Materials and pathways of the organic carbon cycle through time

Galvez, Matthieu E.; Fischer, Woodward W.; Jaccard, Samuel L.; Eglinton, Timothy I. (2020). Materials and pathways of the organic carbon cycle through time. Nature geoscience, 13(8), pp. 535-546. Springer Nature 10.1038/s41561-020-0563-8

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The cycle of organic carbon through the atmosphere, oceans, continents and mantle reservoirs is a hallmark of Earth. Over geological time, chemical exchanges between those reservoirs have produced a diversity of reduced carbon materials that differ in their molecular structures and reactivity. This reactive complexity challenges the canonical dichotomy between the surface and deep, short-term and long-term organic carbon cycle. Old and refractory carbon materials are not confined to the litho- sphere but are ubiquitous in the surface environment, and the lithosphere hosts various forms of reduced carbon that can be very reactive. The biological and geological pathways that drive the organic carbon cycle have changed through time; from a synthesis of these changes, it emerges that although a biosphere is required to produce organic carbon, mortality is required to ensure its export to the lithosphere, and graphitization is essential for its long-term stabilization in the solid Earth. Among the by-products of the organic carbon cycle are the accumulation of a massive lithospheric reservoir of organic carbon, the accumu- lation of dioxygen in the atmosphere and the rise of a terrestrial biosphere. Besides driving surface weathering reactions, free dioxygen has allowed the evolution of new metabolic pathways to produce and respire organic carbon. From the evolution of photosynthesis until the expansion of biomineralization in the Phanerozoic, inorganic controls on the organic carbon cycle have diversified, tightening the connection between the biosphere and geosphere.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Review Article)


10 Strategic Research Centers > Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research (OCCR)
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geological Sciences

UniBE Contributor:

Jaccard, Samuel


500 Science > 550 Earth sciences & geology




Springer Nature




Samuel Jaccard

Date Deposited:

28 Jul 2020 07:59

Last Modified:

01 Aug 2020 01:33

Publisher DOI:





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