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A capacitor‐discharge mechanism to explain the timing of orogeny‐related global glaciations

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Abstract

Over geological timescales, mountain building or orogenesis is associated with increased weathering, the drawdown of atmospheric CO2, and global cooling. However, a multimillion‐year delay appears to exist between peaks in low‐latitude mountain uplift and the maximum extent of Phanerozoic glaciation, implying a more complex causal relationship between the two. Here we show that global silicate weathering can be modulated by orogeny in three distinct phases. High, young mountain belts experience preferential precipitation and the highest erosion. As mountains are denuded, precipitation decreases, but runoff temperature rises, sharply increasing chemical weathering potential and CO2 drawdown. In the final phase, erosion and weathering are throttled by flatter topography. We conclude that orogeny acts as a capacitor in the climate system, granting the potential for intense transient CO2 drawdown when mountain ranges are denuded; the mechanism suggests such a scenario potentially happening 10‐50 million years in the future.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8347-8354
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Volume46
Issue number14
Early online date12 Jul 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2019
Peer-reviewedYes

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ID: 160512546