Research Staff

Robert Max Holmes, Ph.D.

Senior Scientist
Woods Hole Research Center
149 Woods Hole Road
Falmouth, MA 02540-1644

Max Holmes is an earth system scientist who studies large rivers and their watersheds and how climate change and other disturbances are impacting the cycles of water and chemicals in the environment. He is particularly interested in the fate of the vast quantities of ancient carbon locked in permafrost in the Arctic, which may be released as permafrost thaws, exacerbating global warming. Max has ongoing projects in the Russian, Canadian, and Alaskan Arctic, and in the tropics in the Amazon and the Congo. He is committed to engaging students in his research projects and to communicating the results and implications of his research to the public and to policy-makers.


Ph.D. - Arizona State University, 1995

M.S. - University of Michigan, 1989

B.S. - University of Texas, 1988

Professional Experience

  • 2013 – 2014: Program Director, Arctic System Science Program, National Science Foundation
  • 2009 - Present: Senior Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center
  • 2010 - Present: Guest Investigator, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • 2008 - 2009: Chesley Distinguished Visiting Associate Professor, Carleton College
  • 2005 - 2009: Associate Scientist, Woods Hole Research Center
  • 1998 - 2005: Staff Scientist, Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory
  • 1995 - 1998: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Marine Biological Laboratory

Research Interests

  • Responses and feedbacks of the Arctic to global climate change
  • Global river biogeochemistry
  • Land-to-ocean carbon flux, globally
  • The arctic hydrologic cycle

Selected publications

Vonk, J. E., P. J. Mann, A. Davydova, S. Davydov, N. Zimov, R. G. M. Spencer, E. Bulygina, T. I. Eglinton, and R. M. Holmes. In press. Ancient Yedoma carbon loss amplified by ice wedge thaw. Environmental Research Letters.

Holmes, R. M., M. T. Coe, G.J. Fiske, T. Gurtovaya, J. W. McClelland, A. I. Shiklomanov, R. G. M. Spencer, S. E. Tank, A. V. Zhulidov. 2013. Climate change impacts on the hydrology and biogeochemistry of Arctic Rivers, in Global Impacts of Climate Change on Inland Waters, edited by C. R. Goldman, M. Kumagai, and R. D. Robarts, Wiley.

Spencer, R. G. M., G. R. Aiken, M. M. Dornblaser, K. D. Butler, R. M. Holmes, G. Fiske, P. J. Mann, and A. Stubbins. 2013. Chromophoric dissolved organic matter export from U.S. rivers. Geophysical Research Letters 40, doi:10.1002/grl.50357.

Vonk, J. E., P. J. Mann, S. Davydov, A. Davydova, R. G. M. Spencer, J. Schade, W. V. Sobczak, N. Zimov, S. Zimov, E. Bulygina, T. I. Eglinton, R. M. Holmes. 2013. High biolability of ancient permafrost carbon upon thaw. Geophysical Research Letters 40, doi:10.1002/grl.50348.

Wang, Z. A., J. B. Dinga, P. J. Mann, K. A. Hoering, J. R. Poulsen, R. G. M. Spencer, R. M. Holmes. 2013. Inorganic carbon speciation and fluxes in the Congo River. Geophysical Research Letters 40, doi:10.1002/grl.50160.

Amon, R. M. W., A. J. Rinehart, S. Duan, P. Louchouarn, A. Prokushkin, G. Guggenberger, D. Bauch, C. Stedmon, P. A. Raymond, R. M. Holmes, J. W. McClelland, B. J. Peterson, S. A. Walker, A. V. Zhulidov. 2012. Dissolved organic matter sources in large arctic rivers. Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 94:217-237.

Holmes, R. M., J. W. McClelland, B. J. Peterson, S. E. Tank, E. Bulygina, T. I. Eglinton, V. V. Gordeev, T. Y. Gurtovaya, P. A. Raymond, D. J. Repeta, R. Staples, R. G. Striegl, A. V. Zhulidov, and S. A. Zimov. 2012. Seasonal and annual fluxes of nutrients and organic matter from large rivers to the Arctic Ocean and surrounding seas. Estuaries and Coasts 35:369-382, doi: 10.1007/s12237-011-9386-6.

Mann, P. J., A. Davidova, N. Zimov, R. G. M. Spencer, S. Davidov, E. Bulygina, S. Zimov, and R. M. Holmes. 2012. Controls on the composition and lability of dissolved organic matter in Siberia's Kolyma River basin. Journal of Geophysical Research 117, G01028, doi:10.1029/2011JG001798.

McClelland, J. W., R. M. Holmes, K. H. Dunton, and R. Macdonald. 2012. The Arctic Ocean estuary. Estuaries and Coasts 35:353-368, DOI 10.1007/s12237-010-9357-3.

Tank, S. E., K. E. Frey, R. G. Striegl, P. A. Raymond, R. M. Holmes, J. W. McClelland, and B. J. Peterson. 2012. Landscape-level controls on dissolved carbon flux from diverse catchments of the circumboreal. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 26, GB0E02, doi:10.1029/2012GB004299.

Tank, S. E., M. Manizza, R. M. Holmes, J. W. McClelland, and B. J. Peterson. 2012. The processing and impact of dissolved riverine nitrogen in the Arctic Ocean. Estuaries and Coasts 35:401-415, doi:10.1007/s12237-011-9417-3.

Tank, S. E., P. A. Raymond, R. G. Striegl, J. W. McClelland, R. M. Holmes, G. J. Fiske, and B. J. Peterson. 2012. A land-to-ocean perspective on the magnitude, source and implication of DIC flux from major Arctic rivers to the Arctic Ocean. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 26, GB4018, doi:10.1029/2011GB004192.

Yi, Y., J.J. Gibson, L.W. Cooper, J-F. Hélie, S.J. Birks, J.W. McClelland, R.M. Holmes, B.J. Peterson. 2012. Isotopic signals (18O, 2H, 3H) of six major rivers draining the Pan-Arctic watershed. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 26, GB1027, doi:10.1029/2011GB004159.

Griffin, C. G., K. E. Frey, J. Rogan, and R. M. Holmes. 2011. Spatial and interannual variability of dissolved organic matter in the Kolyma River, East Siberia, observed using satellite imagery. Journal of Geophysical Research 116, G03018, doi:10.1029/2010JG001634.

Townsend-Small, A., B. J. Peterson, R. M. Holmes, and J. W. McClelland. 2011. Seasonal and hydrologic drivers of dissolved nutrients and organic matter in the upper Kuparuk River, Alaskan Arctic. Biogeochemistry 103:109-124, doi:10.1007/s10533-010-9451-4.

Guay, C. K. H., A. V. Zhulidov, R. D. Robarts, D. A. Zhulidov, T. Y. Gurtovaya, R. M. Holmes, and J. V. Headley. 2010. Measurements of Cd, Cu, Pb and Zn in the lower reaches of major Eurasian arctic rivers using trace metal clean techniques. Environmental Pollution 158:624-630.

Holmes, R.M., K.E. Frey, and S. Zimov. 2009. A field course in the Siberian Arctic: 30 days, 20 people, 3 continents, 1 barge. EOS 90:222-223.

Cooper, L.W., J.W. McClelland, R.M. Holmes, P.A. Raymond, J.J. Gibson, C.K. Guay, and B.J. Peterson. 2008. Flow-weighted values of runoff tracers (d18O, DOC, Ba, alkalinity) from the six largest arctic rivers. Geophysical Research Letters L18606, doi:10.1029/2008GL035007.

Holmes, R.M., J.W. McClelland, P.A. Raymond, B.B. Frazer, B.J. Peterson, and M. Stieglitz. 2008. Lability of DOC transported by Alaskan rivers to the Arctic Ocean. Geophysical Research Letters 35. doi:10.10289/2007GL032837.

McClelland, J.W., R.M. Holmes, B.J. Peterson, et al. 2008. Development of a Pan-Arctic Database for River Chemistry. EOS 89(24):217-218.

Frey, K.E., J.W. McClelland, R.M. Holmes, and L.C. Smith. 2007. Impacts of climate warming and permafrost thaw on the riverine transport of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Kara Sea. Journal of Geophysical Research 112(g4): G04S58.

McClelland, J.W., M. Stieglitz, F. Pan, R.M. Holmes, and B.J. Peterson. 2007. Recent changes in nitrate and dissolved organic carbon export from the upper Kuparuk River, North Slope, Alaska. Journal of Geophysical Research 112 G04S60 doi:10.1029/2006JG000371.

Raymond, P.A., J.W. McClelland, R.M. Holmes, A.V. Zhulidov, K. Mull, B.J. Peterson, R.G. Striegl, G.R. Aiken, and T.Y. Gurtovaya. 2007. Flux and age of dissolved organic carbon exported to the Arctic Ocean: A carbon isotopic study of the five largest arctic rivers. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 21 GB4011 doi:10.1029/2007GB002934.

White, D.M., L. Hinzman, L. Alessa, J. Cassano, M. Chambers, K. Falkner, J. Francis, W.J. Gutowski, M. Holland, R.M. Holmes, H. Huntington, D. Kane, A. Kliskey, C. Lee, J. McClelland, B. Peterson, S. Rupp, F. Straneo, M. Steele, R. Woodgate, D. Yang, K. Yoshikawa, and T. Zhang. 2007. The arctic freshwater cycle: changes and impacts. Journal of Geophysical Research 112:G04S54.

Peterson, B. J., et al. (2006), Trajectory shifts in the Arctic and Subarctic Freshwater Cycle, Science, 313, 1061-1066.

McClelland, J. W., et al. (2006), A pan-arctic evaluation of changes in river discharge during the latter half of the 20th century, Geophysical Research Letters, 33, doi:10.1029/2006GL025753.

Cooper, L., R. Benner, J. McClelland, B. Peterson, R. Holmes, R. Raymond, D. Hansell, J. Grebmeier, and L. Codispotti. 2005. Linkages among runoff, dissolved organic carbon, and the stable oxygen isotope composition of seawater and other water mass indicators in the Arctic Ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research 110:G02013, doi:1029/2005JG000031.

McClelland, J. W., R. M. Holmes, B. J. Peterson, and M. Stieglitz. 2004. Drivers of increasing river discharge in the Eurasian Arctic: considerations of dams, permafrost thaw, and fires as potential agents of change. Journal of Geophysical Research 109:D18102, doi: 10.1029/2004JD004583.

Peterson, B. .J., R. M. Holmes, J. W. McClelland, C. J. Vorosmarty, I. A. Shiklomanov, A. I. Shiklomanov, R. B. Lammers, S. Rahmstorf. 2002. Increasing river discharge to the Arctic Ocean. Science 298:2171-2173.

Holmes, R. M., J. W. McClelland, B. J. Peterson, I. A. Shiklomanov, A. I. Shiklomanov, A. V. Zhulidov, V. V. Gordeev, and N. N. Bobrovitskaya. 2002. A circumpolar perspective on fluvial sediment flux to the Arctic Ocean. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 16:1098, doi:10.1029/2001GB001849.

Holmes, R. M., B. J. Peterson, A. V. Zhulidov, V. V. Gordeev, P. N. Makkaveev, P. A. Stunzas, L. S. Kosmenko, G. H. Kohler, A. I. Shiklomanov. 2001. Nutrient chemistry of the Ob’ and Yenisey rivers, Siberia: results from June 2000 expedition and evaluation of long-term data sets. Marine Chemistry 75(3):219-227.

Holmes, R. M., B. J. Peterson, V. V. Gordeev, A. V. Zhulidov, M. Meybeck, R. B. Lammers, and C. J. Vörösmarty. 2000. Flux of nutrients from Russian rivers to the Arctic Ocean: Can we establish a baseline against which to judge future changes? Water Resources Research 36:2309-2320.

Holmes, R. M., B. J. Peterson, L. Deegan, J. Hughes, B. Fry. 2000. Nitrogen biogeochemistry in the oligohaline zone of a New England estuary. Ecology 81:416-432.

Holmes, R. M., S. G. Fisher, N. B. Grimm, B. J. Harper. 1998. The impact of flash floods on microbial distribution and biogeochemistry in the parafluvial zone of a desert stream. Freshwater Biology 40:641-654.

Holmes, R. M., J. McClelland, D. M. Sigman, B. Fry, and B. J. Peterson. 1998. Measuring 15N-NH4 in marine, estuarine, and fresh waters: an adaptation of the ammonia diffusion method for samples with low ammonium concentrations. Marine Chemistry 60:235-243.

Sigman, D. M., M. A. Altabet, R. Michener, D. C. McCorkle, B. Fry, and R. M. Holmes. 1997. Natural abundance-level measurement of nitrogen isotopic composition of oceanic nitrate: an adaptation of the ammonia diffusion method. Marine Chemistry 57:227-242.

Holmes, R. M., J. B. Jones, Jr., S.G. Fisher, and N. B. Grimm. 1996. Denitrification in a nitrogen-limited stream ecosystem. Biogeochemistry 33:125-146

Achievements and Awards

Associate Editor, 2012-Present, Global Biogeochemical Cycles

Board of Directors, Woods Hole Research Center. 2011-present.

Lead Author, Arctic Report Card, Arctic River Biogeochemistry section. 2011.

Participant, National Academy Polar Research Board forum on U.S. Scientific Access to the Russian Arctic. Washington, DC. September 2010.

Organizing Committee, State of the Arctic Conference (Miami, FL, March 2010).

NSF SEARCH Science Steering Committee (Study of Environmental Arctic Change). 2006-present.

NSF SNACS (Study of the Northern Alaska Coastal System) Steering Committee. 2003-2007.

Science Steering Committee, NSF-RAISE (Russian-American Initiative for Shelf-Land Environments in the Arctic): 2001 – 2006.

Executive Working Group, NSF ARCSS (Arctic System Science) Land-Shelf Interactions Initiative. 2002 - 2006.