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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  09 Jun 2020

09 Jun 2020

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A revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Deepening roots can enhance carbonate weathering

Hang Wen1, Pamela L. Sullivan2, Gwendolyn L. Macpherson3, Sharon A. Billings4, and Li Li1 Hang Wen et al.
  • 1Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Pennsylvania State University, University Park PA 16802, USA
  • 2College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, Oregon State University, Corvallis OR 97331, USA
  • 3Department of Geology, University of Kansas, Lawrence KS 66045, USA
  • 4Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Kansas Biological Survey, University of Kansas, Lawrence KS 66045, USA

Abstract. Carbonate weathering is essential in regulating atmospheric CO2 and carbon cycle at the century time scale. Plant roots have been known to accelerate weathering by elevating soil CO2 via respiration. It however remains poorly understood how and how much rooting characteristics (e.g., depth and density distribution) modify flow paths and weathering. We address this knowledge gap using field data from and reactive transport numerical experiments at the Konza Prairie Biological Station (Konza), Kansas (USA), a site where woody encroachment into grasslands is surmised to deepen roots.

Results indicate that deepening roots potentially enhance weathering in two ways. First, deepening roots can control thermodynamic limits of carbonate dissolution by regulating how much CO2 transports downward to the deeper carbonate-rich zone. The base-case data and model from Konza reveal that concentrations of Ca and Dissolved Inorganic Carbon (DIC) are regulated by soil pCO2 driven by the seasonal fluctuation of soil respiration. This relationship can be encapsulated in equations derived in this work describing the dependence of Ca and DIC on temperature and soil CO2, which has been shown to apply in multiple carbonate-dominated catchments. Second, numerical experiments show that roots control weathering rates by regulating the amount of water fluxes that flush through the carbonate zone and export reaction products at dissolution equilibrium. Numerical experiments explored the potential effects of partitioning 40 % of infiltrated water to depth in woodlands compared to 5 % in grasslands. Soil CO2 data from wood- and grasslands suggest relatively similar soil CO2 distribution over depth, and only led to 1 % to 12 % difference in weathering rates if flow partitioning was kept the same between the two land covers. In contrast, deepening roots can enhance weathering by 17 % to 207 % as infiltration rates increased from 3.7 × 10−2 to 3.7 m/yr. Numerical experiments also indicated that weathering fronts in woodlands propagated > 2 times deeper compared to grasslands after 300 years at the infiltration rate of 0.37 m/yr. These differences in weathering fronts are ultimately caused by the contact time of CO2-charged water with carbonate rocks. We recognize that modeling results are subject to limitations in representing processes and parameters, but we propose that the data and numerical experiments allude to the hypothesis that (1) deepening roots can enhance carbonate weathering; (2) the hydrological impacts of rooting characteristics can be more influential than those of soil CO2 distribution in modulating weathering rates. We call for co-located characterizations of roots, subsurface structure, soil CO2 levels, and their linkage to water and water chemistry. These measurements will be essential to improve models and illuminate feedback mechanisms of land cover changes, chemical weathering, global carbon cycle, and climate.

Hang Wen et al.

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Status: final response (author comments only)
Status: final response (author comments only)
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment

Hang Wen et al.


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