Scientists Gather in Sydney for “Carbon Down Under”

Sixty-five new and existing Deep Carbon Observatory members took part in the ‘Carbon Down Under’ workshop, held at the University of Sydney on 24 and 25 July 2019.

Sixty-five new and existing Deep Carbon Observatory members took part in the ‘Carbon Down Under’ workshop, held at the University of Sydney on 24 and 25 July 2019. The two-day workshop aimed to share ten years of discovery across the DCO research communities, but also pave the way for the next decade of discovery, with a particular focus on mobilizing the Australian research community. In this context, most of the participants were from Australian institutions, including undergraduate students, early career researchers, and senior scientists. Representatives from the Australian high school education system also attended to provide insight into how to engage younger students in Earth sciences and fields relevant to deep carbon research. 

Dr. Sabin Zahirovic from the University of Sydney led the workshop, which covered four broad themes: Petrological and Tectonic Influence on Earth’s Carbon; Modeling and Visualization of Carbon in Earth Systems; Coral Reefs and Carbonate Platforms; and, Human Activity and the Deep Carbon Cycle. Thirty speakers presented over the course of the workshop. Speakers during the first day covered physical Earth processes at both “short” and “geological” timescales controlling the storage and exchange of carbon between deep and surface planetary reservoirs. These talks covered everything from the role of tectonics and mantle flow to experimental and observational petrology in different tectonic settings. Several speakers noted the role of kimberlites and diamonds and how they affect the structure and evolution of the continental lithosphere. Later, the focus shifted towards subduction zone settings - including the role of arc volcanism and the subduction of carbonate material at convergent settings. The day ended with a lively discussion of numerical modeling of Earth systems, including the influence of silicate weathering and carbon sequestration, and emerging techniques for mapping basins in ‘4D’ (3D through time) to better understand sediment fluxes and global sea level, which are often driven by climate change from perturbations in the planetary carbon cycle. 

Carbon Down Under Field Trip
Credit: Dietmar Müller

A comprehensive review of coral reef and carbonate platform systems over the last 65 million years launched the second day. An interesting take-away from these talks and discussions was the fact that coral reef systems are generally a source of CO2 while they are active, but by growing physical carbonate structures, they sequester and focus carbon on continental shelves on geological timescales. A unifying framework of planetary habitability, both in the context of deep geological time and also the future provided a framework for the next round of presentations and discussion. Speakers covered concepts relating to human activity in mobilizing crustal carbon, and how that is perturbing the carbon cycle and causing significant changes in Earth systems.

The afternoon discussion revolved around how to engage students and broader society in deep carbon science, and how to build momentum in the Australian research community in the next decade. Participants decided to start building a ‘research collective,’ including those present and also inviting others to join future efforts in building the deep carbon science research community in Australia. The initial step of establishing a committee of representatives will take place soon, and involve both workshop participants and others who express interest in deep carbon collaborations. 

Carbon Down Under Field Trip
Credit: Dietmar Müller

On July 26, 35 of the workshop participants participated in a geological tour of the Late Permian and Lower Triassic geology of the Sydney Basin. The Triassic Narrabeen sandstones, deposited after the Permo-Triassic mass extinction, are devoid of signs of life and represent a time when atmospheric CO2 was at about six times pre-industrial levels. University of Sydney staff and members of the ARC Basin GENESIS Hub -- Prof Dietmar Müller, Dr Sabin Zahirovic, Dr Sara Moron-Polanco, and Dr Adriana Dutkiewicz -- organized the field trip.  Dr Patrick Smith from the Australian Museum contributed his paleontology expertise. The daylong field trip consisted of six stops during which participants experienced a range of geological features from the Permo-Triassic boundary in the Sydney Basin to volcanic, sedimentary, and paleontological indicators of eastern Australia’s changing tectonic setting and paleogeography since the Permian. It was a fabulous learning experience for all. 

The workshop and field trip, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, represent an important step in engaging and galvanizing an interdisciplinary collective from the Australian research community to embark on the next decade of deep carbon research. These efforts will build on ten years of DCO’s success in developing novel instruments, methods, numerical models, and diverse communities to link Earth’s evolving physical, chemical, and biological states on geological timescales in the context of planetary carbon cycling. 

Carbon Down Under Field Trip
Credit: Dietmar Müller


Report contributed by Sabin Zahirovic


Workshop Agenda and Participant List (PDF)

Carbon Down Under on Twitter

Flickr Gallery of Field Trip Photos

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