Chemical weathering could alleviate some climate change effects

Chemical weathering could alleviate some climate change effects
Global palaeogeography of the Early Toarcian. Credit: Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-05307-y

There could be some good news on the horizon as scientists try to understand the effects and processes related to climate change.

A team of Florida State University scientists has discovered that chemical weathering, a process in which carbon dioxide breaks down rocks and then gets trapped in sediment, can happen at a much faster rate than scientists previously assumed and could potentially counteract some of the current and future climate change caused by humans.

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Scientists have generally thought that this process takes hundreds of thousands to millions of years to occur, helping to alleviate warming trends at an exceptionally slow rate.

Rather than potentially millions of years, FSU researchers now suggest it can take several tens of thousands of years.

It's not a quick fix though.

"Increased chemical weathering is one of Earth's natural responses to carbon dioxide increases," said Theodore Them, the lead researcher on the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at Florida State and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. "The is that this process can help balance the effects of fossil fuel combustion, deforestation and agricultural practices. The bad news is that it will not begin to counteract the excessive amounts of that humans are emitting for at least several thousand years."

As atmospheric increase, the climate gets warmer. The warmer climate speeds up chemical weathering, which consumes from the atmosphere and mitigates the greenhouse effect, thus leading to a climate cooling.

To conduct the study, the research team determined the rate at which rocks were chemically broken down over a period of rapid warming in the Early Jurassic Epoch called the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event, an interval where a major extinction event occurred about 183 million years ago.

Working with colleagues at Durham University in the United Kingdom and using state-of-the-art analytical instrumentation within the National MagLab's Geochemistry Group, the researchers processed and measured the trace elements of their rock samples.

"We noticed that, although chemical weathering increased significantly during this time interval, it was not as large as previously hypothesized for this event," Them said. "What's really striking, however, is the planet's ability to respond to these environmental changes on such short timescales."

This increased process could have another downside.

The researchers' findings suggest that widespread oxygen-deficient oceans occurred because an excess of nutrients from the breakdown of rocks flowed into the oceans during the Early Jurassic Period.

The researchers predict that future changes in climate and weather patterns due to a warming planet will create more precipitation and increase the amount of river water and nutrients transported to coastal regions. This is expected to increase both the size and duration of future coastal ocean deoxygenation, negatively impacting sea life in those areas.

"Understanding ancient climatic change like this helps us anticipate the timing, implications, and environmental response to better predict future scenarios," said FSU Assistant Professor of Geology Jeremy Owens, a co-author on the paper.


Explore further

Glaciers may have helped warm Earth

More information: Theodore R. Them et al. Evidence for rapid weathering response to climatic warming during the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event, Scientific Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-05307-y
Journal information: Scientific Reports

Citation: Chemical weathering could alleviate some climate change effects (2017, August 1) retrieved 24 May 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2017-08-chemical-weathering-alleviate-climate-effects.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
287 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Aug 01, 2017
I'm looking forward to denialists coming in to say that rocks will absorb all the excess CO2 (which, they will point out, also doesn't exist and came from volcanoes), and that the article is wrong because there won't be any negative effects whatsoever. And then they'll go on a tangent about the electric universe.

Aug 01, 2017
Weathering represents a miniscule 0.02% of the annual Carbon Cycle and is therefore completely irrelevant on all timscales from seconds to years to epochs. It will always be a meaningless percentage of the Carbon Cycle over whatever time-frame

I'm looking forward to the global warming believers getting very angry again about basic facts being presented.

Aug 02, 2017
@Paulw789 - weathering over long periods of time is one of the dominant components of the carbon cycle. It is believed to be one of the primary mechanisms that shaped entry and exit from "snowball" earth conditions,

Having said that, the process is definitely slow.

Aug 21, 2017
Weathering is slow (from human perspective), but during geological time scale it stored about 80% of the carbon. Look at the quantities of Lime and Dolomite ;-)
In the Netherlands a small company is selling olivine for a combination of CO2 sequestration and replacement of civil products.
But indeed a rather slow reaction.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more