Washington, DC— The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded the Carnegie Institution a $4 million grant over three years to initiate the Deep Carbon Observatory -- an international, decade-long project to investigate the nature of carbon in Earth's deep interior. Headquartered at the institution’s Geophysical Laboratory, the Deep Carbon Observatory will coordinate the efforts of hundreds of researchers from more than two dozen countries. Their multi-disciplinary research will focus on Earth’s poorly understood deep carbon cycle, including the largely unknown role of deep biology and the possible influences of this cycle on critical societal concerns related to energy, environment and climate.

“Carbon plays an unparalleled role in our lives, yet we remain largely ignorant of the carbon-bearing systems more than a few hundred meters beneath our feet,” says Robert Hazen, the observatory’s Principal Investigator. “We do not know how much carbon is stored within the Earth, nor do we know the nature of those deep reservoirs. We have only vague hints of an extensive deep microbial ecosystem, which by some estimates rivals the total surface biomass.”

The project’s initial goal is to galvanize the diverse international scientific community to engage in a transformative study of Earth’s deep carbon cycle that will impact many areas of Earth, environmental, and energy science.

“The Observatory’s exploration of carbon within the planet will likely open up new windows on the Earth’s interior as a whole, while addressing major global energy and environmental issues here on its surface,” says Russell Hemley, director of the Geophysical Laboratory.

“We are delighted that the Sloan foundation has recognized the importance of this exciting new field and Carnegie’s capacity for leadership in it,” says Carnegie president Richard Meserve.  “Carnegie has a long tradition of fostering transformational discoveries in fields spanning different disciplines. The work Sloan is sponsoring marks the beginning of an exciting new interdisciplinary research venture for science.

The Carnegie Institution (www.CIW.edu) has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments throughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (http://www.sloan.org) is a philanthropic, not-for-profit grantmaking institution based in New York City. Established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-President and Chief Executive Officer of the General Motors Corporation, the Foundation makes grants in support of original research and education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and economic performance