Element mobility during basalt-water-CO2 interaction: observations in natural systems vs. laboratory experiments and implication for carbon storage

Geochem Trans. 2024 May 16;25(1):4. doi: 10.1186/s12932-024-00087-7.


Today, carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere is the most ambitious challenge to mitigate climate changes. Basalt rocks are abundant on the Earth's surface (≈ 10%) and very abundant in the ocean floors and subaerial environments. Glassy matrix and minerals constituting these rocks contain metals (Ca2+, Mg2+, Fe2+) that can react with carbonic acid to form metal carbonates (CaCO3, MgO3 and FeCO3). Here, we present a data compilation of the chemical composition of waters circulating in basalt aquifers worldwide and the results of simple basalt-water-CO2 experiments. Induced or naturally occurring weathering of basalts rocks release elements in waters and elemental concentration is closely dependent on water CO2 concentration (and hence on water pH). We also performed two series of experiments where basaltic rock powder interacts with CO2-charged waters for one month at room temperature. Laboratory experiments evidenced that in the first stages of water-rock interaction, the high content of CO2 dissolved in water accelerates the basalt weathering process, releasing in the water not only elements that can form carbonate minerals but also other elements, which depending on their concentration can be essential or toxic for life. Relative mobility of elements such as Fe and Al, together with rare earth elements, increases at low pH conditions, while it decreases notably at neutral pH conditions. The comparison between experimental findings and natural evidence allowed to better understand the geochemical processes in basaltic aquifers hosted in active and inactive volcanic systems and to discuss these findings in light of the potential environmental impact of CO2 storage in mafic and ultramafic rocks.

Keywords: CO2 storage in mafic rocks; Element mobility in groundwaters; Rock-water-CO2 interaction processes.