Carbon cycle in the rivers; a drop from the ocean

Author:  Ziadh Muhammed

Date:  February 2008

Professor Aaron Packman of the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, teamed up with ecologists and microbiologists to study a segment in the global carbon cycle; river carbon cycle. Their work has been published in the online journal Nature Geoscience recently.

The carbon cycle, the biochemical cycle which explains how carbon is exchanged between the elements in the earth, now attracts many researchers due to the significant contribution of carbon dioxide in global warming and climate change. However, studying the global carbon cycle is a huge challenge. Professor Packman and his team has contributed to it by studying the carbon cycle in rivers.

In the paper, he has pointed out that the river carbon cycle plays a bigger role in global carbon cycle than previously understood. The paper further explains the guidelines for the assessment of the processes in the carbon cycle.

So far, the carbon cycle in the river has been based on what flows to the ocean through the complex and dynamic nature of the river. "But that's not really enough," Packman argued. "You miss all this internal cycling."

River carbon cycle occurs with the help of microorganisms and bacteria. Carbon in the rivers is incorporated into the cells of microorganisms while bacteria consume dead organic matters and release carbon dioxide. This carbon consumption and transformation occur at rapid rates. However, the global carbon models do not account for all the carbon since the contribution of the river carbon cycle has not been taken into account. "There's a loss of carbon, and one place that could be occurring is in river systems," Packman said.

Packman believes this study would contribute to global efforts in understanding the carbon cycle. "The broadest idea is really part of global change efforts to understand carbon cycling over the whole Earth, which is an enormous challenge," Packman added.

Written by Muhammed Ziadh

Reviewed by Maria Huang

Published by Pooja Ghatalia.