Co-variation of silicate, carbonate and sulfide weathering drives CO2

Global climate is thought to be modulated by the supply of minerals to Earth’s surface. Whereas silicate weathering removes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, weathering of accessory carbonate and sulfide minerals is a geologically relevant source of CO2. Although these weathering pathways commonly operate side by side, we lack quantitative constraints on their co-variation across erosion rate gradients. Here we use stream-water chemistry across an erosion rate gradient of three orders of magnitude in shales and sandstones of southern Taiwan, and find that sulfide and carbonate weathering rates rise with increasing erosion, while silicate weathering rates remain steady.

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Fig: Lithologic map of southern Taiwan and sampling locations.

As a result, on timescales shorter than marine sulfide compensation (approximately 106–107 years), weathering in rapidly eroding terrain leads to net CO2 emission rates that are at least twice as fast as CO2 sequestration rates in slow-eroding terrain. We propose that these weathering reactions are linked and that sulfuric acid generated from sulfide oxidation boosts carbonate solubility, whereas silicate weathering kinetics remain unaffected, possibly due to efficient buffering of the pH. We expect that these patterns are broadly applicable to many Cenozoic mountain ranges that expose marine metasediments.

Bufe, A., Hovius, N., Emberson, R. et al. Co-variation of silicate, carbonate and sulfide weathering drives CO2 release with erosion.Nat. Geosci. 14, 211–216 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00714-3

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