Carbonates in the Critical Zone

M. D. Covington, J. B. Martin, L. E. Toran, J. L. Macalady, N. Sekhon, P. L. Sullivan, A. García, J. B. Heffernan, W. D. Graham

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Earth's Critical Zone (CZ), the near-surface layer where rock is weathered and landscapes co-evolve with life, is profoundly influenced by the type of underlying bedrock. Previous studies employing the CZ framework have focused primarily on landscapes dominated by silicate rocks. However, carbonate rocks crop out on approximately 15% of Earth's ice-free continental surface and provide important water resources and ecosystem services to ∼1.2 billion people. Unlike silicates, carbonate minerals weather congruently and have high solubilities and rapid dissolution kinetics, enabling the development of large, interconnected pore spaces and preferential flow paths that restructure the CZ. Here we review the state of knowledge of the carbonate CZ, exploring parameters that produce contrasts in the CZ in different carbonate settings and identifying important open questions about carbonate CZ processes. We introduce the concept of a carbonate-silicate CZ spectrum and examine whether current conceptual models of the CZ, such as the conveyor model, can be applied to carbonate landscapes. We argue that, to advance beyond site-specific understanding and develop a more general conceptual framework for the role of carbonates in the CZ, we need integrative studies spanning both the carbonate-silicate spectrum and a range of carbonate settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022EF002765
JournalEarth's Future
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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