In this week’s Nature journal (22 November) an international team, led by researchers from UCL (University College London) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), demonstrates that the colour change is indicative of a return to a more natural, pre-industrial state following a decline in the level of acid rain.
Don Monteith, Senior Research Fellow at the UCL Environmental Change Research Centre, says: “A huge amount of carbon is stored in the form of organic deposits in soils, and particularly in the peatlands that surround many of our remote surface waters. In the past two decades an increasing amount of this carbon has been dissolving into our rivers and lakes, turning the water brown.
“There have been numerous attempts to explain what’s happening, with everything from global warming to changing land-use cited as the cause. Some studies have suggested that we’re seeing an unprecedented phenomenon as soils destabilise with unpredictable consequences for the global carbon cycle.”
John Stoddard of the EPA says: “By analysing water chemistry records from over 500 sites across the northern hemisphere we’ve found that the dominant factor in the whole process is not global warming. The most important driver has actually been the major reduction in acid rain since the 1970s. As acidity and pollutant concentrations in the soil fall, carbon becomes more soluble, which means more of it moves into our lakes and rivers and more can be exported to the oceans.
“In some ways we’re seeing waters returning to their natural, pre-industrial state. However, more research is needed into the implications for freshwaters. The environmental pathways of heavy metals like aluminium and mercury, for example, are closely tied to dissolved organic carbon, and it’s too early to know how increasing organic matter will affect these toxic compounds.
Chris Evans, from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, adds: “The suggestion that waters are returning to more natural conditions may be of little consolation to water supply companies as they are faced with the increasingly difficult - and expensive – task of removing the colour from drinking water using treatment facilities that were designed to deal with the lower concentrations experienced in previous years.”
Data for this study was drawn from nationally funded monitoring programs in the UK, USA, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Trends in dissolved organic carbon, air temperatures and a suite of other chemical variables were assessed using data from 1990-2004. The study is the largest of its kind and the data represents the main source of high quality, long-term information about the condition of our headwater systems. Ironically many of the study sites, including those in the UK, are under threat of imminent closure or scaling back due to cuts in government funding. This comes despite increasing recognition of the urgent need to monitor the response of natural environments to climate change and other man-made pressures, and the obvious value of these records for increasing our understanding of environmental processes.
David Weston | alfa
Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
26.06.2017 | Life Sciences
26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.06.2017 | Information Technology