Skip to main content

New study will use a billion years’ worth of evidence to understand Earth’s carbon cycle

New study will use a billion years’ worth of evidence to understand Earth’s carbon cycle

  • Date01 February 2023

An academic from Royal Holloway, University of London, is leading on new research to gain a better understanding of how the Earth’s carbon cycle has regulated global climate over the last billion years. The carbon cycle illustrates how carbon continually moves between the Earth, oceans and atmosphere. The research project, which commences this month, aims to address major challenges in our understanding of how the carbon cycle controls large-scale environmental events.

Alex Dickson.jpg

The study, led by Dr Alexander Dickson from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway aims to calculate how much carbon becomes locked in the ocean floor from the death and burial of ancient organisms. It will also investigate how much carbon is emitted to the atmosphere from the slow combustion of organic carbon exposed on land such as decaying plants or animal tissues and carbon from living organisms.

The study will greatly advance our understanding of the planetary carbon cycle that regulates the Earth’s climate system. The processes to be studied by Dr Dickson serve either to remove some of that carbon back into the deep Earth, or to prolong its growth in the oceans and atmosphere. The study will employ cutting-edge techniques to analyse the element composition of ocean samples that formed over the last billion years of Earth’s history.

Dr Alex Dickson said: “This project is an exciting opportunity to apply some genuinely novel developments in analytical techniques and climate modelling to produce a major step in our understanding of the relationship between organic carbon cycling and long-term global climate.

“Every bit of information we have to help us understand how our planet works is a vital cog in our global efforts to combat climate change.”

The research is based around three objectives:

  • To quantify the amount of organic carbon buried in the oceans over the last billion years.
  • To calculate how much carbon is emitted from continental rocks as they slowly combust in air.
  • To push the development of novel analytical techniques to unlock signals of climate change on the ancient Earth.

The research is a five-year project from February 2023 to January 2028. The results will be published throughout the project as they become available.

Explore Royal Holloway

Get help paying for your studies at Royal Holloway through a range of scholarships and bursaries.

There are lots of exciting ways to get involved at Royal Holloway. Discover new interests and enjoy existing ones.

Heading to university is exciting. Finding the right place to live will get you off to a good start.

Whether you need support with your health or practical advice on budgeting or finding part-time work, we can help.

Discover more about our 21 departments and schools.

Find out why Royal Holloway is in the top 25% of UK universities for research rated ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’.

Royal Holloway is a research intensive university and our academics collaborate across disciplines to achieve excellence.

Discover world-class research at Royal Holloway.

Discover more about who we are today, and our vision for the future.

Royal Holloway began as two pioneering colleges for the education of women in the 19th century, and their spirit lives on today.

We’ve played a role in thousands of careers, some of them particularly remarkable.

Find about our decision-making processes and the people who lead and manage Royal Holloway today.