Do not underestimate the babbling brook. When it comes to greenhouse gases, these bucolic water bodies have the potential to create a lot of hot air.
According to a new analysis in the journal Ecological Monographs, by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and colleagues, the world's rivers and streams pump about 10 times more methane into our atmosphere than scientists estimated in previous studies. The new study also found that human activity seems to drive which streams are the biggest contributors.
"Scientists know that inland waters, like lakes and reservoirs, are big sources of methane," says Emily Stanley, a professor at the UW-Madison Center for Limnology and lead author of the paper. Yet accurately measuring emissions of methane from these sources has remained a challenge.
Like carbon dioxide, methane is a greenhouse gas that traps heat at the Earth's surface. It is less prevalent than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but also more potent: A molecule of methane results in more warming than a molecule of carbon dioxide. Understanding how much methane is emitted into the atmosphere from all sources helps scientists account for the full global greenhouse gas budget, and take measures to mitigate its impact.
Rivers and streams haven't received much attention in accounting for that budget, Stanley says, because they don't take up much surface area on a global scale and, with respect to methane, didn't seem to be all that gassy. But over the years, measurements taken by Stanley and her lab members seemed to indicate these sources may produce more methane than scientists had previously known.
Together with other center researchers and scientists at the University of Winnipeg and the U.S. Geological Survey's LandCarbon Project, the team created a database of measured methane flux (the exchange of the gas between water and atmosphere) and methane concentrations measured in streams and rivers using data from 111 publications and three unpublished datasets.
The research team then used two different methods to calculate the best estimates of global methane emissions from the data. They found the emissions to be an order of magnitude higher than scientists had previously reported.
The result was "very surprising," Stanley says. "I thought maybe we'd be off by a factor of two, so I was taken aback by how much higher the estimate was."
The researchers pointed to one possible reason: Not every stream is identical. The analysis revealed noticeably higher methane emissions from streams and rivers in watersheds marked with heavy agriculture, urban development or the presence of dams. This suggests efforts to improve stream health may have the added benefit of reducing greenhouse gases.
"The fact that human activity in a watershed leads to high methane concentrations in those rivers and streams underscores yet another reason to pay attention to water quality," says Stanley. "On top of everything else, it adds to this climate problem, too."
Methane from freshwater is often a byproduct of bacterial metabolism, as they break down organic matter under low-oxygen conditions, like in the sediment at the bottom of a lake. As the climate warms, the contribution of greenhouse gases from natural sources likes rivers, streams and wetlands is expected to increase because higher temperatures accelerate this bacterial breakdown, releasing more carbon dioxide and methane.
The next step, says Stanley, is figuring out where all that methane comes from. Running rivers and streams are usually better aerated and full of oxygen, making all that methane a bit of a mystery. Is it coming from groundwater? Somewhere along a riverbank? At the bottom of the stream itself? For now, the babbling brook is keeping that information to itself.
Adam Hinterthuer (608) 890-2187, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Stanley | EurekAlert!
Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union
UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
24.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences
24.10.2016 | Life Sciences