Evolution of the Cenozoic carbon cycle: the roles of tectonics and CO2 fertilization

Gaojun Li*, Junfeng Ji, Jun Chen, David B Kemp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Cenozoic carbon fluxes associated with rock weathering, sediment burial, and volcanic degassing are calculated from the mass balance equations coupling marine isotopic records of carbon (both organic and inorganic), strontium, and osmium. The result is confirmed by the good match between modeled carbonate sedimentation rates and carbonate sedimentation rates previously integrated from ocean basins worldwide. The coevolution between weathering and burial of carbonate suggests that marine carbonate accumulation was regulated mainly by the recycling of carbonate rocks, which mediated the bicarbonate ion concentration of the oceans. A reduction in CO2 effusion to the atmosphere caused by reduced volcanic degassing from 52 to 15 Ma and tectonically enhanced organic rock exhumation since 15 Ma is also observed. These changes in CO2 effusion are balanced by concomitant changes in CO2 sequestration by silicate weathering and organic carbon burial. Importantly, we demonstrate a clear decoupling of modeled silicate weathering rates from global climate over the last ∼15 Ma. This observation is inconsistent with temperature-mediated mineral dissolution acting as the key mechanism facilitating the CO2 silicate weathering feedback process. However, we instead observe a clear coupling (positive correlation) between modeled silicate weathering, organic carbon burial, and atmospheric CO 2 concentration. We suggest that CO2 fertilization effects on terrestrial biomass productivity and plant weathering could have represented a major negative feedback process helping to balance atmospheric CO 2, at least during the Cenozoic ice house periods.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberGB1009
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Biogeochemical Cycles
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009


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