From the Deep, a monthly newsletter from DCO
December 2019
Deep Carbon Observatory
Rosario Esposito sits on the flanks of Etna Volcano
DCO heads into the next decade with a new leadership team at the helm.

Letter from the Director

In my final letter as Director of the Deep Carbon Observatory, I thank everyone who has participated in DCO since it launched in 2009 as an ambitious experiment with no guarantee of success. A decade of innovation and collaboration has led to transformational discoveries by DCO scientists on the quantities, movements, forms, and origins of carbon in Earth. No less important than its scientific advances, DCO has built an enduring legacy in its interdisciplinary and international community of 1300 scientists in more than 50 countries. DCO cultivated a new generation of researchers who will advance deep carbon science for decades to come. Highlights from the past year are summarized in Deep Carbon Observatory 2019: Year in Review. Future highlights, DCO-driven initiatives, and opportunities for the DCO community will appear on a new website (currently under construction) at, so stayed tuned and use to contribute.

I also thank those scientists launching the next decade of deep carbon science. DCO’s road map to the future includes: (1) convening a conference, Deep Carbon 2019: Launching the Next Decade of Deep Carbon Science; (2) establishing a new international steering committee that will succeed the DCO Executive Committee; (3) moving DCO headquarters from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, USA to the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Université de Paris, France; (4) establishing a Gordon Research Conference on Deep Carbon Science to serve as a sustainable successor to DCO international science meetings; (5) launching a Gordon Research Seminar on Deep Carbon Science as a sustainable successor to DCO early career scientist workshops; (6) organizing deep carbon science sessions at a series of international conferences in 2020; (7) publishing a steady stream of scientific papers in 2020, including a special issue of Elements on “Abiotic Hydrogen and Hydrocarbons in Planetary Lithospheres”; and (8) facilitating a $120 million portfolio of research grants awarded to DCO scientists that will continue to support deep carbon science in 2020 and beyond. Collectively, these and other developments indicate a bright future for deep carbon science and the DCO community. 

DCO scientists recently received several research grants that will contribute to the next decade of deep carbon science. Alberto Vitale Brovarone was awarded a $2.7 million European Research Council grant to support DeepSeep, which focuses on the genesis of H2 and abiotic hydrocarbons in subduction zones. Terry Plank received a $2.5 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to establish the first open-data, real time, multi-sensor community experiment on active volcanoes, with the goal of Anticipating Volcanic Eruptions in Real Time (AVERT). Alexander Sobolev was awarded a $14.2 million grant from European Research Council to support research on Monitoring Earth Evolution Through Time (MEET), which will explore the chemical and physical processes that shaped Earth’s composition throughout history.

I encourage you to listen to a recording of Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony, composed by David Earl, performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and inspired by a book by Robert Hazen. An audio recording is available to the DCO community for free download through January 2020.

Finally, I would like to thank Robert Hazen, the DCO Executive Committee, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, whose vision, leadership, and support have been essential to DCO’s success. 

Craig Schiffries, DCO Director
Carnegie Institution for Science, Geophysical Laboratory
Washington DC, USA

Letter from the Executive Director

Many human experiences encompass intertwined endings and beginnings. The end of the semester, the end of the year, the end of the decade—all mark the start of new opportunities and adventures, as well. So it is with the DCO. 

The last ten years have been an amazing ride, taking us places that we could have barely imagined in 2009. We started with a collective vision, heady ambition, and (not least) a hefty investment from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. We’ve grown: 55 countries, 1300 colleagues, and an order of magnitude more funding from governments and foundations around the world. I don’t see any slowdown in vision, ambition, or funding as we start the second decade.

But some things will change. For me, most keenly felt will be the loss of daily interactions with the extraordinary team that makes up the DCO Secretariat, based at the Geophysical Lab. 

Michelle Hoon-Starr, now well on her way to a masters degree in audiology, touched every facet of DCO. I’ll especially remember her immersive leadership of the second early-career summer school at Yellowstone—at once organizing, planning, and learning in the best DCO tradition.

Jennifer Mays has brought inspiring dedication and know-how to the program. She has ever been a voice of inclusion, integrity, and utmost professionalism for DCO. If you ever attended any of our memorable scientific meetings, you know what I mean. Jenn is amazingly organized and has brought order to many parts of the program, often in partnership with DCO’s Data Science and Engagement teams.

I couldn’t have survived the past decade without the thoughtful and skilled efforts of Andrea Mangum, DCO’s long-serving “CFO.” I can’t begin to describe how complicated it has been to coordinate dozens of grants. From balancing countless budget details, to ghost writing many proposals, to strategizing about program-wide spending—never too much, never too little, Andrea has sustained the DCO, and she has always been the calmest voice in the room. 

And I am eternally grateful to Craig Schiffries, who has been at the helm, guiding the DCO as its Director, serving as our representative in countries around the world, dealing with countless tasks both big and small. Craig has served in this role with a passion and dedication that I’ve rarely seen. We all know Craig as the personable, informed, engaged, and thoughtful leader. What most of you have not seen is the astonishing devotion and sense of responsibility that Craig has brought to this job, the countless hours, late nights and weekends he has given to make DCO the best it could be. We could not have been in better hands.

For all of my dear colleagues–Michelle, Jenn, Andrea, and Craig – this season marks the beginning of new adventures and new opportunities. I wish them every success, and know that you feel the same way. For me, “thanks” doesn’t seem nearly enough. I will miss my friends in the coming years, but will always be inspired by what they have taught me about integrity, commitment, and excellence.

Bob Hazen, DCO Executive Director
Carnegie Institution for Science, Geophysical Laboratory
Washington DC, USA

News Features

Deep Carbon Processes Explain Rise of Oxygen and Isotopes
One reason Earth is a habitable planet with a breathable atmosphere is thanks to the evolution of microbes that take in carbon dioxide and pump out oxygen. Some people credit these microbes with causing the Great Oxidation Event (GOE), a rapid spike in oxygen levels that occurred about 2.4 billion years ago. But these organisms evolved about 500 million years before the GOE, suggesting that some other factor likely triggered the sharp increase. Now, a new paper in Nature Geoscience, finds that deep Earth processes were behind this formative event in Earth’s history. DCO members James Eguchi (previously at Rice University but now at the University of California, Riverside, USA) and Rajdeep Dasgupta, with Johnny Seales (both at Rice University, USA) propose that tectonic activity can explain not only the GOE but also a subsequent odd event called the Lomagundi carbon isotope excursion, when a global shift in carbon isotopes occurred. The researchers find that an increase in volcanic carbon emissions created the GOE, and that the different ways that the resulting glut of carbon was recycled through the deep Earth can explain the Lomagundi event. Read more...

Elements Issue Highlights Abiotic Hydrogen and Hydrocarbons
Research into abiotic hydrogen and hydrocarbons, which form from chemical reactions that are completely independent of life, has intensified in recent years, as scientists seek to learn the conditions under which they form, their role in the origin of life, and whether humans can use them as energy sources. In an upcoming issue of Elements, entitled “Abiotic Hydrogen and Hydrocarbons in Planetary Lithospheres,” scientists, including many early-career researchers, give an overview of recent advances in this field. DCO Deep Energy Community members Tom McCollom (University of Colorado, Boulder, USA) and Isabelle Martinez (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France), with Laurent Truche (Université Grenoble Alpes, France), were guest editors for the issue, which will publish in February 2020. Read more...

New Project Aims to AVERT Volcanic Disasters
When volcanologists forecast an eruption, they can only offer different grades of warning from very low to very high threat levels. Unlike meteorologists, they can’t forecast the timing of the eruption, how many inches of ash will fall, or how long it will erupt. And in many parts of the world, without the resources to monitor volcanoes, people receive no warning at all. Terry Plank (Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, USA), a member of the Reservoirs and Fluxes Community and the DCO Executive Committee, thinks that with real time multi-sensor data and physics-based models, volcanologists may one day be able to forecast volcanic eruptions just like meteorologists forecast hurricanes. Plank and her colleagues at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, including co-lead Einat Lev, have received a five-year, almost $2.5 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for their project, AVERT: Anticipating Volcanic Eruptions in Real Time. The researchers will monitor two volcanoes in Alaska in real-time to identify early warning signals and to develop an array of instruments that could be deployed worldwide for better eruption forecasting. Read more...

MEET Project Looks Back in Time at Earth’s Evolution
Scientists know little about the Hadean eon, the tumultuous first 600 million years of Earth’s history, when its molten surface was bombarded with chunks of planetary debris. Now, the materials at the surface have long been recycled into new rocks through the actions of plate tectonics. But tiny capsules from that time period remain today in the form of hardy crystals of zircon and olivine, which can reveal details of the early years of Earth’s evolution. In a new project called Monitoring Earth Evolution Through Time (MEET), DCO members will use bits of once-melted rocks trapped inside those ancient crystals, called melt inclusions, to reconstruct Earth’s history all the way back to the Hadean. Reservoirs and Fluxes Community members Alexander Sobolev (University Grenoble-Alpes, France), Stephan Sobolev (German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ), Germany), and John Valley (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA) have teamed up to explore the processes that shaped Earth’s chemical composition from 4.4 billion years ago until the present. The team received a European Research Council Synergy grant of about $14.2 million over the next six years to support the research. Read more...

‘DeepSeep’ to Quantify Impact of Deep Hydrocarbons
Methane and hydrogen are key energy sources for microbes, especially in the subsurface, and are fundamental molecules in planetary bodies. Most hydrocarbons can be traced back to life forms, past and present, but water-rock reactions, such as the process called serpentinization, create hydrogen and abiotic methane that form independently of life. These gases likely contribute to the global carbon cycle and the growth of subsurface microbes, but the size of these reservoirs and their impact is not well understood. A new project entitled Deep Serpentinization, H2, and high-pressure abiotic CH4 (DeepSeep), led by Alberto Vitale Brovarone (IMPMC-CNRS, France/Università di Torino, Italy) seeks to estimate how much deep abiotic hydrogen and methane is produced in subduction zones, where one tectonic plate sinks beneath another. Vitale Brovarone and colleagues will also investigate the role of those gases in fueling subsurface life and the deep carbon cycle. Fellow DCO researchers affiliated with the project include Dimitri Sverjensky (Johns Hopkins University, USA), Isabelle Martinez (Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France), Isabelle Daniel (Claude Bernard University, Lyon, France), Simone Tumiati (Milan University, Italy), and Edward Young (University of California, Los Angeles, USA). Vitale Brovarone received a European Research Council Consolidator Grant of about $2.7 million over the next five years to support the work. Read more...

Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony is Released
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) debuted composer David Earl’s new symphony in late October 2019. Earl began writing the symphony in 2018 inspired by the manuscript for Robert Hazen’s book, Symphony in C: Carbon and the Evolution of (Almost) Everything. Both book and symphony celebrate carbon through movements linked to the four classic elements of Greek mythology–earth, air, fire, and water. RSNO offers its October 2019 recording of Symphony in C: A Carbon Symphony to the Deep Carbon Observatory community gratis in December 2019 before its public release. Download a MP3 file here (90MB) until 31 January 2020. Read more...

2019 AGU Fall Meeting: Deep Carbon Science Looks to the Future
The annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has been a great place for members of the DCO community to connect and share their deep carbon science research with colleagues and collaborators. 2019 was no exception. It was a year that marked both the AGU Centennial and ten years of DCO research and discovery. The AGU Fall Meeting, which ran from 9–13 December, included nearly 150 presentations by DCO scientists, including three medal lectures. Read more...

Deep Carbon Observatory 2019: Year in Review
Highlights of DCO activities in 2019 captured in a presentation (also available to download).



Deep Carbon: Past to Present

DCO's Decadal Report

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Educational Resources

News Archives

Upcoming Events

EGU General Assembly, Vienna, Austria, 3–8 May 2020
The EGU General Assembly 2020 will bring together geoscientists from all over the world to one meeting covering all disciplines of the Earth, planetary, and space sciences. Abstract submission deadline: 15 January 2020

JpGU - AGU Joint Meeting 2020, Makuhari Messe, Chiba, Japan, 24–28 May 2020
This joint program of the Japan Geoscience Union and the American Geophysical Union will explore the theme "For a Borderless World of Geoscience." 

Goldschmidt 2020, Honolulu, HI, USA, 21–26 June 2019
Goldschmidt is the foremost annual, international conference on geochemistry and related subjects, organized by the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry. Abstract submission deadline: 14 February 2020

Gordon Research Seminar: Carbon at the Intersection of the Biosphere and Geosphere, Bates College, ME, USA, 27–28 June 2020
The Gordon Research Seminar on Deep Carbon Science is a unique forum for graduate students, post-docs, and other scientists with comparable levels of experience and education to present and exchange new data and cutting-edge ideas. Application deadline: 27 March 2020

Gordon Research Conference: Exploring Fluxes, Forms, and Origins of Deep Carbon in Earth and Other Terrestrial Planets, Bates College, ME, USA, 28 June–3 July 2020
This meeting will highlight the importance of deep carbon science for understanding the various reservoirs of carbon in our solar system - from cores to atmospheres on Earth and other planets, and from diamonds to microbial cells. This conference, along with the associated Gordon Research Seminar, offers a great opportunity to carry on collaborations and reconnect with DCO colleagues. Application deadline: 31 May 2020

Serpentine Days 2020, Sestri Levante, Italy, 21–24 September 2020 
This workshop aims to gather scientists interested in the geological, physical and (bio-) chemical processes of serpentinization and the life it sustains, its impact on development of mineral resources, new energy sources, and the environmental and societal impact of serpentine exploration and exploitation. Registration will start on 31 March 2020 and will close on 30 June 2020.

Honors and Awards

Robert Hazen, DCO Executive Director
Carnegie Institution for Science, USA
Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences

New Publications

View more papers in the DCO publications browser.

Great Oxidation and Lomagundi events linked by deep cycling and enhanced degassing of carbon
James Eguchi, Johnny Seales, and Rajdeep Dasgupta 
Nature Geoscience doi:10.1038/s41561-019-0492-6 

Helium, inorganic and organic carbon isotopes of fluids and gases across the Costa Rica convergent margin
Peter H. Barry, Mayuko Nakagawa, Donato Giovannelli, J. Maarten de Moor, Matthew Schrenk, Alan M. Seltzer, Elena Manini, Daniele Fattorini, Marta di Carlo, Francesco Regoli, Katherine Fullerton, and Karen G. Lloyd
Scientific Data doi:10.1038/s41597-019-0302-4

Employment Opportunities

View more employment opportunities on the DCO website.

Canada Research Chair (Tier I) in Geomicrobiology - University of Calgary, Canada
The successful candidate will be appointed as a tenured member of the Faculty of Science in accordance with University policies, based on a recommendation from the Dean, Faculty of Science. The appointment will be at the rank of full professor (or associate professor, with the expectation to be promoted to full professor level within one or two years of the nomination). Application deadline: 15 January 2020

Staff Scientist in Petrology or Geo/Cosmochemistry - Carnegie Institution for Science, USA
We are particularly interested in candidates in research areas that will amplify our strengths in field and laboratory-based investigations, with an emphasis in igneous petrology, magmatic volatiles, or geo/cosmochemical approaches to investigate the origin and evolution of Earth and other rocky planets. We encourage applications from those interested in cross-disciplinary areas that complement or expand our existing strengths in Earth, planetary, and exoplanet science. Application deadline: 18 February 2020

Multiple Postdoctoral Positions - Peking University, China
Anyone interested in Earth’s deep carbon cycle, particularly carbon behavior in subduction zones, is welcome to apply. We encourage applicants to apply for a Peking University Boya Postdoctoral Fellowship. In addition, project-sponsored postdoctoral associate positions are available in our group. Application deadline: 15 March 2020

Geochemistry Postdoctoral Fellow - Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, USA
The successful candidate will work on a project that involves developing new data-based models and theories of reactive multicomponent Earth-subsurface systems. The research project will involve machine learning and statistical analysis of synthetic data sets generated using the state-of-the art molecular simulations. Open until filled.

DCO in the News

18 December 2019 Earth’s deep carbon budget
By Peter Barry for the Springer Nature Blog
Nearly three years ago, I led a collaboration along with the Costa Rican National University (OVSICORI-UNA) and a group of international scientists to Costa Rica’s subduction zone, where the ocean floor subducts beneath the continent and volcanoes emerge along the newly formed margin...

12 December 2019 The great oxidation event explained: Scientists developed a model to describe how the tectonic plates affected the history of the atmosphere
Science Times
Our planet has not always been a suitable place for life, and even though our atmosphere has changed throughout eons to provide the air we breathe, the process which it has undergone was intense according to a new study...

12 December 2019 Here are Science News’ favorite science books of 2019
Science News
Charismatic creatures, a life-giving element, crime-solving spores, the first Apollo moon landing and multiple universes are among the subjects of the books that enthralled the Science News staff this year...

8 December 2019 New model suggests we may have been wrong about Earth's first major bursts of oxygen
By David Nield for Science Alert
These days, Earth's atmosphere is perfectly suited for us to breathe - but the air on our planet wasn't always this way...

8 December 2019 Study finds one cause for several mysteries linked to breathable oxygen 2.5 billion years ago
Sci Tech Daily 
Earth’s breathable atmosphere is key for life, and a new study suggests that the first burst of oxygen was added by a spate of volcanic eruptions brought about by tectonics...

2 December 2019 Breathing? Thank volcanoes, tectonics and bacteria
Science Daily 
A new study suggests Earth's first burst of oxygen was added by a spate of volcanic eruptions brought about by tectonics...

Learn more about DCO's Scientific Communities


Extreme Physics and Chemistry
The Extreme Physics and Chemistry Community is dedicated to improving our understanding of the physical and chemical behavior of carbon at extreme conditions, as found in the deep interiors of Earth and other planets.

Reservoirs and Fluxes
The Reservoirs and Fluxes Community is dedicated to identifying the principal deep carbon reservoirs, to determining the mechanisms and rates by which carbon moves among these reservoirs, and to assessing the total carbon budget of Earth.

Deep Energy
The Deep Energy Community is dedicated to developing a fundamental understanding of environments and processes that regulate the volume and rates of production of abiogenic hydrocarbons and other organic species in the crust and mantle through geological time.

Deep Life
The Deep Life Community is dedicated to assessing the nature and extent of the deep microbial and viral biosphere by exploring the evolutionary and functional diversity of Earth's deep biosphere and its interaction with the carbon cycle.

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