Natalie Szponar

PhD student
University of Toronto

I am passionate about how different geochemical tools can be used to understand Earth and environmental processes. I completed a BSc specializing in aqueous geochemistry at McMaster University and an MSc in stable isotope geochemistry at Memorial University of Newfoundland. My MSc thesis involved the investigation of carbon cycling in alkaline springs at a continental site of present-day serpentinization, the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park. This research utilized stable isotopes and biogeochemical evidence to understand the processes involved in the production of hydrocarbon gases and to characterize the microbial community that exists in these environments. This research resulted in the first published dataset on the geochemistry of hydrocarbon gases at the Tablelands. Sites of serpentinization are also considered Mars analogue sites and the results of this study have been incorporated into the NASA database for Mars analogue sites for helping plan future space missions.

After completing my Masters, I began working as an environmental consultant. I was excited to work on projects where I could apply my background in geochemistry and isotope forensics to characterize source(s) of contamination.

After almost five years working in environmental consulting, I began a doctoral degree at University of Toronto under the supervision of Dr. Bridget Bergquist. I am currently working on a study involving the use of novel passive air samplers (PAS) to measure gaseous elemental mercury in the atmosphere across Ontario. Our research goals are to establish the suitability of the PAS for measuring atmospheric mercury concentrations and stable mercury isotopes. We will also be deploying the PAS in Peru in areas of artisanal and small-scale gold mining to assist in the country’s efforts to understand the effects of these mining operations on atmospheric mercury.

I am excited about being part of the growing field of research in metal stable isotope geochemistry and the opportunity to contribute to our understanding of the mercury cycle with my research.