Past & Present


Dr. Steve Emslie

Principal Investigator

UNCW Department of Biology and Marine Biology


Meet the Research Team!

Dr. Steve Emslie (website)

Dr. Steve Emslie is a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). His research interests are interdisciplinary and focus on avian ecology and paleoecology, especially on the fossil record of birds in the Plio/Pleistocene and the evolution and extinction of birds in relation to climate change.  For the past 15 years he has been studying the paleoecology of penguins in Antarctica with excavations of abandoned penguin colonies to recover bones and prey remains.  These remains are providing information on the occupation history and diet of penguins that can be correlated with past population movements and episodes of climate change in this region.  Most recently, this research has been expanded to investigate carbon and oxygen isotope records preserved in penguin eggshell from fossil and recent penguin colonies.

Dr. Emslie recieved his B.A. and M.A. in Anthropology from the University of Colorado. He later recieved his M.S. in Biology from Northern Arizona University. Then he received his Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Florida. Dr. Emslie often visits Colorado, but he currrently resides in Wilmington, NC.


Dr. William Patterson

Dr. Patterson is an isotope biogeochemist and director of the Saskatchewan Isotope Laboratory, with field experience on all seven continents, and in many of the World’s marine and lacustrine environments. Patterson’s research interests include global carbon cycling, fish behavior, bat ecology, penguin ecology, woolly mammoth ecology, tree physiology, meteorology, climate change, evolution and extinction, marine and freshwater chemistry, archaeology, anthropology, history, cave environments, etc. His work is conducted in Arctic/Antarctic, alpine, desert, tropical rain and cloud forests, temperate and maritime environments. He has appeared in documentaries on the interpretation of the Bible, agriculture, climate change, fish evolution and behavior, bird behavior, trees physiology, bat ecology, and Viking history. Patterson has developed robotic microsampling devices that are used to extract microgram–sized samples for isotopic analyses, and has published over 100 articles in the scientific literature and magazines.


Mike Polito

Mike Polito

Mike Polito is a PhD student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). He is working to examine the diets and foraging habitat of Antarctic penguins using stable isotope analysis.  By using the principle of "you are what you eat" his research estimates penguin diets by studying the isotopic composition of tissues such as eggshells and feathers.

Mike is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, he received his B.S. in Marine Biology at UNCW in 2001. Before working in the Antarctic, he studied marine birds at remote field camps along the coast of California and Alaska for both nonprofit and governmental agencies.  He now resides in Wilmington, NC where he spends his free time fishing, birding and playing trivia.


Rebecka Photo

Rebecka Brasso

Rebecka Brasso is a PhD student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and she will be investigating temporal and spatial patterns of mercury availability in the Antarctic using penguins as biomonitors.  She will use tissues (eggs and feathers) collected from historic and modern penguin colonies to assess changes in mercury availability across time and space. To gain a modern perspective on mercury availability across the Southern Hemisphere she will compare mercury concentrations in penguin tissues from Antarctica, New Zealand, Africa, and South America.

Originally from Columbia, MD, Rebecka earned a B.S. in Marine Biology at UNCW in 2004. She completed her M.S. in Biology at the College of William and Mary in 2007; her research focused on the effects of mercury contamination on breeding songbirds. Before returning to UNCW in 2009, she was a biology instructor at Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA. When she is not in the lab she enjoy spending time in the great outdoors--running, playing soccer, birding, and hiking.