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Scientist Spotlight: Steve Ross

November 23, 2010
Dr. Steve Ross

Dr. Steve Ross

Steve received his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Duke University and his master’s degree from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his Ph. D. from NC State University. Steve is a research professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. His research specialty is ichthyology, which is the study of fishes. Steve always had an interest in the ocean and enjoyed sailing growing up. Several scientists also served as role models to him and encouraged his interest in science.

Steve’s research interests in the Extreme Corals Expedition are varied, trying to answer questions that arise related to cold water coral habitats. These deep sea corals are located between 200–2000 meters below the ocean’s surface. For this research trip, Steve put together a team to study deep sea coral ecosystems. In any research expedition, they identify problems and bring in scientists to help answer those questions. For example, in trying to study how corals are related, they invited geneticists to participate in the research. Another problem currently being studied is trying to learn about past climate change through corals.

“There is an amazing diversity, colors, topography, mountains never seen before in the deep sea.” The Extreme Corals Expedition is bringing to light these deep sea habitats that many people are not very familiar with and have never had the opportunity to experience.

For Steve, the highlight of the research trip was discovering a shallow cold water coral community, which was documented off Jacksonville. There was a whole cold water deep sea coral community at this locality, which is possibly due to upwelling.

One interesting adaptation of organisms in these deep sea environments is trying to take advantage of limited food sources. Some organisms are bioluminescent. This means that they can generate light. For example, the bamboo coral is tan with black bands across it, and it bioluminesces bright blue. Bioluminesence may help lure food, can help identify animals of the same species, and may also be released as a defense mechanism.

In determining the locations to study during this trip, Steve and other scientists refer to prior knowledge they have about certain locations. They also utilize multi-beam data and contact colleagues in selecting research locations. They try to include areas of different depth ranges and different latitude ranges to give diversity in their samples.

Interview with Steve (mp3)

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