Info for researchers
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.