Carbon May Teach Us About the Origins of the Earth

A press release on EurekaAlert, “Deep Carbon: Quest underway to discover its quantity, movements, origins and forms in Earth,” states that the The Deep Carbon Observatory 10-year project to explore the carbon found deep under the earth’s surface.

The program is investigating deep carbon’s movement in the slow convection of the mantle, the percolating fluids of the crust, and the violent emission from volcanoes. It searches for the ancient origin of the deep carbon, and the formation and transformation of its many forms, ranging from gas and oil to diamonds and deep microbes.

Ninety percent or more of Earth’s carbon is thought to be locked away or in motion deep underground–a hidden dimension of the planet as poorly understood as it is profoundly important to life on the surface, according to scientists probing the world’s innermost secrets in the decade-long, $500 million project.

In a landmark volume, DCO scientists say estimates of carbon bound in the metallic core alone range from 0.25 to 1 percent by weight. If 1 percent proves correct, the core by itself sequesters four times more carbon than all known carbon reservoirs in the rest of the planet–and 50,000,000 times as much as that held in the flora and fauna on Earth’s relatively wafer-thin skin far above.

Studies of meteorites suggest that the material that first formed Earth contained about 3% by weight carbon. Confirmed sources of Earth’s carbon, however — life, carbonate rocks like limestone, and carbon dioxide in the oceans and atmosphere — sum to only about 0.1% carbon content.

Carbon is the only element on earth so central to life on the planet, and the research into understanding how carbon influenced life may tell us even more about life evolving on this planet and elsewhere in space.

For more information on the The Deep Carbon Observatory, see:

Updated Jan 2016

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