Effect of droughts and climate change on future soil weathering rates in Sweden

In a future warmer climate, extremely dry, warm summers might become more common. Soil weathering is affected by temperature and precipitation, and climate change and droughts can therefore affect soil chemistry and plant nutrition. In this study, climate change and drought effects on soil weathering rates and release of Ca, Mg, K and Na were studied on seven forest sites across different climates in Sweden, using the dynamical model ForSAFE.

Two climate scenarios were run, one medium severity climate change scenario from IPCC (A1B) and one scenario where a future drought period of 5 years was added, while everything else was equal to the first scenario. The model results show a large geographical variation of weathering rates for the sites, without any geographical gradient, despite the strong dependence of temperature on weathering and the strong gradient in temperature in Sweden. This is because soil texture and mineralogy have strong effects on weathering.

The weathering rates have a pronounced seasonal dynamic. Weathering rates are low during winters and generally high, but variable, during summers, depending on soil moisture and temperature. According to the model runs, the future yearly average weathering rates will increase by 5 %–17 % per degree of warming. The relative increase is largest in the two southeastern sites, with low total weathering rates. At sites in southern Sweden, future weathering increase occurs throughout the year according to the modelling.

In the north, the increase in weathering during winters is almost negligible, despite larger temperature increases than in other regions or seasons (5.9 ∘C increase in winter in Högbränna; the yearly average temperature increase for all sites is 3.7 ∘C), as the winter temperatures still will mostly be below zero. The drought scenario has the strongest effect in southern Sweden, where weathering during the later parts of the drought summers decreases to typical winter weathering rates.

Soil texture and amount of gravel also influence how fast the weathering decreases during drought and how fast the soil rewets and reaches normal weathering rates after the drought. The coarsest of the modelled soils dries out and rewets quicker than the less coarse of the modelled soils. In the north, the soils do not dry out as much as in the south, despite the low precipitation, due to lower evapotranspiration, and in the northernmost site, weathering is not much affected. Yearly weathering during the drought years relative to the same years in the A1B scenario are between 78 % and 96 % for the sites.

The study shows that it is crucial to take seasonal climate variations and soil texture into account when assessing the effects of a changed climate on weathering rates and plant nutrient availability.

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