On nutrients and trace metals: Effects from Enhanced Weathering

Monday, 14 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Thorben Amann and Jens Hartmann, University of Hamburg, Center for Earth System Research and Sustainability (CEN), Hamburg, Germany
The application of rock flour on suitable land (“Enhanced Weathering”) is one proposed strategy to reduce the increase of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. At the same time it is an old and established method to add fertiliser and influence soil properties. Investigations of this method focused on the impact on the carbonate system, as well as on engineering aspects of a large-scale application, but potential side effects were never discussed quantitatively.

We analysed about 120,000 geochemically characterised volcanic rock samples from the literature. Applying basic statistics, theoretical release rates of nutrients and potential contaminants by Enhanced Weathering were evaluated for typical rock types.

Applied rock material can contain significant amounts of essential or beneficial nutrients (potassium, phosphorus, micronutrients). Their release can partly cover the demand of major crops like wheat, rice or corn, thereby increasing crop yield on degraded soils. However, the concentrations of considered elements are variable within a specific rock type, depending on the geological setting. High heavy metal concentrations are found in (ultra-) basic rocks, the class with the highest CO2 drawdown potential. More acidic rocks contain less or no critical amounts, but sequester less CO2.

Findings show that the rock selection determines the capability to supply significant amounts of nutrients, which could partly substitute industrial mineral fertiliser usage. At the same time, the release of harmful trace element has to be considered. Through careful selection of regionally available rocks, benefits could be maximised and drawbacks reduced. The deployment of Enhanced Weathering to sequester CO2 and to ameliorate soils necessitates an ecosystem management, considering the release and fate of weathered elements in plants, soils and water. Cropland with degraded soils would benefit while having a net negative CO2 effect, while other carbon dioxide removal strategies, like afforestation, biofuel production, and biochar application could benefit from Enhanced Weathering side effects, as organic carbon pools are positively influenced.