Skip to main content

Co-variation of silicate, carbonate, and sulfide weathering drives CO2 release with erosion: Constraints from southern Taiwan

The supply of fresh minerals to Earth’s surface by erosion is thought to modulate global climate by removing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) through silicate weathering. In turn, weathering of accessory carbonate and sulfide minerals is a geologically-relevant CO2 source, which may dampen or reverse the effect of silicate weathering on climate. Although these weathering pathways commonly operate side by side, we lack quantitative constraints on their co-evolution across erosion-rate gradients. Using stream-water chemistry across a 3 order-of-magnitude erosion-rate gradient in shales and sandstones of southern Taiwan, here, we demonstrate that silicate, sulfide, and carbonate weathering are linked: Increasing sulfide oxidation generates sulfuric acid and boosts carbonate solubility whereas silicate weathering kinetics remain constant or even decline, perhaps due to buffering of the pH by carbonates. On timescales shorter than marine sulfide compensation, CO2 emission rates from weathering in rapidly-eroding terrain are more than twice the CO2 sequestration rates in slow-eroding terrain. On longer timescales, CO2 emissions are compensated, but CO2 sequestration rates do not increase with erosion, in contrast to assumptions in carbon cycle models. We posit that these patterns are broadly applicable to many Cenozoic mountain ranges that expose dominantly siliciclastic metasediments.


Aaron Bufe1, Niels Hovius1, Robert Emberson2, Jeremy Rugenstein3, Albert Galy4, Hima Hassenruck-Gudipati5, Jui-Ming Chang6
1GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Telegrafenberg, 14473 Potsdam, Germany; 2NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA; 3Department of Geosciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO USA; 4Centre de Recherches Pétrographiques et Géochimiques, UMR7358, CNRS, Université de Lorraine, 54500 Nancy, France; 5Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA; 6Department of Geosciences, National Taiwan University, 10617 Taipei, Taiwan
GeoKarlsruhe 2021