US-NSF Awards Recognize Deep Carbon Science

Deep carbon science is at the forefront of several recent Frontiers in Earth-System Dynamics (FESD) awards.

The US National Science Foundation announced its annual Frontiers in Earth-System Dynamics (FESD) awards in early Fall 2013. This year, FESD has funded six research groups a total of $28 million over five years. Deep carbon science is at the forefront of half of the proposals, with several DCO researchers instrumental in securing these awards. The awards are therefore exciting not only to the research groups recognized, but also the field of deep carbon science in general.

The FESD awards are intended to fund “high risk, high return” research, and as such allow projects to proceed that might be passed over by more traditional funding sources. The nature of the awards also highlights particularly novel work, which is often interdisciplinary and ambitious in scope.

In the Division of Ocean Sciences, “Continent-island arc fluctuations: Linking deep Earth dynamics to long-term climate” was successfully funded. The proposal was led by Cin-Ty Lee of Rice University, USA (Principal Investigator), along with co-PIs Rajdeep Dasgupta, Adrian Lenardic, and Gerald Dickens, also of Rice University, and Jade Star Lackey of Pomona College, USA. The proposal addresses the need to better understand the whole-Earth carbon cycle, and how deep Earth processes influence oscillations in atmospheric levels of CO2. An interdisciplinary team of scientists has been identified to undertake this work, from mapping the distribution of arc volcanoes and subduction zones to quantifying global volcanic contributions to atmospheric CO2 over the last 150 million years.

Ariel Anbar and colleagues at Arizona State University, USA, were recognized in the Division of Earth Sciences for “The Dynamics of Earth System Oxygenation”. Before the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE), which took place around 2.4 billion years ago, Earth’s atmosphere was devoid of molecular oxygen. However, life on Earth was already established. This proposal, therefore, will attempt to discern if the GOE was the result of sudden production of molecular oxygen, or that consumption of biologically produced oxygen changed dramatically at that time. This research requires an intimate understanding of how Earth’s mantle cooled, and how this cooling may have elicited a global change in atmospheric oxygen levels.

And in the division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences division, funding was awarded to “VOICE – Volcano, Ocean, Ice, and Carbon Experiments”. This proposal is lead by Charles Langmuir of Harvard University, USA (Principal Investigator), together with Harvard collaborators Jerry Mitrovica, Sujoy Mukhopadhyay and Peter Huybers. The project aims to address the global connections between volcanism and ice ages on Earth. While the two processes may seem distinct, there is significant interplay that would be better understood through a global investigation, with particular focus on how ice increases oceanic pressure on the crust, how CO2 degassing by volcanoes influences climate, and how the water cycle is influenced by both processes.

Such recognition by the NSF is a testament to the importance of this work not only to the field of deep carbon research, but also to the scientific community in general. The DCO congratulates the awardees on their successful proposals, and eagerly anticipates the outcome of this work. 

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