Nav: Home

UCI scientists analyze first direct images of dissolved organic carbon from the ocean

June 05, 2018

Irvine, Calif., June 5, 2018 - In a first, researchers from the University of California, Irvine - as well as Switzerland's University of Zurich, IBM Research-Zurich and UC Santa Cruz - have obtained direct images of dissolved organic carbon molecules from the ocean, allowing better analysis and characterization of compounds that play an important role in the Earth's changing climate.

Using an atomic force microscopy technique developed by IBM, the team was able to visualize individual atoms and bonds, yielding clues about their persistence in the marine environment. Findings were published today in the American Geophysical Union journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"To understand processes happening on the scale of ocean basins, it is sometimes necessary to view objects that are orders of magnitude smaller," said study co-author Ellen Druffel, professor and Fred Kavli Chair of Earth System Science at UCI. "By seeing with our own eyes the double bonds and rings of dissolved organic carbon molecules, we are better equipped to explain how they remain in the ocean for tens of thousands of years."

The molecules that were imaged were collected by UC Santa Cruz researchers from waters in the northern central Pacific Ocean.

The marine dissolved organic carbon pool, comparable in size to the atmospheric CO2 reservoir, is about 200 times larger than the amount of carbon contained in all the plants and animals on the planet. Because of its complexity, diverse origins and varied reactions to environmental conditions, only about 10 percent of DOC has been characterized.

"We are still trying to figure out how the vast majority of this substance is going to be impacted by the ongoing addition of new CO2 from fossil fuel burning and from increasing temperatures due to global climate change," said co-author Brett Walker, a UCI assistant researcher in Earth system science.

Most DOC near the ocean surface is derived from the remains of recently living phytoplankton. However, radiocarbon dating of DOC in the deep ocean shows it to be much older than expected - by as much as 4,500 years - indicating that a portion of this DOC survives multiple ocean mixing cycles.

Researchers have suggested that the chemical structure of DOC is responsible for its endurance in the environment, and through the atomic force microscopy technique, scientists are now able to see real-space images of the bound atoms in these compounds. The team has found that molecules from the deep ocean frequently exhibit aromaticity, meaning they're flat rings of atoms that are very stable and do not break apart easily.

"These atom-scale visualizations help demonstrate that the old age of small DOC molecules in the deep ocean has to do with their chemical structure, which bacteria do not seem to utilize," Walker said. "This is a crucial finding that will help researchers better understand the cycling of carbon in the oceans and the overall health of our planet's marine environments."
-end-
The work was funded by the University of Zurich, IBM Research-Zurich, the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society.

University of California - Irvine

Related Carbon Articles:

Can wood construction transform cities from carbon source to carbon vault?
A new study by researchers and architects at Yale and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research predicts that a transition to timber-based wood products in the construction of new housing, buildings, and infrastructure would not only offset enormous amounts of carbon emissions related to concrete and steel production -- it could turn the world's cities into a vast carbon sink.
Investigation of oceanic 'black carbon' uncovers mystery in global carbon cycle
An unexpected finding published today in Nature Communications challenges a long-held assumption about the origin of oceanic black coal, and introduces a tantalizing new mystery: If oceanic black carbon is significantly different from the black carbon found in rivers, where did it come from?
First fully rechargeable carbon dioxide battery with carbon neutrality
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are the first to show that lithium-carbon dioxide batteries can be designed to operate in a fully rechargeable manner, and they have successfully tested a lithium-carbon dioxide battery prototype running up to 500 consecutive cycles of charge/recharge processes.
How and when was carbon distributed in the Earth?
A magma ocean existing during the core formation is thought to have been highly depleted in carbon due to its high-siderophile (iron loving) behavior.
New route to carbon-neutral fuels from carbon dioxide discovered by Stanford-DTU team
A new way to convert carbon dioxide into the building block for sustainable liquid fuels was very efficient in tests and did not have the reaction that destroys the conventional device.
How much carbon the land can stomach with more carbon dioxide in the air
Researchers from 28 institutions in nine countries succeeded in quantifying carbon dioxide fertilization for the past five decades, using simulations from 12 terrestrial ecosystem models and observations from seven field carbon dioxide enrichment experiments.
'Charismatic carbon'
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), addressing carbon emissions from our food sector is absolutely essential to combatting climate change.
Extreme wildfires threaten to turn boreal forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources
A research team investigated the impact of extreme fires on previously intact carbon stores by studying the soil and vegetation of the boreal forest and how they changed after a record-setting fire season in the Northwest Territories in 2014.
Can we still have fun if the UK goes carbon neutral?
Will Britain going carbon neutral mean no more fun? Experts from the University of Surrey have urged local policy makers to put in place infrastructure that will enable people to enjoy recreation and leisure while keeping their carbon footprint down.
Could there be life without carbon? (video)
One element is the backbone of all forms of life we've ever discovered on Earth: carbon.
More Carbon News and Carbon Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.