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Temperature control on CO2 emissions from the weathering of sedimentary rocks

Abstract

Sedimentary rocks can release carbon dioxide (CO2) during the weathering of rock organic carbon and sulfide minerals. This sedimentary carbon could act as a feedback on Earth’s climate over millennial to geological timescales, yet the environmental controls on the CO2 release from rocks are poorly constrained. Here, we directly measure CO2 flux from weathering of sedimentary rocks over 2.5 years at the Draix-Bléone Critical Zone Observatory, France. Total CO2 fluxes approached values reported for soil respiration, with radiocarbon analysis confirming the CO2 source from rock organic carbon and carbonate. The measured CO2 fluxes varied seasonally, with summer fluxes five times larger than winter fluxes, and were positively correlated with temperature. The CO2 release from rock organic carbon oxidation increased by a factor of 2.2 when temperature increased by 10 °C. This temperature sensitivity is similar to that of degradation of recent-plant-derived organic matter in soils. Our flux measurements identify sedimentary-rock weathering as a positive feedback to warming, which may have operated throughout Earth’s history to force the surface carbon cycle.

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Fig. 1: The Laval field site.
Fig. 2: The source of CO2 sampled from chambers H4 and H6 on the basis of its isotopic composition.
Fig. 3: Measured total CO2 emissions from rock weathering in the Laval catchment for 2.5 years from late December 2016 to early May 2019.
Fig. 4: Temperature sensitivity of total CO2 release by sedimentary-rock weathering.
Fig. 5: Variability in the total CO2 emissions compared with the elevation of the rock chambers above the Laval river bed.

Data availability

All data that support the findings of this study are available from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)—British Geological Survey (BGS) National Geoscience Data Centre with the identifier https://doi.org/10.5285/efc082aa-5c2b-4afb-aec8-344aebaea653. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

Custom Matlab codes and accompanying \({p_{{\rm{CO}}_2}}\) source data are available on request from the corresponding authors.

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Acknowledgements

This research was funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant to R.G.H. (ROC-CO2 project, grant 678779). Radiocarbon measurements were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), UK (allocation 2074.1017) to G.S., R.G.H. and M.H.G. We thank staff at NERC RCF and SUERC. We thank C. Flaux and A.-E. Paquier for field assistance in December 2016. This study was carried out in Draix-Bléone Observatory (France) and used its infrastructure and temperature and river discharge data. Draix-Bléone Observatory is funded by INRAE, INSU and OSUG, and is part of OZCAR Research Infrastructure, which is supported by the French Ministry of Research, French Research Institutions and Universities.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

R.G.H. conceived the research and designed the study with G.S. G.S. and S.K. built and maintained the chambers. G.S. and R.G.H. carried out fieldwork with additional assistance from T.R., T.C. and M.D. G.S. led the CO2 flux measurements and all related calculations and analysis. S.K. collected and provided field temperature data, discharge and precipitation data. M.H.G. provided materials for sampling CO2 for isotopic analyses. G.S. and M.H.G. carried out geochemical analyses. G.S. and R.G.H. analysed the results. G.S. and R.G.H. wrote the paper with inputs from all co-authors.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Guillaume Soulet or Robert G. Hilton.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interest.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Geoscience thanks Louis Derry, Aaron Bufe and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Rebecca Neely, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 CO2 emissions measured in the Laval catchment (Draix, France) compared to respiration CO2 flux in various soil types.

CO2 emissions measured in the Laval catchment (Draix, France) (red square; Supplementary Table 4) compared to respiration CO2 flux in various soil types (black hyphens). Median values are shown with the symbols, the minimum-maximum range is indicated with solid lines. As maximum value for cropland exceeds the scale of the y-axis, upper part of the cropland range is dashed and maximum value is indicated. The respiration soil compilation is from ref. 30. Note that the CO2 emission from oxidative weathering of sedimentary rocks in the Laval catchment reaches the magnitude of the CO2 emissions from respiration of all type of soils.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 2 Temperature and hydrological controls on the CO2 emissions measured in the Laval catchment (Draix, France) in April-May 2019.

Temperature and hydrological controls on total CO2 emissions recorded in chambers H4 and H6 for one month from 10/04/2019 to 10/05/2019. Upper panel: Daily temperature average (black line) and amplitude (grey envelope) in the rock interior. Lower panels: CO2 flux measured in chamber H4 (pink circles) and H6 (green circles). Error bars indicate standard deviation on the flux measurements (Methods) when larger than the symbol size. Circles with a black dot inside denotes CO2 flux measurements performed in average 17 hours (15 to 19 hours) after a rainfall event. The rain events are visible as sharp peaks in the water discharge recorded in the Laval catchment (blue envelope).

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 3 Climate of the Laval catchment (Draix, France) from December 2016 to May 2019.

Climate of the Laval catchment (Draix, France) for two and a half years from December 2016 to May 2019 (study period). Monthly rain precipitation (bars) is compared to the monthly temperature average (red line). Drought periods are represented by the orange bars. Rainfall monitoring in the Laval catchment started in 1982. 2017 was the driest year ever recorded in the Laval catchment (annual precipitation 627 mm), whereas 2018 was the wettest (1327 mm), and 2019 the second wettest (1263 mm). Note the 4 month-long drought from July to October 2017. The climatic diagram shows the highly seasonal pattern of the air temperature in the Laval catchment.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 4 The near surface water content of the Laval catchment (Draix, France) marls compared to the daily-averaged air temperature.

The near surface water content of the Laval catchment marls at station B3 (red line) and B4 (blue line) and the daily-averaged air temperature (green line) at ‘Le Plateau’ weather station (located ~500 metres from station B3 and B4) from 11/05/2016 to 29/11/2016 (ref. 36). b. The near surface water content at station B3 (red circles) and B4 (blue circles) versus daily-averaged air temperature recorded at the ‘le Plateau’ weather station. c. Box plots showing the variability of the near surface water content of the marls at station B3 (red) and B4 (blue) for the air temperature range -2 to 16 °C and 16 to 24 °C. Box plots show minimum, 25% percentile, median, 75% percentile and maximum values, as well as the mean (dot) and outliers (circles).

Source data

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2.

Supplementary Data

Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2.

Supplementary Tables

Supplementary Tables 1–4.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 2

Radiocarbon and δ13C values of all analysed samples, including CO2 in chambers H4 and H6, atmospheric CO2 and rock organic and inorganic carbon of chambers H4 and H6.

Source Data Fig. 3

Total CO2 fluxes with dates of measurements and corresponding temperature in the chamber, for chambers H4, H6, H7, H8 and H13.

Source Data Fig. 4

Total CO2 fluxes with dates of measurements and corresponding temperature in the chamber, for chambers H4, H6, H7, H8 and H13.

Source Data Fig. 5

F0 value and minimum, maximum, median, average, 25th and 75th percentiles, and height above river bed for chambers H4, H6, H7, H8 and H13.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 1

Combined minimum, maximum, median, 25th and 75th percentiles for chambers H4, H6, H7, H8 and H13.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 2

Total CO2 flux for H4 and H6 with chamber temperature and Laval river-water discharge from 10 April 2019 to 10 May 2019.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 3

Monthly precipitation and air temperature in the Laval catchment from December 2016 to May 2019.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 4

Marl water content and air temperature in the Laval catchment from 11 May 2016 to 29 November 2016.

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Soulet, G., Hilton, R.G., Garnett, M.H. et al. Temperature control on CO2 emissions from the weathering of sedimentary rocks. Nat. Geosci. 14, 665–671 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-021-00805-1

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