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


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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Figure 1: Weathering carbon budget of the Mackenzie River watershed in 1011 mol yr−1.
Figure 2: Spatial distribution of the change in atmospheric CO2 consumption by weathering over the Mackenzie watershed, when atmospheric CO2 rises from 355 ppmv (reference simulation) to 560 ppmv (2×CO2 simulation).
Figure 3: Atmospheric CO2 consumption by weathering in the Mackenzie watershed, at 355 ppmv (reference simulation) and 560 ppmv (2×CO2 simulation), calculated by the B-WITCH model.

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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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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.

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Correspondence to Y. Goddéris.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Beaulieu, E., Goddéris, Y., Donnadieu, Y. et al. High sensitivity of the continental-weathering carbon dioxide sink to future climate change. Nature Clim Change 2, 346–349 (2012).

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