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Posted Wed Aug 18 2010: from Rice, via EnvironmentalResearchWeb:
Carbon surprise on Texas river
A new study by geochemists at Rice University finds that damming and other human activity has completely obscured the natural carbon dioxide cycle in Texas' longest river, the Brazos. "The natural factors that influence carbon dioxide cycling in the Brazos are fairly obvious, and we expected the radiocarbon signature of the river to reflect those influences," said study co-author Caroline Masiello, assistant professor of Earth science at Rice. "But it looks like whatever the natural process was in the Brazos, in terms of sources and sinks of carbon dioxide, it has been completely overprinted by human activities." ... Plants take up carbon dioxide from the air via photosynthesis and store it in their leaves and stems. Some of that stored carbon gets buried in the soil and locked away for hundreds or thousands of years. But much is also washed into rivers, where rapid decomposition can quickly return it to the atmosphere. Understanding when and where that plant carbon dioxide is returned to the atmosphere is essential if policymakers are to plan effective carbon-sequestration strategies.... Scientists currently believe Earth's rivers take up about 1 gigaton of carbon each year and give off about the same amount. But the exact dynamics of the process are largely unknown. For example, the residence time of carbon dioxide - how long it stays in the river - has been studied in fewer than a half a dozen rivers worldwide. If a significant number of those rivers are like the Brazos, scientists may need to adjust the way they think about rivers inhaling and exhaling carbon dioxide.
[Read more stories about: carbon sequestration, water issues]

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