New findings by a Johns Hopkins University-led team reveal long unknown details about carbon deep beneath Earth’ surface and suggest ways this subterranean carbon might have influenced the history of on the planet.

The team also developed a new, related theory about how diamonds form in Earth’s mantle.

For decades scientists have had little understanding of how carbon behaved deep below Earth’s surface even as they learned more and more about the ’s role at the planet’s crust. Using a model created by Johns Hopkins geochemist Dimitri Sverjensky, he, Vincenzo Stagno of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Fang Huang, a Johns Hopkins graduate student, have become the first to calculate how much carbon and what types in fluids at 100 miles below Earth’s surface at temperatures up to 2,100 degrees F.

In an article published this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, Sverjensky and his team demonstrate that in addition to the carbon dioxide and methane already documented deep in subduction zones, there exists a rich variety of organic carbon that could spark the formation of diamonds and perhaps even become for microbial life.

“It is a very exciting possibility that these deep fluids might building blocks for life into the shallow Earth,” said Sverjensky, a professor in the Department of Earth and Sciences. “This may be a key to the of life itself.”