Research

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Interactions among Earth’s solid, fluid and gaseous reservoirs underpinned the creation of the first prebiotic molecules, incubated the first microbes, and nourished the emergence and diversification of ever-complex life forms. The cycles of chemical elements, their availability to the active biosphere, and the global climate, all depend on a persistent flow of nutrients from the exposed bedrock.

Earth has sustained life for the majority of its history, which in turn has dictated its surface evolution. But how much of this interaction do we actually understand?

My work ties together fundamental aspects of planetary and life sciences to shed light on the core nature of biosphere’s link with Earth’s abiotic components (1, 5). By looking at processes of the distant past and present, I strive to better understand how the planet has transitioned from a lifeless world to one in which a photosynthesis-capable biosphere controls its surface evolution.

I employ field (4, 6) and experimental (1, 5) approaches to target biogeochemical interactions from a micron to the global scale, and I compliment my work with a variety of proxies and studies in oxic and anoxic environments. I am particularly keen in developing model experiments that can constrain planetary processes in lab settings (1, 5), with a long-term vision to experimentally model extrasolar worlds.

My research focuses on incipient life-rock interactions – being microbes, fungi or plants (1, 2, 3, 5), ecosystem development in nutrient-poor environments such as the alpine biome (4, 6, 8), its responses to environmental forces (7), and the formation and preservation of geochemical biosignatures (1, 5). I am also interested in weathering and element cycles outside Earth’s boundaries, and whether such processes can inform us on the conditions required for the evolution of life elsewhere. Inherently outside disciplinary boundaries, this approach allows me to target Earth evolution as a life-support system in a holistic way, and to use it as a planetary model in the search for life elsewhere in the galaxy.

Published work

(1) Dragos G Zaharescu, Carmen I Burghelea, Katerina Dontsova, Christopher T Reinhard, Jon
Chorover, Rebecca Lybrand. 2020. Biological Weathering in the Terrestrial System. An Evolutionary
Perspective. In: K Dontsova, Z Balogh-Brunstad, G Le Roux (Ed.), Biogeochemical Cycles:
Ecological Drivers and Environmental Impact. Wiley. ISBN: 978-1-119-41330-1 [https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119413332.ch1].

(2) Dragos G Zaharescu, Carmen I. Burghelea, Katerina Dontsova, Jennifer K. Presler, Raina M. Maier, Kenneth J. Domanik, Edward A. Hunt, Mary K. Amistadi, Shana Sandhaus, Elise Munoz, Emily E. Gaddis, Maria O. Vaquera-Ibarra, Maria A. Palacios-Menendez, Miranda Galey, Ricardo Castrejón-Martinez, Estefanía Roldán-Nicolau, Kexin Li, Christopher T. Reinhard, Jon Chorover: Ecosystem-bedrock interaction changes nutrient compartmentalization during early oxidative weathering. Nature – Scientific Reports 2019; 9, 15006 [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-51274-x].

(3) Rebecca A. Lybrand, Jason C. Austin, Jennifer Fedenko, Rachel E. Gallery, Erin Rooney, Paul Schroeder, Dragos G. Zaharescu, and Odeta Qafoku: A coupled microscopy approach to assess the nano-landscape of weathering. Nature – Scientific Reports 2019; 9, 5377 [https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-41357-0%5D.

(4) Carmen I Burghelea, Katerina Dontsova, Dragos G Zaharescu, Raina M Maier, Travis Huxman, Mary K Amistadi, Edward A Hunt, Jon Chorover: Trace element mobilization during incipient bio-weathering of four rock types. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 08/2018; 234: 98-114 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2018.05.011].

(5) Dragos G. Zaharescu, Antonio Palanca-Soler, Peter S Hooda, Catalin Tanase, Carmen I Burghelea, Richard N Lester: Riparian vegetation in the alpine connectome: Terrestrial-aquatic and terrestrial-terrestrial interactions. Science of the Total Environment 05/2017; 601-602: 247-259 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.05.135]. Preprint: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2017/01/19/035576.

(6) Dragos G Zaharescu, Carmen I Burghelea, Katerina Dontsova, Jennifer C Presler, Raina M Maier, Travis Huxman, Kenneth J. Domanik, Edward A Hunt, Mary K Amistadi, Emily Lily Gaddis, Maria A. Palacios-Menendez, Maria O. Vaquera-Ibarra, Jon Chorover: Ecosystem Composition Controls the Fate of Rare Earth Elements during Incipient Soil Genesis. Nature – Scientific Reports 2017; 7, 43208 [https://www.nature.com/articles/srep43208].

(7) Dragos G Zaharescu, Peter S Hooda, Carmen I Burghelea, Antonio Palanca-Soler: A multiscale framework for deconstructing the ecosystem physical template of high altitudes lakes. Ecosystems 09/2016; 19 (6): 1064–1079 [https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10021-016-9987-9].

(8) Dragos G Zaharescu, Peter S Hooda, Carmen I Burghelea, Viktor Polyakov, Antonio Palanca-Soler: Climate change enhances the mobilization of naturally occurring metals in high altitude environments. Science of the Total Environment 04/2016; 560-561: 73-81 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.04.002].

(9) Dragos G Zaharescu, Carmen I Burghelea, Peter S Hooda, Richard N Lester, Antonio Palanca-Soler: Small lakes in big landscape: Multiscale drivers of littoral ecosystem in high elevation lakes. Science of the Total Environment 03/2016; 551-552: 496-505 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.02.066].

(10) Carmen I Burghelea, Dragos G Zaharescu, Katerina Dontsova, Raina M Maier, Travis Huxman, Jon Chorover: Mineral nutrient mobilization by plants from rock: influence of rock type and arbuscular mycorrhiza. Biogeochemistry 04/2015; 124: 187-203 [https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-015-0092-5].

(11) Katerina Dontsova, Dragos G Zaharescu, Whitney Henderson, Sarah Verghese, Nicolas Perdrial, Edward Hunt, Jon Chorover: Impact of organic carbon on weathering and chemical denudation of granular basalt. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 08/2014; 139:508–526 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gca.2014.05.010].

(12) Carmen I Burghelea, Dragos G Zaharescu, Antonio Palanca-Soler: Phenotypic indicators of developmental instability in an endemic amphibian from an altered landscape (Monegros, NE Spain). Amphibia-Reptilia 01/2013; 34(4):505-516 [https://doi.org/10.1163/15685381-00002908].

(13) Carmen I Burghelea, Dragos G Zaharescu, Peter S Hooda, Antonio Palanca-Soler: Predatory aquatic beetles, suitable trace elements bioindicators. Journal of Environmental Monitoring 04/2011; 13(5):1308-15 [https://doi.org/10.1039/C1EM10016E].

(14) Carmen I Burghelea, Dragos G Zaharescu, Antonio Palanca-Soler: Dietary overview of Pelophylax perezi from Monegros rice fields (northeast Spain). Herpetological Journal 01/2010; 20 (4): 219-224 [https://www.thebhs.org/publications/the-herpetological-journal/volume-20-number-4-october-2010/594-01-dietary-overview-of-i-pelophylax-perezi-i-from-monegros-rice-fields-northeast-spain/file].

(15) Dragos G Zaharescu, Peter S Hooda, Javier Fernandez, Antonio Palanca Soler, Carmen Ionela Burghelea: On the arsenic source mobilisation and its natural enrichment in the sediments of a high mountain cirque in the Pyrenees. Journal of Environmental Monitoring 11/2009; 11(11):1973-81 [https://doi.org/10.1039/B912432B].

(16) Dragos G Zaharescu, Peter S Hooda, Antonio P Soler, Javier Fernandez, Carmen I Burghelea: Trace metals and their source in the catchment of the high altitude lake Respomuso, central Pyrenees. Science of the Total Environment 06/2009; 407(11):3546-53 [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2009.02.026].