Enhancing Deep Carbon Science: Integrating Diverse Perspectives into Our Community

The Deep Carbon Observatory is collaborating with the American Geosciences Institute in an effort to bolster the participation of geoscientists traditionally ethnically and racially underrepresented in the United States who are engaged in DCO research.

By Pat Leahy, Executive Director of the American Geosciences Institute, and Craig Schiffries, Director of the Deep Carbon Observatory

The Deep Carbon Observatory is collaborating with the American Geosciences Institute (AGI), a non-profit federation of over 50 geoscientific professional and scientific societies, in an effort to bolster the participation of geoscientists traditionally ethnically and racially underrepresented in the United States who are engaged in DCO research. According to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are considered underrepresented include African American, Native American, Native Alaskan, Hispanic, Latino, Latina, Native Hawaiian, and Native Pacific Islander. These groups continue to be engaged in geoscience well below their representation in the U.S. general population. AGI’s Workforce Program is spearheading this initiative, which has had continuous diversity development efforts since 1972 to ensure the geosciences are tapping the best and brightest talent across the U.S., regardless of race or ethnicity. This exciting new endeavor is designed to engage the unique perspectives and expertise of those groups of scientists to contribute to DCO’s global scientific enterprise. One of DCO’s strengths lies in its ability to build a cohesive community with a global talent base and to incorporate these diverse talents effectively. By working to embrace the widest possible foundation of U.S. researchers, we are striving to strengthen the creative research energy of deep carbon science. It is critical to include and access the full range of available talent to advance deep carbon science.

The United States faces distinct challenges regarding the inclusion of traditionally underrepresented geoscientists participating in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. This challenge is particularly pervasive in the geosciences, with only 6 to 8 percent of geoscientists belonging to underrepresented groups in the total U.S. geoscience workforce (Wilson, 2014). This is compared to the 10 percent of underrepresented scientists in the STEM workforce and to the 23 to 25 percent of underrepresented groups in the total U.S. workforce in 2009 (Wilson, 2014; Gonzales & Keane, 2011). Despite its global nature and ability to work effectively across cultural and political boundaries, DCO also faces challenges with recruiting and engaging members from U.S. underrepresented groups. Building an inclusive community of U.S.-based underrepresented geoscientists participating in the DCO global network is important to DCO’s long-term mission, not only by fully representing the best global talent, but also by engaging the best of U.S. domestic talent and ingenuity.  

AGI’s goal for this diversity initiative is to develop a self-sustaining program within the Deep Carbon Observatory that increases the participation of U.S. citizens who are traditionally underrepresented in DCO activities, programs, or research. AGI also intends to bolster awareness of DCO activities for these geoscientists within the larger geoscientific community. AGI has begun this process by:

• Building relationships with DCO scientists to engage in this diversity effort

• Promoting this program and its opportunities through AGI’s networks to connect U.S. underrepresented geoscientists to the impressive DCO research community

• Distributing funding to catalyze deeper engagement of underrepresented geoscientists in DCO research programs and the DCO community by lowering potential financial barriers


The first success of this diversity initiative was recruiting Elizabeth Padilla to join the DCO Science Network through DCO’s early-career development activities. Padilla received her Ph.D. in microbiology and is currently an adjunct Professor at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico. She participated in the 2015 DCO Early Career Scientist Workshop at the University of the Azores, where she developed an appreciation and understanding of deep-life microbiology. “The exploration of the Life in the deep biosphere is just beginning and its findings could revolutionize how we think about our planetary evolution, life in the primitive earth and also possible life elsewhere...from classical evolution to astrobiology.” The workshop provided a unique experience for early-career scientists, and Padilla indicated that “never before, had [she] participated [in a]...workshop that perfectly combined science and practice.”

We would like to celebrate this first success of AGI’s diversity initiative and the DCO Early Career Scientist Workshop. Padilla’s experience during the workshop demonstrated DCO’s unique ability to build a global community.

“Workshop participants came from all over the world, and sometimes being ethnically or culturally different makes us all feel alike. This opens doors to collaborative relationships with scientists from different countries leading to science diplomacy; and I believe that fostering international collaborations is a strong force that can impact science policy in the global arena, and the DCO community is facilitating that.”

In addition to Elizabeth’s participation in the DCO Early Career Scientist Workshop, we are pleased to announce the newest group of traditionally underrepresented U.S. geoscientists who have been awarded competitive research grants to become engaged in the DCO community: 

Celina Suarez, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas

Marina Suarez, Assistant Professor, University of Texas San Antonio

Jeremy Williams, Assistant Professor, Kent State University

Yadira Ibarra, Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University

John Paul Balmonte, PhD Candidate, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

Matthew Medina, PhD Candidate, University of Michigan


For more information about their deep carbon research, please see AGI Announces First Recipients of DCO Diversity Awards.


If you are interested in becoming engaged with the AGI diversity initiative as part of your involvement with the DCO Science Network, please contact Heather Houlton

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