Investigating carbon cycling on Disko Island

Disko Island. Photo: Sami Mikhail

An international team of researchers from the UK Centre for Astrobiology (UKCA) and Carnegie Institute of Washington went to Disko Island, Greenland, in August to explore its potential for deep carbon research.

Their aim was to provide new, well-characterised material for research projects focused on the deep carbon cycle, representing an international effort to provide samples and data from remote and fascinating locations.

Disko rocks

Greenland is well known as a geological wonderland. Disko Island off the west coast of Greenland is no exception, and it offers a unique opportunity to investigate carbon sources and fluxes within reservoirs ranging from the Earth’s mantle to the deep subsurface biosphere.

The basalts here contain unusual carbon species that are rare on the Earth’s surface. Their formation has remained enigmatic for decades, yet can shed light on the role and speciation of carbon in the Earth’s mantle. Disko Island is also home to thousands of geographically-isolated deep thermal springs. These provide a ‘window’ into the subsurface biosphere for the study of microbiological communities dwelling within the Earth’s crust, and particularly how they fix and cycle carbon.

Exploring new environments

The field-team of four (Claire Cousins and PhD students Mark Fox-Powell and Casey Bryce from Edinburgh, and Sami Mikhail from the Carnegie Institute of Washington) explored and sampled environments ranging from subglacial sediments to radioactive thermal springs. They also collected geological samples ranging from run-of-the-mill basalts to those containing unusual reduced carbon phases and native metals.

The samples will eventually be catalogued and listed on the System for Earth Sample Registration, and made available to the international community under the “DCO Collection”, as well as providing material for on-going research here in the UKCA and the Physics of Living Matter group.

Find out more

More details of this expedition, including an expedition blog, can be found on Claire's blog.

This expedition was funded by the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) and UK Centre for Astrobiology (UKCA), and was led by Claire Cousins (UKCA) in collaboration with Sami Mikhail (CiW), Adrian Jones (UCL), Charles Cockell (UKCA), and Andrew Steele (CiW).