Dragos G. Zaharescu

+1 (520) 332 53
PhD, Biogeochemistry and Climate Change, Vigo University, Spain, 2011
MS, Marine Biology, Vigo University, Spain, 2004
Title & Affiliation: 
Former Postdoctoral Research Associate, Biosphere 2, University of Arizona
Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Earth and Atmospheric Science, Georgia Institute of Technology


My work sits at the interface between biology, geochemistry, ecology and climate science. While over time I worked on both, marine and terrestrial environments, I took priority in low carbon terrestrial systems, addressing fundamental questions related to biota-substrate interaction and evolution. I am particularly interested in understanding how molecular scale interactions translate to large-scale processes that drive ecosystem dynamics and how they respond to environmental changes.

My postdoctoral research is a cross-disciplinary effort in biological rock weathering. I use a long-term column experiment housed in sterile growth chambers to compare how abiotic and biotic components of an ecosystem, including microbes, vascular plants and associated mycorrhizae interact with carbon and nitrogen-free rock, and trigger mineral transformations, element cycling and ultimately sustained biomass and soil buildup. I am interested in cycle initiation and complete mass-balance analyses of most element groups including macronutrients, oligo-/trace elements and rare earth elements. Secondly, efforts have been made towards the understanding of how root-microbe and root-rock interactions translate to phenotypic adjustments of root architecture and increased nutrient uptake efficiency.

This work is conceptually part of a broad effort underway at the University of Arizona, aiming at modeling of biogeochemical processes in the Critical Zone.


I continuously improve and cross-pollinate methods and concepts from different disciplines. This includes high-resolution electron microprobe, synchrotron-based X-ray spectroscopy, analytical chemistry, axenic microbial and mycorrhizal culturing, DNA analysis techniques, plant anatomy and physiological ecology.


The work contributes fundamental information to our understanding of how living matter influences Earth’s biogeochemical cycles. This could help improve the sustainable use of Earth’s limited resources, searching for biosignatures in the sedimentary record, as well as forging long-term exploration and colonization of other planetary bodies through local environment use.


I am constantly seeking for creative ways to using the scientific method and vision to inspire and improve science perception of students and the general public. With more and more science tools becoming widely available, I also believe in the huge potential of citizen science, particularly when conducted by athlete explorers, to contribute quality data for large-scale studies that would otherwise be impossible to carry out by small teams. This could help shift the current paradigm of public science literacy, by directly involving the keen citizen in daily scientific imagination and discovery.


Current mentors

Katerina Dontsova
Jon Chorover
Raina Maier
Travis Huxman

Current projects

Plant-microbe-mineral interaction as a driver for rock weathering and chemical denudation.
Three poles soil genesis, an adventure science initiative   

Research output

Research Gate  

For collaboration

Research GateAcademia and LinkedIn 



Model Systems



2017 (Published)

Ecosystem Composition Controls the Fate of Rare Earth Elements during Incipient Soil Genesis . Zaharescu, D. G., Burghelea, C. I., Dontsova, K., Presler, J. K., Maier, R. M., Huxman, T., Domanik, K. J., Hunt, E. A., Amistadi, M. K., Gaddis, E. E., Palacios-Menendez, M. A., Vaquera-Ibarra, M. O. and Chorover, J. (2017): Scientific Reports 7: 43208.

2017 (Published)

Riparian vegetation in the alpine connectome: Terrestrial-aquatic and terrestrial-terrestrial interactions . Zaharescu, D. G., Palanca-Soler, A., Hooda, P. S., Tanase, C., Burghelea, C. I., Lester, R. N. (2017):

2016 (Published)

Climate change enhances the mobilisation of naturally occurring metals in high altitude environments . Zaharescu, D. G., Hooda, P. S., Burghelea, C. I., Polyakov, V., Palanca-Soler, A. (2016): Science of The Total Environment 560: 73-81.

2016 (Published)

Small lakes in big landscape: Multi-scale drivers of littoral ecosystem in alpine lakes . Zaharescu, D. G., Burghelea, C. I., Hooda, P. S., Lester R. N., Palanca-Soler, A. (2016): Science of The Total Environment 551: 496–505.

2016 (Published)

A Multiscale Framework for Deconstructing the Ecosystem Physical Template of High-Altitude Lakes . Zaharescu, D.G., Hooda, P.S., Burghelea, C.I., Palanca-Soler, A. (2016): Ecosystems 19:1064.

2015 (Published)

Mineral nutrient mobilization by plants from rock: influence of rock type and arbuscular mycorrhiza . Burghelea, C., Zaharescu, D. G., Dontsova, K., Maier, R., Huxman, T., Chorover J. (2015): Biogeochemistry 124(1): 187-203.

2014 (Published)

Impact of organic carbon on weathering and chemical denudation of granular basalt . Dontsova, K., Zaharescu, D., Henderson, W., Verghese, S., Perdrial, N., Hunt, E., Chorover, J. (2014): Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 139: 508–526.

2014 (Published)

Cracking the Code of Soil Genesis. The Early Role of Rare Earth Elements . Zaharescu, D., Dontsova, K., Burghelea, C., Maier, R., Huxman, T., Chorover, J. (2014): Abstract B32D-03 presented at 2014 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 15-19 Dec.