A deeper look at carbon
We all know the danger of too much CO2 in the atmosphere. But what’s happening with the carbon deep underground?
Surprisingly, this carbon — which accounts for a whopping 90 percent of all carbon on Earth — also affects our lives. And we know very little about it.
A research collection from geologists, chemists, physicists and biologists provides new knowledge on the Earth’s carbon cycle. Selected as a 2018 Spotlight finalist, Deep Carbon in Earth: Early Career Scientist Contributions to the Deep Carbon Observatory helps decipher the consequences of anthropogenic carbon emissions, offers clues for sequestering CO2 underground, provides insights into volcanic eruptions — and may even inform the search for extraterrestrial life.
This multidisciplinary research topic is making an impact in the deep-carbon community, sparking vigorous discussions and already receiving 40,000 views, 4,300 article downloads and a number of citations.
Dr Donato Giovannelli, a microbial ecologist, explains why he teamed up with biogeochemist Dr Alysia Cox, microbiologist Dr Cody Sheik and geologist Dr Benjamin Alexander Black to launch this Research Topic, as well as some of its outcomes and what winning the 2018 Frontiers Spotlight Award would mean for the deep-carbon field.
Why was this Research Topic created?
The carbon cycle encompasses chemistry, physics, geology and biology — yet until recently, most research into the Earth’s deep carbon was disjointed. “There was little communication between scientists working in different fields,” says Giovannelli.
This changed with the creation of the Deep Carbon Observatory: a 10-year, multidisciplinary collaboration on how the deep-carbon cycle drives our world.
“The realization that disparate disciplines must work together and create a holistic view of Earth’s carbon cycle was a turning point for the field,” says Giovannelli. “An example is geomicrobiology, where scientists are now integrating information on rock formation, rock age, mineralogy, genomics and geochemistry to answer new questions about how life thrives in the subsurface.”
He and the other Topic Editors saw that a new generation of scientists is at the forefront of this interdisciplinary approach — and that they needed a way to highlight their innovative work.
“Very few journals are capable of handling this type of endeavor,” explains Giovannelli. “Given the number of disciplines Frontiers covers, we felt a Research Topic was a natural choice to showcase the interconnected perspectives of early career scientists across the deep-carbon community.”
What type of research is included?
The articles in the research collection span from petrology to geochemistry to microbiology, “an unconventional and, we hope, forward-looking approach,” says Giovannelli.
Several investigate different forms of carbon — gaseous, liquid and solid — in underground rocks and the Earth’s mantle, and how these change under different conditions.
Others look at interactions between life and carbon. A number focus on microbes living deep underground and on the ocean floor. Unraveling how these “extremophiles” use CO2 and methane gives insights into the carbon cycle and how it interacts with other biogeochemical cycles — and may give clues about life on other planets.
One novel study uses models of continental plate movement to calculate coastal over the past 65 million years. The authors then use this to estimate seagrass habitat over this long timescale, and hence the role of seagrass meadows in carbon sequestration.
What are some outcomes of this Research Topic?
The editors are proud of the significant contribution made by the different articles to their respective fields.
Two, for example, show that most CO2 degassing from volcanoes comes not from their main crater, as had been thought, but along their flanks and from major fractures. Interestingly, degassing patterns change in the period leading up to an eruption — and so could be used as an early warning sign.
Several are also relevant to climate change.
“Understanding the Earth’s natural carbon cycle can help decipher the consequences of anthropogenic carbon emissions — and offer clues to addressing ongoing emissions,” says Giovannelli. “One article found that serpentinite might be a good host rock for CO2 sequestration.”
Beyond specific findings, the articles also showcase the power of working in highly interdisciplinary teams.
“It’s wonderful to see the articles being accessed, cited and discussed,” says Giovannelli.
Why should this Research Topic win the 2018 Spotlight Award?
“Being selected as a winner would be outstanding for the up-and-coming scientists who contributed to our Research Topic,” says Giovannelli.
“A conference would be a game-changer,” he continues. “It would help so many more young scientists jump-start their careers by providing a forum to present their work and network across and beyond their own discipline boundaries.”
With a central theme of carbon and its quantities, movements, forms, and origins on Earth, the conference would also build on previous events organized by the Deep Carbon Observatory.
“This Research Topic was envisioned at a workshop in 2015,” explains Giovannelli. “It would be wonderful to go full circle and organize a follow-up meeting on major advances from the past four years — and more importantly, build new interdisciplinary networks among the ever-growing deep-carbon community and spur new research on the Earth’s carbon cycle.”
About the Frontiers Spotlight Award
The annual Frontiers Spotlight Award supports emerging and important fields of research published as a Research Topic in Frontiers journals. The winning team of Topic Editors receives US$100,000 to organize an international scientific conference on the theme of their successful Research Topic. Learn more about the Award
About Frontiers Research Topics
Research Topics are peer-reviewed article collections published around specialized themes. They bring together leading researchers from different institutions, locations and fields of interest, who collaborate and contribute articles.
Published on Frontiers’ award-winning platform, Research Topics are fully open and accessible, and become highly visible collections of work, enhancing both the readership and citations of articles. Learn more about Research Topics
How to enter
Every Research Topic that closes within the award period and is completed with at least 10 articles, will be considered for the Spotlight Award. Shape your field and have the chance to organize your own conference — suggest your Research Topic today!
Research Topic Editors