Carbon – as a result of its unique bonding flexibility – is the elemental lattice of life. The Carbon Biogeochemistry Laboratory explores its behavior on scales ranging from microbes to landscapes. The impacts of climate and land use on the behavior of carbon in surface environments are important aspects of our research.
What controls the degradation of organic (reduced) carbon in soils and sediments? How is organic carbon sequestered? These questions guide a series of studies involving the pathways of biogenic methane formation in anaerobic environments, the sequestration of organic compounds by soil fungi, and the role of macromolecules in the preservation of smaller compounds such as lipids.
The cycling of carbon between atmospheric carbon dioxide and organic carbon in the biogeosphere is well described in vertical dimensions. Less well appreciated is the behavior of organic carbon as materials move laterally across landscapes and the seafloor. The horizontal portion of the carbon cycle is especially prone to disturbance by human land use and climate change. We have tracked sedimentary organic carbon from upland sources through small watersheds rimming the Pacific Ocean to burial in the adjoining seabed. Current research tracks this material into subduction zones.
The conversion of waste streams to biofuels is a new direction for the laboratory. Current projects involve the production of biodiesel from spent coffee grounds and chitin.