Recent Findings

Methane seepage from geologic sources on the Moldavian platform (Eastern Romania)
Pop, C I;Ionescu, Artur;Baciu, Calin Carpathian Journal of Earth and Environmental Sciences, (


). Publication Metadata

A revised budget for Cenozoic sedimentary carbon subduction
Clift, Peter Reviews of Geophysics, (2017). DOI:10.1002/2016RG000531. Publication Metadata

Abiotic and biotic controls on methane formation down to 2.5km depth within the Precambrian Fennoscandian Shield
Kietäväinen, Riikka;Ahonen, Lasse;Niinikoski, Paula;Nykänen, Hannu;Kukkonen, Ilmo Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, (2017). DOI:10.1016/j.gca.2016.12.020. Publication Metadata

Assessing sulfur redox state and distribution in abyssal serpentinites using XANES spectroscopy
Debret, Baptiste;Andreani, Muriel;Delacour, Adélie;Rouméjon, Stéphane;Trcera, Nicolas;Williams, Helen Earth and Planetary Science Letters, (2017). DOI:10.1016/j.epsl.2017.02.029. Publication Metadata

Cassini finds molecular hydrogen in the Enceladus plume: Evidence for hydrothermal processes
Hunter Waite, J.;Glein, Christopher;Perryman, Rebecca S.;Teolis, Ben D.;Magee, Brian A.;Miller, Greg;Grimes, Jacob;Perry, Mark E.;Miller, Kelly E.;Bouquet, Alexis;Lunine, Jonathan I.;Brockwell, Tim;Bolton, Scott J. Science, (2017). DOI:10.1126/science.aai8703. Publication Metadata

Chemistry of Hydrocarbons Under Extreme Thermobaric Conditions
Kolesnikov, Anton;Saul, John;Kutcherov, Vladimir ChemistrySelect, (2017). DOI:10.1002/slct.201601123. Publication Metadata

Clumped isotope effects during OH and Cl oxidation of methane
Whitehill, Andrew R.;Joelsson, L. M. T.;Schmidt, J. A.;Wang, David;Johnson, M. S.;Ono, Shuhei Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, (2017). DOI:10.1016/j.gca.2016.09.012. Publication Metadata




Advanced Analytical Developments in Isotopologue Analysis

Project Investigators: Eiler, John; Ono, Shuhei; Young, Edward

Start Date: 2013-07-01

End Date: 2015-06-30

Summary: Rare isotopologues refer to molecules composed of more than one rare isotope. They can be used to determine the temperature of formation of methane gases and this mixing of transport of these gases after formation. This study will make use of very recent analytical developments in mass spectrometry and laser spectroscopy in order to determine the extent to which isotopologues can differentiate between biotic and abiotic carbon compounds. The Deep Energy field and experimental team members will provide suites of samples ranging from those known to be biologically produced to those of proposed abiotic origin.


Alkaline springs of the Voltri Massif, N. Italy

Project Investigators: Lilley, Marvin; Brazelton, William; Lang, Susan; Schrenk, Matthew; Bernasconi, Stefano ; Schwarzenbach, Esther

Start Date: 2014-01-01

End Date: 2014-12-31


We are conducting comparative studies that focus on geochemical and microbial processes during serpentinization and the precipitation of carbonate (±brucite) in two high alkaline, ultramafic environments: the active marine Lost City hydrothermal system on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR, 30°N), and high alkaline, Ca-OH springs associated with present-day serpentinization and carbonate deposits in the Voltri Massif (Liguria, N. Italy). Since 2009 we have sampled fluids and carbonates at twelve alkaline (pH 10-11.6) springs and investigated volatile content, organic and stable isotope geochemistry, and microbiology.

Our field studies are designed to evaluate carbon cycling and microbial metabolisms and thus have focused on co-registered rock and fluid sampling for biological and chemical analyses. We have conducted laboratory analyses to fully characterize the carbon content of the serpentinites, the springs, and the carbonate deposits.   By comparing a modern marine system with a modern meteoric environment, we aim to evaluate the importance of abiotic versus biotic processes in the origin of organic compounds associated with serpentinization and to address the question as to whether Lost City is a good bio-geochemical analogue for present-day serpentinization processes on land and in ancient marine systems.


C-O-H Fluid-Rock Interaction and the Role of Serpentine

Project Investigators: Striolo, Alberto; Cole, David; Daniel, Isabelle; Seewald, Jeffrey; Menez, Benedicte; Martinez, Isabelle; Andreani, Muriel

Start Date: 2013-07-01

End Date: 2015-06-30

Summary: The crustal environments where abiotic synthesis of organic compounds is thought to occur are largely inaccessible to direct sampling, making laboratory simulations and theoretical models a critical component in understanding the origin of these compounds. This work will involve a series of experimental and theoretical studies to investigate the reactions responsible for abiotic organic synthesis within Earth’s crust, focusing on serpentinization processes. Specifically, the hydrothermal autoclave experiments will explore the evolution of solution and gas species associated with the alteration of olivine to serpentine minerals. The objective of this project is to quantify, using molecular simulations and complementary NMR and neutron spectroscopy, how such effects could be manifested in the thermodynamics and kinetics of the Fisher-Tropsch-type reactions.


Deep Hydrosphere and H2- The Canadian Shield

Project Investigators: Sutcliffe, Chelsea

Start Date: 2014-09-30

End Date: 2014-12-01

Summary: Investigation of dissolved hydrocarbon and hydrogen gases for exploring the deep hydrosphere and biosphere and collection of samples for clumped methane isotope investigations


Disko Island as a Test-bed for Carbon Pathways

Project Investigators: Cockell, Charles; Jones, Adrian; Fox-Powell, Mark; Bryce, Casey; Mikhail, Sami; Steele, Andrew; Cousins, Claire

Start Date: 2013-08-05

End Date: 2013-08-13


A team of four scientists—P.I. Dr. Claire Cousins, Dr. Sami Mikhail, and PhD students Casey Bryce and Mark Fox-Powell—spent two weeks in August of 2013 sampling basalts and thermal spring materials on Disko Island, Greenland. The primary goal of this work was to collect a robust sample set to support ongoing research of interest to the DCO community.

Disko presents an ideal field site due to its unusual basalts, whose compositions are rare for surface samples, containing FeNi alloys and Fe-carbides. Study of these basalts may lead to increased understanding of their formation. Additionally, Disko is home to many understudied deep thermal springs, including mud volcanoes, salt springs, and cold to warm springs. The investigation of the microbes within these thermal springs may provide insights into subsurface microbiological communities’ carbon pathways and life cycles.

Due in part to its remote location, Disko Island is relatively under-examined. Many of the logistical issues addressed by this team will be invaluable to researchers coming to the island for future study.


Dziani Dzaha

Project Investigators: Ader, Magali; Cadeau, Pierre ; Leboulanger, Christophe; Gerard, Emmanuelle; Bouvy, Marc; Jézéquel, Didier ; Sarazin, Gérard

Start Date: 2014-04-01

End Date: 2014-11-01


In April 2014, a French research expedition, led by Magali Ader of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, made its first of four planned field expeditions to the Dziani Dzaha lake to begin characterizing the physical chemistry and biology of the lake during different seasons. This crater lake is located in the Comoros Archipelago, a small volcanic hotspot chain in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique. Dziani Dzaha presents a very unusual combination of characteristics making it a likely analog for some hydrocarbon-bearing lacustrine rocks of economic importance and possibly certain Precambrian environments, including expanding rift valleys and basins.

The field team performed on-site measurements of the water chemistry and microorganisms’ metabolic activity. They also sampled gases, waters at various depths, and procured a 1.8-meter-long sediment core for subsurface biodiversity, chemical, mineralogical, and isotopic analyses. DCO support is being provided to the highly leveraged research program to partially cover the cost of 14C analyses of the dissolved inorganic carbon and biomass, and of detrital remains of terrestrial plants found at various levels in the core. These analyses will test the hypothesis that the biomass feeds directly on volcanic CO2 and provide an approximate model age for the core. Information and a short video about the research program and field study is available on the DCO website:


Furnas Volcano ECS Multidisciplinary Site

Project Investigators: Facq, Sébastien; Kietäväinen, Riikka; LaRowe, Doug; Price, Roy; Serovaiskii, Aleksandr; Yucel, Mustafa; Steen, Andrew; Zanon, Vittorio ; Miller, Quin; McDermott, Jill; Boulard, Eglantine; Andrade, César; Moreno, Lucía; Huang, Jinxiang; gonzalez, gino; Crespo-Medina, Melitza; Gagliano, Antonina Lisa; Schwarzenbach, Esther; Padilla-Crespo, Elizabeth; Nadeau, Olivier; Cox, Alysia; Thomas, Dana; Masotta, Matteo; Ma, Xiaogang; Kiseeva, Kate; Jesus, Ana Patricia; Hipólito, Ana Rita; Mikhail, Sami; Girault, Frederic; Azua-Bustos, Armando; Linhares, Diana; Pratt, Katie; Fischer, Rebecca; Silva, Catarina; Le Voyer, Marion; Hummer, Daniel; Gautam, Siddharth; Viveiros, Fatima; VISHAL, VIKRAM; Glenn, Ian; Baumberger, Tamara; Osburn, Magdalena; Pacheco, Joana; Barry, Peter

Start Date: 2015-08-31

End Date: 2015-09-05

Summary: At the beginning of September 2015, a group of 47 Early Career Scientists (ECS) met at the University of the Azores, Portugal, for a workshop sponsored by the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO). The workshop was the third in a series of ECS events hosted by DCO, but this time the organizing committee tried something new.

We got permits to sample at Furnas hydrothermal field on São Miguel island, and knowing that we were bringing some very talented scientists to the workshop, we asked them to help plan and implement a day of sampling.

At the end of the workshop, we sent the recovered samples (fluids, sediments, and gases) home with 12 of the attendees. The goal is to generate both an open access publication and an openly available dataset.


Generation and Flux of Hydrocarbons from Continental Cratons

Project Investigators: Kieft, Thomas; Itavaara, Merja; Sherwood Lollar, Barbara; van Heerden, Esta; Wilkie, Kenna; Li, Long; Onstott, Tullis

Start Date: 2011-04-01

Summary: Saline fracture waters in Precambian shields are some of the most H2-rich waters on the planet and thus an important setting in which to study the role of H2 in methanogenesis. We are analyzing C, H, N, and S isostopes and noble gas compositions of fluids from deep subsurface sites in South Africa, Canada, and Fennoscandia in order to determine the source of H2 production, the net production of H2, and mechanisms of hydrocarbon production in these settings.


Global Distribution of Abiotic Carbon Compounds, H2 and Noble Gases

Project Investigators: Cannat, Mathilde ; Ballentine, Christopher; Etiope, Giuseppe; Andreani, Muriel; Wang, Chengshan ; Sherwood Lollar, Barbara; Menez, Benedicte; Coleman, Max; Tolstikhin, Igor; Dong, Hailiang; Delacour, Adélie

Start Date: 2013-07-01

End Date: 2015-06-30


This research will address (1) the role of water-rock reactions, with a specific focus on serpentinization, in the production of reduced gases including hydrogen and methane, (2) the rates of reaction in low- and high-temperature systems, mafic and ultramafic terrains, and in rocks of varying degrees of age and alteration, and (3) the development of models of reduced gas flux on a global scale.

Key global sample sites (continental; oceanic) will be identified that provide gases, fluids, and solids that can be interrogated with multiple methods to assess the three areas identified above. The team will use gas and fluid isotope (stable and noble) geochemistry including isotopologues, mineralogy and mineral chemistry, bulk rock chemistry, and micro-imagining and spectroscopy.


Ligurian Ophiolites and Ophicalcites, N. Italy

Project Investigators: Früh-Green, Gretchen; Boschi, Chiara; Schwarzenbach, Esther; Bernasconi, Stefano ; Vogel, Monica

Start Date: 2007-04-01

End Date: 2015-03-31


A number of the Tethyan ophiolites in the Alps and northern Apennines are considered relicts of oceanic lithosphere and contain lower crustal and upper mantle sequences that are believed to have been exposed by detachment faults onto the seafloor. These ophiolite complexes often contain sections of carbonate-veined serpentinites and carbonate-serpentine breccias, so-called ophicalcites, which show similarities to the serpentinite-hosted carbonate deposits recovered at Lost City.

Our long-standing research targets the Jurassic Bracco-Levanto and Val Graveglia ophiolite complexes in Liguria (Italy), which provide spatial information (e.g., three-dimensional distributions and structures) and constraints on the preservation of geochemical fingerprints over time – information that is commonly unavailable in the modern marine system. An overall goal of our project is to obtain a better understanding of the sources of carbon and sulfur in these systems, how they are cycled from the basement to the fluids, the deposits and the biosphere, and how the carbon and sulfur budgets change with mineral-fluid and or microbe-fluid interactions over time (PhD thesis E. Schwarzenbach). Another aim is to study the links among fluid-rock interaction, hydrothermal deposits and deformation processes and to compare these to modern marine systems along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (PhD thesis M. Vogel). We have been conducting petrological, major element, trace element and isotopic (O, C, S, Sr, B) analyses of basement rocks and the hydrothermal deposits to quantify fluid flow paths, mass transfer, and carbon cycles during progressive hydrothermal activity, with emphasis on processes leading to the formation of the ophicalcites. This comparative study will provide a better understanding of evolving, subsurface processes in serpentinite-hosted hydrothermal systems and will contribute to a comprehensive, integrated model of end-member hydrothermal systems in oceanic sequences formed at slow spreading ridge environments. Our work has been supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.


Marcellus Shale Gas Wells

Project Investigators: Mouser, Paula ; Trexler, Ryan ; Hartsock, Angela ; Wrighton, Kelly ; Wilkins, Michael ; MacRae, Jean

Start Date: 2012-06-08

End Date: 2013-04-26

Summary: Natural gas energy extraction using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies in deep hydrocarbon-bearing shale significantly alters biogeochemical conditions and microbial ecological function at depth. We tracked changes in microbial community dynamics and functional potential via genome reconstruction over an 11-month period in fluids produced from three wells drilled and fractured in the Marcellus shale. A marked shift in 16S rRNA sequences occurred over time; communities shifted from those closely associated to low-salt tolerance, mesophilic aerobic bacteria to dominance by halophilic, thermotolerant anaerobic associated bacteria and archaea. Genomes from halotolerant microorganisms, including Halolactibacillus, Vibrio, Marinobacter, Halanaerobium and Halomonas encoded the potential for fermentation, hydrocarbon oxidation, and sulfur-cycling metabolisms, while Arcobacter contained potential for chemoautotrophic sulfide oxidation metabolism. Relative to earlier samples, the 11-month samples were enriched in genes for the acquisition and degradation of aromatic compounds, sulfur, iron, and nitrogen, supporting the importance of these processes in later produced fluids when anaerobic conditions prevail. Later time points also show the enrichment of microorganisms closely related to Methanohalophilus and Methanolobus. These methanogens are known to disproportionate methylamines, and the recovery of genes associated with the fermentation of trimethylamine to dimethylamine suggests a pathway for methane production exists within detected genomes. These data provide insight into the microbial changes that occur from hydraulic fracturing in deep shale ecosystems.


Methane in Land-Based Low T Serpentinization Sites

Project Investigators: Etiope, Giuseppe; Hosgormez, Hakan ; Fiebig, Jens ; Schoell, Martin

Start Date: 2013-06-01

End Date: 2015-05-31

Summary: Assessment of abiotic methane production temperature in continental serpentinization systems based on CH4 isotopologue geothermometry and geologic data. Natural gas samples from selected sites in Europe are collected and shipped to partner laboratories forclumped-isotope analyses. An additional set of methane samples is collected from high temperature geothermal systems for comparison.


North Pole Dome, Australia

Project Investigators: Hazen, Robert M.

Start Date: 2014-06-17

End Date: 2014-06-27


The North Pole Dome in Western Australia is a small feature within the ancient Pilbara Complex, which represents a remarkable raft of virtually unaltered crust from Earth’s Archean Eon. It is a roughly circular ring of hills, approximately 12 kilometers in diameter, surrounding a relatively flat depression that represents a “caldera”—the collapsed center of a 3.5 billion-year-old volcano. Following the collapse, the caldera gradually filled with layers of sediments, some of which contain pristine microbial fossil mounds called “stromatolites,” as well as other features that point to a dynamic shallow water environment.  

The  North Pole Dome holds Earth’s oldest unambiguous fossils, as well as extensive carbon-bearing rocks and hints regarding Earth’s early geochemical environment. This study will include detailed mapping of North Pole Dome hydrothermal systems and will investigate distributions of organic carbon, the geochemistry of carbonate minerals, and the nature and extent of diagnostic detrital minerals in these ancient rocks.

Geological Context: Life may have arisen in a hydrothermal environment, in an alkaline, low-temperature (<100°C) system. Indeed, the oldest convincing evidence for life occurs in just such a system, within the exceptionally well-preserved volcanic caldera and associated hydrothermal vein system of the ~3.5 Ga North Pole Dome, Pilbara Craton, Western Australia. Previous work documented a variety of early life signatures in this area, but it remains unclear whether early life was exclusively linked to hydrothermal systems, or if it occupied a variety of niches that reflect diverse microbial environments.

This field study will entail detailed mapping of carbon-bearing zones of the North Pole Dome hydrothermal system. We will also leverage ongoing detailed geological mapping and laboratory analysis of the North Pole Dome to explore three topics tied to DCO Decadal Goals related to Deep Life, Reservoirs and Fluxes, and Deep Energy. First, we will characterize the composition and distribution of carbonaceous materials within the North Pole hydrothermal system, to search for co-variation with changes in fluid temperature, system chemistry, and depth. These studies will assist with discriminating between a biogenic vs. abiogenic origin for the stromatolites, microfossils, and carbonaceous materials preserved in hydrothermal veins, in footwall basalts, in bedded sedimentary rocks, and perhaps in sulfide minerals. Second, we will characterize trace elements in carbonate minerals, including stromatolites. We will test hypotheses on redox-sensitive element distributions and will include these geochemical data as part of the DCO-sponsored Mineral Evolution Database project to develop an open access data infrastructure to probe Earth’s changing C cycle through deep time. Third, we will collect and analyze heavy detrital grains. The study of ancient detrital zircon (and to a lesser extent monazite) grains has opened a new window on early Earth. However, other potentially revealing ancient detrital heavy minerals, such as ilmenite, rutile, cassiterite, and uraninite, have not received comparable attention. We propose to acquire and analyze suites of these heavy mineral separates from the most ancient sedimentary terrains of Western Australia. These studies will complement and amplify decades of field and analytical research, representing millions of dollars in grants for investigations of North Pole Dome geology.


Oman Drilling Project

Project Investigators: Nicolas, Adolphe; Sherwood Lollar, Barbara; Blackman, Donna; Shock, Everett; Pézard, Phillipe ; Al Rajhi, Ali; Langmuir, Charles H.; Klein, Frieder; Michibayashi, Katsuyoshi; Bani, Philipson ; Hirth, Greg; Miller, Jay; Coogan, Laurence; Matter, Jürg; MacLeod, Chris; Sonnenthal, Eric ; Jamveit, Bjorn; Manning, Craig; Umino, Susumu; Ceuleneer, Georges; Godard, Marguerite; Goldstein, Steven; Miyashita, Sumio ; Koepke, Jurgen; Nasir, Sobhi; Singh, Satish; Gouze, Philippe; Ildefonse, Benoit; Hofmann, Albrecht; Kelemen, Peter; Arai, Shoji; Teagle, Damon; Warren, Jessica; Takazawa, Eiichi

Start Date: 2014-04-01

End Date: 2017-03-31


The Samail ophiolite in Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the world’s largest, best-exposed, and most-studied subaerial block of oceanic crust and upper mantle. In an ongoing dialogue between geological studies of the ophiolite and seagoing investigations along modern oceanic ridges, observations from Oman and the UAE are central to scientific understanding of oceanic plates formed at spreading centers. Observations of mantle peridotites overlying the subduction zone thrust, which carried the ophiolite onto the Arabian continental margin, reveal an unexpected reservoir of carbon, derived from subducted sediments and precipitated as carbonate minerals in the mantle wedge. This could form an important, hitherto unrecognized part of the global carbon cycle. And, following on ground-breaking work in the 1980’s, there has been a recent surge of interest in the Samail ophiolite as the ideal site for studies of weathering in mantle peridotite, together with the subsurface biosphere fueled by microbial catalysis of low temperature alteration reactions. Such studies will contribute to understanding of microbial ecosystems in extreme environments and the origin of life.  

Following a successful workshop in September 2012, our international team of 38 investigators proposes a comprehensive drilling program in the Samail ophiolite in the Sultanate of Oman. Via observations on core, geophysical logging, fluid sampling, hydrological measurements, and microbiological sampling in a series of diamond- and rotary-drilled boreholes, we will address long-standing, unresolved questions regarding melt and solid transport in the mantle beneath oceanic spreading ridges, mass transfer between the oceans and the crust via hydrothermal alteration, and recycling of volatile components in subduction zones. We will undertake frontier exploration of subsurface weathering processes in mantle peridotite, natural mechanisms of carbon dioxide uptake from surface waters and the atmosphere via alteration and weathering, the process of reaction-driven cracking, and the nature of the subsurface biosphere in peridotite undergoing alteration and weathering. This aspect of the Oman Drilling Project is the one that is co-funded by the Sloan Foundation as part of the Integrative Field Studies for the Deep Carbon Observatory, Sloan Foundation Grant No: G-2014-3-01  Societally relevant aspects of our project include the involvement and training of university students in earth science research, including numerous students from Sultan Qaboos University in Oman. Studies of the natural system of mineral carbonation in peridotite will contribute to design of engineered systems for geological carbon dioxide capture and solid storage. More generally, our studies of alteration will contribute to fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of reaction-driven cracking: chemical reactions that cause subsurface cracking, enhancing permeability and reactive surface area, in a positive feedback mechanism. The results of these studies studies could enhance geothermal power generation and extraction of unconventional hydrocarbon resources.


Scientific drilling of the Semail Ophiolite in the Sultanate of Oman, commencing in late 2015 and continuing into 2017, represents a unique opportunity to understand the activities and distributions of a deep continental microbial biosphere associated with serpentinization. The project will drill up to 400 m into the ophiolite complex and is our best opportunity to-date to understand spatiotemporal relationships between serpentinization and subsurface life. The major goal of the Oman Drilling Project is to understand the conditions leading to low-temperature serpentinization and their consequences for carbon cycling, including their impact upon subsurface microbial communities. The DLC community will (1) work closely with hydrogeologists studying fluid flow and fluid chemistry in the Semail Ophiolite, (2) support activities aimed at instrumenting excavated wells to facilitate future observatory studies, and (3) conduct fluorescently activated cell sorting for downstream single cell genomics analyses. These efforts will all enable the study of microbial biogeography and dispersal in the serpentinitehosted subsurface environment.


Quasi-Continuous CO2 Flux Measurement from Soil

Project Investigators: Norelli, Francesco ; Raco, Brunella ; Lelli, Matteo

Start Date: 2014-06-18

End Date: 2014-08-25

Summary: This project is aimed to perform quasi-continuous measurements of CO2 diffuse fluxes and of other needed parameters (i.e., soil temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure), developing a low-cost unit that is easy to install and manage. The availability of a quasi-continuous time series dataset helps the study and the estimation of CO2 fluxes from soil and in particular the identification of anomalies. The unit described in this project will make possible the creation of low-cost automatic monitoring networks.


Redox Processes and Generation of Abiogenic Hydrocarbon

Project Investigators: Kutcherov, Vladimir; Mukhina, Elena; Thaler, Carline; Glaves, Matheu; Sissman, Olivier; Kolesnikov, Anton; Ader, Magali

Start Date: 2011-04-01

Summary: Evidence for production of abiogenic hydrocarbon in hydrothermal fluids emanating from the seafloor has been difficult to find. We are undertaking hydrothermal experiments at high pressure and temperature, under reducing conditions, attempting to synthesize solid C compounds without biological assistance. We are also studying stable isotopic fractionations that occur as the result of interactions between thermophilic microorganisms and basaltic/peridotitic host rocks to determine the extent of non-equilibrium isotope fractionations.


Reduced Carbon Associated with Altered Oceanic Crust

Project Investigators: Gerard, Emmanuelle; Pisapia, Celine; Pasini, Valerio; Martinez, Isabelle; Delacour, Adélie; Shilobreeva, Svetlana; Menez, Benedicte; Andreani, Muriel; le Campion, Paul; Brunelli, Daniele; Ader, Magali

Start Date: 2011-04-01

Summary: Serpentinization produces H2-rich fluids, which may promote the formation of abiotic organic compounds and/or sustain deep subsurface microbial communities in ultramafic rocks. We are studying organic compounds in serpentinized peridotite from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Southwest Indian Ridge, ophiolitic complexes from the Apenines, Italy, and California, USA, hydrothermal chimneys from Prony, New Caledonia, and altered basalt from ODP Site 801B in order to track their distribution and behaviors with respect to H2 production.


South African Terrestrial Deep Subsurface

Project Investigators: Lau, Maggie C.Y.; Schrenk, Matthew; Linage-Alvarez, Borja; Kuloyo, Olukayode

Start Date: 2012-01-01

End Date: 2013-12-31

Summary: Recent studies of the continental subsurface microbial ecosystem present in the Witwatersrand Basin, South Africa have shown that with increasing depth and fracture water age and salinity, biogenic methane diminishes and abiogenic hydrocarbons and H2 increase and the concentration of planktonic cells slowly declines. Similarly, studies of the 16S rRNA gene in the planktonic community revealed a decrease in the relative abundance of methanogens and an increase in the relative abundance of low G+C Firmicutes with increasing depth.   Metagenome analyses of one member of this Firmicutes community, D. Audaxviator, indicated that it was capable of both heterotrophic and chemoautotrophic activity. An in situ incubation experiment suggests that some Firmicutes are acetogens that may support the aceticlastic methanogens.

Our geochemical and isotopic analyses indicate that abiogenic hydrocarbons are not utilized by the microbial community. Instead, a chemoautotrophic ecosystem is sustained by radiolytic generation of H2 and oxidants. Abiogenic hydrocarbon gases and elevated H2 have also been reported from the Canadian and Fennoscandian Precambrian shields and from ocean floor vents. The subsurface ecosystem present in the Witwatersrand Basin, therefore, is potentially wide spread in both the continental and marine crust, yet quite distinct from continental sedimentary basins or coastal margin sea floor sediments where degradation of photosynthetically produced organic matter deposited within the strata is believed to limit the extent of the subsurface microbial ecosystem. Alternatively, organic acids, thermogenically produced ~2 by ago from the thin shale layers present in the Witwatersrand Basin, could be sustaining the microbial community observed today.


Stable and Noble Gas Isotopes in Putative Natural Gas Fields

Project Investigators: Vetrina, Margarite; Prasolov, Edward; Polvak, Boris; Tolstikhin, Igor; Ballentine, Christopher; Kikvadze, Olga; Vereina, Olga; Fellowes, Jonathan; Ioffe, Alex

Start Date: 2011-04-01

Summary: The isotopic compositions of terrestrial fluids can identify the provenance of fluids in the Earth’s crust, and identify potential mechanisms for hydrocarbon production. We are constructing and populating a database of existing stable and noble gas isotope measurements of crustal fluids in order to interpret isotopic variability with respect to space and time. We are studying fluids from the Witwatersrand Mine district in South Africa, as well as the Kidd Creek mine in Canada, in order to understand how inorganic processes produce hydrogen and hydrocarbons that support subsurface microbial life.


Structure, Dynamics, and Reactivity of C-H-O fluids at mineral interfaces

Project Investigators: Asthagiri, Aravind; Cole, David; Tomasko, David; Rother, Gernot; Sheets, Julie; Browning, Jim; Striolo, Alberto; Patankar, Sumant; Park, Changyong; Mamantov, Eugene; Liu, Tingting; Ok, Salim

Start Date: 2011-04-01

Summary: Fluids containing C-H-O species in solution occupy pores and fractures in rocks, but the interactions between fluids and mineral interfaces have been difficult. We are undertaking the construction of a high pressure and temperature interface cell for synchrotron X-ray reflectivity measurements in order to study these interactions. We are also conducting high pressure and temperature experiments to study the adsorption, desportion, and dynamics of hydrocarbon fluids in nanoporous materials, as well as modeling the atomic/molecular level of fluid-solid interfacial behavior.


The Deep Drilling Project in Songliao Basin, China

Project Investigators: Dong, Hailiang

Start Date: 2014-06-01

End Date: 2015-05-31

Summary: This sub-project will leverage major investments by the International Continental Deep Drilling Project (ICDP) and China, who have initiated studies of scientific drilling, pilot CO2 sequestration and oil displacement, geothermal resource development, and seismic and volcanic monitoring in the Songliao Basin, one of the largest hydrocarbon-rich basins in the world. ICDP has funded a project in this basin to drill a 7000-meter borehole into the Cretaceous/Jurassic boundary, to commence in 2014. Chinese scientists have also proposed building a deep underground laboratory in the Songliao Basin, so-called deep multi-well (1000 to 6000 m) underground laboratory (MW-DUL) using a large number of existing boreholes in the Songliao Basin.  These are unique opportunities to investigate deep life and deep energy. Specifically, we propose 3 complementary approaches to the study of the deep biosphere. (1) We will employ CORK in-situ observation systems and a multi-level U-tube fluid sampling system uniquely suited to monitor and recover samples at these depths. (2) We will investigate microbial abundance, diversity, activity, and metabolic pathways in fluids and rocks and correlate these with temperature, pressure, lithological properties (porosity, hydraulic conductivity, and fracture distribution), deep fluid/gas compositions, and radioactivity to determine key environmental conditions that control microbial distribution and activity. (3) We use molecular microbiology approaches to compare microbial community structure and functions before and after CO2 injection to assess the impact of this oil recovery technology on subsurface deep biosphere.  We also propose studies related to deep energy. The sources of hydrocarbons found in the lower parts of the basin stratigraphy have been a controversial topic. We will secure samples for isotopologue and noble gas isotope measurements, lipid biogeochemistry, and organic geochemistry studies. These comprehensive efforts will further constrain the origin of hydrocarbons in the Songliao Basin and their relations with serpentinization.


Understanding the Lost City Hydrothermal System

Project Investigators: Lilley, Marvin; Schrenk, Matthew; Brazelton, William; Bernasconi, Stefano ; Kelley, Deborah S.; Lang, Susan

Start Date: 2001-01-01

End Date: 2014-12-31


This project is a comparative geochemical and stable isotope study of modern serpentinite-carbonate systems, focused on understanding geochemical and microbial processes associated with the formation of high alkaline fluids during serpentinization. Our study builds on an immense set of data from the peridotite-hosted Lost City hydrothermal system (MAR, 30°N), produced in collaboration with an international team of scientists over more than ten years. Lost City is unlike all other hydrothermal known to date and is characterized by metal- and CO2-poor, high pH fluids (9-11) with elevated hydrogen and methane contents resulting from serpentinization processes at depth.

We specifically address open questions about the links between the inorganic reactions in the ultramafic basement rocks (i.e. serpentinizing reactions), cycling of carbon and sulfur, and microbial activity in these high pH systems. The overall goal of our project is to quantify C and S pools in active serpentinite-carbonate systems and to constrain their changes over time. To achieve this goal our project involves a comparative organic geochemical and C-and S-isotope study of Lost City with modern high alkaline Ca-OH springs and carbonate deposits associated with present-day serpentinization processes in Liguria (Italy). Field and laboratory studies are specifically aimed to (1) characterize the organic matter at a molecular and isotopic level; (2) constrain the origin and cycling of C and S in modern marine and meteoric systems; and (3) make quantitative volume estimates of the amount of abiotic and biotic organic carbon and CO2 that is sequestered in these environments. Our work has been supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation and has involved developing a number of novel analytical techniques to measure stable and radiogenic carbon species in natural samples. Multidiscipline studies of Lost City and the Atlantis Massif provide the basis for IODP drilling during Expedition 357 in 2015.


Utica Shale Energy and Environment Laboratory

Project Investigators: Lanno, Roman ; Martin, Kenneth ; Cole, David; Bielicki, Jeffrey ; Wolfe, Barbara ; Carr, Tim ; Ziemkiewicz, Paul ; Brudenski , Michael ; Bisesi, Michael ; Daniels, Jeff ; Mouser, Paula ; Prakash, Shaurya ; Cook, Ann ; Wilson, Thomas ; Bilgesu, H Ilkin; Darrah, Thomas

Start Date: 2014-09-01

End Date: 2019-08-30

Summary: Implementation of this project will result in a 760-acre Utica Shale Energy and Environment Laboratory (USEEL) on a site where The Ohio State University holds all surface and subsurface rights and where unconventional oil and gas (UOG) development is planned but has not yet begun. This unique investment in scientific capacity is needed to: (a) validate enhanced and cost-effective technology for energy production from unconventional resources; (b) implement baseline monitoring of the environmental impact of current and developing UOG technologies and practices; (c) develop predictive tools and remediation solutions to problems above and below the surface; and (d) enhance and improve communications and community understanding of UOG development.

Data and information gathered at USEEL will be broadly disseminated to shale energy stakeholders to increase resource productivity and enhance environmental stewardship. The Laboratory will also establish field sites and analytical facilities as collaborative research venues for partners from industry, academia, government agencies and NGOs. The proposed USEEL site will provide a prime location to conduct long-term, transparent monitoring of the impact of UOG development. This project will contribute substantially to scientific understanding of possible environmental consequences of shale development, and to optimal management of subsurface energy resources. Project data will allow UOG producers to gain a better understanding of reservoir capacity and characteristics, optimal well spacing, and improved completion methods, all in the interest of increasing per-well production and reducing well numbers. Additionally, USEEL will provide a unique and comprehensive platform to develop and demonstrate best practices for environmental integrity, health and safety to the public and the industry alike.