Global climate stabilisation by chemical weathering during the Hirnantian glaciation

P. A. E. Pogge von Strandmann, A. Desrochers, M. J. Murphy, Alexander Finlay, D. Selby, T. M. Lenton

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    Chemical weathering of silicate rocks is a primary drawdown mechanism of atmospheric carbon dioxide. The processes that affect weathering are therefore central in controlling global climate. A temperature-controlled “weathering thermostat” has long been proposed in stabilising long-term climate, but without definitive evidence from the geologic record. Here we use lithium isotopes (δ7Li) to assess the impact of silicate weathering across a significant climate-cooling period, the end-Ordovician Hirnantian glaciation (~445 Ma). We find a positive δ7Li excursion, suggestive of a silicate weathering decline. Using a coupled lithium-carbon model, we show that initiation of the glaciation was likely caused by declining CO2 degassing, which triggered abrupt global cooling, and much lower weathering rates. This lower CO2 drawdown during the glaciation allowed climatic recovery and deglaciation. Combined, the data and model provide support from the geological record for the operation of the weathering thermostat.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalGeochemical Perspectives Letters
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2017


    • silicate weathering
    • weathering thermostat
    • mass extinction
    • Ordovician
    • carbon cycle
    • RCUK
    • NERC
    • NE/ I020571/2
    • NE/N018508/1


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