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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Geochemical and tectonic uplift controls on rock nitrogen inputs across terrestrial ecosystems

  • Author(s): Morford, SL
  • Houlton, BZ
  • Dahlgren, RA
  • et al.

©2016. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved. Rock contains > 99% of Earth's reactive nitrogen (N), but questions remain over the direct importance of rock N weathering inputs to terrestrial biogeochemical cycling. Here we investigate the factors that regulate rock N abundance and develop a new model for quantifying rock N mobilization fluxes across desert to temperate rainforest ecosystems in California, USA. We analyzed the N content of 968 rock samples from 531 locations and compiled 178 cosmogenically derived denudation estimates from across the region to identify landscapes and ecosystems where rocks account for a significant fraction of terrestrial N inputs. Strong coherence between rock N content and geophysical factors, such as protolith, (i.e. parent rock), grain size, and thermal history, are observed. A spatial model that combines rock geochemistry with lithology and topography demonstrates that average rock N reservoirs range from 0.18 to 1.2 kg N m-3(80 to 534 mg N kg-1) across the nine geomorphic provinces of California and estimates a rock N denudation flux of 20-92 Gg yr-1across the entire study area (natural atmospheric inputs ~ 140 Gg yr-1). The model highlights regional differences in rock N mobilization and points to the Coast Ranges, Transverse Ranges, and the Klamath Mountains as regions where rock N could contribute meaningfully to ecosystem N cycling. Contrasting these data to global compilations suggests that our findings are broadly applicable beyond California and that the N abundance and variability in rock are well constrained across most of the Earth system.

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