Launching the Next Decade of Deep Carbon Science

DCO10Over the past decade of research, Deep Carbon Observatory scientists have made transformational discoveries about carbon inside Earth—how much exists, where and how it moves, what forms it takes, and its origins. They have shared their findings in more than 1400 peer-reviewed publications, including more than 100 papers in Nature, Science, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This decade of research has laid a strong foundation for the continuation of deep carbon science beyond 2019. Many programs are already underway that will carry on the ethos of multidisciplinary investigation of big questions about deep carbon and its planetary role. Listed below are some of the programs continuing that quest for knowledge.

For questions about DCO's future activities, or to make any changes to this page, please contact Craig Schiffries of the DCO Secretariat

Gordon Research Conference on Deep Carbon Science 2020
A second Gordon Research Conference on Deep Carbon Science is planned as a follow-on to its successful launch in 2018, where participants robustly discussed the evolution of deep carbon in Earth’s biological and non-biological reservoirs over 4.6 billion years.

Gordon Conference
2018 Deep Carbon Science Gordon Conference.

The 2020 conference will run from 28 June–3 July 2020 at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Conference chairs Deep Energy Chair Edward Young (University of California Los Angeles, USA) and Deep Life Chair Kai-Uwe Hinrichs (University of Bremen, Germany), along with Conference vice-chairs Reservoirs and Fluxes Community members Tamsin Mather (University of Oxford, UK) and Deep Life Community member Douglas LaRowe (University of Southern California, USA)  are currently devising the agenda for what is sure to be another engaging week of scientific discussion.

Gordon Research Seminar on Deep Carbon Science 2020
DCO early career scientists and Reservoirs and Fluxes Community member Jonathan Tucker (Carnegie Institution for Science, USA) and Deep Life Community member Rachel Harris (Princeton University, USA) will chair the inaugural Gordon Research Seminar in 2020. The seminar will be held in conjunction with Gordon Research Conference on Deep Carbon Science 2020 and will be held the weekend immediately prior to the GRC at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.


Anticipating Volcanic Eruptions in Real Time

A new project on Anticipating Volcanic Eruptions in Real Time (AVERT) will establish the first open-data, real time, multi-sensor community experiment on active volcanoes. Researchers will monitor two of the most active volcanoes in the U.S., Cleveland and Okmok in the Aleutian Islands, in real-time to identify early warning signals and to develop an array of instruments that could be deployed worldwide for better eruption forecasting. Terry Plank (Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, 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, received a five-year grant for $2.5 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to support this research.

CarboPaTCarboPaT (Carbonates at high Pressures and Temperatures) is a German research consortium launched in 2015 with support from the German Research Foundation for six years. CarboPaT studies phase relations, crystal chemistry, physical properties and reactions of carbonates at conditions relevant to the transition zone and the lower mantle to answer questions such as how much carbon is stored in the deep Earth. This research requires a multidisciplinary approach and state-of-the-art equipment for making measurements at the extreme conditions of Earth's interior. Foundation funding makes it possible for scientists to design new experimental techniques essential for their work. Extreme Physics and Chemistry Community (EPC) member Björn Winkler (Goethe University, Germany) leads the consortium, where he is joined by many fellow EPC members, including Catherine McCammon (Bayerisches Geoinstitut, Germany).

Center for Materials of the Universe
The Center for Materials of the Universe (MOTU) is addressing grand questions and challenges in the combined fields of materials research and planetary science. Based at Arizona State University, USA, the Center is bringing together astrophysicists and exoplanetary scientists, geochemists and materials scientists, quantum mechanical and macroscale theorists, and large-scale mission planners and project engineers in a multi-disciplinary effort to link solid state science and Earth and planetary science. Alexandra Navrotsky, an active member of DCO’s Extreme Physics and Chemistry Community, heads the Center. At a 2019 workshop (co-sponsored by DCO) to kickstart the project, 55 scientists came together to discuss five key topics: planets near and far; space exploration and technological needs; life, evolution, sustainability, and our place in the universe; fundamental physics, chemistry, and materials science; and computational approaches, which help inform the Center’s structure and mission. 

CLEVER Planets
CLEVER Planets (Cycles of Life Essential Volatile Elements in Rocky Planets) is an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional group of scientists, led by Extreme Physics and Chemistry member Rajdeep Dasgupta (Rice University, USA) and funded by NASA, working to unravel the conditions of planetary habitability in the Solar System and other exoplanetary systems. Their research focuses on the origin and cycles of life-essential elements (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus) in young rocky planets. They hope to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable, and when in their evolutionary history such conditions of habitability are most likely. This group is part of NASA’s Nexus of Exoplanetary Systems Science research network.


A project entitled Deep Serpentinization, H2, and High-Pressure Abiotic CH4 (DeepSeep) seeks to estimate how much deep abiotic hydrogen and methane is produced in subduction zones. It will also investigate the role of those gases in fueling subsurface life and the deep carbon cycle. Alberto Vitale Brovarone (IMPMC-CNRS, France/Università di Torino, Italy), a member of the Deep Energy Community and recipient of the DCO Emerging Leader Award, received a $2.7 million Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council to support this research over the next five years. Other 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).

Deep Time Data-Driven Discovery
Inspired by DCO work on carbon mineral evolution, The 4D initiative grew out of the Deep-Time, Data Infrastructure project, sponsored by the Keck and Alfred P. Sloan Foundations, and the DCO, and the 4D Workshop: Deep-time Data Driven Discovery and the Evolution of Earth, held in June 2018. By analyzing and visualizing existing data in new ways, 4D scientists aim to understand the interactions between life and the physical world, make predictions about Earth’s evolution, and uncover laws of planetary formation. Several DCO members are actively involved in the coalition, including DCO Executive Director Robert Hazen, Shaunna Morrison, Chao Liu (all at Carnegie Institution for Science, USA), Peter Fox (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA), Donato Giovannelli (University of Naples Federico II, Italy), Sabin Zahirovic, Dietmar Müller (University of Sydney, Australia), and others.  

Earth 4D
The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research awarded a five-year grant to Barbara Sherwood Lollar (University of Toronto, Canada) and fellow program director Jack Mustard (Brown University, USA) and a dozen colleagues and collaborators to launch Earth 4D. This award makes possible new investigations into the interactions between the surface and subsurface on Earth. Core relationships and discussions that came out of the DCO sparked some of the ideas that have been incorporated into aspects of Earth 4D, particularly around the area of Deep Life. Earth 4D will try to transform this idea of subsurface science with a broader lens to look at all of the aspects of the subsurface, focusing not just on carbon, but on the flux and transport of water and elements necessary for life. What researchers discover about Earth will inform the investigation of planetary processes and the search for life on Mars and other potentially habitable planets.

Earth First Origins
A NASA grant awarded in 2019 establishes a research community focused on pathways to life on Earth. The five-year project will tackle the question: How, and in what order, were the ingredients for life on Earth manufactured and assembled? The research team is seeking to uncover the conditions on early Earth that gave rise to life by identifying, replicating, and exploring how prebiotic molecules and chemical pathways could have formed under realistic early Earth conditions.

Earth First Origins
Image credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Deep Life member Karyn Rogers (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA) leads this initiative. Other DCO collaborators include Data Science Team Leader Peter Fox and Reservoirs and Fluxes Community member Bruce Watson (both at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), DCO instrumentation awardee Andrew Steele (Carnegie Institution for Science, USA), Deep Energy Community member Tom McCollom (University of Colorado, USA), Deep Life Community members Susan Lang (University of South Carolina, USA) and Douglas LaRowe (University of Southern California, USA). 

ENIGMA, Evolution of Nanomachines in Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors is a five year NASA grant with the goal of understanding how proteins originated and evolved through deep time, and whether similar instances of biochemistry emerging from geochemistry could have occurred on other planetary bodies. Paul Falkowski (Rutgers University, USA) leads the project, which includes DCO members Robert Hazen, Shaunna Morrison, Joy Buongiorno (all at Carnegie Institution for Science, USA), Donato Giovannelli (University of Naples Federico II, Italy), and Karen Lloyd (University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA). The project consists of three themes, one of which was inspired by the work of the Deep Life community to understand how deep life came to be and how it evolved. Under this new grant, scientists will be looking at different minerals to understand how the chemistry of mineral surfaces could trigger biochemical reactions that may have jump-started life.

International Center for Deep Life Investigation
The work of the Deep Life Community will ICDLIcontinue at the International Center for Deep Life Investigation established at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2019. Led by Deep Life Community members Xiang Xiao and Fengping Wang (both at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China), the Center provides a platform for continued international collaborations that seek to address key scientific issues. Among the many scientific questions to be explored include the relationship and interaction of deep life with surface life and their role in mediating the carbon cycle; the composition, accessibility, and amount of organic matter, electron acceptors, and electron donors (energy compounds); the temporal and geographical distribution patterns of microbial community compositions and how they control specific taxon abundance; how energy flux, temperature, and pressure define the limits of life; the diversity and function of the deep virosphere; and evolutionary rates in the deep subsurface and their consequences.

Monitoring Earth Evolution Through Time

An initiative on Monitoring Earth Evolution Through Time (MEET) will explore the chemical and physical processes that shaped Earth’s composition throughout geologic history. In addition to providing insights into the evolution of Earth’s global carbon and water cycles, the research will address the question of when plate tectonics began. “The most sensitive tracers of evolution – volatiles and mobile elements - are not accessible in old rocks,” said Alexander Sobolev (University Grenoble-Alpes, France), because these elements, like carbon, don’t stay put in the minerals. To compensate for loss of these tracers in rocks, the researchers will look specifically at the compositions of melt inclusions from the crust and the mantle. Alexander Sobolev and colleagues were awarded a $14.2 million Synergy Grant from European Research Council to support this research for six years. Other Reservoirs and Fluxes Community team members include Stephan Sobolev (German Research Center for Geosciences (GFZ), Germany), and John Valley (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA).

The Ocean Floor—Earth’s Uncharted Interface
Image of Earth's seafloor courtesy of MARUM.Led by current Deep Life co-chair Kai-Uwe Hinrichs, this seven-year project is initiating a new chapter in ocean-floor research by quantifying exchange at this significant boundary layer and how these affect and respond to environmental and climatic changes.  Investigations will be interdisciplinary in nature and use novel technologies for ocean-floor observation and sampling, highly sensitive analytical methods, and an expanded application of numerical models.

Science for Clean Energy
Science for Clean Energy (S4CE) is a European Union’s Horizon 2020 project aiming to develop, test and implement technologies needed for successfully detecting, quantifying, and mitigating the risks connected with geo-energy operations in the sub-surface. The consortium includes 22 partners representing academic institutions, industry energy operators, industrial partners, and research institutes investigating the geo-energy operations of geothermal energy, enhanced gas recovery, carbon sequestration, and unconventional operations. Deep Energy Community member Alberto Striolo and DCO Executive Committee member Adrian Jones are leading the project, based at their home academic institution, University College London.


Header image from Earth First Origins Project, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA.

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