Deep Carbon Observatory Founders Committee Meets
The Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) held its first Founders Committee meeting September 29-30 at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Headquarters in Washington DC.
In attendance were John Baross, University of Washington, USA; Connie Bertka, Carnegie Institution of Washington, USA; Taras Bryndzia, Shell Oil Company, USA; Yingwei Fei, Carnegie Institution of Washington, USA (representing Rixiang Zhu, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China); Robert Hazen, Carnegie Institution of Washington, USA; Russell Hemley, Carnegie Institution of Washington, USA; Claude Jaupart, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France (representing Vincent Courtillot, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris); Adrian Jones, University College London, UK; Barbara Sherwood Lollar, University of Toronto, Canada; Eiji Ohtani, Tohoku University, Japan; and Sergei Stishov, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia. Jesse Ausubel, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Program Officer for the DCO also attended part of the meeting, offering insights from his experience with previous Sloan Foundation Research Programs.
The Founders Committee has agreed to serve as a temporary advisory committee to help initiate the DCO’s efforts toward the establishment of a broadly representative management structure that encourages both the engagement of, and the shared leadership by, a diverse international scientific community. The committee shared their enthusiasm about the exciting scientific opportunities the DCO research venture offers, and strategized about the creation of an organizational structure that will be driven by, and reflective of, the scientific interests of the broader DCO community. To this end the group supported an initial organizational structure developed around three broad science themes, Deep Carbon Reservoirs and Fluxes; Deep Life; and Energy, Environment and Climate.
There were lively discussions about how to address scientific, technological, and organizational challenges of understanding carbon inside the planet: What new sampling methods and approaches are needed? What new technologies and measurements would be most valuable? What measurements should be conducted in situ in the Earth or in situ in high P-T laboratory experiments? Should there be short-term and long-term experimental strategies with some key discoveries up front? How should the project interact with other on-going carbon and planetary research and how best to deal with the societal issues surrounding carbon? These are just a few examples.
Current plans include holding a focused meeting within the next few months which will produce a series of short white papers that will define the high level research areas and priorities. The DCO will also support both targeted and regional workshops tasked to produce such documents. These white papers will be used as a basis for solicitation for applications for postdoctoral fellows, support for proposal preparation, and leveraging international support from other sources.
Needs and Opportunities in Deep Carbon Cycle Research
To date, consideration of the global carbon cycle has focused primarily on near-surface (i.e., relatively low-pressure and temperature) phenomena, with the tacit assumption that oceans, atmosphere and shallow surface environments represent an essentially closed system with respect to biologically available carbon. However, recent data and theoretical analyses from a variety of sources suggest that this assumption may be false. Experimental discoveries of facile high-pressure and temperature organic synthesis and complex interactions between organic molecules and minerals, field observations of deep microbial ecosystems and of anomalies in petroleum geochemistry, and theoretical models of lower crust and upper mantle carbon sources and sinks demand a careful reappraisal of the deep carbon cycle.
Such a reappraisal requires the interaction and collaboration of experts from disparate scientific research fields including cosmochemistry, mineral physics, theoretical geochemistry, petroleum geology, organic chemistry, microbial ecology, high-pressure technology, diamond synthesis, geodynamics, evolutionary biology among many others.
The Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory has received a two-year grant from the Sloan Foundation to convene two Deep Carbon Cycle Workshops and to prepare a document entitled “Needs and Opportunities in Deep Carbon Cycle Research.” This document will serve as the basis for a much more ambitious multi-institution, multi-year proposal to Sloan and other granting organizations. The Sloan Foundation is thus providing seed money to study what they see as a new interdisciplinary research venture.
The First Workshop on the Deep Carbon Cycle took place at the Carnegie Institution’s Broad Branch Road campus in Washington DC on May 15-17, 2008. Major unanswered questions the workshop sought to identify were, for example:
- What is the origin of deep carbon? Does any primordial carbon remain in Earth’s deep interior? What is the distribution and mineralogical context of carbon in Earth’s deep interior, and has this distribution changed significantly over Earth history?
- How, and on what time frames, do processes of burial and subduction sequester surface carbon? How, and by what processes, is deep carbon returned to the surface and what is the net flux of this deep carbon?
- Do lower crust or mantle processes contribute to biologically available carbon; in particular, is there a deep, abiotic source of organic molecules in petroleum?
- Did subsurface process, including hydrothermal organic synthesis and mineral-molecule interactions, play a key role in life’s origins?
- What is the nature and extent of deep microbial life? How do deep microbes affect the global carbon cycle?
The ultimate objective of this project is to elucidate and refine key questions related to the deep carbon cycle and to develop a comprehensive research strategy to tackle promising new directions for experimental, theoretical and field studies to advance our understanding.
WORKSHOP PROGRAM [May 15-17, 2008]
View the VIDEO and Powerpoint PRESENTATIONS of some speakers. Other presentations will be added to this website as permissions from speakers are received.
Please click the PHOTOS on the right to see a few photos taken during the workshop.