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The oceanic carbon cycle is fundamentally important for regulating the Earth system because, in  sediments and seawater, the balance between the degradation and preservation of organic carbon  (OC) exerts a first order control on atmospheric CO2 and O2. These gases have mediated global climate, planetary oxidation and Earth’s habitability through geologic time, while increasing CO2 levels  now  present  a  major  climate  threat. 


In  sediments, OC  is  preserved  over  millions  of  years, while  in  seawater, a dissolved  form  of  recalcitrant  OC  has  been  recently  recognised  as  critical  to  OC  storage  over  anthropogenic  timescales.  Both  sedimentary  and  seawater  OC  are  derived  from  living  organisms,  and  should  therefore  be  easily  degraded.  Their  persistence  in  the  oceans  is therefore  one  of  the  most  enduring  paradoxes  in  marine  biogeochemistry.  Quite  simply  we  do  not  know  how  or  why  OC  is  preserved.  A  long-standing  hypothesis  suggests  that  protection  of  OC  inside  reactive  minerals  might  account  for  the  vast  OC  stores  preserved in  sediments.  This  concept  is  still  highly  controversial  however,  because  the  extent to  which  minerals  preserve  OC  is  still  unknown,  largely  because  the  mechanisms that  control  how  OC  interacts  with  minerals  are  almost  entirely  unconstrained. This concept  could  revolutionise  our  understanding  of  OC  degradation  and  preservation,  urgently  required  to  evaluate  feedbacks  between  the  oceanic  carbon  cycle  and  climate. 


MINORG  aims to make  a  major  contribution  to  our  quantitative  understanding  of  the  oceanic  carbon  cycle,  and  so  to  predicting  and  mitigating  current  and  future  climate  change. To do this we are working on quantifying  the role  of  minerals  in  the  preservation  of  OC  for  the  first  time, by  combining  cutting-edge  molecular-level  techniques, with  the  first  ever  comprehensive  and  fully  integrated  experimental  and  modelling  campaign,  to  determine  in  unprecedented  detail  the  exact  mechanisms  responsible  for  the  interaction  of  OC  with  minerals,  and  its  subsequent degradation  and  preservation  behaviour. 


MINORG  hypothesizes  that  minerals  play  a  major role  in  the  preservation  of  OC,  in  both  its  sedimentary  and seawater  forms,  and  is  uniquely  poised  to  test  this.  


This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 725613 MINORG)

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