Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Chemistry Professor 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.