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Orogenesis – CO2 source or sink? Insight from quantification of fossil organic carbon weathering rates in Taiwan


IPGP - Îlot Cuvier


Séminaires de Potamologie

Salle 310

Robert Hilton

Durham University

Physical erosion of the continents can result in the mobilisation of organic carbon (OC) from the terrestrial biosphere and its transfer by rivers to the ocean. If this OC is recently photosynthesised organic matter, then its transfer and burial in sedimentary deposits contributes to geological sequestration of atmospheric CO2. Mountain belts with steep topographic gradients and high precipitation totals experience the highest rates of erosion of OC from the biosphere, and its transfer along with large volumes of clastic sediment can increase its likelihood of burial in sedimentary deposits. In this way, orogenesis can act to drawdown CO2. However in many mountain belts, rapid fluvial incision and hillslope mass wasting processes expose fossil organic carbon (FOC), contained within sedimentary bedrock, to the modern atmosphere and hydrosphere. Oxidation of FOC during weathering is a source of CO2 that counters drawdown by silicate weathering and recent organic carbon burial. Despite this recognition, we have very poor constraint on the rates at which FOC weathering occurs in natural environments. While it is thought that physical erosion is the primary control on this re-flux of carbon from the lithosphere, the precise nature of the link remains unknown. Here, these questions are addressed using the trace element rhenium, whose affinity to FOC and redox-sensitive geochemical behaviour make it an ideal tracer of this process. The new data from Taiwanese rivers confirm high rates of physical erosion can enhance FOC weathering, but show that they only counter half of the CO2 drawdown by terrestrial OC burial in marine sediments offshore. In this setting, erosion and weathering induced cycling of OC results in a net sink of CO2.