit Heestand Saucier

Ph.D. Student
Department of Biology
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Esprit Heestand Saucier received her BA in Zoology in 2006 and her masters in 2009 at The Ohio State University under Dr. Meg Daly.  Currently, Esprit is a Ph.D. student and Board of Regent Fellow at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette under Dr. Scott France.  Her current research focuses on using genetics and morphology to examine the phylogenetic relationships within the deep-sea bamboo corals, Keratoisidinae and describing new genera and species that have been discovered while working on the subfamily in collaboration with Scott France and Les Watling.  She is also interested in the classification and distribution of cnidae within the deep-sea bamboo corals, the biogeographic distribution of bamboo corals in the coral triangle, and genetically assessing population- and species-level differences using the deep-sea bamboo coral Acanella as a model.

John TJohn Tomczuk

Coral Coordinator

NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research

John Tomczuk is the Coral Coordinator for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) and Office of Ocean Exploration and Research (OER). He is responsible for representing OAR and OER in matters pertaining to shallow coral ecosystems through the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. John also serves as the OER representative and coordinator for the NOAA Deep Sea Coral Research and Technology Program research activities to characterize deep-sea coral ecosystems along the U.S. South Atlantic, West Coast, Alaska, and Northeast including the development of three-year research plans for these programs, as well as organizing vessel and asset operations for research projects. Prior to joining OER, John spent five years in Guam and Micronesia working on coral reef conservation issues. During this cruise he will be the expedition coordinator working closely with the ship’s crew, researchers and remotely operated vehicles team.

Maya Watts head shotMaya Watts

Post-doctoral researcher
University of Oregon

Maya Watts received her B.S. in Marine Biology from the College of Charleston, South Carolina and her Ph.D.  in Biology from the University of Oregon in 2010. Her research background includes embryology, larval ecology, and parasite/host relationships of marine invertebrates from fouling, rocky shore, and deep-sea communities from both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico. Maya is currently working as a postdoctoral researcher with Drs. Sandra Brooke and Steve Ross examining the invertebrate associations of deep-sea coral and canyon habitats from historical and current cruises.

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