Carbon and nitrogen are central to life on Earth – life cannot exist without them, but an overabundance in the atmosphere imperils the life we have. So how much carbon and nitrogen is there on (and in) planet Earth? And how much was in the ancient atmosphere? Actually, no one is really sure. The amount of carbon and nitrogen trapped in minerals in the Earth’s crust is one factor in the equation, and the subject of a three-year research project supported by a $900,000 grant to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from the U.S. Department of Energy. In their work, researchers will examine the ability of minerals to absorb and retain carbon and nitrogen. By doing so, they may also uncover a new source of information about the ancient atmosphere.
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