A geologist offers a melodic meditation on one of Earth’s most abundant elements

2 July 2019

Although organic chemistry is often described as the science of carbon, Robert Hazen’s latest book, Symphony in C, makes clear that this vital element cannot be contained by such a disciplinary boundary.

Despite its abundance and importance, the location and cycling of carbon on Earth are not yet well understood. Ever-increasing atmospheric concentrations of its dioxide form lend urgency to a more accurate accounting of this element. However, it is Hazen’s enthusiasm, the string of shareable facts presented, and the introduction of so many interesting scientists that make this book such a fascinating read.

Hazen brings a distinct and intentionally personal perspective to this topic as head of the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), which brings together hundreds of scientists around the world to understand how carbon moves in all its forms in and around our planet. In 2015, the DCO started the “Carbon Mineral Challenge” to find the almost 150 carbon-containing minerals predicted to exist on or near Earth’s surface. Some of these predicted minerals, including a sodium lead carbonate called abellaite and green middlebackite, have already been found.

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