Second DCO Summer School: Early Career Scientists Explore Deep Carbon in Yellowstone

The second DCO Summer School, held from 23-28 July 2016, brought together an international group of early career scientists for a weeklong, immersive scientific experience in and around Yellowstone National Park.

Ten instructors guided the Summer School activities, which included classroom lectures, field trips, and hands-on data collection and analysis. The Summer School program examined Yellowstone’s complex volcanic and hydrothermal systems through the lenses of biology, geology, and chemistry—demonstrating to participants the value of DCO’s multidisciplinary approach to studying carbon in Earth.

Summer School classroom sessions introduced a broad range of topics within deep carbon science. Lecture subjects included microbiology of the deep subsurface and extreme environments, the nature of Earth’s deep carbon cycle, carbon dioxide degassing from tectonic and volcanic sources, and the origins of life itself.

Fieldwork was a key aspect of the Summer School, building on successful programs from both the first DCO Summer School and two previous DCO Early Career Scientist Workshops. USGS emeritus scientists and Yellowstone experts Lisa Morgan and Pat Shanks reprised their role from the first Summer School as instructors and field trip guides, leading the group through an incredible two-day tour of the park. They took participants into the massive Yellowstone caldera, along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and to the alien landscapes of Norris Geyser basin. One highlight of the field trips was an early-morning visit to Grand Prismatic Spring, where the enthusiasm of the microbiologists at the brightly colored microbial mats spread rapidly among the geochemists and geologists in the group. 

Yellowstone lake fieldwork

Instructor Lisa Morgan and participant Sabin Zahirovic on the shore of Yellowstone Lake.

The field activities culminated in an intensive sampling effort at Bear Creek, a small, scenic hydrothermal area adjacent to the Yellowstone River just north of the park. Armed with a variety of sampling tools and instruments, small multi-disciplinary groups of early career scientists teamed up with instructors to measure carbon fluxes, assess the local geology, and study the hydrothermal springs’ microbial ecosystems.

“The day sampling at Bear Creek really put the whole school into perspective for me,” said Summer School organizing committee chair Rick Colwell. “I was at the end of the group hiking down the canyon, and I suddenly had a wonderful view of a line of scientists from around the world stretching down the trail, carrying gear and expectations for another day in the field - this time a concerted effort to examine the area’s springs up close.”

Bear creek

Summer School participants and instructors begin the hike down to Bear Creek.

That evening back at Chico Hot Springs Resort, participants learned how to analyze their gas samples on a ThermoFisher Delta Ray Isotope Ratio Infrared Spectrometer, and spent the evening compiling and interpreting the data they collected. They wowed the instructors the following morning with a group presentation that synthesized the data into a detailed portrait of Bear Creek’s hot springs.

“Seeing the students present their data was inspirational,” noted Colwell. “The instructors were all spellbound by what these incredible young scientists accomplished in 20 hours, and the active discussion that followed.”

This is not the last we will hear from these passionate early career scientists. Presentations on the final morning launched a spirited discussion about the future of open access publication and science communication. The conversation explored new approaches for communicating research findings with scientists and non-scientists alike and ways to sustain future versions of the summer school’s collaborative format. Projecting these new, multidisciplinary efforts amongst early careers scientists is consistent with one of the original goals of the summer school, namely to launch DCO objectives and collaborations beyond the current lifetime of the program.

DCOSS16 signed hat

Everyone signed a DCO hat to leave behind at Chico Hot Springs Resort.

After the official program ended, an impromptu game of soccer underscored the relationships built during the week, before participants bid each other fond farewells and began the journey home.

“It was an absolutely thrilling experience,” commented DCO Executive Director and Summer School instructor Robert Hazen. “I was awed by the natural setting and inspired by the engagement and enthusiasm of the diverse international early-career participants. This truly was a memorable week.”

Steam rises from Grand Prismatic Spring in the cool early morning. All photos by Katie Pratt.

Summer School Agenda

Flickr album of Summer School photos

Storify of Summer School tweets (#DCOSS16)

Organizing Committee / Instructors:

Rick Colwell (Oregon State University) -- Organizing Committee Chair / Instructor
Tobias Fischer (University of New Mexico) -- Instructor
Donato Giovannelli (Rutgers University / ELSI, Japan) -- Instructor
Robert Hazen (Carnegie Institution for Science) -- Instructor
Michelle Hoon-Starr (Carnegie Institution for Science) -- Logistics Coordinator
Tehnuka Ilanko (University of New Mexico) -- Instructor
Adrian Jones (University College London) -- Instructor
Lisa Morgan (United States Geological Survey) -- Field Trip Guide / Instructor
Katie Pratt (University of Rhode Island) -- Logistics Co-Coordinator / Instructor
Anna-Louise Reysenbach (Portland State University) -- Organizing Committee Co-Chair / Instructor
Pat Shanks (United States Geological Survey) -- Field Trip Guide / Instructor


Moyo Ajayi (Vanderbilt University) Abstract
Chiara Anzolini (University of Padua) Abstract
Jon Badalamenti (University of Minnesota) Abstract
John Paul Balmonte (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) Abstract
Olga Bergal-Kuvikas (Nanyang Technological University / Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, Russia) Abstract
David Brankovits (Texas A&M University at Galveston) Abstract
Xu Chu (Yale University) Abstract
Matthew Dodd (University College London) Abstract
Avishek Dutta (Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur) Abstract
Narangerel Gaanbatar (Tokyo Institute of Technology) Abstract
Michael Gress (Free University Amsterdam) Abstract
Jihua Hao (Johns Hopkins University) Abstract
Ery Hughes (University of Bristol) Abstract
Bohyun Hwang (The Ohio State University) Abstract
Leyla Ismailova (University of Bayreuth / Vernadsky Institute) Abstract
Mariana Jácome Paz (National Autonomous University of Mexico) Abstract
Lukas Kohl (Memorial University) Abstract
Sophia Kolankowski (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) Abstract
Simon Matthews (University of Cambridge) Abstract
Marissa Mnich (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) Abstract
Lily Momper (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Abstract
Shaunna Morrison (University of Arizona) Abstract
Heidi Needham (University of Hawaii) Abstract
Peter Nelson (University of Texas at Austin) Abstract
Sophie Nixon (University of Manchester) Abstract
Daniel Petrash (University of Alberta) Abstract
Mattia Pistone (Smithsonian Institute) Abstract
Lotta Purkamo (University of St Andrews) Abstract
Kristen Rahilly (University of New Mexico) Abstract
Andrea Ricci (University of Bologna) Abstract
Melanie Sieber (Australian National University) Abstract
Suzette Timmerman (Australian National University) Abstract
Sabin Zahirovic (University of Sydney) Abstract
Laura Zinke (University of Southern California) Abstract

All participant abstracts

Summer School sponsors:



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