I've seen a few articles lately about research published in the Journal Science that concludes that 26% of the nitrogen in the ecosystem is from rock weathering. These results seem to fill in a nitrogen gap when analyzing the amount of nitrogen in soil and plants from the atmosphere alone.

From here I've noticed a little bit of divergence in the reporting of the results from different sources. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) article seems to basically just quote from the Journal Science article:

"Geology might have a huge control over which systems can take up carbon dioxide and which ones can't," Houlton said. "When thinking about carbon sequestration, the geology of the planet can help guide our decisions."

The Phys.Org article includes another quote from one of the authors:

"Our study shows that nitrogen weathering is a globally significant source of nutrition to soils and ecosystems worldwide," said co-lead author Ben Houlton, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources and director of the UC Davis Muir Institute. "This runs counter the centuries-long paradigm that has laid the foundation for the environmental sciences. We think that this nitrogen may allow forests and grasslands to sequester more fossil fuel CO2 emissions than previously thought."

I also found this in an article from currentaffairs.gktoday.in where the lead paragraph, without a citation, concludes with:

This study could greatly improve climate change projections.

I do realize that some news organizations and publications will over-exaggerate these results, and some may try to ignore these results, based on their political views (and possibly those of their audiences).

What I would like to know is whether or not nitrogen weathering from rocks would change any of the projections of climate models, and if so how?


I came across a Chemical & Engineering article with statements from two biogeochemists on the implications of these findings. One states that constraints on plant growth under high CO2 conditions may not be as large as we think with the knowledge of this addition nitrogen source. One the other hand, the other states that nitrogen from rock weathering is likely too small on a global scale to make a difference that would fall outside the margin of error of current climate models. Perhaps it's just too soon to tell what the implications may be.

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    $\begingroup$ My instinctive reaction is that anything to do with weathering operates on too slow a timescale to be of significance to the climate of the next 100 years but I might be wrong about that. $\endgroup$
    – bon
    Apr 14 '18 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ My first thought was that there must be so many factors that go into climate modeling that this would not make much of a difference. However, I have no idea how much weight available nitrogen has on the calculations, and for that matter have no idea all the variables that go into climate models. $\endgroup$
    – user11318
    Apr 14 '18 at 16:02

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