Scaling of Geochemical Reaction Rates via Advective Solute Transport
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Transport in porous media is quite complex, and still yields occasional surprises. In geological porous media, the rate at which chemical reactions (e.g., weathering and dissolution) occur is found to diminish by orders of magnitude with increasing time or distance. The temporal rates of laboratory experiments and field observations differ, and extrapolating from laboratory experiments (in months) to field rates (in millions of years) can lead to order-of-magnitude errors. The reactions are transport-limited, but characterizing them using standard solute transport expressions can yield results in agreement with experiment only if spurious assumptions and parameters are introduced. We previously developed a theory of non-reactive solute transport based on applying critical path analysis to the cluster statistics of percolation. The fractal structure of the clusters can be used to generate solute distributions in both time and space. Solute velocities calculated from the temporal evolution of that distribution have the same time dependence as reaction-rate scaling in a wide range of field studies and laboratory experiments, covering some 10 decades in time. The present theory thus both explains a wide range of experiments, and also predicts changes in the scaling behavior in individual systems with increasing time and/or length scales. No other theory captures these variations in scaling by invoking a single physical mechanism. Because the successfully predicted chemical reactions include known results for silicate weathering rates, our theory provides a framework for understanding changes in the global carbon cycle, including its effects on extinctions, climate change, soil production, and denudation rates. It further provides a basis for understanding the fundamental time scales of hydrology and shallow geochemistry, as well as the basis of industrial agriculture. (C) 2015 AIP Publishing LLC.