Message from the Director - March 2012


The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awarded a $1 million instrument development grant to the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) in March 2012.  The grant will provide highly leveraged support to promote the design and construction of four critical instruments and to hold three “sandpit” style international workshops to address specific unfulfilled instrument and computation needs for deep carbon research.  The seven projects will foster next generation instruments that are essential for achieving specific DCO decadal goals and building an international community of researchers committed to DCO’s objectives.  


The physics and chemistry communities were informed about deep carbon in a pair of widely disseminated articles published by the American Institute of Physics and the American Chemical Society in March 2012.  A feature article in Chemical & Engineering News, “Carbon Goes Deep” (C&EN, 11 March 2012), provides an overview of the Deep Carbon Observatory and profiles Carnegie Institution of Washington researchers who study this critical element. An accompanying video, “Carbon’s Untold Secrets,” contains interviews with researchers working on a broad range of deep carbon topics, from diamonds to deep microbial life.  


A feature article in Physics Today (March 2012), “Water in Earth’s Mantle,” by Marc Hirschman and David Kohlstedt says that carbon, like water, cycles through Earth’s interior with vast quantities being stored in the mantle and that carbon has an equally profound impact on Earth’s dynamics. The inventory of carbon in today’s mantle far exceeds the amount in crustal sediments and rocks. The authors suggest that the current distribution of carbon in Earth may reflect the behavior of carbon during the magma ocean stage of Earth’s evolution.


In a pair of recent research papers, two groups have solved the structure of polymeric carbon dioxide.  Under conditions of high pressure and temperature, CO2 transforms from its familiar molecular form into a polymeric extended solid (termed CO2-V).  Until now, the structure of CO2-V has been controversial, but researchers affiliated with the Deep Carbon Observatory have published the first definitive structural solutions to this long-standing problem.  They determined that the structure of polymeric CO2-V is comprised of CO4 tetrahedral units arranged in a pattern than resembles that of an important silicate mineral.  The stability of polymeric CO2­V extends to the top of Earth’s lower mantle and could play a significant mineralogical role with implications for the segregation of carbon in the deep Earth. 


DCO is convening a series of upcoming workshops and meetings, including:

  • Physics and Chemistry of Carbon Science Steering Committee Workshop: 29-31 March 2012, Davis, CA, USA
  • Deep Energy Workshop: 3-4 May 2012, Paris, France
  • Serpentinization Workshop: 2-6 September 2012, Porquerolles Island, France 
  • DCO Executive Committee Meeting: 20-21 September 2012, Berlin, Germany

The Deep Carbon Observatory is also sponsoring scientific sessions and events at upcoming scientific conferences, including the European Geophysical Union, Goldschmidt Conference, and Geological Society of America.  


Craig M. Schiffries


Tel: (202) 478-8819



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