The Boundless Carbon Cycle Reflection

The Boundless Carbon Cycle (Battin et al 2009) provides an argument for why inland waters are important in the carbon cycle, as well as covering some carbon cycle basics. The article points out that only about 1% of Earth’s surface is covered by inland waters (streams, rivers, ponds), but 1% is still a lot and can have a big impact (Battin et al 2009). Remember that around 1% of Earth’s water is drinkable (non-saline, nor frozen), and that 1% is pretty important to us!

Inland waters are important because they transport carbon that goes from land to sea. They also mineralize and bury that carbon, being a helpful sink. But as the climate changes, will inland waters take in more carbon? More carbon will be transported to these waters through erosion, and will be stored in sediments and transported to the ocean, but some of it will just be fed back into the atmosphere (Quillen 2007).  And carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere just propagates climate change. 

We still need to know more about the amount of carbon they sequester. The top down approach starts in the atmosphere, and lets you better find sinks. The bottom up approach starts at the ground level, where there are both sinks and sources like soils and vegetation. It seems like both of these methods do not account for inland waters, and they can be lumped with terrestrial sinks or overlooked in considering the movement of carbon from land to sea.

I chose Feng’s article because she discusses different accounting methods. I thought I would find a better way of quantifying carbon transitions. Annual carbon, annualized carbon, and ton/year methods are all looked at. Feng states that if carbon transport is linear, that is if all carbon is moving at the same rate, then each of these methods used would produce the same answer for a system (Feng 2005). But, we know that carbon movement is non-linear. So, there are many factors that can affect results.  But, as Battin et al describes, quantifying carbon is critical for predicting climate change. It seems like we need better ways to estimate carbon fluxes, and pay more attention to inland waters.

The USGS is doing a project called LandCarbon, the National Assessment of Ecosystem Carbon Sequestration and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes. The project includes aquatic ecosystems, so hopefully they will find out more about the processes. I included the image they used to show the carbon reservoirs they will look at. Here’s their site:




Battin, Tom J., Sebastian Luyssaert, Louis A. Kaplan, Anthony K. Aufdenkampe, Adreas Richter, Lars J. Tranvik. 2009. The Boundless Carbon Cycle. Nature Geoscience. Vol (2): 598-600.

Feng, Hongli. 2005. The Dynamics of Carbon Sequestration and Alternative Carbon Accounting, with an Application to the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Ecological Economics [Internet]. Vol. (54) 23-35.

Quillen, Lori. 2007. The Global Carbon Budget – Proper Accounting Means Paying Attention to Inland Waters. Available from:


2 responses to “The Boundless Carbon Cycle Reflection”

  1. mckennast says :

    I find it disturbing that we are not able to obtain accurate data for inland water carbon sequestration.It is important that the producers of this information as certain in their findings because it effects law-making and the world economy. I am not in opposition to putting everything we have into research and preservation as well as new methods to balance the carbon cycle. I just know that when it comes to time and money there are many critics involved in the law-making processes that would like to say since a scientist was uncertain about a set of data that the whole idea of global climate change is a hoax and that nothing needs to be done. Especially not anything that involves government money. Doubt of global climate change is not only occurring in America either. Here is an article from a Canadian journal:
    I have found that in many of my classes that we ignore people who say that climate change is a hoax or we argue endlessly with those that deny evolution but we do not give them any serious credence. We do not take into consideration that our own policy makers are people who do not believe. We may think they are stubborn crackpots but they are in more power and control of the situation then we are. I think that is why we must be absolutely sure and take all carbon sinks and sources into consideration and figure out ways to measure the different parts of the carbon cycle in all parts of the Earth’s different cycles. Also, if we do not have accurate data then we will not be able to form better methods for balancing the carbon cycle. We need to know exactly how much carbon we have in excess in order to develop practices to reduce that much carbon over time.

    Individual actions can also help reduce carbon emissions so here is an article that outlines ten ways to reduce your own carbon footprint that we can all think about and practice in our day to day living:

  2. carbonconnections says :

    Great Post Abby! You have picked out some good supporting materials with your papers referenced and the USGS site you have shared. Hopefully these can serve as good resources as you guys develop your research project and poster. It seems like the article did a good job putting the challenges associated with measuring carbon flux in inland waters into context. Thanks for your reflection!

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