Photo of Elsie Sunderland

Elsie M. Sunderland

Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Chemistry
Affiliated Faculty Member of Earth and Planetary Sciences

Elsie M. Sunderland is the Gordon McKay Professor Environmental Chemistry at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and in the Department of Environmental Health in the Harvard School of Public Health, and an affiliated faculty member of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.  She is a Faculty Associate in the Harvard University Center for the Environment and the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. 

Research in the Sunderland Lab focuses on how biogeochemical processes affect the fate, transport and food web bioaccumulation of trace metals and organic chemicals. Her group develops and applies models at a variety of scales ranging from ecosystems and ocean basins (e.g., the Gulf of Maine, the North Pacific and Arctic Oceans) to global applications to characterize how changes in climate and emissions affect human and ecological health, and the potential impacts of regulatory activities. Her group also makes key measurements of chemical concentrations and reaction rates in environmental samples (natural waters, sediments, and aquatic biota) and humans (hair, blood) to parameterize and evaluate environmental models.

Ongoing research is elucidating the biogeochemical cycling of compounds with contrasting physical and chemical properties that can be used to obtain insights into the varying exposure pathways and environmental lifetimes for industrial chemicals. The innovation in this work is to quantitatively analyze the entire exposure pathway for these compounds to identify their properties in air and water (e.g., stability in the atmosphere, photodegradation in water, environmental partitioning behavior) that enhance chemical persistence and ultimate accumulation in biota.

Assistant: Brenda Mathieu

Pierce Hall 127
p: (617) 496-0858
Ann Pearson

Ann Pearson

Department Chair; Murray and Martha Ross Professor of Environmental Sciences; Harvard College Professor

Ann Pearson is the Murray and Martha Ross Professor of Environmental Sciences. Her research focuses on applications of analytical chemistry, isotope geochemistry, and molecular biology to biochemical oceanography and Earth history. 

Through study of the “how, when, and why” of microbial processes, her work yields insight about environmental conditions on Earth today, in the past, and about potential human impacts on our future.  Recent projects have focused on the carbon and nitrogen cycles and on pathways of lipid biosynthesis.

Pearson received a Fellowship for Science and Engineering from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation in 2004, a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship in 2009, and was named a Marine Microbiology Initiative Investigator of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in 2012. She holds a Ph.D. in Chemical Oceanography from the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography, where she was awarded the C. G. Rossby Award for Best Dissertation in the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate; and a B.A. in Chemistry from Oberlin College.

Research Group Coordinator: Milena Perez

20 Oxford St.
Cambridge, MA 02138

Office location: Geo Museum, Room 362
p: 617-384-8392, f: 617-495-8839
Daniel Schrag

Daniel Schrag

Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology; Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering; Director, Harvard Univ. Center for the Environment; Director, Science, Technology and Public Policy Program, HKS; Area Chair for Environmental Science and Engineering

Daniel P. Schrag is the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology at Harvard University, Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, and Director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

Schrag studies climate and climate change over the broadest range of Earth history. He is particularly interested in how information on climate change from the geologic past can lead to better understanding of anthropogenic climate change in the future. In addition to his work on geochemistry and climatology, Schrag studies energy technology and policy, including carbon capture and storage and low-carbon synthetic fuels.

From 2009-2017, Schrag served on  President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.  Among various honors, he is the recipient of the James B. Macelwane Medal from the American Geophysical Union and a MacArthur Fellowship. Schrag earned a B.S. in geology and geophysics and political science from Yale University and his Ph.D. in geology from the University of California at Berkeley. He came to Harvard in 1997 after teaching at Princeton.

Geochemical oceanography, paleoclimatology, stable isotope geochemistry.

Assistant: Denise Sadler

Museum of Comparative Zoology, Room 433F
26 Oxford St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
p: (617) 495-7676, f: (617) 496-0425
David  Johnston

David Johnston

Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Director of Graduate Studies

Isotope geochemistry and historical geobiology. Re-animating ancient ecosystems and ocean chemistry using stable isotope systems, chemical speciation techniques, modern microbial experiments (for calibration) and theoretical considerations.

Research Group Coordinator: Sabinna Cappo

20 Oxford St.
Cambridge, MA 02138

Office Location: Geo Mus 363
p: 617-496-5024 f: 617-384-7396

Thomas S. Bianchi

Visiting Scholar
Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Florida

My major interests are in the areas of organic geochemistry and biogeochemical dynamics of aquatic systems, with particular emphasis in estuarine and coastal ecosystems, applications of chemical biomarkers in paleooceanography, sea-level rise effects on carbon storage in coastal system, and chemical biomarkers of colloidal, particulate, dissolved and sedimentary organic carbon.

My research group has worked in estuarine and large river systems around the world with particular emphasis on the Mississippi River/Louisiana estuarine/shelf system, and the Changjiang River estuary. Some of this work has focused on the fate and transport of organic carbon source inputs to the Louisiana and East China Sea shelves, using chemical biomarkers as source indicators, as well as recent work on the paleo-reconstruction of hypoxia events on the shelf and relationship between carbon cycling. We have also been examining paleo-reconstruction of organic carbon in Colville delta sediments in the Arctic, using compound-specific isotopic analyses of fatty acids, to examine changes in carbon cycling during the Holocene in the Arctic. Finally, we have been recently using chemical biomarkers to better understand how carbon sequestration in wetlands or “blue carbon” is changing in the Gulf of Mexico with changes in the dominance of mangroves over marshes due to sea level change.

Geo Museum 367
Jenan Kharbush

Jenan Kharbush

Pearson Group

Jenan is a microbial biogeochemist and oceanographer interested in the important connections between microbial ecology and marine biogeochemical cycling.

Originally from Wisconsin, Jenan obtained a B.A. in biology and chemistry from Ripon College in Ripon, WI. Subsequently she earned her PhD from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA, studying chemical oceanography in the lab of Dr. Lihini Aluwihare. Her thesis research focused on the use of molecular signatures to investigate microbial metabolic diversity and function in marine environments, and specifically targeted two important classes of microbial lipid biomarkers: bacterial hopanoids and intact polar diacylglycerols.... Read more about Jenan Kharbush

Felix Elling

Felix Elling

Post-Doctoral Fellow

Felix is a microbial biogeochemist studying the lipid "fingerprints" of archaea and bacteria ‒ microorganisms that control the cycling of elements such as carbon and nitrogen on our planet. His research focuses on reconciling microbiological lab experiments with geochemical observations from the modern ocean to improve the application of microbial lipids for the reconstruction of past environments.He received a B. Sc. (2009), M. Sc. (2012), and PhD (2015) from the University of Bremen, Germany. Felix joined Prof. Ann Pearson’s lab in January 2016, where he investigates the use of stable isotopes of archaeal lipids as tracers for changes in the oceanic carbon cycle in the past and modern ocean.

More details can be found on his website: Read more about Felix Elling

Geobiology and Biogeochemistry

Low-temperature geochemistry enlists a wide range of traditional scientific disciplines (e.g. chemistry, biology, geology) to address questions involving Earth surface processes, modern climate studies, deep time, and many more.  At Harvard and under this heading, our department has a particular interest in the study of Earth history. Often termed Geobiology, our strengths include the study of paleontology, sedimentology, and biogeochemistry, all of which requires a truly interdisciplinary approach to science.

Faculty and their research interests:


Read more about Geobiology and Biogeochemistry