Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Studying rivers for clues to global carbon cycle

12.02.2008
In the science world, in the media, and recently, in our daily lives, the debate continues over how carbon in the atmosphere is affecting global climate change. Studying just how carbon cycles throughout the Earth is an enormous challenge, but one Northwestern University professor is doing his part by studying one important segment -- rivers.

Aaron Packman, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, is collaborating with ecologists and microbiologists from around the world to study how organic carbon is processed in rivers.

Packman, who specializes in studying how particles and sediment move around in rivers, is co-author of a paper on the topic published online in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The paper evaluates our current understanding of carbon dynamics in rivers and reaches two important conclusions: it argues that carbon processing in rivers is a bigger component of global carbon cycling than people previously thought, and it lays out a framework for how scientists should go about assessing those processes.

Much more is known about carbon cycling in the atmosphere and oceans than in rivers. Evaluating large-scale material cycling in a river provides a challenge -- everything is constantly moving, and a lot of it moves in floods. As a result, much of what we know about carbon processing in rivers is based on what flows into the ocean.

“But that’s not really enough,” Packman said. “You miss all this internal cycling.”

In order to understand how carbon cycles around the globe -- through the land, freshwater, oceans and atmosphere -- scientists need to understand how it moves around, how it’s produced, how it’s retained in different places and how long it stays there.

In rivers, carbon is both transformed and consumed. Microorganisms like algae take carbon out of the atmosphere and incorporate it into their own cells, while bacteria eat dead organic matter and then release CO2 back into the atmosphere.

“It’s been known for a long time that global carbon models don’t really account for all the carbon,” Packman said. “There’s a loss of carbon, and one place that could be occurring is in river systems.” Even though river waters contain a small fraction of the total water on earth, they are such dynamic environments because microorganisms consume and transform carbon at rapid rates.

“We’re evaluating how the structure and transport conditions and the dynamics of rivers create a greater opportunity for microbial processing,” Packman said.

Packman is the first to admit that studying microorganisms, carbon and rivers sounds more like ecology than engineering. But such problems require work from all different areas, he said.

“We’re dealing with such interdisciplinary problems, tough problems, so we have to put fluid mechanics, transport, ecology and microbiology together to find this overall cycling of carbon,” he said. “People might say it’s a natural science paper, but to me it’s a modern engineering paper. To understand what’s going on with these large-scale processes, we have to analyze them quantitatively, and the tools for getting good estimates have been developed in engineering.”

Packman was introduced to the co-authors of the paper -- ecologists who study how dead leaves and soil drive stream ecology and who come from as far away as Spain and Austria -- about 10 years ago through the activity of the Stroud Water Research Center in Pennsylvania.

Since then, they have collaborated on many similar projects around river structure and transport dynamics. They are currently working on a project funded by the National Science Foundation on the dynamics of organic carbon in rivers and trying to understand how carbon delivered from upstream areas influence the ecology of downstream locations.

“The broadest idea is really part of global change efforts to understand carbon cycling over the whole Earth, which is an enormous challenge,” Packman said.

Megan Fellman | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.northwestern.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht 558 million-year-old fat reveals earliest known animal
21.09.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

nachricht Glacial engineering could limit sea-level rise, if we get our emissions under control
20.09.2018 | European Geosciences Union

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 present new observations to understand the phase transition in quantum chromodynamics

The building blocks of matter in our universe were formed in the first 10 microseconds of its existence, according to the currently accepted scientific picture. After the Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago, matter consisted mainly of quarks and gluons, two types of elementary particles whose interactions are governed by quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the theory of strong interaction. In the early universe, these particles moved (nearly) freely in a quark-gluon plasma.

This is a joint press release of University Muenster and Heidelberg as well as the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.

Then, in a phase transition, they combined and formed hadrons, among them the building blocks of atomic nuclei, protons and neutrons. In the current issue of...

Im Focus: Patented nanostructure for solar cells: Rough optics, smooth surface

Thin-film solar cells made of crystalline silicon are inexpensive and achieve efficiencies of a good 14 percent. However, they could do even better if their shiny surfaces reflected less light. A team led by Prof. Christiane Becker from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) has now patented a sophisticated new solution to this problem.

"It is not enough simply to bring more light into the cell," says Christiane Becker. Such surface structures can even ultimately reduce the efficiency by...

Im Focus: New soft coral species discovered in Panama

A study in the journal Bulletin of Marine Science describes a new, blood-red species of octocoral found in Panama. The species in the genus Thesea was discovered in the threatened low-light reef environment on Hannibal Bank, 60 kilometers off mainland Pacific Panama, by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama (STRI) and the Centro de Investigación en Ciencias del Mar y Limnología (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica.

Scientists established the new species, Thesea dalioi, by comparing its physical traits, such as branch thickness and the bright red colony color, with the...

Im Focus: New devices based on rust could reduce excess heat in computers

Physicists explore long-distance information transmission in antiferromagnetic iron oxide

Scientists have succeeded in observing the first long-distance transfer of information in a magnetic group of materials known as antiferromagnets.

Im Focus: Finding Nemo's genes

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome

An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome, providing the research community with an invaluable resource to decode the response of fish to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

"Boston calling": TU Berlin and the Weizenbaum Institute organize a conference in USA

21.09.2018 | Event News

One of the world’s most prominent strategic forums for global health held in Berlin in October 2018

03.09.2018 | Event News

4th Intelligent Materials - European Symposium on Intelligent Materials

27.08.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Astrophysicists measure precise rotation pattern of sun-like stars for the first time

21.09.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Brought to light – chromobodies reveal changes in endogenous protein concentration in living cells

21.09.2018 | Life Sciences

"Boston calling": TU Berlin and the Weizenbaum Institute organize a conference in USA

21.09.2018 | Event News

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>