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  • 110D MU
  • 617.373.5872


  • 107/108 MU

Research Focus

Environmental chemistry; geochemistry; the carbon cycle; freshwater, coastal and ocean biogeochemistry; feedbacks between natural biogeochemical cycles and climate change; permafrost; black carbon; aquatic microplastics


I grew up in Wales and received my PhD in Marine Biogeochemistry from Newcastle University (Newcastle, England). After that I did a postdoc at Old Dominion University (Norfolk, VA) before becoming a professor at Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (UGA, Savannah, GA). Finally I moved to Northeastern in 2018. I study the natural carbon cycle, how humans are altering it, and plastics in the environment. I see plastics as a novel component of the carbon cycle as well as potential pollutants.


  • PhD, Newcastle University, 2002

Honors & Awards

  • Fellow, Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography

Teaching Interests

Earth’s Changing Cycles (ENVR 2200) provides an introduction to how humans have altered Earth’s biogeochemical cycles, including the carbon cycle, nutrient cycles, climate, and the advent of plastics as a global cycle.

Professional Affiliations

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography

American Geophysical Union

American Chemical Society

Research Overview

Environmental chemistry; geochemistry; the carbon cycle; freshwater, coastal and ocean biogeochemistry; feedbacks between natural biogeochemical cycles and climate change; permafrost; black carbon; aquatic microplastics

The global cycles of carbon and plastics.

Research into the cycling of natural carbon focusses upon dissolved organic carbon in natural waters from the depths of the ocean to the Tibetan plateau. I have conducted fieldwork in the open ocean, at hydrothermal vents, on glaciers, on the Amazon River, and in the Siberian Arctic. The diversity of research sites is required to develop a coherent understanding of the global cycles of elements, particularly carbon. The focus upon carbon is due its central role in determining global climate, as the building block of life, and the food that fuels natural ecosystems.

Studying plastics is a natural extension of my work on the carbon cycle. Plastics are also formed predominantly from carbon. They are now also everywhere on Earth, including in the air we breathe. To understand the risk plastics pose, we need to understand where they are in the environment and what types of byproducts are formed when the degrade.

Selected Research Projects

  • CBET: The Role of Sunlight in Determining the Fate and Microbial Impact of Microplastics in Surface Waters
    • – Principal Investigator, National Science Foundation, Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental and Transport Systems
  • Constraining the Source of Oceanic Dissolved Black Carbon Using Compound-Specific Stable Carbon Isotopes
    • – Co-Principal Investigator, National Science Foundation
  • RAPID: Extreme Water use Patterns and their Impact on the Microbial and Chemical Ecology of Drinking Water
    • – Co-Principal Investigator, National Science Foundation

Selected Publications

  • Full list of publications: Google Scholar
  • A. StubbinsK.L. LawS.E. MunozT.S. BianchiL. Zhu (2021) Plastics in the Earth system, Science, 373 (6550), 51-55. DOI: 10.1126/science.abb0354.
  • Van Stan, J. T. and Stubbins, A. (2018) Tree‐DOM: Dissolved organic matter in throughfall and stemflow. Limnology and Oceanography Letters, 3: 199-214. doi:10.1002/lol2.10059.
  • S. Wagner, J. Brandes, R.G. Spencer, K. Ma, S.Z. Rosengard, J.M.S. Moura, A. Stubbins (2019) Isotopic Composition of Oceanic Dissolved Black Carbon Reveals Non-Riverine Source, Nature Communications, 10(1), 1-8. doi:10.1038/s41467-019-13111-7.
  • Stubbins, A. (2016) A carbon for every nitrogen. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1612995113.
  • Moran, M. A., E. B. Kujawinski, A. Stubbins, R. Fatland and 13 others (2016) Deciphering Ocean Carbon in a Changing World. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1514645113.
  • Hawkes, J. A., P. E. Rossel, A. Stubbins, D. Butterfield, D. P. Connelly, E. P. Achterberg, A. Koschinsky, V. Chavagnac, C. Hansen, W. Bach, T. Dittmar (2015) Efficient removal of recalcitrant deep-ocean dissolved organic matter during hydrothermal circulation. Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/ngeo2543.
  • Jaffé, R., Ding, Y., Niggemann, J., Vähätalo, A.V., Stubbins, A., Spencer, R.G.M., Campbell, J., Dittmar, T. (2013) Global charcoal mobilization from soils via dissolution and riverine transport to the oceans. Science. doi: 1126/science.1231476.
  • Stubbins, A., Hood, E., Raymond, P.A., Aiken, G.R., Sleighter, R.L., Hernes, P.J., Butman, D., Hatcher, P.G., Striegl, R.G., Schuster, P., Abdulla, H.A.N., Vermilyea, A.W., Scott, D.T., and Spencer, R.G.M. (2012) Anthropogenic aerosols as a source of ancient dissolved organic matter in glaciers. Nature Geoscience. doi: 10.1038/NGEO1403.


Sep 23, 2021

Tracking How Black Carbon is Getting in the Oceans

MES/COS/CEE Professor Aron Stubbins is researching how black carbon is making its way to the depths of the oceans. Is wildfire soot leaving a mark on the world’s oceans? Main Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images When clouds of smoke and ash billow out over the ocean, stretching away from the wildfires that are their source, […]



Jul 22, 2021

Assessing the Plastic-Carbon Concentrations at the Ocean’s Surface

MES/COS/CEE Associate Professor Aron Stubbins is leading a $300K NSF EAGER grant, in collaboration with Jason Guo from the Barnett Institute, Kara Lavender Law from the Sea Education Association, and Valier Galy from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, for “Assessing the contribution of plastics to marine particulate organic carbon.”

Plastics are a pervasive source of pollution. And they might also be significantly altering the Earth’s carbon cycle and our ability to monitor it, according to research by Northeastern’s Aron Stubbins. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University


Jul 07, 2021

Stubbins and Munoz Published in Science for Plastics in the Earth System

A research paper, titled, “Plastics in the Earth System” by Associate Professor Aron Stubbins, MES/COS/CEE, and Assistant Professor Samuel E. Muñoz, MES/CEE, was published in the journal Science.

daniel devoy


May 04, 2021

Engaging Research from the Start

Curiosity and engagement are top traits of high-potential talented students. To tap into and nurture this excitement, the College of Engineering introduced an innovative program in Fall 2020: Undergraduate Program for Leaders In Future Transformation (UPLIFT). UPLIFT Scholars are paired with a faculty mentor and work in their mentor’s lab conducting research starting their first semester of their first year of study at Northeastern.

Ameet Pinto, Aron Stubbins, and Kelsey Pieper


May 18, 2020

Effects of COVID-19 on Water Supply Usage

CEE Assistant Professor Ameet Pinto, MES/COS/CEE Associate Professor Aron Stubbins, and CEE Assistant Professor Kelsey Pieper were awarded a $200K NSF RAPID grant for “Extreme water use patterns and their impact on the microbial and chemical ecology of drinking water.”

ocean with black carbon on shore


Dec 02, 2019

Investigating the Source of Oceanic Black Carbon

COS/CEE Associate Professor Aron Stubbins is investigating the source of the black carbon located at the bottom of the oceans.

professor in lab looking at test tube


Nov 20, 2019

New Research Raises Questions About Global Carbon Cycle

COS/CEE Associate Professor Aron Stubbins’ article on “Isotopic composition of oceanic dissolved black carbon revels non-riverine source” was published in Nature Communications.


Jul 30, 2019

Investigating if Sunlight Degrades Microplastics

COS/CEE Associate Professor Aron Stubbins, in collaboration with Kara Lavender Law from the Sea Education Association (SEA), is leading a $420K NSF grant for “The role of sunlight in determining the fate and microbial impact of microplastics in surface waters”.


Jun 07, 2019

Abd-Alla Receives Society of Women Engineers Boston Scholarship

BS/MS Environmental Engineering student Areeg Abd-Alla, E’22, received a 2019 Society of Women Engineers Boston Chapter Scholarship, an award given to women studying engineering and engineering technology.


Apr 09, 2019

FY20 TIER 1 Award Recipients

25 COE faculty and affiliates were recipients of FY20 TIER 1 Interdisciplinary Research Seed Grants for 18 different projects representing up to $900K dollars of investment in research.

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