To the Finish Line: Sloan Foundation Awards Grants to DCO through 2019

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation approved three grants in October 2018 that support DCO activities through the end of the decadal program on 31 December 2019.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation approved three grants in October 2018 that support DCO activities through the end of the decadal program on 31 December 2019. DCO is immensely grateful to the Sloan Foundation for its generous support since 2009.

Final Support for Science Communities

DCO’s Science Communities are central to the program’s scientific success. Together, they have produced more than 1300 peer-reviewed publications, including many in Nature, Science, and other high-impact journals. 

The Sloan Foundation awarded a final grant to support three of the four communities – Reservoirs and Fluxes, Deep Energy, and Extreme Physics and Chemistry – through the end of December 2019. (Due to staggered grant dates, the fourth community, Deep Life, already received funding through 2019.)

Support from the Sloan Foundation, which is leveraged by additional support from numerous international sources, enables the communities to continue their activities through the culmination of the decadal program. It also will support Science Community contributions to DCO’s suite of synthesis products.

DCO Data Science: Final Phase

The Sloan Foundation’s final grant to DCO’s Data Science Team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will support the completion of DCO Data Science decadal activities. DCO data science combines informatics, data management, library science, network science, computer science, and domain science to further the study of deep carbon. The Data Science Team collaborates with scientists across DCO to expand their data science capabilities to enhance research findings, runs the DCO Computer Cluster, enables scientific discovery by using data science expertise to help DCO researchers produce new visualizations and analytics, and maintains DCO’s data infrastructure while preparing for its future post-2019.

Support for the final 14 months of Data Science activity also will help to ensure a data-savvy next generation of deep carbon scientists, ready to tackle the big questions facing the field.

Aerial Observations of Volcanic Gas Emissions

Emma Liu and Kieran Wood
Emma Liu (left) and Kieran Wood with a multi-rotor drone on Rabaul Volcano. Image courtesy of Emma Liu.

The DCO Executive Committee identified measuring volcanic gas emissions via unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones – as a key unfulfilled opportunity in the field of deep carbon science. To explore the full potential of this rapidly advancing technology, the Sloan Foundation approved a grant supporting a drone-based investigation of volcanoes in Papua New Guinea. Led by Emma Liu of the University of Cambridge, a team of scientists will refine the utility of unmanned aerial vehicles for sampling volcanic gas emissions. They will use both multi-rotor and fixed wing vehicles capable of carrying a range of sensors for volcanic gases, including carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. They chose Papua New Guinea for the trial run because of its remote location with active, yet nearly inaccessible volcanoes, with success yielding novel data for global models of Earth’s carbon reservoirs and fluxes.  

“Drones will allow us to measure emissions from these active volcanoes without endangering human lives,” explains Liu. “We will work closely with local volcanologists and leave them monitoring equipment to use once our research has been completed.” 

The project brings together more than 20 researchers from seven countries. A small team departed for Papua New Guinea in late October for a pilot expedition, and a larger contingent returns in May 2019 for a weeks-long campaign to both study the country’s active volcanoes and establish best practices for the evolving technology. 

Satellite observations indicate that the volcanoes of Papua New Guinea are among the biggest emitters of volcanic gases in the world but the carbon emissions of major volcanoes remain unconstrained. Because of their remoteness, scientists have had difficulty using ground-based instrumentation to measure their carbon dioxide emissions. By using drones, Liu and her colleagues will be able to send sensitive instrumentation into the volcanic plume and bring back valuable aerial data sets. 

“Ultimately, the project will refine our global estimate of volcanic carbon outgassing, and will provide critical insight into volatile recycling through the Papua New Guinea subduction zone,” said Liu in a press release from the University of Cambridge. 

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