Dr. Eliot Atekwana

Dr. Eliot Atekwana

Info & Affiliations

Professor, Earth and Planetary Sciences
University of California, Davis

Ph.D., Hydrogeology, Western Michigan University, 1996
M.S., Geology, Howard University, 1987
B.S., Geology, University of Maryland, College Park, 1984

GSA Fellow (2012)

Eliot Atekwana

Dr. Eliot Atekwana began his scientific career researching landfill leachate retention for his undergraduate senior thesis. The project kindled an interest in hydrogeology and geochemistry that ultimately led him to complete a Ph.D. thesis investigating the influence of a Kalamazoo, Michigan landfill on regional groundwater. As an undergraduate, Eliot met fellow geologist Estella Nkwate (now Atekwana). The two married, started a family, navigated the challenging academic “two-body-problem”, and began a highly productive scholarly partnership that has spanned multiple disciplines, continents, and decades. Drs. E.A. Atekwana (yes, they share the same initials) are the Power Couple of biogeophysics.

Eliot is hard to pin down as a scientist because his research interests and involvement are so varied. He is a stable isotope geochemist. He is a hydrogeologist. He is a biogeophysicist. He is a geomicrobiologist. He studies the geochemistry of hot springs in rift basins, and carbon isotopes in landfill leachate plumes, acid mine drainage, and in microbial redox processes. He developed what is now a standard method for dissolved inorganic carbon measurements. Some of his recent projects have resulted in papers on everything from riverine carbon isotope evolution in the Okavango Delta, to acid mine drainage, models of biofilm growth, carbonate spring isotopes, nitrate contamination at a home in Oklahoma, shale permeability, and even the structure of the Malawi Rift. Although he is a Jack-of-all-trades Earth scientist who brings an analytical approach to any problem he engages with and is respected for his versatility and expertise in many fields, his core expertise is stable isotope geochemistry, especially carbon isotope evolution in aqueous systems.

He is also a dedicated mentor of graduate students and undergraduates whose students appreciate his commitment to their projects and development as scientists (rumor has it that he asks a lot of really hard questions), as well as his sense of humor.

Eliot and his wife Estella have three children and a lot of stories and advice about navigating academia as a dual-career couple, having both survived many moves and lived apart for years as a family with young children before finally negotiating positions in the same place. The two enjoy working closely together, which has led to important interdisciplinary connections and established them as key founders of the field of Biogeophysics. However, their collaboration has also presented challenges with getting proper recognition as individual scientists. The scientific versatility of both Eliot and Estella means that people who do not know them well often credit Estella for Eliot’s work, and vice-versa. One strategy Eliot has found to combat this is maintaining distinct lines of research in addition to his collaborative work with Estella.


Highlighted works:

Atekwana, E.A., and Krishnamurthy, and R.V., 1998, Seasonal variations of dissolved inorganic carbon and δ13C of surface waters: application of a modified gas evolution technique: Journal of Hydrology, v. 205, p. 265–278, doi:10.1016/S0022-1694(98)00080-8

Atekwana, E.A., Atekwana, E.A., Rowe, R.S., Werkema Jr., D.D., and Legall, F.D., 2004, The relationship of total dissolved solids measurements to bulk electrical conductivity in an aquifer contaminated with hydrocarbon: Journal of Applied Geophysics, v. 56, p. 281–294, doi:10.1016/j.jappgeo.2004.08.003

Atekwana, E.A., Atekwana, E.A., Legall, F.D., and Krishnamurthy, R.V., 2004, Field evidence for geophysical detection of subsurface zones of enhanced microbial activity: Geophysical Research Letters, v. 31, p. L23603, doi:10.1029/2004GL021576

Atekwana, E.A. and Fonyuy, E.W., 2009, Dissolved inorganic carbon concentrations and stable carbon isotope ratios in streams polluted by variable amounts of acid mine drainage: Journal of hydrology, v. 372, p. 136–148, doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2009.04.010

Ali, H.N. and Atekwana, E.A., 2011, The effect of sulfuric acid neutralization on carbonate and stable carbon isotope evolution of shallow groundwater: Chemical Geology, v. 284, p. 217–228. doi:10.1016/j.chemgeo.2011.02.023

Akoko, E., Atekwana, E.A., Cruse, A.M., Molwalefhe, L. and Masamba, W.R., 2013, River-wetland interaction and carbon cycling in a semi-arid riverine system: the Okavango Delta, Botswana: Biogeochemistry, v. 114, p. 359–380, doi:10.1007/s10533-012-9817-x

Abongwa, P.T. and Atekwana, E.A., 2013, Assessing the temporal evolution of dissolved inorganic carbon in waters exposed to atmospheric CO2(g): A laboratory approach: Journal of Hydrology, v. 505, pp.250–265, doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2013.09.045

Atekwana, E.A. and Geyer, C.J., 2018, Spatial and temporal variations in the geochemistry of shallow groundwater contaminated with nitrate at a residential site: Environmental Science and Pollution Research, v. 25, p. 27155–27172, doi:10.1007/s11356-018-2714-7




SEG Seismic Soundoff Podcast: Developing biogeophysics and the search for life with Estella Atekwana (24:47)


biogeophysics, deep biosphere, geochemistry, carbonates, environmental geomicrobiology, Black geobiologists, distinguished career, family life, dual-career couples

Bio written by Carie Frantz, June 2020