published on 3 October 2019 in earth

How much carbon is there on our Planet?

It has taken 10 years to determine how much carbon there is on Earth. According to the scientists and researchers working on the US National Academy of Sciences Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) research programme there are around 1.85  billion gigatons (1 Gt = 1,000,000,000 t) of carbon on Earth. Of these, only 43,500 gigatons (two tenths of 1% of the total) are above Earth’s surface, in oceans, in the soil and in the atmosphere – the rest is in the mantle and the nucleus. More specifically, 85.1% of surface carbon (approximately 37,000 gigatons) resides in the ocean depths; 6.9% in marine sediments; 4.6% in Earth’s biosphere; 2% on the surfaces of the oceans, and 1.4% in the atmosphere. These figures were published in the scientific journal, Elements. The aim of this project, which includes biologists, physicists, chemists and geologists from all around the world, is to promote greater understanding of carbon, on which life and Earth’s energy processes depend.

Stromboli volcano erupting

The researchers began by analysing emissions from volcanoes and volcanic regions (faults, volcanic lakes, mid-ocean ridges, geysers) and discovered that, in the past century, carbon emissions from human activities were from 40 to 100 times higher than the geological emissions of carbon on our planet. Human activity is therefore comparable to major events like the impact of an asteroid or prolonged and wide-scale volcanic activity.  In addition to having collected data related to carbon, by studying volcanoes, the researchers have discovered that eruptions are very often preceded by sudden rises in gas discharge. This could become an important means for prediction, especially if used in relation to the level of seismic activity of the volcano and movement of the faults.

With the sponsorship of the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research
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