the behavior of carbon—the essential element in oil and natural
gas—deep within the Earth is the aim of a new initiative co-directed by a
UC Davis chemistry professor and funded by a two-year, $1.5 million
grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
don’t know how much carbon is stored in the deep Earth, and we don’t
know how it affects fluxes of carbon towards the Earth’s crust or the
carbon cycle at the surface,” said Giulia Galli, professor of chemistry
at UC Davis, who will lead the Physics and Chemistry of Carbon
Directorate initiative with Professor Craig Manning of UCLA.
believe that commercially produced crude oil and natural gas, or
hydrocarbons, are formed by the decomposition of the remains of living
organisms buried under layers of sediments in the Earth’s crust, a
region that extends five to 10 miles below the Earth’s surface. But
there is increasing interest in “abiogenic” hydrocarbons from much
deeper in the Earth, which might make their way to the surface in some
fundamental understanding of “deep carbon” could therefore affect both
our thinking about energy supplies, and about how carbon moves through
the air, soil and water at the surface—a key factor in climate change.
puts the project at the intersection of energy and environmental
research—areas of intense interest at UC Davis, known as a leader in
and Manning will lead an international team of scientists working on
practical experiments, computer simulations and theoretical studies of
carbon, carbon compounds like natural gas, oil and diamond, water and
other liquids under the enormous temperatures and pressures of the
Those conditions are difficult to reproduce in a lab at the surface, Galli noted. But they can be simulated with computers.
“We know very little, so we are starting with the basic physics and chemistry,” she said.
directorate is part of a larger project, the Deep Carbon Observatory, a
10-year initiative funded by the Sloan Foundation and headquartered at
the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. Since the Deep Carbon
Observatory was launched in 2009, four directorates have been
established within it to carry out scientific work on different topics:
Deep Life; Reservoirs and Fluxes; Energy, Environment and Climate; and
now, Physics and Chemistry of Carbon.