In the course of a new study, scientists have found that the vast volcanic systems of the Earth can both emit carbon dioxide and absorb its excess from the planet’s atmosphere.
An international team of researchers led by scientists from the University of Southampton in the UK conducted the study. They studied the impact on the climate of various processes that take place in the bowels of our planet, as well as in the oceans and the atmosphere over the past 400 million years. The researchers paid special attention to volcanic processes. The results are published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
The natural destruction and dissolution of rocks on the Earth’s surface is called chemical weathering. This process is extremely important because the products of weathering – elements such as calcium and magnesium – are washed away by rivers into the oceans, where they form minerals that hold CO₂. This feedback mechanism regulates the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and, in turn, the global climate.
“It turns out to be something like a feedback mechanism for regulating the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air,” explains Professor of Oceanology and Climate Change Elko Rowling, one of the authors of the project.
Volcanoes emit colossal amounts of CO₂ during massive eruptions, seriously affecting the Earth’s climate. These same volcanoes are subject to rapid weathering, the result of which is the removal of CO₂ from the atmosphere. “Volcanoes should be considered a kind of safety valve that regulates the climate,” adds the scientist.
Artificially enhanced weathering of rocks – where rocks are crushed and scattered over land to accelerate the rate of chemical reactions – could play a key role in safely removing CO₂ from the atmosphere, the study authors note. However, it is safer and faster to reduce emissions, they conclude.