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Science, Maths & Technology

Carbon in Organic rock

Updated Sunday, 7th May 2000

Although it's now rock, once some of those stones were living, breathing things - and that means carbon.

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Patterns of lichens on rock surface Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright:

Organic rocks were formed from ancient marine sediments containing the bodies of plankton and other organic debris. Under high temperatures and pressures those sediments turned to rock. Some organic rock - like oil shale - contains a high percentage of carbon.

But even these carbon-rich rocks are not an economically useful fuel. Instead oil companies rely on a quirk of geology. Once formed, oil can ooze out of the rocks it formed in. It migrates upward through tiny cracks and fissures until it eventually reaches the impermeable rock. Trapped beneath the rock the oil slowly accumulates.

Where do you find the carbon?

Rock containing organic carbon, and fossil fuels

What form of carbon?

Organic carbon

How long will the carbon remain?

Tens- to hundreds- of millions of years

How much carbon is there?

About 10 million x 10 12 kg

What processes will free the carbon?

Weathering, volcanism, burning





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