Canuel Home Page

Elizabeth A. Canuel

Professor of Marine Science

Email: [[ecanuel]]
Phone: (804) 684-7134
Interests: Organic geochemistry, biomarkers
Office: Chesapeake Bay Hall N310
Department: Physical Sciences

  • B.S., 1981, Stonehill College, North Easton, MA, Chemistry
  • Ph.D., 1992, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, Marine Sciences
Research Interests

My training and research interests lie in the areas of marine organic geochemistry and chemical oceanography. I use chemical "signatures" present in environmental samples to obtain information about the sources of organic matter important to freshwater, estuarine and marine ecosystems. This information can be present in elemental ratios, the presence of specific organic compounds, and the natural and radiocarbon isotopic ratios of biologically-important elements (C, N, S) and organic compounds. Collectively, these geochemical tools are termed "biomarkers". Important characteristics of biomarkers are: (1) their source specificity and (2) the stability of the compounds. Data obtained through these studies can provide insights into the sources and reactivity of organic materials produced within complex marine and freshwater ecosystems. This information can tell us, for example, whether production is primarily supported by phytoplankton, terrigenous or marsh vascular plants, submerged aquatic vegetation (e.g., seagrass), or inputs from the rivers draining into the estuary.

The over-arching goal in my use of these geochemical tracers has been to identify key processes important in controlling the composition and cycling of particulate and sedimentary organic matter in the coastal ocean.  I use these tracers to study: (1) factors controlling organic carbon composition at both modern and geologic timescales, (2) coastal and estuarine food web interactions and (3) organic matter diagenesis.  My interest in these topics is motivated by the need to understand how human activities (e.g., land use, nutrient enrichment, water management and climate change) influence the carbon cycle.

Current Projects
  • Collaborative Researh: Sediment Supply in a Regime of Accelerated Coastal Erosion (SedS-RACE): Paleo-Perspectives, Anthropogenic Influences and Future Challenges.  Supported by: NSF Coastal SEES.  C. Hein and E. Canuel.
  • Collaborative Research: High-resolution, Multi-proxy Reconstruction of Holocene Climate Variability in West Asia. Supported by: NSF Paleo Perspectives on Climate Change (P2C2) Program. A. Pourmand and E. Canuel.
  • Collaborative Research: Constraining the Sources, Ages and Alteration of Dissolved and Particulate Lipids in Estuarine and Coastal Organic Matter. Supported by: NSF Chemical Oceanography Program. E. Canuel and J. Bauer.
  • An Integrated Research Program for Algal Energy and Environmental Remediation. Supported by: StatOil Hydro. J. E. Duffy, E. Canuel, and collaborators at William & Mary, U. Arkansas, U. Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. Completed
  • Collaborative Research: Benthic Microalgal Regulation of Carbon and Nitrogen Turnover in Land margin Ecosystems: A Dual Stable Isotope Tracer Approach. Supported by: NSF DEB Ecosystems Program. C. Tobias, J. Vallino, I. Anderson, and E. Canuel. Completed
  • Collaborative Research: Anthropogenic Impacts on Carbon Cycling in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta: Changes in Source, Nature, and Age of Organic Carbon. Supported by: NSF DEB Ecosystems Program. E. Canuel, S. Wakeham, and T. Bianchi.  Completed.
  • Collaborative Research: How Temporal Changes in River Discharge and Storms Affect the Source and Age Distribution of Sedimentary Organic Carbon Across a River-Dominated Margin. Supported by: NSF Ocean Sciences. T. Bianchi, B. McKee, M. Allison, E. Canuel, and S. Wakeham.  Completed.
Selected Publications
  • Palomo, L. and E.A. Canuel (2010) Sources of fatty acids in sediments of the York River estuary: Relationships with physical and biological processes.  Estuaries and Coasts. DOI 10.1007/s12237-010-9268-3.
  • Wakeham, S.G., E.A. Canuel, E.J. Lerberg, P. Mason, T.P. Sampere and T.S. Bianchi (2009) Partitioning of organic matter in continental margin sediments among density fractions.  Marine Chemistry 115: 211-225.
  • Spivak, A.C., E.A. Canuel, J.E. Duffy and P.R. Richardson (2009) Nutrient enrichment and food web composition affect ecosystem metabolism in an experimental seagrass habitat.  PLoS ONE PLoS ONE 4(10): e7473. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007473.
  • Pohlman, J.W., J.E. Bauer, E.A. Canuel, K.S. Grabowski, D.L. Knies, C.S. Mitchell, M.J. Whiticar and R.B. Coffin (2009) Sources and Fluxes of Methane in Gas Hydrate Cold-Seep Systems: Evidence from Radiocarbon and Stable Isotopic Signatures.  Marine Chemistry 115: 102-109.
  • Canuel, E.A., E.J. Lerberg, R.M. Dickhut, S.A. Kuehl, T.S. Bianchi and S.G. Wakeham (2009) Changes in Sediment and Organic Carbon Accumulation in a Highly-Disturbed Ecosystem: The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, (California, U.S.A.).  Marine Pollution Bulletin 59: 154-163.
  • Wakeham, S.G. and E.A. Canuel (2005) Degradation and preservation of organic matter in marine sediments. In: The Handbook of Environmental Chemistry. Vol 2 Series: Reactions and Processes: Bio and Chemical Markers in Environmental Chemistry. John Volkman (Ed.), Springer-Verlag.
  • Pourmand, A., F. Marcantonio, T.S. Bianchi, E.A. Canuel, E. Waterson and H. Schulz (2005) Tracing Climate-Related Changes in Planktonic Community Structure and Deep-Ocean Circulation Patterns in the Arabian Sea. Geophysical Res. Letters. 32, L10610, doi:10.1029/2005GL022612.
  • Pohlman, J.W., E. A. Canuel, N. R. Chapman, G. D. Spence, M. J. Whiticar, R. B. Coffin (2005) The origin of thermogenic gas hydrates on the northern Cascadia Margin as inferred from isotopic (13C/12C and D/H) and molecular composition of hydrate and vent gas. Org. Geochem. 36: 703-716.
  • Arzayus, K. and E.A. Canuel (2005) Organic matter degradation in sediments of the York River estuary: effects of biological vs. physical mixing. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. 69: 455-463.
  • Duffy, J.E., J.P. Richardson and E.A. Canuel (2003) Grazer diversity effects on ecosystem functioning in seagrass beds. Ecology Letters 6:637-645.
  • Zimmerman, A.R. and E.A. Canuel (2002) Historical progression of eutrophication in the mesohaline Chesapeake Bay: A sediment geochemical record. Limnology & Oceanography, 47:1084-1093.
  • Cloern, J.E., E.A. Canuel and D. Harris (2002) Stable-isotopes of C and N in aquatic and terrestrical plants of the San Francisco Bay estuarine system. Limnology & Oceanography, 47:713-729.
  • Canuel, E.A. (2001) Relations between river flow, primary production and fatty acid composition of particulate organic matter in San Francisco and Chesapeake Bays: A multivariate approach. Organic Geochemistry, 32: 563-583.
  • Zimmerman, A.R. and E.A. Canuel. (2000) A geochemical record of eutrophication and anoxia in Chesapeake Bay sediments: anthropogenic influence on organic matter composition. Marine Chemistry, 69: 117-137.
Current Students
  • Sarah Schillawski (Ph.D) Co-advised with Jim Bauer. Sources of Watershed Dissolved Organic Matter and its Reactivity in the York River Estuary.
  • Christie Pondell (Ph.D) Sediment and organic carbon burial in Englebright Lake CA over the last century.
  • Stephanie Salisbury (MS) Dynamics of Extracellular Polymeric Substances Produced by Benthic Microalgae: An in situ 13C and 15N Tracer Approach.
  • Hadley McIntosh (MS) Radiocarbon age of Lipids in the POM/UDOM of the Delaware River, Estuary and Bay System.
Past Students
  • Amber Kozak (Ph.D., 2009) Co-advised with I. Anderson.  Fate of Macroalgal Organic Matter in a Shallow Coastal Lagoon: A Dual Isotope Tracer and Biomarker Approach.  Present Position: Postdoctoral Scholar, Brown University.
  • Amanda Spivak (Ph.D., 2008) Co-advised with J. Emmett Duffy.  The Effect of Trophic Structure and Biodiversity on Sediment Organic Carbon.  Present Position: Postdoctoral Scholar, EPA Gulf Breeze FL.
  • John Pohlman (Ph.D., 2006) Co-Advised with J. Bauer. Methane Biogeochemistry and Sulfate Reducing Bacteria Chemotaxonomy at Biogenic and Thermogenic Gas Hydrate Sites on the Northern Cascadia Margin off Vancouver Island.  Present Position: Research Geochemist, USGS Woods Hole MA.
  • Vicki Pilon (Ph.D., 2006) Sources and Composition of Particulate Organic Matter in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, CA.
  • Elizabeth Waterson (M.S., 2005) Sources of Sedimentary Organic Matter in the Mississippi River and Adjacent Gulf of Mexico.  Present Position: Chemistry Teacher, Tabb High School, York County VA.
  • Christine Conrad (Ph.D., 2005) Co-advised with Michael Kelly. Using Planar Oxides as a Novel Approach to Metal Ion Sorption Studies: From the Lab to the Field.  Present Position: Postdoctoral Fellow, Penn State University.
  • Krisa Arzayus (Ph.D., 2002) Association and Partitioning of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons With Bound and Extractable Phases of Estuarine Sediments: A Lipid Biomarker Approach.  Present Position: Program Manager, NOAA, Office of Scientific Support, Climate Team.
  • Andrew Zimmerman (Ph.D., 2000) Organic Matter Composition of Sediments and the History of Eutrophication and Anoxia in the Mesohaline Chesapeake Bay.  Present Position: Assistant Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Florida.
  • Craig Tobias (Ph.D., 1999) Co-advised with I. Anderson. Nitrate Reduction at the Groundwater Saltmarsh Interface.  Present Position: Associate Professor, Department of Marine Sciences, University of Connecticut.
  • Jennifer Boxwell (B.S. Chemistry Dept., William & Mary, 1999) Microwave- Assisted Extraction of Lipids from Estuarine Sediments.  Undergraduate Thesis. Graduated with high honors. 
Courses Taught/Teaching
  • MSCI 501L.  Fundamentals of Marine Science Lab, Coordinator and Instructor
  • MSCI 503.   Field and Laboratory Methods in Marine Science, Co-Instructor
  • MSCI 548.   Experimental Design in the Marine Science Laboratory, Co-Instructor
  • MSCI 524.   Principles of Chemical Oceanography (with A. Beck)
  • MSCI 550.   Rivers: Processes and Problems (with J. Milliman)
  • MSCI 627.   Marine Organic Geochemistry
  • MSCI 698.   Global Change (with W. Smith)
  • MSCI 698.   Advanced Readings in Sediment Biogeochemistry (with I. Anderson)