Q&A with Yael Kiro

Meet the Zuckerman Faculty Scholar Yael Kiro at Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Weizmann Institute of Science, studying “Revealing Processes on Earth Using the Geochemistry of Sediments and Water

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“The Zuckerman Institute is contributing to science in Israel by bringing scientists back to Israel,   and I am very grateful for this opportunity.  The Weizmann Institute gave me a great opportunity to come back, and together with the Zuckerman Program I have the ability to build a new lab.”

Dr. Yael Kiro is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the Weizmann Institute, where she directs an ultraclean laboratory and ICP (Inductively Coupled Plasma) mass spectrometry laboratory. She completed a PhD in Earth Sciences at the Institute of Earth Sciences at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and conducted postdoctoral research at the Lamont‐Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

Geochemistry is a powerful independent tool to learn about processes on Earth in the present and past. Changes in the composition of sediments on land and in the ocean reveal important environmental changes throughout the Earth’s history. For this purpose, it is crucial to learn how elements transfer between water and sediments, which may also indicate the ocean chemistry.  Dr. Kiro’s lab focuses on discovering past environmental changes and the interaction between land and ocean by analyzing the chemical composition of sediments and water.

Please describe your current research, the focus of your lab, and the practical implications of your research

A clean lab means that it is free of particles such as dust. These particles could contaminate our samples. The lab has filters that remove any extraneous particles from the air, and we are always covered from head to toe. Because we are looking at natural samples, a small grain of dust may affect our results.

Our research is divided into two main areas. 1. coastal aquifers and 2. Paleoclimate.  The first is driven by understanding ocean chemistry, which is linked to the carbon cycle and climate changes. One of the major unknown in ocean chemistry is the role of coastal aquifers in modifying the composition of seawater. We are trying to understand the processes that occur when seawater interacts with groundwater and returns back to the sea. There are different mechanisms of circulation driven by physical properties such as tides, waves, etc.  Because flow patterns are complicated, they are difficult to quantify, and the current methods to measure this are unable to distinguish between short‐term processes driven by tides and waves, and long‐term processes driven by density gradient between fresh and saline water. We try to estimate the roles of these two scales by identifying the fluxes of each one and quantify their fluctuations. Understanding flow patterns in coastal aquifers is of great importance also because of the large world population living in coastal regions and relying on freshwater resources.

Paleoclimate is a independent strong tool to understand the possible effects of climate change because of its long-term perspective and a wide range of boundary conditions, such as radiation and atmospheric CO2. Our research focuses on sensitive regions along the edges of the rain belt and desert belt that records any transition or changes in global circulation cells and global climate. We focus on reconstructing past climate conditions over glacial-interglacial cycles applying the geochemistry of terrestrial records, such as lake deposits and loess.

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What do you enjoy most about your research?

Almost every aspect. I enjoy discovering new mechanisms and gain insights from our data. I work in the field and enjoy being outside to collect samples. I like working with my students and seeing everything through their eyes and what interests them, like seeing the data and being surprised by new mechanisms.

What does it mean to you to be part of the Zuckerman Faculty Scholars Program?

The Zuckerman Institute is contributing to science in Israel by bringing scientists back to Israel. I personally appreciate the resources.  After six years in New York I was ready to lead my own group and build a lab. I have many ideas to implement, which may only be possible with resources and students. The Weizmann Institute gave me a great opportunity to come back, and together with the Zuckerman Program, I have the ability to build a new lab.

Where do you hope your research will have the greatest impact? 

I’m working on a new approach to quantify chemical fluxes from land into the sea, and I am hoping other scientists will adapt this approach. It can be applied to other places in the world to generate a large database that will lead to a robust quantification. These fluxes also include nutrients and are relevant to the ecology of the ocean. The chemistry and biology are related and have many aspects in common.

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