Chemical weathering is an integral part of both the rock and carbon cycles and is being affected by changes in land use, particularly as a result of agricultural practices such as tilling, mineral fertilization, or liming to adjust soil pH. These human activities have already altered the chemical terrestrial cycles and land-ocean flux of major elements, although the extent remains difficult to quantify. When deployed on a grand scale, Enhanced Weathering (a form of mineral fertilization), the application of finely ground minerals over the land surface, could be used to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The release of cations during the dissolution of such silicate minerals would convert dissolved CO2 to bicarbonate, increasing the alkalinity and pH of natural waters. Some products of mineral dissolution would precipitate in soils or taken up by ecosystems, but a significant portion would be transported to the coastal zone and the open ocean, where the increase in alkalinity would partially counteract “ocean acidification” associated with the current marked increase in atmospheric CO2. Other elements released during this mineral dissolution, like Si, P or K, could stimulate biological productivity, further helping to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. On land, the terrestrial carbon-pool would likely increase in response to Enhanced Weathering in areas where ecosystem growth rates are currently limited by one of the nutrients that would be released during mineral dissolution. In the ocean, the biological carbon pumps (which export organic matter and CaCO3 to the deep ocean) may be altered by the resulting influx of nutrients and alkalinity to the ocean. This review merges current interdisciplinary knowledge about Enhanced Weathering, the processes involved, and the applicability as well as some of the consequences and risks of applying the method.
EPIC Alfred Wegener Institut