The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has approved funding for a suite of international DCO field expeditions that will benefit all four DCO Communities. These activities, led by an international team of researchers, are scheduled to run for three years, starting in April 2014. Such a focused yet strongly cross-disciplinary effort exemplifies DCO’s vision, and will advance many of DCO’s guiding decadal goals.
In a project led by proposal PI Peter Kelemen (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, USA), DCO scientists will begin continental drilling into the exposed Samail ophiolite in Oman. This particular expedition is the focus of the proposal, and as such is the most ambitious both technologically and in terms of scientific output. This site represents Earth’s largest sample of exposed oceanic lithosphere, igneous crust and upper mantle that originally formed at a submarine spreading center. As an actively serpentinizing region, the Samail ophiolite is estimated to consume close to a ton of atmospheric carbon dioxide every year, and may represent an important habitat for deep microbial life. Indeed, drilling into these rocks could provide important insight into the origins of life on this planet.
Smaller yet equally crucial expeditions will head to six other sites around the world. Barbara Sherwood Lollar (University of Toronto, Canada) will head up further exploration of the Canadian Shield to garner insight into the so-called “Galapagos of the Deep,” isolated environments deep underground with unique chemical and biological signatures. In Australia, Martin Van Kranendonk (University of New South Wales, Australia) will lead an expedition to map carbon-bearing zones in the hydrothermal system of the North Pole Dome of Western Australia, home to the oldest (3.5 billion year-old) evidence of life on Earth. In the Songliao Basin, China, Hailiang Dong (Miami University of Ohio, USA) and colleagues will take fluid samples from existing boreholes to investigate the origins of hydrocarbons in this region.
Building on a successful DCO-sponsored pre-AGU workshop in December 2013 organized by Jay Ague (Yale University, USA) and Olivier Beyssac (CNRS IMPMC Paris, France), these scientists will initiate new research on tectonic fluxes of carbon in Corsica, France that benefits from recent research by European groups on a tectonically active exhumed subduction zone in this area. In Russia, Vladimir Kutcherov’s team (Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden) will head to the Romashkino oil and gas fields of the South Tatarian Arch to begin resolving the source of these plentiful hydrocarbons. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire, USA (led by Larry Mayer) will join the Swedish-Russian-US Arctic Ocean Investigation of Climate-Cryosphere-Carbon Interactions (SWERUS-C3) to the Eastern Siberian Arctic Ocean, where they will use novel acoustic water-column imaging to map and quantify methane gas seeps from the seafloor.
The seven field projects described here will also complement existing DCO fieldwork, which includes global volcano monitoring and deep life sampling, and will make use of newly developed analytical instrumentation sponsored by DCO. The proposed work will address 12 of DCO’s 20 Decadal Goals and bring together scientists from all four DCO Communities and beyond.