The CO2 consumption potential during gray shale weathering: Insights from the evolution of carbon isotopes in the Susquehanna Shale Hills critical zone observatory

Publication Date


Document Type



Jin L, Ogrinc N, Yesavage T, Hasenmueller EA, Ma L, Sullivan PL, Kaye J, Duffy C, Brantley SL. The CO2 consumption potential during gray shale weathering: Insights from the evolution of carbon isotopes in the susquehanna shale hills critical zone observatory. Geochimica Et Cosmochimica Acta 2014 1 October 2014;142:260-80.


Shale covers about 25% of the land surface, and is therefore an important rock type that consumes CO2 during weathering. We evaluated the potential of gray shale to take up CO2 from the atmosphere by investigating the evolution of dissolved inorganiccarbon (DIC) concentrations and its carbon isotopic ratio (δ13CDIC) along water flow paths in a well-characterized critical zone observatory (Susquehanna Shale Hills catchment). In this catchment, chemical weathering in shallow soils is dominated by clay transformation as no carbonates are present, and soil pore waters are characterized by low DIC and pH. In shallow soil porewaters, the DIC, dominated by dissolved CO2, is in chemical and isotopic equilibrium with CO2 in the soil atmosphere where pCO2 varies seasonally to as high as 40 times that of the atmosphere. The degradation of ancient organic matter is negligible in contributing to soil CO2. The chemistry of groundwater varies along different flowpaths as soil pore water recharges to the water table and then dissolves ankerite or secondary calcite under the valley floor. Weathering of carbonate leads to much higher concentrations of DIC (∼2500 μmol/L) and divalent cations(Ca2+ and Mg2+) in groundwaters than soil waters. The depth to the ankerite weathering front is hypothesized to be roughly coincident with the water table but it varies due to heterogeneities in the protolith composition. Groundwater chemistry therefore shows different saturation indices with respect to ankerite depending upon location along the valley. The δ13CDIC values of these groundwaters document mixing between the ankerite and soil CO2. The major element concentrations, DIC, and δ13CDIC in the first-order stream incising the valley of the catchment are derived from groundwater and soil waters in proportions that vary both spatially and temporally. The CO2degassed slightly in the stream but little evidence of C isotopic equilibration with the atmosphere is observed, due to the short length of the stream and short contact time with air.

The ankerite reaction front also lies close to the pyrite dissolution front. Pyrite oxidation in bedrock likely released sulfuric acid and played a minor role in the ankerite dissolution, shifting groundwater δ13CDIC slightly above the expected mixing values. At the catchment scale, the stream SO42− is also dominantly derived from wet deposition, as stream has δ34SSO4 values around 3‰, well within the range of acid deposition.

A mass balance calculation shows that silicate and ankerite dissolution of the Rose Hill shale at Shale Hills consumes CO2 at a rate of ∼44 and ∼42–48 mol m−2 ky−1 respectively, while degradation of ancient organic matter releases CO2 at a rate of ∼1.3 mol m−2 ky−1. Silicate dissolution at the shallow soils is facilitated by low pH and high soil pCO2. As ankerite dissolution and organic matter oxidation are shown to occur early during shale alteration, CO2 consumption by shale weathering is thus limited by initiation of rock disintegration (e.g., fractures) and exposure of fresh surface area to infiltrating CO2- and O2-rich water.