Elena Nilsen


Elena Nilsen is a Research Chemist and Team Lead at the U.S. Geological Survey Oregon Water Science Center in Portland, OR. She studies contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) and other threats to aquatic foodwebs in rivers, estuaries, and coastal ocean habitats. Elena has worked extensively on methods development and refinement in collaboration with the USGS National Water Quality Laboratory. She completed a Bachelor of Science degree in biology at UC San Diego and a Doctorate in marine geochemistry at UC Santa Cruz.  She started with the USGS as a Mendenhall Post-doctoral Fellow with the USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in the San Francisco Bay Area studying impacts of contamination on estuarine ecology and geochemistry.  She has been with the Oregon Water Science Center since 2007.


Professional Preparation

·       University of California, San Diego, Biology, B.Sc., 1996

·       University of California, Santa Cruz, Ocean Sciences, Ph.D., 2004

·       U.S. Geological Survey, Pacific Coastal and Marine Geology, Menlo Park, CA, Mendenhall Post-Doctoral Fellow in Organic Geochemistry, 2004–2006


Professional Experience

·       Research Chemist, U.S. Geological Survey, 2006 – present

·       Mendenhall Postdoctoral Research Fellow, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA 2004–2006

·       Graduate Student Research Assistant, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 1999–2004

·       Biology Research Assistant, private biotechnology industry, Silicon Valley, CA 1996–1999


Research Interests

Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs); sediment and tissue chemistry; endocrine disruption; contaminant impacts on First Food species, e.g., Pacific lamprey, white sturgeon, salmonids, shellfish; primary productivity, foodweb dynamics; biomarkers; synergistic effects; ocean acidification, ocean anoxia, and climate change 






Granek EF, Conn KE, Nilsen EB, Pillsbury L, Strecker AL, Rumrill SS, Fish W, 2016. Spatial and temporal variability of contaminants within estuarine sediments and native Olympia oysters: A contrast between a developed and an undeveloped estuary. Sci Total Environ 557-558:869–879 [Link]

Nilsen, E.B., Hapke, W.B., McIlraith, B., Markovchick, D., 2015. Reconnaissance of contaminants in larval Pacific lamprey (Entosphenus tridentatus) tissues and habitats in the Columbia River Basin, Oregon and Washington, USA. Environmental Pollution 201, 121-130. [Link]

Nilsen, E.B., Rosenbauer, R.J., Fuller, C.C., Jaffe, B.J., 2015. Sedimentary organic biomarkers suggest detrimental effects of PAHs on estuarine microbial biomass during the 20th century in San Francisco Bay, CA, USA. Chemosphere 119, 961-970. [Download File]

Nilsen, E.B., Zaugg, S., Alvarez, D., Morace, J., Waite, I., Counihan, T., Hardiman, J., Torres, L., Patiño, R., Mesa, M., Grove, R., 2014. Contaminants of legacy and emerging concern in largescale sucker (Catostomus macrocheilus) and the foodweb in the lower Columbia River, Oregon and Washington, USA. USA. Sci Total Environ 2014;484:344–52. [Download File]

Nilsen, E.B. and Morace, J., 2014. Foodweb transfer, sediment transport, and biological impacts of emerging and legacy organic contaminants in the lower Columbia River, Oregon and Washington, USA: USGS Contaminants and Habitat (ConHab) Project. USA.Sci Total Environ 2014;484:319–21. [Download File]

Nilsen, E.B., Furlong, E., Rosenbauer, R., 2014. Reconnaissance of pharmaceuticals and wastewater indicators in streambed sediments of the lower Columbia River basin, Oregon and Washington. USA. J Am Water Resour Assoc 2014;50(2): 291-301. [Download File]

Alvarez D.A., Perkins S., Nilsen E.B., Morace J., 2014. Spatial and temporal trends in occurrence of emerging and legacy contaminants in the lower Columbia River 2008–2010. USA. Sci Total Environ2014;484:322–30. [Download File]

Counihan T.D., Waite I.R., Nilsen E.B., Hardiman J., Elias E., Gelfenbaum G., Zaugg, S.D., 2014. A survey of benthic sediment contaminants in reaches of the Columbia River Estuary based on channel sedimentation characteristics. USA. Sci Total Environ 2014;484:331–43. [Download File]

Jenkins J.A., Olivier H.M., Draugelis-Dale R.A., Eilts B.E., Nilsen E.B., Goodbred S.L., 2014. Assessing reproductive and endocrine parameters in male largescale suckers (Catostomus macrocheilus) along a contaminant gradient in the lower Columbia River, USA. Sci Total Environ 2014;484:365–78. [Download File]

Torres L., Nilsen E.B., Grove R., Patiño R., 2014. Health status of largescale sucker (Catostomus macrocheilus) collected along an organic contaminant gradient in the lower Columbia River, Oregon and Washington, USA. Sci Total Environ 2014;484:353–64. [Download File]



Past Publications

Nilsen, E.B., D.A. Alvarez, 2011. Water-quality monitoring for a pilot piling removal field evaluation, Coal Creek Slough, Washington, 2008–09: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2011-1233, 26 p. Online: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2011/1233/pdf/ofr20111233.pdf

Nilsen, E.B. and Delaney, M.L., 2005. Factors influencing the biogeochemistry of sedimentary carbon and phosphorus in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Estuaries, 28(5), 653-663.

Nilsen, E.B., L.D. Anderson and M.L. Delaney, 2003.  Paleoproductivity, nutrient burial, climate change and the carbon cycle in the Western Equatorial Atlantic across the Eocene/Oligocene Boundary, Paleoceanography, 18(3), 1057.