Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Greenhouse gas impact of hydroelectric reservoirs downgraded

02.08.2011
Site design and location can minimize carbon dioxide, methane emissions

An international team of scientists has amassed the largest data set to date on greenhouse gas emissions from hydroelectric reservoirs. Their analysis, published today in the online version of Nature Geoscience, posits that these human-made systems emit about 1/6 of the carbon dioxide and methane previously attributed to them.

Prior studies based on more limited data cautioned that hydroelectric reservoirs could be a significant and large source of both carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere.

Through an analysis of 85 globally-distributed hydroelectric reservoirs, the authors revealed that these systems emit 48 million metric tons of carbon annually, a downgrade from earlier estimates of 321 million metric tons. Further putting things in perspective, hydroelectric reservoirs are responsible for less than 16% of the total carbon dioxide and methane emissions from all types of human-made reservoirs combined.

"Our analysis indicates that hydroelectric reservoirs are not major contributors to the greenhouse gas problem," comments Dr. Jonathan Cole, a limnologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and one of the paper's authors. "But there are some caveats. To date, only 17% of potential hydroelectric reservoir sites have been exploited, and impacts vary based on reservoir age, size, and location."

Carbon dioxide and methane are two of the main greenhouse gases created by human activities. Carbon dioxide is produced during the combustion of nearly any organic material; methane has a variety of industrial sources. Both gases are also produced naturally, particularly in wetlands and lakes.

When rivers are dammed to make the reservoirs needed for hydroelectricity, flooding creates lake-like conditions that generate carbon dioxide and methane. Emissions are the highest following reservoir construction, due to decomposing vegetation and soil organic matter. As reservoirs age, emissions decline, with cold-water systems stabilizing more rapidly than their warm-water counterparts.

Lead author MSc. Nathan Barros, of the Federal University of Juiz de Fora further explains, "The bottom line is that per unit of energy, hydroelectric generation produces much less carbon dioxide and methane emissions than previously thought, but impacts are not equal across all landscapes."

The amount of greenhouse gases generated by hydroelectric reservoirs depends on where they are built, with the team's analysis indicating that emissions are correlated with latitude and the amount of biomass in the watershed. With Barros adding, "Reservoirs in tropical locations, such as the Amazon, emit more methane and carbon throughout their lifecycles."

Hydroelectricity supplies an estimated 20% of the world's electricity and accounts for more than 85% of electricity from renewable sources. Future development is expected globally.

The paper's authors urge careful consideration of site location and design. "During the environmental impact phase, it should be a goal to minimize the amount of carbon dioxide and methane emitted per unit of energy generated," Cole notes.

To truly tease apart the emissions generated by hydroelectricity, the authors also call for a study that assesses a site's carbon budget before and after reservoir construction. Pre- and post flooding analysis would clarify the net carbon impact of hydroelectric reservoirs.

Other contributors to the paper included Drs. Lars J. Tranvik, Yves T. Prairie, David Bastviken, Vera L. M. Huszar, Paul del Giorgio, and Fábio Roland.

The work was supported by grants from FURNAS Centrais Elétricas and from the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT).

The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is a private, not-for-profit environmental research and education organization in Millbrook, N.Y. For more than twenty-five years, Cary Institute scientists have been investigating the complex interactions that govern the natural world. Their objective findings lead to more effective policy decisions and increased environmental literacy. Focal areas include air and water pollution, climate change, invasive species, and the ecological dimensions of infectious disease. Learn more at www.caryinstitute.org

Lori M. Quillen | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.caryinstitute.org

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Arctic melt ponds form when meltwater clogs ice pores
24.01.2017 | University of Utah

nachricht New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland
19.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein

X-ray study throws light on key process for production

A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers

24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Choreographing the microRNA-target dance

24.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Spanish scientists create a 3-D bioprinter to print human skin

24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>