Tracking Carbon in the Ocean: Research from Graduate Yi Tang and Professor Gillian Stewart featured by SUM and the CUNY Graduate Center

Recent graduate Yi Tang and Professor Gillian Stewart had their research featured in an article by SUM: an initiative that collaborates with colleagues throughout CUNY to make important academic work accessible to the public, and the CUNY Graduate Center.

The article by SUM, titled “A Chemical Stopwatch for Tracking Carbon in the Ocean“, features Stewart and Tang’s most recent paper in which the two teamed up with GEOTRACES, an international research program that aims to improve an understanding of biogeochemical cycles in the oceans. Stewart and Tang studied the behavior of polonium-210, a radioactive isotope, in different parts of the ocean. Polonium-210 can attach to carbon particles and accumulate in living organisms near the ocean surface. When those particles and organisms eventually sink, they take the polonium isotopes with them. Researchers can then use the known rate of radioactive decay of polonium-210 as a method for calculating the rate at which the carbon leaves the ocean’s surface. Their findings help paint a clearer picture of the way carbon dioxide is cycled though the ocean and how quickly this occurs.

This research has also been featured by SUM Research on their Twitter and Facebook pages as well as in an article by the CUNY Graduate Center – How Much Carbon can the Ocean Absorb?


How Safe is your Beach? SEES Professor Gregory O’Mullan and Save the Sound Investigate

On Friday August 2nd, 2019, the nonprofit organization “Save the Sound” released a report detailing water quality data from beaches in New York City, Long Island, and Connecticut along the Long Island Sound. SEES Professor Gregory O’Mullan and the team at Save The Sound analyzed water samples from over 200 beaches then assigned each beach a letter grade based on its water quality and safety.

The report showed that on average over 93% of samples collected at Sound beaches within the last 3 years indicated conditions safe for swimming as compared to state water quality criteria. Wet weather increased the failure rate in all regions of the sound.  However, the study also showed that the sources responsible for the maximum magnitude of contamination appear to differ by the region. For New York City, Nassau, and Westchester, CSOs (combined sewage overflows) and/or urban runoff from rain events lead to high amounts of concentrated contaminants entering the Sound following rainfall. In Connecticut and Suffolk County where onsite sewage treatment and animal sources are more prevalent and can reach the water independently of the weather, the greatest magnitude of contamination at many beaches were often observed in dry weather.

The team at Save the Sound have launched an interactive website where you can see the score assigned to your local beach or any beach sampled as a part of this study.

About Save the Sound
Save the Sound is a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment with an established 45-year track record of restoring and protecting the waters and shorelines of the Long Island Sound. From its offices in Mamaroneck, NY and New Haven, CT, Save the Sound works for a cleaner, healthier, and more vibrant Long Island Sound where humans and marine life can prosper year-round. The organization’s success is based on scientific knowledge, legal expertise, and thousands of ordinary people teaming up to achieve results that benefit the environment for current and future generations. Learn more at

Funding Provided by the Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative
Long Island Sound Funders Collaborative is a group of funders with missions that include protecting and restoring the Long Island Sound.

VIDEO: Dr. Jonathan Pershing’s Colloquium: “Climate Change: Where are we today and what can we do about it?”

Jonathan Pershing, also a QC alum, is the program director for Environment at William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. He is the former Special Envoy for Climate Change in the US Department of State and Department of Energy.

Climate Change, with sea level rise, an increase in storms, heat waves, floods, and droughts (and related food and disease problems) threatens to disrupt the global economic and social order. Mitigation option abound, but will require a change in how we manage our energy, industry, and agricultural systems. In this talk, Dr. Pershing will discuss both the climate problem and outline possible solutions, describing opportunities (and actions already underway) in the US and around the world.

SEES Department Class of 2019 Honors and Awards

The SEES Department would like to extend a congratulations to its class of 2019 graduates who received honors and awards at the Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences Ceremony this past Thursday, May 30th.

Environmental Science Award
Alwin Joshua Chico

Environmental Studies Award
Wesley Low

Geology (SEES) Club Award
Adam Kaiser

Lt. George C. Gierak Memorial Award
Elizabeth Pesar

Honors in Environmental Studies
Kristine Alvarado
Wesley Low
Anna Ossowska
George Politidis
Menachem Saacks

Honors in Environmental Science
Alwin Joshua Chico
Ashley Iervolino

Honors in Geology
Adam Kaiser
Elizabeth Pesar

Congratulations to all all mentioned above and to all of our graduates of 2019!

Professor Cecilia McHugh featured in QView #52

Dr. Cecilia McHugh was featured in the Queens College QView, a weekly newsletter that highlights news, events, and people in the QC community. Cecilia’s amazing and continued work as a researcher, professor, and mentor was the focus of the piece. You can read the feature below.

Cecilia McHugh (School of Earth and Environmental Sciences) travels the world studying ancient sediment and mapping sea floors to learn more about past earthquakes and, possibly, anticipate future natural disasters. “By going back in time, we can predict how frequently earthquakes strike in a particular region,” she says.
In 2017, McHugh and some of her students documented an 8.5-magnitude earthquake that occurred in Bangladesh in 1762. In addition, the team collected evidence of a possible tsunami during that time. Today, in a country with a population of 160 million, an earthquake of this magnitude could be ruinous, which is why McHugh’s research is so important: What she learns can help governments understand and prepare for future risks.
McHugh examined sediment samples in Haiti in 2010 and Japan in 2011 following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit each area. She led the study in Haiti just a few weeks after the earthquake; the team discovered unmapped faults. Their work was cited by the Obama White House. Last fall, in recognition of her scientific contributions, McHugh was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of America. As part of the International Ocean Discovery Program, she will lead—together with collaborators from Austria and Japan—a team of scientists in drilling in the Japan Trench at a depth of eight kilometers.
McHugh’s teaching has inspired many students who have gone on to successful careers of their own. “It’s most rewarding to see them do well, whatever their goals are, whether it’s to pursue a PhD, work for an environmental company, or teach,” she observes.
McHugh couldn’t imagine teaching anywhere else. “The diversity, by far, is what I like most about Queens College,” she says. “It is amazing. I went to my laboratory the other day and saw four students working—one from India, one from Nepal, one from Greece, and another from Taiwan.”
Her background allows her to connect on a deeper level with QC’s diverse population. Born in Argentina, McHugh came to the United States after high school and did not speak English. She eventually learned the language and went on to earn a PhD, all while raising two young sons. She sees many of her students struggling with similar challenges and encourages them: She succeeded, and they can, too.

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. McHugh or her research, click here!

Professors William Blanford and Gregory O’Mullan Awarded $150,000 Grant

The School of Earth and Environmental Sciences is happy to announce that Professors William Blanford (middle) and Gregory O’Mullan (right) from SEES and Robert Engel from the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at Queens College have received a $150,000 grant from PowerBridgeNY to develop antimicrobial treatment technologies. PowerBridgeNY is funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to turn clean technology innovations from academic research labs into cleantech businesses in New York State. Around this technology, the professors have teamed with Mario Mercado and the CUNY Technology Commercialization Office to develop a new company, QuatCare LLC. Initially, they will be developing and field testing a treatment system to lower bacterial levels in process waters used in automotive painting lines to lower power and water consumption rates. Globally, automotive paint lines consume as much water as NYC and individually consume over 60% of the power involved in assembling vehicles. This project is one of many where SEES faculty and students are producing innovative science and technology to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of NYC and New York State.

If you’re interested in seeing what other kind of research is done at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, please navigate to the Research tab in the top menu bar and explore!

SEES Alumna Suzanne Young Awarded AAAS Fellowship

Suzanne Young, a Queens College School of Earth and Environmental Sciences Alumna, has just received an AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship. Come this fall, Suzanne will be moving to Washington DC as an Executive Branch Fellow and will be working as an environmental specialist with USAID in the Bureau of Food Security. Her work will focus on water and sustainability issues related to funded projects all over the world.

Suzanne completed her Master’s in Geological and Environmental Sciences at SEES under professor Gregory O’Mullan in 2011. While here, she studied antibiotic resistant bacteria in the Hudson River Estuary associated with combined sewage overflows (CSO’s). Suzanne then earned a PhD in Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida and went on to become a postdoctoral researcher at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland in the Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry. At EPFL, her research on viral pathogens included detection, disinfection through wastewater treatment, and genetic diversity.

Suzanne is a shining example of what our alumni can achieve when they are armed with the skills and connections they develop here.

If you would like to learn more about the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences graduate programs, you can check them out below.
Master’s Programs
PhD Programs

If you would to learn more about our faculty and the research they do, please head over to our faculty page or navigate to the research tab on the menu bar above.

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