Meeting Information

The Deep Carbon Cycle: Discoveries of the Deep Carbon Observatory

January 16, 2019
American Center for Physics
College Park, MD

Date: January 16, 2019

Speaker: Craig M. Schiffries

Topic: The Deep Carbon Cycle: Discoveries of the Deep Carbon Observatory

Time and Location: 1:00 p.m., with Q&A to follow in a 1st floor conference room at the American Center for Physics (, 1 Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD - off River Rd., between Kenilworth Ave. and Paint Branch Parkway.


The Deep Carbon Cycle: Discoveries of the Deep Carbon Observatory

Craig M. Schiffries
Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington, DC, 20015, USA

Carbon is the element of life. Carbon-based fuels provide most of our energy. The carbon cycle plays a fundamental role in controlling Earth’s climate and habitability. However, the vast majority of research on the global carbon cycle focuses on a small fraction of Earth’s carbon that is at or near the planet’s surface. In contrast, the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) focuses on the vast majority of Earth’s carbon that resides in the planet’s deep interior. DCO’s overarching mission is to understand Earth’s entire carbon cycle—beyond the atmosphere, oceans, and shallow crustal environments, which have drawn most previous research attention—to include the deep carbon cycle from core to crust. DCO scientists have published more than 1,300 peer-reviewed papers, including more than 100 papers in Nature, Science, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, documenting novel results of broad interest beyond traditional scientific disciplines. 

DCO researchers are pursuing diverse avenues of research. They are making transformational advances in our understanding of carbon in minerals, magmas, and aqueous fluids at extreme conditions. They are studying diamonds and their inclusions. They are exploring the roles of volcanoes and subduction zones in recycling carbon between the planet’s surface and interior. They are elucidating abiotic versus biotic origins of methane gas, amino acids, and other organic species. And they are investigating the nature and extent of the deep microbial biosphere, which contains a significant fraction of life on Earth. 

No less important than its scientific advances, DCO has developed novel instrumentation and built an enduring legacy in its diverse, dynamic, and collaborative community of interdisciplinary scientists. DCO’s management and community-building innovations are keys to its scientific success. Based on its success in achieving fundamental advances in deep carbon science, DCO may serve as an effective model for tackling other large-scale, international, and interdisciplinary science questions.

Biographical Sketch: 

Dr. Craig M. Schiffries is director of the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) and research scientist at the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution for Science. He previously served as Director of the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources at the National Academy of Sciences; Director for Geoscience Policy at the Geological Society of America; Director of Science Policy at the National Council for Science and the Environment; Bateman Lecturer at Yale University; and Congressional Science Fellow. 

He has been a member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, U.S. National Committee for the International Year of Planet Earth, External Advisory Board of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 project on Science for Clean Energy, and DCO Executive Committee. He served as Co-chair of the USGS Coalition and President of the Geological Society of Washington, among other professional service. 

Dr. Schiffries simultaneously earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Yale University, where was he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, graduated summa cum laude, and double-majored in Geology and Geophysics and in Economics and Political Science. He was a Marshall Scholar at the University of Oxford, where he earned an honors B.A. in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.  He received a Ph.D. in Geology from Harvard University, where he held a fellowship from the Hertz Foundation.  

In addition to his scientific contributions in igneous and metamorphic petrology, stable isotope geochemistry, and economic geology, Dr. Schiffries has written on science policy and testified before Congress on behalf of leading scientific organizations.