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Studying rivers for clues to global carbon cycle
Date:2/8/2008

EVANSTON, Ill. --- In the science world, in the media, and recently, in our daily lives, the debate continues over how carbon in the atmosphere is affecting global climate change. Studying just how carbon cycles throughout the Earth is an enormous challenge, but one Northwestern University professor is doing his part by studying one important segment -- rivers.

Aaron Packman, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, is collaborating with ecologists and microbiologists from around the world to study how organic carbon is processed in rivers.

Packman, who specializes in studying how particles and sediment move around in rivers, is co-author of a paper on the topic published online in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The paper evaluates our current understanding of carbon dynamics in rivers and reaches two important conclusions: it argues that carbon processing in rivers is a bigger component of global carbon cycling than people previously thought, and it lays out a framework for how scientists should go about assessing those processes.

Much more is known about carbon cycling in the atmosphere and oceans than in rivers. Evaluating large-scale material cycling in a river provides a challenge -- everything is constantly moving, and a lot of it moves in floods. As a result, much of what we know about carbon processing in rivers is based on what flows into the ocean.

But thats not really enough, Packman said. You miss all this internal cycling.

In order to understand how carbon cycles around the globe -- through the land, freshwater, oceans and atmosphere -- scientists need to understand how it moves around, how its produced, how its retained in different places and how long it stays there.

In rivers, carbon is both transformed and consumed. Microorganisms like algae take carbon out of the atmosphere and incorporate it into their o
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Contact: Megan Fellman
fellman@northwestern.edu
847-491-3115
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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