Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Deep Carbon Observatory

This program, begun in 2009, aims to revolutionize our understanding of the quantities, movements, distribution, and properties of deep Earth carbon and its roles in the origin and limits of life, the creation of hydrocarbons, and the global carbon cycle.  To achieve this end, Sloan grantmaking spearheaded the creation of a multidisciplinary international network of more than 1000 geoscientists and technologists, the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), that will

  • Benchmark the current state of our understanding of deep carbon;
  • Develop and execute an ambitious, intellectually rigorous research agenda;
  • Cooperatively raise funding and execute that research agenda;
  • Synthesize and disseminate findings to the larger scientific community and the public;
  • Strengthen the geophysical research community through the training of the next generation of young geoscientists and through the development of new instruments, models, and analytical methods.

Headquartered at the Carnegie Institution of Washington and led by geologist Robert Hazen, the DCO is divided into four research communities, each focused on a different area of deep carbon research:

  • The Extreme Physics and Chemistry community explores how the high temperatures and pressures deep in Earth alter the physical and chemical properties of carbon.
  • The Reservoirs and Fluxes community focuses on where the carbon is, how much there is of it, and how and why it moves both within the mantle and between the mantle, the crust, and the surface.
  • The Deep Energy community examines the abundance, distribution, and origins of abiotic hydrocarbons and reactions between water and rock that produce energy;
  • The Deep Life directorate seeks to characterize the exotic microbial communities in the deep earth, how they survive, and their relation to life on the surface.

In addition, three additional teams provide services to the four DCO research communities:

  • The DCO Executive Secretariat provides oversight and coordination of the project as a whole.
  • The Data Management Team provides data and computational infrastructure and services to the DCO.
  • The Engagement Team provides resources and services to help facilitate effective communication within the DCO, with the larger geoscience research community, and with the public.

Learn more about the Deep Carbon Observatory at the project website at