DCO Researchers Head to Disko Island, Greenland

In August 2013, DCO is sending an international team of researchers to Disko Island to assess its potential for understanding the deep carbon cycle.

Disko Island is home to many geological wonders. The second largest island of Greenland, Disko sits at the eastern edge of Baffin Bay, and for much of the year is surrounded by a frozen ocean. In the summer the icy land thaws, revealing exceptional mineral deposits, striking rock formations, and unusual fossils.

On 5 August 2013, the Deep Carbon Observatory is sending an international team of researchers to this remote place to assess its potential for understanding the deep carbon cycle. Disko Island basalts are particularly unusual, and contain rare iron/nickel alloys and iron-carbides. The team, including scientists from University College London, the Geophysical Laboratory at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and the UK Centre for Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh, will sample these unique basalts in order to study how they formed.

“There are several different theories to explain their occurrence, including meteorite impacts, the interaction of magma and coal seams, and anomalously shallow reducing domains in the mantle from which the basalt originated,” said team member Sami Mikhail of the Geophysical Laboratory. “One of the objectives for this trip is to gain more of a geological context into their formation by sampling more iron-nickel bearing samples and adjacent samples that contain no metallic alloys. This sampling will enable us to compare and contrast their mineralogy and geochemistry for clues as to the origin of these strange and fascinating samples.”

Disko Island is also home to geographically remote mud volcanoes, salt springs, and cold to warm springs, all of which play host to thriving subsurface communities of microbes. Expedition PI Claire Cousins will focus on sampling the hot springs in order to study how these organisms survive and reproduce under such extreme and singular conditions.

“The astrobiology group at Edinburgh (led by Charles Cockell) has been investigating Arctic hot springs for a while now, so it will be fascinating to see how these isolated thermal springs on Disko compare, especially regarding their carbon fixation pathways,” said Cousins, now based at the University of Edinburgh.

Together, the basalt and thermal spring sampling undertaken by this group will provide insight into a number of questions central to the DCO. You can read more about the expedition at Claire Cousin’s website. She will also be regularly updating her blog over the two-week period of the trip, and you can keep up with the expedition on the DCO Facebook, and on Twitter by following @DeepCarb.

Photo: Unusual basalt samples from Disko Island; Sami Mikhail.

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