Chemical erosion contributes solutes to oceans, influencing atmospheric CO2 and thus global climate via the greenhouse effect. Quantifying how chemical erosion rates vary with climate and tectonics is therefore vital to understanding feedbacks that have maintained Earth's environment within a habitable range over geologic time. If chemical erosion rates are strongly influenced by the availability of fresh minerals for dissolution, then there should be strong connections between climate, which is modulated by chemical erosion, and tectonic uplift, which supplies fresh minerals to Earth's surface. This condition, referred to as supply-limited chemical erosion, implies strong tectonic control of chemical erosion rates. It differs from kinetic-limited chemical erosion, in which dissolution kinetics and thus climatic factors are the dominant regulators of chemical erosion rates. Here we present a statistical method for determining whether chemical erosion of silicate-rich bedrock is supply limited or kinetic limited, as an approach for revealing the relative importance of tectonics and climate in Earth's silicate weathering thermostat. We applied this method to published data sets of mineral supply rates and regolith chemical depletion and were unable to reject the null hypothesis that chemical erosion is supply limited in 8 of 16 cases. In seven of the remaining eight cases, we found behavior that is closer to supply limited than kinetic limited, suggesting that tectonics may often dominate over climate in regulating chemical erosion rates. However, statistical power analysis shows that new measurements across a wider range of supply rates are needed to help quantify feedbacks between climate and tectonics in Earth's long-term climatic evolution.
Ferrier, K. L., Riebe, C. S. and Hahm, W. J. (2016): Testing for supply limited and kinetic limited chemical erosion in field measurements of regolith production and chemical depletion. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems. 17 (6), 2270-2285.. DOI: 10.1002/2016GC006273
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.