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Chemical erosion rates in the upper Blue Nile Basin and related atmospheric CO2 consumption

Abstract : Silicate weathering of basaltic rocks constitutes a non-negligible sink of atmospheric CO2 but the role it plays in the regulation of past and future global climate is still matter of debate. In this study, silicate weathering rates for various sub-basins of the Ethiopian Traps, emplaced 30 million years ago, and the corresponding atmospheric CO2 consumption rates are evaluated. For this, major and trace elements were measured in the dissolved phases and in the sedimentary particles carried and deposited by the main rivers flowing through this steep region. Lithium isotopes and major elements were also measured in the extracted clay fractions in order to infer complementary information on weathering processes in this region. Clay δ7Li values correlate positively with Mg/Ti ratios, and are best explained by varying ratios of leaching versus clay formation rate.Although located in a region annually submitted to monsoon, average silicate weathering rate (16.1 tons/km2/year) and CO2 consumption rate (0.65 × 1012 mol/year) are estimated to be low when compared to other basaltic regions such as the Deccan Traps, and volcanically active islands of the tropical zone. This is surprising since the concentrations of Total Dissolved Solids of the Ethiopian rivers are among the highest ones. With a 2D rainfall model that takes into account the detailed topography of the region, annual occurrence of the Monsoon, and monitoring station data, we show that runoff intensity is a key parameter that explains this difference. We determine that, at present, the weathering of the Ethiopian Traps plays a negligible role in the carbon cycle. However, simple calculations, which integrate recent knowledge on African climate variations and on weathering controls, illustrate that during the African Humid Period (14–8 kyr), a significant increase of Monsoon precipitation may have resulted in much higher weathering rates and related CO2 consumption (0.91–1.5 × 1012 mol/year). This study therefore evidences the potential importance of this region in the past, and the need to quantify more precisely the variations of the monsoon intensity and its impact on tropical watersheds for reconstructing past CO2 levels.
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Submitted on : Friday, October 22, 2021 - 8:06:56 PM
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Luc Bastian, Nathalie Vigier, Marie Revel, Gezahegn Yirgu, Dereje Ayalew, et al.. Chemical erosion rates in the upper Blue Nile Basin and related atmospheric CO2 consumption. Chemical Geology, Elsevier, 2019, 518, pp.19-31. ⟨10.1016/j.chemgeo.2019.03.033⟩. ⟨hal-02134565⟩



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