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Stable runoff and weathering fluxes into the oceans over Quaternary climate cycles


Throughout the Quaternary period, the Earth’s surface has been subject to large changes in temperature and precipitation associated with fluctuations between glacial and interglacial states that have affected biogeochemical cycling1,2,3,4. However, the effect of these climate oscillations on weathering is debated, with climate modelling efforts using empirical relationships between measures of climate and weathering1,5,6 suggesting minimal changes in global weathering rates between these two climate states7,8. The ratio of the cosmogenic isotope 10Be, which is produced in the atmosphere and deposited to the oceans and the land surface, to 9Be, which is introduced to the oceans by the riverine silicate weathering flux, can be used to track relative weathering fluxes9,10. Here we apply this proxy to marine sediment beryllium records11,12,13,14,15,16 spanning the past two million years, and find no detectable shifts in inputs from global silicate weathering into the oceans. Using climate model simulations of the Last Glacial Maximum17 along with a model for silicate weathering18, we find that there was large regional variability in runoff between glacial and interglacial periods, but that this regional variability was insufficient to shift global weathering fluxes. We suggest that this stability in weathering explains the observation19 that the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere by silicate weathering has been in approximate balance with CO2 degassing over the past 600,000 years.

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Figure 1: 10Be/9Be ratios in seawater (open symbols, integration time about 600 yr) and in the surface scrapes of hydrogenous Fe–Mn crusts, (closed symbols, integration time 100 kyr to 1 Myr).
Figure 2: Deep-ocean 10Be/9Be records from the authigenic phase of sediment cores originally analysed to reconstruct palaeo-magnetic field intensity11,12,13,14,15,16.
Figure 3: Relative changes in discharge (Q/Qo) and weathering (W/Wo) between the PMIP3 LGM ensemble and the modern control; (Supplementary Tables 4–6).


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We are grateful to N. Hovius, G. Govers, G. Haug, W. Rahaman, P. Valdes, D. Scherler and G. Feulner for comments and discussion. We gratefully acknowledge the international climate modelling groups participating in CMIP5/PMIP3 for producing and making their model output available for analysis, and PCMDI (supported by the US Department of Energy) for distributing the data. The CMIP5/PMIP3 database was last accessed in August 2014. K.M. acknowledges support from the US NSF (EAR-1254156).

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F.v.B. designed the study, compiled 10Be/9Be data, interpreted data and wrote text; J.B. processed core data, interpreted data and wrote text; D.E.I. processed climate model data, interpreted data and wrote text; K.M. designed the weathering model, interpreted data and wrote text.

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Correspondence to Friedhelm von Blanckenburg.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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von Blanckenburg, F., Bouchez, J., Ibarra, D. et al. Stable runoff and weathering fluxes into the oceans over Quaternary climate cycles. Nature Geosci 8, 538–542 (2015).

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