Erin on Mekong

Erin Ellis



  • B.A. Carleton College (Biology)
  • M.S. University of Washington (School of Oceanography)
  • Ph.D, University of Washington (School of Oceanography)

Research Interests

Carbon cycling on land, in rivers, and in the ocean; using carbon isotopes (both stable and radioisotopes) to assess organic matter source and age; biomarkers; bacterial metabolism; CO2 gas evasion fluxes  


Erin Ellis began her career as a biogeochemist during her undergraduate days at Carleton College. Under the supervision of Dr. Phil Camill, she studied carbon and nitrogen cycling in restored prairie ecosystems.  Upon graduation, she moved to Washington state where she studied plant species composition on Mount St. Helens and worked as an environmental education coordinator for the Northwest Environmental Education Council.  Two years later, Erin was ready to return to school, this time studying carbon cycling in tropical rivers throughout the Amazon basin.  As water-column respiration has been hypothesized to be the main source of CO 2 super-saturation in rivers of the Amazon basin, Erin's initial interest in carbon cycling was to understand the environmental variables that control the wide range of respiration rates observed in Amazonian rivers.  For her master's degree, Erin worked with Jeff Richey and Brazilian colleagues in the NASA-funded LBA-ECO program. She examined the role of carbon size (i.e. dissolved and particulate carbon), carbon source (i.e. upland vegetation or phytoplankton) and water chemistry (like pH and dissolved gas concentrations) in affecting water-column respiration rates.  Erin received her masters in Chemical Oceanography in 2006. 

As a doctoral candidate in Chemical Oceanography,  co-advised by Jeff Richey and Anitra Ingalls. Erin switched hemispheres and began studying the Mekong River of Southeast Asia. She used carbon isotopes (δ13C and Δ14C) as tools to assess the seasonal variability in the source and age of 1) organic matter discharged from the Mekong River and 2) organic matter respired within the water column.  She used biomarkers as a complimentary tool to assess the origin of organic carbon.  Finally, Erin performed compound specific radiocarbon analysis on suspended sediment taken from the Mekong River water-column, to assess the variability in the residence time of plant-derived organic matter discharged by rivers. These approaches will further clarify the role of rivers in transporting and processing different pools of carbon of varying sources and ages. She completed her PhD in June, 2012.

Aside from doing research, Erin remained passionate about teaching throughout her graduate career.  She was awarded a Huckabay Teaching Fellowship to design and teach a course on Ecosystems Ecology and Carbon Cycling for undergraduates at the University of Washington, taught during the spring quarter of 2010. She then was a Guest Lecturer at Evergreen State College, in 2011. After graduation, Erin is now a Faculty Member at Evergreen.

And she remains an intergral part of the River Systems group.