Plumbing the Global Carbon Cycle Reflection

This article talks about the importance of including inland waters into carbon estimates, and how each inland water system stores and transports carbon differently. They tested the “neutral pipe” theory by looking more closely at inland water systems.  Fig. 1a shows how inland waters are seen as a pathway for carbon from the land to sea, like a pipe. But in Fig. 1b you can see what is actually happening in inland waters, that they take in more carbon than is transported to the sea, and carbon is escaping into the atmosphere and being stored in sediments. 

There are many different types of inland waters, and each will take in and transport to the sea different amounts of carbon. It’s a lot of work figuring out the numbers for each one! Even just looking at lakes, there are different types of lakes (oligotrophic, eutrophic…), so everything going on in a lake is really specific to that area and to the species living around it. It’s hard to generalize what’s going on. 

I had to look up and remind myself what fluvial processes were, which is the way water creates channels and transports sediments as it erodes the landscape. For example, a river typically erodes one side where water moves quickly that will have a steep shore, and deposits sediments on the other, slower side that will have a sloped shore. Eventually the river may form an oxbow lake. Streams can also form alluvial fans as they drop sediments. I added a picture I found of a meandering stream that has oxbows:



Also this article talked about Holocene time, and I had to look up that time period to understand why they referenced it. Holocene is the most recent of the Quaternary period, or the last 11,700 years of Earth’s history, starting at the last ice age. Also this time is sometimes referred to as Anthropogene, because of our impact on global systems. The holocene is referenced because there has been little change in the species on Earth since the ice age, and the interglacial warming should be slow. So referencing the Holocene time is a good way to show the changes in climate that have occurred during human history.  The other word I had to look up was metabolism, because there is a different definition for it when you are talking about metabolism in an ecosystem. I found a good definition for it in my ecology textbook, where metabolism refers to the flow of energy and the energy processed. So how does this relate to CO2? Metabolism in an ecosystem starts with plants taking in inorganic materials and making them usable for other organisms. So by finding the amount of CO2 taken in by photosynthesis you can find out the metabolism of a system, and the opposite is true: if a system has a lot of photosynthesis, you can safely assume carbon is being transported through the system. 

If you don’t know anything about carbon….then you’re probably wondering why inland waters are so important. Why is it so important to study them? There is a lot going on in inland waters! And they are generally overlooked in global carbon estimations, which makes it hard to make accurate predictions about climate change. Inland waters can actually help regulate climate change because they fix carbon and bring it into the terrestrial and oceanic systems. 


2 responses to “Plumbing the Global Carbon Cycle Reflection”

  1. mckennast says :

    I think you make a very valid point about the fact that there are so many different kinds of lakes and rivers and I like that you followed up on that idea in your next post outlining the different characteristics of eutrophic and oligotrophic aquatic systems. Their varied features such as their access to nutrients and their oxygen levels make a huge difference in how they sequester and pass carbon through their systems. You also mention how different parts of the aquatic systems are present in more light than other parts (Hypolimnion is where the lake is dark and cold). As we know from our own class experiment the amount of sunlight impacts the amount of carbon in the system as well and where that carbon comes from.

    I was wondering after reading this article if there is any way to synthesize a model of different aquatic systems in order to better predict the amount of carbon being released to the oceans and atmosphere or buried in the different kinds of sediments of different waterlands. There are so many different kinds of inland waters in all parts of the world so we can’t just use one model to predict the data from all sources but we can not also measure carbon from every source realistically either. Do you have any ideas on what could be done to produce more precise and accurate data?

  2. carbonconnections says :

    Thank you for your post! I hope this article, and the article you read for class last week, start to put the research you will be doing in this class into context. You and Siobhan both brought up how different inland water systems can be from each other as well as the the varied role they play in carbon cycling. Because of these differences multiple field, laboratory, and modeling studies are conducted to try and elucidate how carbon is processed in each to try and gain a more complete picture of how they function. We will research an area that deals with carbon source and may also be impacted by the type of inland water system. Collectively, studies that provide answers to specific questions (like how different carbon sources may be used differently) can be pulled together to aide in forming larger scale estimates of how carbon can be processed in inland waters.

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