Deep Energy (DE) has received another two years of DCO funding beginning July 2013. The award from the Sloan Foundation is intended to promote deep carbon science through seeding scientific networks, improving instrumentation and infrastructure, and engagement of both the scientific community at large and the general public. The proposal, headed up by DE chair David Cole (The Ohio State University) and co-chair Isabelle Daniel (University Claude Bernard Lyon1), outlines how the community will quantify the environmental conditions and processes—from the molecular to the global scale—that control the volumes, rates of generation and reactivity of organic compounds derived from deep carbon through geologic time, and thus contribute to meeting the decadal goals of the Deep Carbon Observatory.
To do this, the international “community-building” team of 21 researchers from 8 countries will leverage state-of-the-art sampling and new DCO-funded analytical methods to characterize unique sample suites obtained from selected representative geologic settings. This combination is designed to optimize their chances for chemical and isotopic “fingerprinting” of the signatures of abiotic versus biogenic carbon-bearing compounds. Novel experimental and modeling methods will be used to probe the macroscopic to molecular-level consequences of processes controlling water-rock interactions between key candidate deep-Earth mineral substrates like olivine, and aqueous fluids that transform into serpentine and produce hydrogen gas, methane, and higher hydrocarbons over a large range of temperature (40-350°C) and pressure (0.1-300 MPa).
Over the next two years, this funding will allow for the development of both expert research networks and the products their members create. It is expected that this project will produce an expanded global network of 10 key geologically representative field sites; among them 2 sites suitable for detailed time-series testing of biotic versus abiotic sources. Standards for sampling acquisition, preservation, sharing and analytical protocols should become available to the larger community by the end of this project, as well as isotopologue benchmarks for methane end-members from biotic and abiotic experimental sources. In addition, this DE project will stimulate integrated efforts across the entire DCO community for sourcing subsurface reduced carbon in the widespread water-rock interaction context, where DE will collaborate with the Census of Deep Life in the analysis of microbial communities for all samples recovered from habitable environments.
Progress in understanding the origin and distribution of abiotic hydrocarbons will bring both societal and scientific benefit. This DE research will lead to a greater understanding of the changes and movements of vast amounts of matter and energy in space and time deep below Earth’s surface. As such, the Community will gain substantial insight into the formation and safe development of energy resources in light of as yet unknown chemical interactions and behaviors.
Photo credit: Driefontein Mine Witwatersrand basin South Africa; T.C. Onstott, Princeton U 1998.