GEOLOGY: Limits to Weathering

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Science  10 Jun 2005:
Vol. 308, Issue 5728, pp. 1519b
DOI: 10.1126/science.308.5728.1519b

Chemical weathering of silicate minerals removes CO2 from the atmosphere and therefore provides a key feedback that regulates Earth's climate over long time scales. The rate at which this process proceeds depends on the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, temperature, topography, rainfall, and vegetation; the interaction of all of these factors has made it difficult to establish their separate contributions.

West et al. present a compilation of chemical and physical erosion rates in small river catchments and interpret those data with a model for quantitatively discriminating between the controls on silicate weathering by erosion, runoff, and temperature/vegetation in modern environments. They find that silicate weathering is proportional to mineral supply, which limits weathering at lower erosion rates; at higher erosion rates, climatic factors such as temparature and runoff-related kinetics control the rate of weathering. — HJS

Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 10.1016/j.epsl.2005.03.020 (2005).

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