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Scientist serves as expert photographer on research expedition

Submitted by Carin Bailey
Phone: (907) 474-7208

05/15/06

Fairbanks, Alaska--Russell Hopcroft, a biological oceanographer at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, knows how to photograph difficult subjects.

As an expert sea "bug" photographer and taxonomist, Hopcroft's subjects are tiny creatures pulled up from the depths of the ocean.

On a recent cruise through the tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean with 27 other marine experts, it was Hopcroft's job to document hundreds of minuscule sea animals and shrimp-like creatures-- zooplankton-- collected by deep-sea divers and trawlers. As part of an international effort to inventory the vast biota of the world's oceans with the Census of Marine Life, Hopcroft often spent hours swaying behind a highly technical camera while the ship rocked with the waves.

"Between the ship's movement, the squirming of the tiny sea creatures and the sloshing of the specimens' water, taking photos was often a very complicated process," said Hopcroft.

The photographs themselves are high-resolution, brightly detailed images of iridescent larvae-like creatures, tiny jellyfish, baby sea anemones and insect-like animals from up to 16,000 feet below the ocean's surface. The images will help scientists identify and catalog the minute life forms that make up the majority of the ocean's animal life. Scientists discovered 10-20 new species of zooplankton during their cruise through the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 274-foot research vessel Ronald H, Brown. The 20-day expedition, completed at the end of April, was funded by NOAA and is part of the Census of Marine Life's broad effort to inventory the biodiversity of oceanic life.

A professor at the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Hopcroft specializes in these tiny sea creatures and the role that they play in marine ecosystems. As vital links in the marine food chain, Hopcroft says that zooplankton are critical indicators of the health of the world's oceans.

Future photography projects for Hopcroft include two cruises near the Indonesian archipelago in the fall of 2006 and an expedition to Antarctica, where the oceanographer will again photograph zooplankton at sea for Census of Marine Life projects.

The UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences conducts world-class marine and fisheries research, education and outreach across Alaska, the Arctic and Antarctic. More than 60 faculty scientists and 150 graduate students are engaged in building knowledge about Alaska and the world's coastal and marine ecosystems. SFOS is headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and serves the state from facilities located in Seward, Juneau, Anchorage and Kodiak.

High-resolution images available for download at www.coml.org/medres/cmarz06-images.htm

Video clips available at www.cmarz.org/CMarZ_Cruise_April/videos.htm