Staff spotlight: Dr. Scott Zolkos

Scott Zolkos

Dr. Zolkos is a Woodwell Climate Research Center (formerly Woods Hole Research Center) postdoctoral researcher who works on the effects of climate change on Arctic ecosystems, particularly from the lens of carbon and contaminant cycling. He is supported by a prestigious NSF Earth Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowship, and he was recently selected for the American Geophysical Union’s Early Career Spotlight.

What questions does your research aim to answer?

What are the implications of northern high latitude environmental change for global biogeochemical cycles? I’m particularly interested in carbon and mercury cycling. I’ll soon start a two-year NSF Earth Sciences Postdoctoral Fellowship, working with Dr. Sue Natali and Dr. Brendan Rogers at [Woodwell Climate], and Dr. Elsie Sunderland at Harvard University. I’ll be studying the effects of wildfire and permafrost thaw on mercury cycling and bioavailability in the Yukon-Kuskokwim (YK) Delta, in association with the NSF-supported Polaris Project and in affiliation with the NASA Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment.

What’s your biggest challenge or obstacle?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, collecting new water and permafrost samples in the YK Delta is the biggest challenge. Very understandably, there are indefinite travel restrictions to many northern communities. In the meantime, I aim to leverage samples archived at [Woodwell Climate] and existing data, and to make headway on the remote sensing component of the project.

What brought you to [Woodwell Climate]?

Before starting my Postdoctoral Researcher position in 2019, I was a research assistant (2011–2014). I applied for the RA position because I attended a talk by [Woodwell Climate] founder Dr. George Woodwell. Many readers will appreciate that, as an undergraduate studying environmental science, hearing George talk was a quasi-spiritual experience. I had never heard of [WHRC] and I didn’t think such an organization existed, one with a mission that resonates so strongly with my core beliefs and interests. The exposure to research and incredible mentors that I had as an RA inspired me to apply for graduate school to study Arctic biogeochemistry.

What’s it like to work with your spouse, Anya Suslova, who’s also a scientist?

It’s always a joy to work with people who are smarter and more creative, especially when they are your spouse. Anya makes me a better scientist and person. We had fun co-authoring a recently-published paper on mercury fluxes in the Arctic’s largest rivers, as part of the Arctic Great Rivers Observatory (Arctic-GRO) project. Her father collects samples for Arctic-GRO in their hometown of Zhigansk, an Arctic village located on the Lena River. So, it’s a family business.