Seafloor Weathering As a Long-Term Climate Regulation Mechanism

Monday, 15 December 2014
Navah X Farahat, Dorian S Abbot and David E Archer, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, United States
The global carbon cycle determines the distribution of carbon between the atmosphere, ocean, and solid earth. Carbon from the mantle enters the Earth's surficial environment as CO2 by volcanic outgassing, and carbon is buried in the oceanic crust as carbonate rocks during silicate rock weathering. The subduction of carbonate-rich oceanic plates returns carbon to the mantle, closing the cycle. Subtle adjustments in continental silicate weathering, widely held to consume atmospheric CO2 at a rate controlled by climate, are believed to have maintained habitable conditions throughout Earth's history. This long term climate regulation mechanism is known as a climate-weathering feedback. Seafloor weathering, low-temperature basalt alteration and carbonate precipitation in the permeable upper oceanic crust, has been proposed as a climate-weathering feedback as well, but the link to climate is presently poorly understood. Such a climate regulation mechanism would be particularly important on waterworld planets where continental silicate weathering cannot regulate climate. 
It has so far not been possible to determine whether changes in seafloor weathering could contribute to climate regulation on Earth or in a waterworld scenario because the necessary modeling framework has not yet been developed. However, advances in porous media flow modeling and reactive transport modeling, as well as the availability of inexpensive computational power, allow the seafloor weathering problem to be looked at in greater detail. We have developed a spatially resolved two-dimmensional (2D) numerical model of seafloor weathering in the permeable upper oceanic crust. This model simulates 2D off-axis hydrothermal flow coupled to geochemical alteration of seafloor basalt by modeling reactive transport of chemical species in seawater-derived hydrothermal fluids. The focus of this research is to use the model to determine the effect of geological and climatic factors on seafloor weathering, which will constrain the ability of seafloor weathering to participate in long-term climate regulation and the evolution of a habitable planet.