Deep Carbon: Finding clues to global climate change deep within the Earth’s interior

22 November 2022

CO2 deep below the Earth’s surface may be more active than previously thought, with major implications for the planet’s carbon cycle and on sustainable development, according to a study by researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The research, led by Professor Pan Ding, looked into the dissolution of CO2 in water, which has significant implications on ways to reduce the return of carbon from underground to the atmosphere.

The vast majority of the Earth’s carbon is buried in its interior. This deep carbon influences the form and concentration of carbon near the surface, which can impact global climate over time.

“Existing research has focused heavily on carbon levels above or close to the Earth’s surface. However, more than 90 percent of the Earth’s carbon is stored in the crust, mantle, and even core,” Pan explained.

The study found that confining CO2 and water in suitable nano-porous minerals may enhance the efficiency of underground carbon storage, offering a secure method to permanently store carbon underground with a low risk of return to the atmosphere.

The findings have been published recently in the international academic journal Nature Communications.

“Dissolving CO2 in water is an everyday process, but its ubiquity belies its importance. It has great implications for Earth’s carbon cycle, which deeply affects global climate change and human energy consumption,” Pan said.

“It is an important step forward to understanding the unusual physical and chemical properties of aqueous CO2 solutions under extreme conditions.”

Pan and his team continue to develop and apply computational and numerical methods to predict the properties and behaviour of carbon in liquids, solids, and nano-structures, seeking to answer some of the most urgent and fundamental questions in sustainable development.

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