Have you ever wondered how Earth’s climate has been able to remain stable over billions of years? How has it been able to support life and remain at a temperature that allows for liquid water? A new study led by researchers at Penn State may have the answer. Rocks, rain, and carbon dioxide are all playing a role in controlling Earth’s climate like a thermostat. In this blog post, we’ll explore how this process called weathering works and what it means for the future of the planet.
Weathering is a process that occurs when a weak acid created from rainwater falls to Earth and wears away silicate rocks on the surface. This process is a balancing act of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Volcanoes emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, but weathering slowly removes it from the atmosphere. The byproducts of weathering are carried by streams and rivers to the ocean, where the carbon is eventually locked away in sedimentary rocks.
However, it has been challenging to use laboratory experiments alone to create global estimates of how weathering responds to temperature changes. To better understand weathering of the major rock types on Earth, the Penn State team combined laboratory measurements and soil analysis from 45 soil sites around the world and many watersheds. This allowed them to create a global estimate for how weathering responds to temperature.
The researchers also explored how surface area affects weathering. Rocks must fracture for water to get in cracks and start breaking down the materials, and this is less likely to happen in regions where soil is deeper. This means that surface area is a critical factor when it comes to understanding weathering.
The findings of the study may be helpful for understanding how weathering will respond to future climate change, and in evaluating human-made attempts to increase weathering to draw more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Though warming may speed up weathering, pulling all the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere that humans have added could take thousands or hundreds of thousands of years.
So, while weathering acts as a thermostat to control Earth’s climate, it is a slow process that takes time and is affected by many factors. To learn more about this fascinating process and its implications for our planet, keep reading this blog post!