Letter | Published:

High sensitivity of the continental-weathering carbon dioxide sink to future climate change

Nature Climate Change volume 2, pages 346349 (2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

According to future anthropogenic emission scenarios, the atmospheric CO2 concentration may double before the end of the twenty-first century1. This increase is predicted to result in a global warming of more than 6 °C in the worst case1. The global temperature increase will promote changes in the hydrologic cycle through redistributions of rainfall patterns and continental vegetation cover1,2. All of these changes will impact the chemical weathering of continental rocks. Long considered an inert CO2 consumption flux at the century timescale, recent works have demonstrated its potential high sensitivity to the ongoing climate and land-use changes3,4. Here we show that the CO2 consumption flux related to weathering processes increases by more than 50% for an atmospheric CO2 doubling for one of the most important Arctic watersheds: the Mackenzie River Basin. This result has been obtained using a process-based model of the chemical weathering of continental surfaces forced by models describing the atmospheric general circulation and the dynamic of the vegetation5,6 under increased atmospheric CO2. Our study stresses the potential role that weathering may play in the evolution of the global carbon cycle over the next centuries.

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Acknowledgements

This study has been financially supported by the CNRS/INSU EC2CO programme. We thank L. Kump for insightful comments on previous versions of this manuscript.

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Affiliations

  1. Géoscience Environnement Toulouse (GET), CNRS-Université de Toulouse III, Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, 31400 Toulouse, France

    • E. Beaulieu
    • , Y. Goddéris
    •  & D. Labat
  2. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, CEA-Orme des Merisiers, F-91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • Y. Donnadieu
  3. Geophysical Institute, University of Bergen, N-5007 Bergen, Norway

    • C. Roelandt
  4. Bjerknes Center for Climate Research, N-5007 Bergen, Norway

    • C. Roelandt

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Contributions

Y.G. was the leader of the project financially supported by EC2CO. E.B., Y.G. and D.L. designed the experiments, ran the B-WITCH model and wrote the paper. Y.D. ran the climatic simulations. C.R. designed the LPJ simulations.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Y. Goddéris.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1419

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