Disko Island, Science

Carbon Cycling on Disko Island – 2013

Mantle to microbes: Disko Island as a test-bed for carbon pathways

This August (5 – 18th), a team of four scientists will be heading to Disko Island in Greenland to sample unusual basalts and thermal springs, in order to provide well-characterised material for deep carbon research. This fieldwork is funded by the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) and UK Centre for Astrobiology (UKCA), and includes Dr. Sami Mikhail, Dr. Adrian Jones, Prof. Charles Cockell, Dr. Andrew Steele, and myself, forming a collaborative relationship with the Carnegie Institute of Washington and the UKCA. The field team is led by Sami Mikhail and I, together with PhD students Casey Bryce and Mark Fox-Powell from the University of Edinburgh. An up-to-date blog of our field activities can be found HERE.


Disko Island represents a unique locality to investigate carbon cycling within reservoirs ranging from the mantle to the deep subsurface biosphere. The unusual basalts here contain FeNi alloys and Fe-carbides that are extremely rare on the Earth’s surface, and so can provide new information as to their formation.

Unusual basalts: Iron-Nickle alloy (black material) containing inclusions of basaltic melt, demonstrating that both were immiscible liquids at the time of formation. Image approx. 3 mm across. CREDIT: Sami Mikhail, CiW.

Additionally, there are numerous geographically-isolated deep thermal springs, many of which permeate through this basaltic bedrock. These springs include mud volcanoes, salt springs, and thermal springs with temperatures up to 19°C. These provide an ideal site for the study of deep subsurface microbiological communities and their carbon pathways within Arctic environments.

This trip will act as an example for DCO expeditions, whereby samples will be collected in accordance to the System for Earth Sample Registration (SESAR), enabling cross-institutional research to make use of the samples brought back from Disko.

Where is it?

Disko Island is located off the west coast of Greenland. The main town on the Island – Qeqertarsuaq – lies at 69°14′50″N, 53°32′00″W. To get there, we first fly to Copenhagen, then from there fly to Kangerlussuaq, and finally to Ilulissat, before taking a 4.5 hour boat ride to Qeqertarsuaq. Our time on Disko Island will be spent at Arctic Station, owned by the University of Copenhagen.



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