Deep Carbon Observatory

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The Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) is a global research program designed to transform understanding of carbon role in Earth development. DCO is a community of scientists, from biologists to physicists, geoscientists to chemists, whose work crosses several disciplinary lines, in order to develop new, integrative fields of deep carbon science. To complement this research, the DCO’s infrastructure includes public engagement and education, online and offline community support, innovative data management, and novel instrumentation.[1]


In 2007, Robert Hazen, a Senior Staff Scientist at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory (Washington, DC, USA) spoke at the Century Club in New York, on the origins of life on Earth and how geophysical reactions may have played a critical role in getting the biological ball rolling. Jesse Ausubel, a faculty member at Rockefeller University and Project Officer at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, was in attendance and later sought out Hazen’s book, Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins.

After two years of planning and collaboration, Hazen and colleagues officially launched Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) in August 2009, with its Secretariat based at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, DC. Hazen and Ausubel, along with input from over 100 scientists invited to participate in the Deep Carbon Cycle Workshop in 2008, expanded their original idea. No longer focused solely on the origin of life on Earth, the group instead clarified their position to further human understanding of Earth, carbon, that critical element, had to take center stage.[2]

Carbon Cycle[edit]

Deep Carbon Observatory's research considers the global carbon cycle beyond simple near-surface observations, with observations of high-pressure and extreme temperature organic synthesis and complex interactions between organic molecules and minerals, field observations of deep microbial ecosystems and of anomalies in petroleum geochemistry, and theoretical models of lower crust and upper mantle carbon sources and sinks demand a careful reappraisal of the deep carbon cycle.

DCO's focus is on the Terrestrial biological carbon cycle, where observations for research encompasses the entire planet from crust to core, from a few meters to a few kilometers beneath the surface, as well as the lower mantle and core—regions where carbon may play chemical roles that are yet to be discovered.[3]

Research Programs[edit]

Reservoirs and Fluxes

Knowledge of the extent of carbon reservoirs and fluxes in Earth’s deep interior are a work in progress. DCO research has considered primitive chondritic meteorites that formed the planet, indicating that the Earth’s total carbon inventory, the geological storage of carbon, are much lower than that indicated by meteorite impact alone. Earth appears to be relatively depleted in highly volatile elements compared to chondrites, though DCO's research is further examining whether large reservoirs of carbon may be hidden in the mantle and core. Likewise, the subduction of tectonic plates and volcanic outgassing are primary vehicles for carbon fluxes to and from deep Earth, but the processes and rates of these fluxes, as well as their variation throughout Earth’s history, remain poorly understood.

Deep Life

Discoveries of deep microbial life in terrestrial and oceanic environments point to a diverse subsurface biota that might rival surface life in total biomass. DCO research concentrates on how life adapts to deep environments, what novel biochemical pathways sustain life at high P-T, and the extreme limits of life.

Deep Energy

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.

Extreme Physics and Chemistry

As a result of a series of workshops, the DCO initiated an additional directorate to examine the physics and chemistry of deep carbon, carbon under extreme conditions. The ideas for research and innovation in this area fall under a number of categories including: equation of state of carbon-bearing systems (thermodynamics), dynamics of chemical deep carbon processes (kinetics), high-pressure structural biology and biophysics, physical properties of aqueous fluids, theoretical modeling for carbon and its compounds at high pressures and temperatures, and solid-fluid interactions under extreme conditions (catalysis).

Open Access Publication[edit]

'Carbon in Earth' was released as an open access publication, as part of a Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry (RIMG) publication on March 11, 2013. Each chapter of this release synthesizes what is known about deep carbon, and also outlines unanswered questions that will guide DCO research. Also marking this open access release are advanced strategies in communications, data management, engagement, and visualization.[4] The Deep Carbon Observatory encourages open access publication, and is striving to become a leader in Earth sciences in this regard. DCO funding can be used to defray the costs of open access publication. This includes publishing in journals that are open access in their entirety, as well as subscription journals for which articles can be selectively published openly.[5]

Deep Carbon Observatory Data Science[edit]

Recent advances in data generation techniques, whether by experiments, measurements or computer simulation, quickly provide complex data characterized by source heterogeneity, multiple modalities, often high volume, high dimensionality, and multiple scales (temporal, spatial, and function). In turn, science and engineering disciplines are rapidly becoming more and more data driven by a variety of goals (the Deep Carbon Observatory is an exemplar); higher sample throughput, high resolution, additional physics/ chemistry/ biology, new instrumentation, and new integrated databases all with the ultimate aim of better understanding/modeling of the complex systems and their dynamics that underlie the processes being studied. However, analyzing libraries of complex data requires managing the inherent complexity to allow integration of the information and knowledge across multiple scales and spanning traditional disciplinary boundaries. Significant advances in methods, tools and applications for data science and informatics over the last five years can now be applied to multi- and inter-disciplinary problem areas. Virtual Observatories, Virtual Organizations, complex networks, linked data across systems, full life cycle data management, data integration, citation and attribution are now increasingly becoming an integral part of projects whether small (few people, one organization, modest data needs) or the very large (many investigators, organizations, diverse data needs). Given this increasing data deluge, it is clear that each of the Research Programs/Communities in the Deep Carbon Observatory faces diverse data science and data management needs to fulfill both their decadal strategic objectives and their day-to-day tasks. This Deep Carbon Observatory Data Science research will assess in detail the data science and data management needs for each DCO program and for the DCO as a whole, using a combination of informatics methods, use case development, requirements analysis, inventories and interviews.[6]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "About the DCO". Deep Carbon Observatory. Dec 1, 2013. 
  2. ^ "About the DCO". Deep Carbon Observatory. Dec 1, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Computer models show how deep carbon could return to Earth's surface". UC Davis, News and Informations. March 18, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Carbon in Earth". Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry Open Access publication, Volume 75. 2013-02-27. 
  5. ^ "DCO Open Access and Data Policies". Deep Carbon Observatory. Jan 22, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Deep Carbon Observatory Data Science". Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. August 8, 2012.