Recycling of Graphite During Himalayan Erosion: A Geological Stabilization of Carbon in the Crust

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Science  07 Nov 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5903, pp. 943-945
DOI: 10.1126/science.1161408

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At geological time scales, the role of continental erosion in the organic carbon (OC) cycle is determined by the balance between recent OC burial and petrogenic OC oxidation. Evaluating its net effect on the concentration of carbon dioxide and dioxygen in the atmosphere requires the fate of petrogenic OC to be assessed. Here, we report a multiscale (nanometer to micrometer) structural characterization of petrogenic OC in the Himalayan system. We show that graphitic carbon is preserved and buried in marine sediments, while the less graphitized forms are oxidized during fluvial transport. Radiocarbon dating indicates that 30 to 50% of the carbon initially present in the Himalayan rocks is conserved during the erosion cycle. Graphitization during metamorphism thus stabilizes carbon in the crust over geological time scales.

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