Noah Gluschankoff graduated in 2018 with a B.S. in Physical Geography and a minor in Earth Science. After working as a lab technician, he now is a PhD student at Stanford studying Marine Biogeochemistry.
Why did you choose the Geography major?
Growing up I always knew I wanted to study something in the environmental sciences. From a very young age I always claimed that I would grow up to become a “marine biologist” without necessarily knowing what that meant. What I did know, was that I was fascinated with the ocean and the life that lived within it. Now, I’m an aspiring oceanographer! I grew up along the coast in southern California and was always active in my family’s organic agriculture business, so I was constantly being exposed to different ecosystems and was given the freedom to explore them. At the suggestion of my older brother who had just graduated from UCSB the year before I started, I pursued a degree in geography. Thanks, Matt!
What things did you do in your time as a Geography major?
Research, research, research! I was active in a research group throughout my entire undergraduate career, except for my first two quarters. I was first inspired by Dr. Jennifer King after taking her Earth System Science class in my second quarter, which exposed me to biogeochemical cycles. Given my upbringing, biogeochemistry felt very personal, yet I knew I still had much to learn. Soon after, I joined the King Lab where I performed field and lab research on greenhouse gas emissions from the Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve.
I then transitioned to the field of oceanography by working with Dr. Norm Nelson [a researcher in ERI], where I analyzed seawater for CDOM (colored dissolved organic matter) from the world’s oceans. Occasionally, when I thought that our instrument was malfunctioning, Dr. Nelson would point out that the unique features I was seeing were actually representative of the unique biological, physical, and chemical characteristics of that water mass. That got me hooked!
Between my junior and senior year, I had an internship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where I studied hydrothermal vent geochemistry, through a nitrogen-iron lens. And finally, through mutual connections (and a lot of pestering) I was given the opportunity to participate in a 6 week-long research cruise with an international group of scientists studying hydrothermal vents along the mid-Atlantic Ridge. Special shoutout to Dr. Alyson Santoro in EEMB for this opportunity!
Explain in more detail what you are up to. What do you like best about it?
After graduating from UCSB, I moved to Seattle for a year, where I worked for NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) and the University of Washington through a joint institute, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean (JISAO). There, I worked as a lab technician where I primarily analyzed seawater for ocean acidification parameters. Now, I am in my first year of graduate school at Stanford University, pursuing a PhD in Marine Biogeochemistry through the department of Earth System Science.
Specifically, I study the oceanic cycling of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, with a focus on isotopic measurements. Up to 30% of naturally produced nitrous oxide comes from microbes in the ocean, but this number, as well as the key spatial sources, are likely to change as we continue to alter Earth’s climate. What I love most about graduate school are the seemingly limitless opportunities to learn from people in diverse fields who share a common interest in studying Earth.
What do you find most interesting/challenging/inspiring about your work?
I think the nitrogen cycle is an especially interesting topic to study as it is a “biological cycle” whose natural cycles are being dramatically perturbed by humans. Climate change has many cascading effects in the ocean, and it is often difficult to delineate the mechanism that has the strongest impact, thus it’s both a challenging and exciting field to pursue. It’s also worth noting how inspiring microbes are! Despite being essentially invisible to the human eye, microbes have shaped our Earth, the air we breathe, and the food we eat. We are nothing without them!
How has your education/background in Geography prepared you for your current position?
The geography dept enabled me to explore the intersections and corners of global biogeochemistry, giving me both a focused and interdisciplinary understanding of Earth’s systems. The skills I learned as a research assistant have given me the confidence to pursue work outside of my immediate skill set, and the courses I took set the groundwork for building intuition, critical thinking skills, and a thirst for knowledge. And above all, I was inspired and mentored by a number of incredible faculty members within the department who gave me the tools to succeed and mature as a human and a scientist.
Any advice for Geography undergrads? To recent alumni?
To current undergraduates: Do research! Take graduate level courses! Go to seminars! And I highly encourage taking classes outside of the department. To recent alumni: Scientists are (almost) always happy to talk about their research. Don’t be afraid to email them for a chat – you never know what might come of it!
What else do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Outside of work I’m an avid skier, climber, surfer, and hiker… essentially spending as much time outdoors as possible. I also love checking out different coffee shops and breweries!
Thanks for taking the time to share Noah! The department wishes you the best of luck with your PhD.
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