Magazine article Oceanus

Rivers of Pent-Up Carbon

Magazine article Oceanus

Rivers of Pent-Up Carbon

Article excerpt

With global temperatures continuing to rise, huge reservoirs of organic carbon stored in large river basins could be converted into heat-trapping carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) gas and intensify climate change, according to new research by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientists.

Geochemists Valier Galy and Timothy Eglinton, with French colleagues, collected river sediments from the vast drainage basins of the Ganges River and the Brahmaputra River in Tibet, Nepal, northeastern India, and Bangladesh. They used radiocarbon dating to measure how long organic carbon remained in soils and river sediments before being flushed into the ocean. Although a fraction of organic carbon moved through the basins in a few hundred years, on average it remained in the river system for 3,000 years and in some cases more than 17,000 years.

That means heavy loads of organic carbon were not flushed quickly out of the upper reaches of the rivers. Nor was the carbon rapidly decomposed by microbes, a process that converts organic carbon into C[O. …

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