Canuel Home Page

Elizabeth A. Canuel

Chancellor Professor, Emeritus

Retired: 2021
Department: Physical Sciences
Email: [[v|ecanuel]]
Interests: Organic geochemistry, biomarkers
Canuel Bio: {{, pdf}}

  • B.S., Stonehill College, North Easton, MA, Chemistry
  • Ph.D., 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
  • 2016-2019       Ecosystems on the edge - Tidal wetland-estuary margins as buffers, reactors, and transformers of organic C and N. Ecosystem Studies Program, NSF/BIO/DEB Program. Start date: April 2016.
  • 2014-2017       Tidal wetlands as sources and sinks of carbon in a changing world: Remote Sensing, Measurements & Modeling of Wetland-Ocean-Atmosphere Interactions.  NASA Carbon Cycle Science Program.
  • 2013-2017       Collaborative Research: Sediment Supply in a Regime of Accelerated Coastal Erosion (SedS-RACE): Paleo-Perspectives, Anthropogenic Influences and Future Challenges.  NSF Coastal SEES (Track I).

Full CV


Bianchi, T.S. and E.A. Canuel (2011) Chemical Biomarkers in Aquatic Ecosystems.   Princeton University Press, published Spring 2011.

Journal Articles (Selected)

  • Pondell, C.R. and Canuel, E.A. (2020) Sterol, fatty acid, and lignin biomarkers identify the response of organic matter accumulation in Englebright Lake, California (USA) to climate and human impacts. Organic Geochemistry, 142, DOI: 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2020.103992
  • Ward, N.D., Bond-Lamberty, B., Bailey, V., Butman, D., Canuel, E.A., Diefenderfer, H., Ganju, N.K., Goñi, M.A., Hopkinson, C.S., Khangaonkar, T., Langley, J.A., McDowell, N.G., Myers-Pigg, A.N., Neumann, R.B., Osburn, C.L., Price, R.M., Rowland, J., Sengupta, A., Simard, M., Tzortziou, M., Vargas, R., Weisenhorn, P.B., Windham-Myers, L. (2020) Representing the function and sensitivity of coastal interfaces in Earth system models. Nature Communications, 11:2458, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-16236-2
  • Spivak, A.C., Sanderman, J., Bowen, J.L., Canuel, E.A., Hopkinson, C.S. (2019) Reassessing soil organic matter recalcitrance in changing coastal blue carbon ecosystems. Nature Geoscience,  DOI: 10.1038/s41561-019-0435-2
  • Najjar, R.G., M. Herrmann, R. Alexander, E.W. Boyer, D. Burdige, D. Butman, W.-J. Cai, E.A. Canuel, R.F. Chen, M.A.M. Friedrichs, R.A. Feagin, P. Griffith, A.L. Hinson, J.R. Holmquist, X. Hu, W.M. Kemp, K.D. Kroeger, A. Mannino, S.L. McCallister, W.R. McGillis, M.R. Mulholland, C. Pilskaln, J. Salisbury, S. Signorini, P. St-Laurent, H. Tian, M. Tzortziou, P. Vlahos, Z.A. Wang, and R.C. Zimmerman (2018) Carbon budget of tidal wetlands, estuaries, and shelf waters of Eastern North America. Global Biogeochemical Cycles, DOI: 10.1002/2017GB005790
  • Cloern, J.E., Robinson, A., Richey, A., Grenier, L., Grossinger, R., Boyer, K.E., Burau, J., Canuel, E.A., DeGeorge, J.F., Drexler, J.Z., Enright, C., Howe, E.R., Kneib, R., Mueller–Solger, A., Naiman, R.J., Pinckney, J.L., Safran, S.M., Schoellhamer, D., and Simenstad, C.  (2016) Primary Production in the Delta: Then and Now. San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science 14(3),  DOI: 10.15447/sfews.2016v14iss3art1
  • Canuel, E.A. and Hardison, A.K. (2016) Sources, ages, and alteration of organic matter in estuaries.  Annual Review in Marine Science, DOI: 10.1146/annurev-marine-122414-034058
  • Wakeham, S.G. and Canuel, E.A. (2016) The nature of organic carbon in density-fractionated sediments in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (California).  Biogeosciences 13:567-582, DOI: 10.5194/bg-13-567-2016
  • Pondell, C.R., Beck, A., Kuehl, S.A. and Canuel, E.A. (2015) Application of Plutonium isotopes to the sediment geochronology of coarse-grained sediments from Englebright Lake, California (USA). Aquatic Geochemistry, DOI: 10.1007/s10498-015-9279-6
  • Lu, Y., Li, X., Mesfioui, R., Bauer, J.E., Chambers, R.M., Canuel, E.A., Hatcher, P.G. (2015) Use of ESI-FTICR-MS to Characterize Dissolved Organic Matter in Headwater Streams Draining Forest-Dominated and Pasture-Dominated Watersheds.  PLOS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0145639
  • Sharifi, A., Pourmand, A.,Canuel, E.A., Ferer-Tyler, E., Peterson, L.C., Aichner, B., Feakins, S.J., Daryaeee, T., Djamali, M., Benig, A.N., Lahijanig, H.A.K. and Swart, P. (2015) Abrupt climate change over the interior of West Asia since the last deglaciation period: The hand that rocked the Cradle of Civilization? Quaternary Science Reviews, 123: 215-230, DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2015.07.006
  • McIntosh, H.A., McNichol, A.P.,  Xu, L. and Canuel, E.A. (2015) Source-age dynamics of estuarine particulate organic matter using fatty acid δ13C and ∆14C composition. Limnology & Oceanography 60(2)2: 611–628, DOI: 10.1002/lno.10053
  • Lu, Y., Bauer, J.E., Canuel, E.A., Yamashita, Y. Chambers, R. and Jaffé, R. (2013) Photochemical and microbial alteration of dissolved organic matter in temperate headwater streams associated with different land use. Journal of Geophysical Research- Biogeosciences, DOI: 10.1002/jgrg.20048.  Featured in “Research Spotlight” Eos, Vol. 94, No. 23, 4 June 2013
  • Canuel, E.A. Cammer, S.S., McIntosh, H.A. and Pondell, C.R. (2012) Climate change impacts on the organic carbon cycle at the land-ocean interface.  Invited Contribution: Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 40:685–711, 10.1146/annurev-earth-042711-105511, DOI: 10.1146/annurev-earth-042711-105511
  • Waterson, E.J. and Canuel, E.A.  (2008) Sources of sedimentary organic matter in the Mississippi River and adjacent Gulf of Mexico as revealed through lipid biomarker and d13C(TOC) analyses.  Org. Geochem. 39: 422–439, DOI: 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2008.01.011
  • Canuel, E.A., Spivak, A.C., Waterson, E.J. and Duffy, J.E. (2007) Biodiversity and food web structure influence short-term accumulation of sediment organic matter in an experimental seagrass system. Limnol. Oceanogr. 52(2): 590-602, DOI: 10.4319/lo.2007.52.2.0590
Current Students

2018-present    Derek Detweiler (PhD Student) Co-advised with Dr. Iris Anderson

Graduated Students

2019    Amanda Knobloch (Ph.D.) Fluxes, drivers, and composition of carbon exchanged at the Taskinas Creek, VA coastal marsh creek – estuarine interface
Present Position: Education Coordinator, Patuxent Environmental & Aquatic Research Laboratory, Morgan State University

2016    Alison O’Connor (Ph.D.) Biogeochemistry of Redox-Sensitive Trace Elements in the Subterranean Estuary.  Co-advised with A. Beck
Present Position: Associate Scientist Ramboll Environ, Inc., Cleveland OH
2015    Sarah S. Cammer (Ph.D.) Storm Event Impact on Organic Matter Flux, Composition and Reactivity in Taskinas Creek, VA.

Present Position: Environmental Science and Technology Instructor, Worcester Technical High School, Worcester MA

2014    Christie Pondell (Ph.D.) Sediment and Organic Carbon Burial in Englebright Lake CA over the Last Century.

Present Position: Lecturer, Towson University

2013    Hadley McIntosh (M.S.) Composition, Sources, and Age of Dissolved and Particulate Organic Matter in the Delaware Estuary.

Present Position: Ph.D. Student, University of Maryland  

2012    Emily Brault (M.S.) Evaluating Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and Mercury in the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) Food Web, With a Focus on Antarctic Fur Seals (Arctocephalus gazella).

Present Position: Research Scientist, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

2011    Stephanie Salisbury (M.S.) Dynamics and Composition of the Extracellular Polymeric Substances Produced by Benthic Microalgae: An In Situ 13C and 15N Approach.

Present Position: Chemistry Teacher, Henrico County, VA

2009    Amber Hardison (Ph.D.; Co-advised with I. Anderson).  Fate of Macroalgal Organic Matter in a Shallow Coastal Lagoon: A Dual Isotope Tracer and Biomarker Approach.

Present Position: Associate Professor, Virginia Institute of Marine Science

2008    Amanda Spivak (Ph.D.) Co-advised with J. Emmett Duffy.  The Effect of Trophic Structure and Biodiversity on Sediment Organic Carbon. 

Present Position: Associate Professor, University of Georgia

2006    John Pohlman (Ph.D.) 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  

2006    Vicki Pilon (Ph.D.) Sources and Composition of Particulate Organic Matter in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, CA. 

Present Position: Executive Director at Literacy Volunteers of America - Prince William County VA

2005    Elizabeth Waterson (M.S.) Sources of Sedimentary Organic Matter in the Mississippi River and Adjacent Gulf of Mexico.

Present Position:  Chemistry Teacher, Tabb High School, York County VA

2005    Christine Conrad (Ph.D.).  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: Senior Regulatory Specialist, Williamsburg Environmental Group

2002    Krisa Arzayus (Ph.D.) Association and Partitioning of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons with Bound and Extractable Phases of Estuarine Sediments: A Lipid Biomarker Approach

Present Position: Chief, Marine Data Stewardship Division. NOAA/NODC

2000    Andrew Zimmerman (Ph.D.) Organic Matter Composition of Sediments and the History of Eutrophication and Anoxia in the Mesohaline Chesapeake Bay.  

Present Position: Associate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Florida

1999    Craig Tobias (Ph.D.) Co-advised with I. Anderson, Nitrate Reduction at the Groundwater Saltmarsh Interface.

Present Position: Associate Professor/Coastal Studies Program Coordinator, Department of Marine Sciences, University of Connecticut

Courses Taught/Teaching
  • MSCI 524.   Principles of Chemical Oceanography
  • MSCI 550.   Rivers: Processes and Problems (with J. Milliman and C. Hein)
  • MSCI 627.   Marine Organic Geochemistry
  • MSCI 610.   Global Change (with W. Smith)
  • MSCI 391.   Marine Science Mash-up
  • MSCI 698.   Advanced Readings in Sediment Biogeochemistry (with I. Anderson)